NBA

NBA Daily: Fixing The Dallas Mavericks

Jordan Hicks continues Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series with a rundown of the Dallas Mavericks.

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Updated 1 year ago on

9 min read

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As we creep closer and closer to the end of the regular season, more teams will continue to be eliminated from the playoffs. Those teams then become part of Basketball Insider’s annual “Fixing” series. In continuing with the narrative, we will now take a look at the ever-interesting Dallas Mavericks and what they need to do to get back into the playoffs.

From a front office perspective, the Mavericks’ year has been spectacular. They’ve gotten off of contracts that most would consider negative. They struck gold in the 2018 NBA draft. And they traded for the Unicorn himself – Kristaps Porzingis – posturing themselves for a strong 2019-20 campaign. There is still plenty that the franchise needs to improve upon if they want to have a prayer at the postseason next year, so without further ado let’s dive into Mark Cuban’s pièce de résistance and see what needs to occur.

What Is Working

If it isn’t obvious who should be mentioned here first, then you just haven’t watched any basketball this season. The NBA has been taken by storm this season by a rookie so dominant, we haven’t seen the likes of his gameday numbers since one LeBron James. The rookie phenom being mentioned here – in case you have lived under a rock or something – is Luka Doncic.

The only rookie to match his per game statistics of 21.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 5.9 assists was Oscar Robertson clear back in 1960. In the three-point era, those numbers have never been posted by a rookie. Even LeBron’s rookie season couldn’t match those numbers. Keep in mind that Luka is doing this while being the leader of the team. He’s the central focus of every opposing team’s defensive scheme.

Most people who saw what Luka did in Europe dominating as a teen shouldn’t be too surprised with these results, yet here we are almost a full season after he was drafted and the numbers still seem absolutely mind-boggling. Luka has incredible court vision, elite size and length, and impressive athleticism for his age. He has quite possibly the second best step-back three-pointer in the league behind James Harden. This has allowed him to create his own shot on multiple occasions in the clutch when defenses seem to be playing him incredibly tight.

Speaking of clutch, his numbers in such situations are practically otherworldly for a rookie. With under one minute in the fourth quarter or overtime, when shooting to either tie the game or take the lead, Doncic is tied for first (!) for effective field goal percentage at 68.2 percent. Only 22 players qualify for the list – minimum of 10 field goals attempted – and he leads all but one of them. He’s tied with the current – and potential for this season – MVP James Harden.

Moving away from the dubbed “Wonder Boy,” we see a product that certainly has potential. Having Luka as your main building block is certainly a treat, but bringing in Porzingis via trade was absolutely a cherry on top. They had to part ways with Dennis Smith, Jr. – their lottery pick from last season – as well as two future first-round draft picks. Smith, Jr. has potential, he’s extremely athletic and seems competent as a point guard, but his fit never really worked for Dallas.

Porzingis and Doncic seem to be the duo that Dallas is banking their future on. While it is unclear how they’ll fit on the court, due to the fact that Porzingis will have missed the entire season recovering from a knee injury, it is hard to believe that it will be anything other than perfect. Still, there’s no telling until they step on the court together for the first time next season.

What Needs To Change

While there appears to be plenty to like with the young, European duo, there is a lot left to ponder outside of that relationship. Who else can the Mavericks rely on for scoring? Who will be the main rim protector? Will Dirk Nowitzki return and, if so, how will his minutes be allocated?

Dallas will have the likes of Tim Hardaway, Jr., Courtney Lee, Justin Jackson, Jalen Brunson and Dwight Powell – if he’s smart enough to opt into his final year – returning for the 2019-20 season. That’s not necessarily a group of guys that gets you excited. A quick scan of their upcoming free agents shows that perhaps J.J. Barea is the only player they’d actually want to take back – and even then he may not be ready to go until the middle of the season due in part to his Achilles injury.

To simply conclude what was just discussed above, the Mavericks may very well need a roster overhaul. So far this season, Dallas has the 20th best offense and the 19th best defense. They are 26th in three-point shooting and 25th in free throw percentage. We bring this up because – outside of personal development for a few of their younger players – not much will change next season with their current roster. What’s worse, is that we haven’t even seen KP and Luka play together yet. It’s assumed that they’ll coexist just fine, but there will certainly be hiccups along the way.

