The Dallas Mavericks shamelessly tanked their way out of the play-in tournament despite rostering Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Now, it’s time to seek redemption in the new season.
Luka Doncic led the Dallas Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals in 2021. Recent NBA history has been saturated with magnificent individual stretches, but few can touch Doncic’s postseason run in the final year of his rookie contract. That was the moment when we all collectively realized oh, this dude is special.
How did Dallas follow it up? With an 11th-place finish and a shameless last-second tank effort to hang onto their top-10 protected first-round pick. Doncic’s numbers didn’t flatline — in fact, they improved significantly — but the team around him crumbled.
There’s blame to go around, of course. Jason Kidd continues to absolutely bomb in his second season as the team’s head coach. The defense went from elite to barely palatable, then took a nosedive off the deep end when Dallas traded for Kyrie Irving in February. The front office failed to make any meaningful upgrades before the season and gutted the roster to make the Irving trade happen midseason.
Now, it’s the year of redemption. Doncic is a perennial MVP candidate who shouldn’t be out of the postseason picture for long. Kyrie is back on a reasonable new contract. Dallas’ front office aced the offseason test, addressing key areas of need in the NBA Draft before making a few savvy moves in free agency.
There’s every reason to believe the team can bounce back. There are also reasons for sustained skepticism. Some of Jason Kidd’s schematic and rotational choices last season were indefensible and he has driven teams into the ground before. Plus, you know, did the defense actually meaningfully improve? It’s too early to tell.
Here’s how the rotations will look once the season gets underway.
Dallas Mavericks starting point guard: Luka Doncic
Luka Doncic can be tricky to peg positionally. He’s the primary ball-handler and lead playmaker in Dallas. Offensively, he’s everything a point guard has come to embody in the modern NBA. He probably shoots more like your traditional two-guard, but his brilliance as a passer is right at the forefront of everything he does. On defense, however, Doncic is essentially a forward. Improved conditioning could increase his positional flexibility a little bit, but Doncic is never chasing guards over screens or guarding the point of attack if Dallas can help it.
For our purposes, he’s the point guard. The standard five-position labels are widely outdated, but that’s another argument for another day. Doncic will command the offense in Dallas and he will do so with aplomb. Dallas’ disappointing 2022-23 season was mired in poor defense, but the offense was never a problem. Once Kyrie arrived, the Mavs were frequently on the wrong end of 130-plus point shootouts. NBA defenses still can’t wrap their heads around Doncic.
He’s the best isolation player in the world. He has long drawn comparisons to prime James Harden for that very reason, and while Harden was different in his approach and his idiosyncrasies, Doncic is as close as we’ll probably ever get to Harden’s heliocentric style of play. He slowly and deliberately eviscerates his defender in isolation, constantly changing speed and direction. He’s remarkably strong, absorbing contact for awkward finishes better than any guard in the NBA. He’s also in the LeBron-Jokic tier of using his eyes as well as his handle to manipulate the defense and create fissures out of nowhere. He has truly mastered the game.
The Doncic pick-and-roll will continue to be the bedrock upon which Dallas’ offense is built. Irving hasn’t been this well positioned for clean catches and open lanes to the rim since he shared the court with LeBron in Cleveland. There are defensive concerns with Doncic, sure, but he’s one of the five best players on the planet. We’re picking nits.
Primary backup point guard: Kyrie Irving
The Mavs should stagger Doncic and Irving. Keep one on the floor at all times. Irving is a brilliant offensive engine in his own right and while he doesn’t quite possess Doncic’s talent for elevating teammates, Irving will frequently cause defensive breakdowns and create advantages off of them.