The Dallas Mavericks came into the 2020-21 season with high expectations, with experts across the league predicting great things from the group led by Slovenian sensation Luka Doncic.
But more than halfway through the season, the Mavericks have fallen short of expectations and are fighting just to make the playoffs, sitting at 20-18 and eighth in the Western Conference. Dallas is a young team and may not be in a rush, but the bold move for the Mavericks is to improve their roster both in the short and long-term.
The Mavs are without doubt building around their 22-year-old two-time All-Star Doncic and, in just his third season, he’s already proved to be one of the best players in the NBA. Doncic is averaging 28.2 points, 9.1 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game this season. He’s one of just four players to be averaging more than 25 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists per game – alongside LeBron James, Nikola Jokic and James Harden.
With Doncic at the helm, the Mavs’ future is bright, but finding complementary pieces alongside him has been more difficult. Kristaps Porzingis was brought in from the New York Knicks to be Doncic’s sidekick, but that hasn’t gone to plan so far. Porzingis is, without doubt, a talented player, but he has struggled to stay healthy his entire career. The most games Porzingis has ever played in a season was his rookie season in 2015-16 when he played 72. Since then, he hasn’t played more than 62 games in a season, including missing the entire 2018-19 season due to a torn ACL. A bold move for the Mavericks would be to begin shopping Porzingis for a new sidekick, one who can be counted on to be on the court alongside Doncic every game.
One name that could be a favorable replacement is Atlanta Hawks’ forward John Collins. The 23-year-old Collins is in his fourth season in the NBA, and his skill set would be an excellent fit alongside Doncic while also providing a ton of upside to be an All-Star. This year, Collins is averaging 17.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 37.4 percent from three.
Collins can stretch the floor in the same way Porzingis can but provides a scoring game inside the arc that Porzingis lacks. The Atlanta up-and-comer shoots 36.5 percent of his shot attempts from within three feet of the rim, while Porzingis only shoots 21.5 percent of his attempts from the same distance. Collins’ inside game and athleticism make him a more dynamic second option alongside Doncic, and he also provides defensive upside that Porzingis seems to lack due to his injury struggles.
Another option to bring in a new sidekick for Doncic could be the much sought-after Orlando Magic big man, Nikola Vucevic. But Vucevic’s high demand may mean the Mavericks won’t have the assets to make a serious push. Another exciting option is Detroit Pistions’ Jermai Grant – and he would be an excellent two-way presence on the roster that has shown to have a much-improved isolation scoring package.
While an interesting option, the Pistons have been vocal in saying they aren’t interested in trading their star forward, but a potential package of Porzingis and prospects like Tyler Bey or Josh Green may get Detroit’s attention.
Another issue the Mavericks have is the lack of quality big men outside of Porzingis on the roster. After Porzingis, the next highest scoring big is Maxi Kleber, who averages 7.5 points per game. They also have Willie Cauley-Stein, Dwight Powell and Boban Marjanovic, all of whom have struggled to be difference makers in their minutes this season.
A veteran presence who could provide solid minutes on both ends of the court is the Thunder’s Al Horford. Horford is putting up 14.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game this season, and despite being 34 years old has been a big positive for the young Thunder on defense. The Mavs are the 23rd ranked defensive ranking owners in the NBA, so if they want to make a late playoff push, an experienced defensive upgrade like Horford would go a long way.
Unfortunately for Dallas, Horford is only on the second year of his four-year $109 million contract. That’s a lot of money as the Mavericks will soon have to extend Doncic sooner rather than later.
A more realistic option to improve their center depth presents itself in veterans like Andre Drummond and LaMarcus Aldridge. Drummond and Aldridge are both on expiring contracts and will come much cheaper in a theoretical trade than Horford would.
Drummond has been in the NBA for nine seasons, but at just 27 years old, he has plenty left in the tank to help a contender. Drummond will need to scale back his inefficient and high-volume scoring game, posting a 50 percent true shooting on a 31 percent usage rate this season. But at 6-foot-10, 280 pounds, Drummond has some defensive talent. Aldridge is much older than Drummond at 35 years old, but his veteran presence, along with his scoring and shooting, would be a significant help to Dallas.
Aldridge is having his lowest-scoring season since his rookie season, but despite this, he is still averaging 13.7 points per game and shooting 36 percent from three-point range. Drummond and Aldridge could also end up being bought out by their respective teams, meaning Dallas wouldn’t have to give up anything to improve their depth at center.
The Mavericks need a bold move to push their way into the playoffs this season. The good thing for the Mavs is that the trade market will present them with plenty of options to make improvements. If they feel bold, the Mavericks could shake up the Western Conference and their chance at the playoffs.
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