No one is expecting the Mavericks to take off next season, but Luka was very used to winning in Europe. Not just winning games, but winning awards and championships. How long will he be willing to lose in order to build a winning team? Culture is a huge part of basketball, and Dallas can’t afford to lose this way two seasons in a row. Heck, their now-second-best-player Porzingis has only ever known losing. He’d likely appreciate a winning season more than his teammate.

Focus Area: The Draft

The Mavericks currently hold the sixth worst record in the NBA. This is highly unfortunate for them, as their first-round draft pick this year – the pick they traded to Atlanta in order to get Luka Doncic – is top-five protected. The team with the fifth-worst record? The Hawks.

In order for Dallas to convey their pick this upcoming draft, they’d need to finish in the bottom five. With a handful of games still remaining, that is certainly a possibility. But it is far from a guarantee.

Dallas has lost eight of their last 10 games, so they are doing what they can to hypothetically tank their season. But the five teams below them are trying equally as hard – if not harder – to lose games, too. If Dallas cannot secure a first-round pick, they better hope they can secure a high-caliber player in the second round.

It is hard to say just what position Dallas needs. After trading DeAndre Jordan, they could definitely use some rim protection. While Doncic appears to be the team’s point guard moving forward, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to pair him with another PG/SG hybrid to ease his ball-handling burden.

Whatever happens for Dallas in the draft, it is crucial that they surround Porzingis and Doncic with whatever players will allow them to be successful. They can’t rely on Porzingis to be big on defense as they’d likely prefer his talents be used on the offensive end of the court. The same goes for Doncic. Adding size during the draft could definitely be used as a plus. Whether that is size under the rim or length on the wing, either would be a significant positive.

If Dallas lucks out and conveys their pick in the top-5, this draft is loaded with top-heavy talent. The front office should then be salivating at the opportunity to draft an RJ Barrett, De’Andre Hunter or Cam Reddish (assuming they can’t get Zion Williamson). These players would give them a solid mix of size and slightly developed offensive abilities.

Focus Area: Free Agency

This would be the Mavericks’ preferred method to acquire players. Not only does it allow them to “win now,” but it also allows them to take less focus on individual player development and put more focus on team basketball. Luka is clearly mature beyond his years and Kristaps has enough years in the league to no longer be considered a project. By adding solid veterans to their core, the front office won’t need to waste any resources on developing young, raw talent.

By sending off various contracts that were eating up too much cap space, primarily Harrison Barnes, Dallas has allowed themselves to go after a max to near-max level player. Whether or not budding free agents view Dallas as a premier location is unknown, but it is hard to imagine a world where someone wouldn’t want to be teammates with two young, incredibly gifted talents like Luka and KP.

There will definitely be a crop of available, max players at the end of the season, so Dallas should be incredibly aggressive in trying to sign one of them. They cleared up space to specifically do so.

If they are unable to land a marquee free agent, they should not be discouraged, however. Barnes was very much not a major part of their future plans, and most would consider his contract a tad-bit large for his overall skill set, so losing him to free up space wouldn’t be detrimental if they aren’t able to fill it with a max-level talent.

Still, if they can’t find max-guy, they should definitely hit the market to find multiple role players to help amplify the wide-range of skills that both Luka and KP employ.

Dallas has a history of winning seasons as well as a championship banner in their rafters. They are a team that has employed various Hall of Famers such as Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, and eventually, Nowitzki. They have one of the most active and prolific owners in the NBA in Mark Cuban. Building a winning roster is the most important things on the FO’s list.

Rick Carlisle has been with the organization for quite some time and they don’t appear ready to let him go anytime soon. If they can continue to build their roster around the budding Euro duo, there is no denying that they will have many successful years to come.

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Jordan Hicks is an NBA writer based out of Salt Lake City. He is a former college athlete and varsity sports official. Find him on Twitter @JordanHicksNBA.

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