How much Doncic is too much?

The Mavericks might not be one of the four best teams in the NBA last season, but they were one of four to reach the conference finals. They made the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011, when they won their only ring. And they showed that their model could thrive in the playoffs. Even without Luka Doncic for half a series and against a talented but broken team (Utah Jazz). And even against the best team of the regular season, some Suns to which they came back from 2-0 and 3-2 and to those who annihilated in the seventh game, in Arizona. That, against a seed 1 and with a 27-57 at halftime it is not normalnot everyone does it and it does not define a team that goes through there, let’s see what falls.

So the Dallas Mavericks had the status of finalist in the West this summer (the Warriors had already put in very high gears when they crossed their path) and that enormous source of energy that is having a generational talent, a Luka Doncic who is playing his fifth NBA season. That he has not been a newcomer for a long time and that he has entered the phase in which he will begin to be disappointed not to be MVP and You will begin to worry that your team is not competing on a higher rung each time. The problem, and it’s something we’ve seen time and time again, is that if you jump in a first-round year to stay (4-1) three wins away from the NBA Finals, staying on that rung should be enough of a goal. great in itself. But your social mass may not see it that way. And, above all, your franchise player may not see it that way. That creates pressure. Blessed pressure, if you will, but pressure.

So the 2022-23 season began with two questions in Dallas: How good are these Mavericks really? Well, we know what they are. And above all, how much Doncic starts to be too much Doncic? We already know a lot that it is a guarantee. But at the graduation of that good ones and from that much is where they are the true answers, the roadmap of this team.

A team very similar to last season

For now, there is no clarity. Sixteen games later, the Mavericks are 9-7, which is exactly where they were at the same point last season. The metrics have changed little, and even some debates continue with a stubbornness that, in reality, airs structural problems: Why do the Mavs lose so many games against lesser rivals or under unfavorable circumstances? A team with a structure and style like the one Jason Kidd has already defined, for better or worse, is a machine for generating certain conversations. SIt is reinforced one day and filled with doubts the next. Sometimes the process is completed in the same match: comebacks after disastrous beginnings, sinking after positive minutes.

In Mavs losses this season has passed this: in a reunion with the Suns they lost a 17-point lead at halftime. Against the Pelicans they were not Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Herb Jones. The Thunder came back 16 points in 4 minutes without Josh Giddey. In back to back, defeat against the Magic without Paolo Banchero and against the Wizards without Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. Without Doncic, the worst team with the worst defense, the Houston Rockets, won and dropped the Mavs to 92 points. And the Nuggets, finally, defeated the Texans without the MVP and, in total, three of their four best players: Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon.

Doncic has only missed one game, the aforementioned Rockets. He has played fifteen for the thirteen he had last season in the same section. This time, he has started with all cylinders running.: 33.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.1 assists. And almost two robberies, by the way. With 37 minutes per night on the track and a usage (percentage of actions in which he intervenes when he is on the track, basically) that is around 40%, (almost) impossible to sustain. Not without debates, without weaknesses in close finals, without errors due to exhaustion in the last quarters and without an ugly memory of heroic seasons individually but questionable collectively: those of James Harden before the arrival of Chris Paul in Houston, that of Russell Westbrook when Kevin Durant left the Thunder. Even Jason Kidd has already said that, if they continue like this, Doncic will not arrive whole to Christmas. But all that, with the Slovenian with his tongue permanently out and in the race for MVP (this time yes) from the starting gun, is only valid for a 9-7 in a West of a very, very, very discreet level.

The Mavs are about the same as last season, but at the same time they are distinct enough. After not reaching an agreement with him when it seemed on a platter, Jalen Brunson had already decided to leave (with the Knicks’ machinations paving the way) when the Mavs wanted to retain a key player in the basketball idea that came to fruition last season. One that arrived with Doncic (it was pick 33 in the 2018 draft) and evolved from backup to teammate backcourt from the slovenian From resource to important, from B-face to essential secondary generator. A luxury if Doncic was missing but, and this is crucial and tends to be overlooked, an unexpected but ideal partner for him, an escape valve in his constant obligation to generate: a trap when the defenses were primed with the megastar. Without him, Spencer Dinwiddie moves from third (another luxury) in that rotation of backcourt to having to do second, the position that belonged to Brunson. That leaves one spot unfilled, the one for the cane for the quintet if one of the others is missing-luxury substitute if the starters play. Dinwiddie, who was great in that role, can score a lot, but he doesn’t have the efficiency of the current Brunson and, above all, he does not have the ability to generate and connect to the team when the ball is in his hands and not in Doncic’s.

