1. Will Dallas’ push for a more balanced roster impact their league-leading offense from last year?
Probably, but not so much that the Mavericks can’t contend for the top spot again. It’s unlikely Dallas reaches quite the same historic heights it did last year, but this team might still be the favorite to lead the league in offensive efficiency this season. The floor can only be so low when your primary weapon is Luka Dončić running pick-and-roll with the floor spread around him. Seth Curry, who ranked third in the league in 3-point percentage last season, is a significant loss, but Dallas can compensate, at least in part, for his gravity and efficiency with a deep rotation of smart, complementary players and internal improvement from one of the league’s preeminent playmakers. The second unit will run smoothly on Jalen Brunson and Josh Richardson’s watch, and almost every spark-plug role player slants offensively.
The league should abound with supercharged offenses this season, which may give the Mavs more threats to the scoring crown than they had last year. Dončić is only one man, and other teams have multiple players who can create and finish at a high level, which both expands the number of scoring options and enables more stylistic diversity than the Mavs will have. Yet perhaps only Brooklyn has the firepower to keep potent scoring lineups on the floor for all 48 minutes, as Dallas does, and few teams boast an omni-faceted playmaker like Dončić. Regular-season offensive efficiency depends almost as much on mitigating regression with stars off the floor as on blitzing opponents with them on it, and the Mavericks are set up to check both boxes. Last season, they posted a staggering 118.1 points per 100 possessions with Dončić on the floor, but only fell off to 115 without him. Neither figure appears likely to regress significantly this year, which should keep Dallas squarely in the mix for the top offense in the league — if not firmly at the top of the leaderboard.
2. Luka Dončić will finish _____ in MVP voting this year.
Rather than giving an exact number, I’ll take the coward’s way out and say “top-three.” In a year without a clear preseason MVP favorite, Luka might have the clearest theoretical path to winning the award: Dallas earns a top-four seed while maintaining the league’s most efficient offense, a more mature Dončić improves upon an already ridiculous statistical season, and the Bucks regress just enough for Giannis Antetokounmpo to fade from the conversation. But similar avenues exist for Nikola Jokić, Steph Curry, and Damian Lillard, which puts Dončić and the Mavs at risk of falling in the standings as some other MVP candidate carries his team past them. Not to mention the fact that LeBron James is still the best player in the world, playing for perhaps the NBA’s best team.
Still, in a year without a clear MVP frontrunner entering the season, Dončić feels like the safest bet to finish in the top three. Were it not for 14 missed games, he might have finished third in voting last season, and at some point it becomes impossible to ignore his outlandish statistical production and offensive impact. Luka was the clear driver of Dallas’ historically potent offense last year, and will again be central to whatever success the team has this season. Even with Kristaps Porzingis sidelined to begin the season, Dallas seems bound for another dominant offensive season, which is largely a testament to one 22-year-old’s prowess and upside on that end of the floor.
3. Are people overlooking Kristaps Porzingis’ health in their projections for the Mavs?
Porzingis’ health is a major variable and the greatest reason for skepticism of a team gunning for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The big man will likely miss at least the first few weeks of the season, and whatever two-way balance the Mavs hope to achieve depends upon the availability of their fearsome rim protector who can also space out to 30 feet around pick-and-rolls. Dallas has no replacement for that skill set, which is useful on offense and critical on defense. Dwight Powell should be a suitable offensive fill-in, albeit with an entirely different skill set, and the Mavs are still fully capable of running opponents out of the gym without their starting center as long as Luka Dončić is in the lineup. But Dallas could struggle to optimally space the floor or maintain any kind of back-line defensive integrity without one of the league’s preeminent 3-and-D centers.
The absence means Powell (who is recovering from an Achilles tear) will have to anchor a defense without many aces at the point of attack; it could require Maxi Kleber to dial up his three-point volume; it will likely mean a heavier dose of Boban Marjanovic’s post scoring. There are worse fallback options, but every cascading effect of not having Porzingis — however long that period is — could make the Mavs slightly less dangerous. Given his injury-riddled history, that’s cause for slight concern as the Mavs hope to make the leap in a competitive Western Conference.
It’s rare that rookies make any sort of meaningful impact on solidified playoff teams, so this answer should come with the stipulation that neither Terry nor Green will likely play a prominent role this season. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound Green might be the more physically NBA-ready player at a position every team in the league covets, though the sweet-shooting Terry possesses an immensely valuable skill that could translate right away. Green’s playing time will hinge on his defense, which requires a fluent understanding of the game that few rookies have, while Terry’s initial role could be as simple as catching and shooting. That said, Green’s superior physical tools and defensive versatility should allow him to play through mistakes and impact the game in different areas, whereas a 6-foot-2, 160-pound rookie guard could become a real liability if his shot doesn’t fall.
Green played 54 preseason minutes, compared to Terry’s 30, which indicates that the former will start the year in the rotation and get the first chance to make an impact. It feels like the Mavs need what Green offers slightly more than what Terry theoretically provides, and that Green is less likely to become a liability in any one area, even if his best skill doesn’t stand out the way Terry’s does. Hopefully, things don’t get to the point that the battle for playing time between two rookies makes or breaks Dallas’ season.
5. At their ceiling, the Mavericks are the __th best team in the West?
The Mavs posted the third-best net rating in the West last season — behind only the two L.A. teams — yet slipped to seventh in the standings due to some bad luck and a perplexingly listless crunch-time offense. Any projection of this team’s ceiling assumes that both of those areas tilt in its favor this season, and assuming no other West playoff team reaches its ceiling, Dallas could realistically finish third in the conference while establishing itself as a semi-viable threat to the Lakers and Clippers in the postseason. A team with a catalyst like Luka Dončić and such firepower around him will be able to score against any opponent in any setting. What remains to be seen is whether the Mavs can remedy their late-game offense and accumulate enough stops to separate themselves from the other homecourt hopefuls in the West.
Richardson should help in both endeavors, though Dallas’ offseason didn’t provide conclusive answers to either question. The Mavericks’ depth should give them an advantage over thinner Western Conference competitors, and better injury luck ought to help. The timing of Porzingis’ return will affect the team’s ability to win regular-season games, even if it doesn’t necessarily change its playoff ceiling. Dončić is good enough, already, to lift his team into the heights of the West. We’ll find out if the rest of the club is ready to ascend with him.