Five Keys To The Dallas Mavericks Season

Nick Neppach
October 10, 2018 - 4:55 pm
Luka Doncic & Dennis Smith Jr.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

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1. How do Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic coexist?

This question is the most important one to ask when considering whether or not the Mavericks will have a successful season. If Smith Jr. and Doncic mesh well, Dallas could be a playoff team. If not, we may be left hoping for lottery luck once again.

The preseason has been a nice start. Dennis and Luka have been on the floor together and have been able to thrive. Smith has been the point guard, while Donic has been wedged somewhere between a three and a four. Things will look quite different when Harrison Barnes is healthy. At media day, Rick Carlisle said his starting lineup would probably be: Dennis Smith Jr, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Luka Doncic and DeAndre Jordan.

My hope is that the pair of Doncic and Smith will be used similarly to the way the Rockets use Chris Paul and James Harden. The two start and finish the game together. In the middle, it is staggered so one of them is almost always on the floor. However, when they are on the floor together, I assume Doncic will be the main ball handler, putting emphasis on Smith to shoot the ball well while playing without the ball. On the flip side, if Doncic can also shoot well, the Mavericks' offense should find a lot of success.

DeAndre Jordan
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

2. DeAndre Jordan

He is finally here. After the debacle that was three summers ago, the Mavericks finally got their guy. Jordan is a few years older, turning 30 in July, but he can still be effective. He will certainly be a major upgrade from starting Dirk at center, which the Mavericks did most of the time last season. Jordan will step in and help the Maverick’s rebounding numbers right away. Dallas was worst in the league in offensive rebounding, 21st in defensive rebounding, and 27th in total rebounds. DeAndre Jordan averaged 15.2 rebounds per game last season for the Clippers. That number is more than double of any player on the Maverick’s roster. Harrison Barnes was the leader with 6.1 per game.

Defensively, Jordan will be a true rim protector. This will be a great help to Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. And while Jordan’s block numbers were down last season (0.9 per game), he should still be a threat in that regard. Jordan’s best season, as far as blocks go, was 2013–2014 when he was averaged 2.5 per game. I wouldn’t predict him getting to that number, but blocking more than a shot per game isn’t out of the question.

Thinking about DeAndre Jordan on the offensive end has me giddy. He will be setting screens, rolling to the basket and catching lobs galore. His style pairs well with what Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic will want to do. The Maverick’s pick and roll game should be Rockets Lite. Imagine Dennis Smith and Luka Doncic as Chris Paul and James Harden, while DeAndre Jordan is Clint Capella. The last thing on Jordan’s offense, he has averaged double-digit points and rebounds in each of the last five seasons. He is a near automatic double.

Dwight Powell
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

3. Look a Little Deeper

If the Mavericks are going to make a push for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, they will need depth. They certainly have names on the bench. I am interested to see how Rick Carlisle deploys them. The biggest question will be Dirk. Carlisle broke the news at media day that the GOAT will come off the bench. This is significant for a few reasons. First, it is something Dirk has never done. Second, it is something Carlisle has said in the past is not ideal because they don’t want to warm Dirk up just to sit him, let him get cold, then have to try and warm him up again to get in the game. You know, Dirk is kind of like an old car. Once you get him started, he runs. Just don’t turn it off.

If all of that works out, Dirk off the bench makes the Mavericks much deeper. He has shown the ability to still be an effective shooter and it will only benefit him to play against second units. Elsewhere on the bench, you have veterans like J.J. Barea, Devin Harris, Dwight Powell, and Salah Mejri. Then there are rookies Jalen Brunson, Ray Spalding, and Ryan Broekoff. And don’t forget Maxi Kleber. I think he is poised to have a really effective season. Dorian Finney-Smith is still on the roster as well after missing basically all of last season. We’ll see if anything else shakes out when Dallas finalizes the roster.

All in all, I think the Mavericks bench is okay. As a lower level Western Conference team, this is sort of what you expect. Best case scenario? Dirk is physically able to come off the bench, J.J. Barea builds on one of the best years of his career, Dwight Powell brings energy and catches lobs, and Devin Harris is the steady veteran

Harrison Barnes
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

4. What About the Close Ones?

So this is no secret, but the Mavericks were terrible in close games last season. Maybe it was just a bit of bad luck. One bounce here or there and things would have changed. Either way, it led them to a record of 24–58 and another lottery pick.

The Mavericks played in 50 “clutch games”. The NBA defines clutch games, or clutch situations, as the last five minutes of the game with a point differential of five points or less. In those 50 clutch games, the Mavericks record was 12–38, worst in the NBA. Just by a matter of chance, Dallas should be better in clutch games this season. The scale should just naturally tip in their favor.

On top of that, Dallas just has a lot more talent this season. In clutch situations, I assume we will see a lineup similar to the starting five: Dennis Smith Jr, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Luka Doncic, and DeAndre Jordan. Last year in these spots, the bulk of responsibility fell on Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith Jr to create something. Smith was the only real ball handler on the floor. And, there was no real rim protection. With this year’s lineup, Dennis Smith Jr. or Luka Doncic can initiate offense and operate the pick and roll, Harrison Barnes can step back and be a solid third option, DeAndre Jordan is a lethal rim roller, and all Wesley Matthews has to do is shoot. This should all serve the Mavericks very well in end of game situations.

Dirk Nowitzki
© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

5. One More Ride for Dirk

It might not be. He could play one more. But at this point, all we can be certain of is that Dirk will play this season for the Dallas Mavericks. He won’t be ready in time for the season opener, or the home opener, because he is still recovering from surgery he had last April. But either way, we will see Dirk this season and maybe for the last time. There won’t be any retirement tour like Kobe, and we won’t get any announcement like Dwayne Wade. Dirk will just play and walk off the floor. It will be simple. It will be perfectly Dirk. The most humble, underappreciated superstar.

If this is the last ride, let’s enjoy it. Every time Dirk is announced it will feel special because each time will feel like it could be the last time. We hope it’s not. But if it is, a salute to the GOAT. Dirk will come off the bench. And it will be good for the Mavericks. But I hope there are a few starts sprinkled in, because I will get chills every time I hear it announced in the AAC: “In his 21st season from Wurzburg, Germany, DIIIIIIIRRRRK Nowitzki!” One-legged fade forever.