Los Knicks, con tampering very thinly disguised (the end justifies the means) they finally gave more than 100 million for four years to the small but brilliant Brunson (1.88, 26 years old), who grew up in the New Jersey area and has his father working in the New York franchise, where for now they are delighted with their new playmaker: 20.8 points, 6.7 assists and less than two turnovers per game.

Christian Wood, the wildcard of the ‘new’ Mavs

The Mavs now have a JaVale McGee who, while he can still be useful in short stretches on the track, is past his best days. They are reinstating a Tim Hardaway Jr recovered from the injury that sidelined him last season, and with the forward (and his contract until 2025) the debate on how better or worse the Mavs are with their points also returns (top) and its gaps in defense and shot selection (much worse). And they have Christian Wood, the real factor X the possible growth of the team. A very talented center and, so far in his career (a globetrotter for a reason), little desire to defend and little ability to deal with bad times.

In summer, Wood was the wildcardthe bet, a player who otherwise crashed into the base (in that tension was the opportunity … and the risk) that Kidd built last year: more finesse than sacrifice, more points than intangibles. Something that Doncic needs to not fight alone against the world, but also something that can worry a coach whose inertia in the last minutes is to defend on fire and that Doncic do all in attack surrounded by open shooters. The spread pick and roll that is used massively in the NBA but that some take to its ultimate consequences: that Harden from the Rockets, this Doncic from the Mavs.

Wood is (or could beo should be) very good, I want to be all star and he wants (he is 27 years old) a big contract in the summer because he will be a free agent. He is playing 24.6 minutes on average, his minimum in the last three years. He puts in 16.6 points and grabs 7.5 rebounds, also below his last stay with the Houston Rockets (19.1 + 9.9). And the worst is that He has already aired his dislike for playing little… especially in the last quarters. For now (and waiting for better times) at least without outbursts, despite the fact that the numbers and the sensations reinforce the idea that surely he should play more in a team that suffers a lot to score, when Doncic begins to be visibly tired or when the defenses have deciphered a plan of attack that is more predictable without Brunson. Kidd, we imagine, still does not trust the defensive ability of the pivot and lives with the feeling that if he manages to do not put them, Doncic will hunt enough. It’s hard to get most coaches out of certain security zonesespecially if the model was successful only a few months ago.

Without him Doncic–Brunson gear, the Mavs have gone from 23.4 assists on average to 20.5. There is no one who can put the ball on the ground and move the team beyond the Slovenian and Dinwiddie. And, to further reduce the effectiveness of the system, Dorian Finney-Smith is shooting worse (from around 40% in triples to being below 34) and above all a Reggie Bullock who has started the season at a horrible level (just over 30% in total shots, below in triples). The ability of both to defend at the elite level and score the triples released when they had to be made was one of the keys to the success of the Mavs 2021-22. The question now is whether they will improve enough (something they should, if only for pure statistical correction) and whether or not what we saw last year was exceptional. If so, the Mavs have another very serious problem.

Con the worst number of assists and the lowest rate of play in the entire NBA, the Mavs are heading to the ambush of the last quarters. They trust everything that Doncic does not fail and, above all, that Doncic don’t get tired. And that is too big a conditional. Not for specific games but as a sustainable model, especially if you think about the playoffs. Not for battles: for wars. And these Mavs, fair or not, are already going to be measured in wars.

Beyond that quoted usage which is around 40% and which is an illogical figure for Doncic (even with his 23 years), Second Spectrucm (an essential source of the information behind the information) places Doncic’s total weight in Mavs possessions at 45%. They are followed, already below 40%, by Tyrese Haliburton (39) and Ja Morant (36). The Mavs need Doncic even more than they did last season in a model more focused on its star and less diversified. To the extreme if Kidd does not start to trust Christian Wood in the last quarters, as finisher. It’s hard to gauge the Mavs. Sometimes you lose faith and they link a stretch of excellent matches. And when you’ve got it back, they fill the manuscript with smudges. But in the long term and with an eye on the playoffs and on being better than last season (perhaps an unrealistic bar, but in any case very high), they do not seem like a team whose start to the season has brought good news. There’s a lot left, so we’ll see.



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