If you look around the loaded Western Conference, which team is poised to really take a big jump? There are teams already established as potential NBA Finals contenders — the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors (now finally healthy) come to mind — but there’s an underrated option out there: the Dallas Mavericks.
Although it wasn’t a splashy offseason for Dallas, it still accomplished the goal of making life a little bit easier on MVP favorite Luka Doncic. Re-signing Tim Hardaway Jr. was a top priority after becoming a key cog to the Mavs’ success. Add in veteran wing Reggie Bullock on three-year deal, and it becomes an environment where the floor should be optimally spaced for Doncic to create his renowned magic.
During his last two seasons, the Slovenian phenom has averaged 28.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 8.7 assists on an outstanding 58.6% True Shooting percentage. Doncic is the first player in the modern era to immediately establish himself as an MVP candidate and one of the five best players in the NBA since LeBron James. Doncic’s marks at this stage of his career are on the same platform as the all-time greats of the Association.
Dallas knows the time is now to push in the chips, but the organization doesn’t need to exactly be in a rush. Doncic’s greatness allows the team to properly construct a roster best suited for his high-usage, ball-dominant style, a la James Harden in Houston; building an environment with plenty of floor-spacers who can hit threes at an above-average clip is of the utmost importance. All of the following players in the Mavericks’ 2021-22 rotation shot above 37% from downtown last season: Hardaway, Bullock, Jalen Brunson, Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith and Kristaps Porzingis.
Only two players over the last 60 years have averaged a 30-point triple-double over a full season: Russell Westbrook and Oscar Robertson. With the right ecosystem of shooters in place, Doncic could soon join that historic list.
The biggest X-factor for Dallas to potentially take the leap from a playoff team to a true title contender is Porzingis. After trading multiple future first-round picks to the New York Knicks for Porzingis, many believed Dallas was ready to join that elite group of squads in the West soon enough. Well, Porizingis has yet to find his true footing in Dallas with a passive, inconsistent role.
Porzingis still averaged 20.1 points last season, but he looked more like a third option compared to a "1B" behind Doncic. Especially in the playoffs when Dallas was eliminated in the first round by the Los Angeles Clippers, Porzingis’ passivity reach a whole new level averaging 13.1 points on 10.3 shot attempts in 33.3 minutes. A player who was once thought to be one of the most untouchables players in the league during his best season in New York looked very willing to defer to Doncic and Hardaway on the biggest stage. It’s been a huge fall for Porizingis, in terms of league-wide value, and now new head coach Jason Kidd will need to rehab his value for Dallas (and potentially other teams).