Since entering the NBA in 2018, Luka Doncic was already tagged as the next big superstar. Fans saw the young stud from Slovenia punish defenders with his dreaded step-back and basic yet effective offensive skill-set. Along the way, he guided the Dallas Mavericks from a bottom-feeding team into a serious up-and-coming squad.
Doncic, however, wasn’t solely responsible for this development. The Mavericks, even before Doncic’s arrival, have been making key offseason moves for the ultimate goal of being contenders once again. And after years of hard work and disappointment, we can say that the Mavericks will be a perennial postseason team in the years to come. But a closer look at the Mavericks reveals that they might even win it all this season, making them the true stealth title contenders.
The most obvious reason is this: They have Doncic in the fold. He continues to impress fans and analysts with his play. They thought that his first two years in the NBA were pretty good. But now in his third, Doncic is still improving.
His averages of 28.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.6 assists are pretty similar to last year’s statistics. So there’s really no point in delving much into it. But a look at his shooting clips reveal how much the 22-year-old has improved. He’s shooting 48.1 percent from the field (a career-best) compared to last season’s 46.3 percent. This is within the NBA average of 46.6 percent. From long distance, Doncic has improved to 35.5 percent (career-best) from 31.6 percent. This is very close to the NBA average percentage from three-point country of 36.7 percent.
Doncic’s previously low shooting percentages were points of criticism. But in just a span of a year, he showed remarkable development in his game.
Impressive 2020 Playoff Run Against the Clippers
Before looking to the future, it’s imperative to review the past. Last season, the Mavericks made the NBA Playoffs for the first time in three seasons. They faced off against Western Conference titan Los Angeles Clippers and got booted out in six games. Amid a sad exit, fans saw a Mavericks squad with the confidence and poise of a championship team. It’s a preview of what the team could become. Doncic once again showed off his clutch gene, while his teammates like Trey Burke proved how deep they were. Kristaps Porzingis, despite limited action, showed how he can help in various ways.
We can say that their series against the Clippers was one of the most important experiences of the Mavericks. They were still looking for their identity at that point. It would not have been a surprise if they suddenly made drastic changes if they failed to qualify for the postseason that year. However, the team somehow overperformed. While the Mavericks lost, all forms of disappointment were charged to experience. More importantly, they found their identity as a scrappy yet deep squad.
There’s a good reason why the Mavericks haven’t parted ways with coach Rick Carlisle since hiring him in 2008. It is true that since winning the title in 2011, Carlisle and the Mavericks have either missed the postseason or got booted out in the first round. But we have to note that after they won the title, this was also the tail-end of Dirk Nowitzki’s career. In a way, the Mavericks turned into panic mode by making questionable transactions.
But amid all this, Carlisle was able to keep the Mavericks’ head above water. From 2012 to 2020, the years when they either missed the NBA Playoffs or had an early exit, there were only two seasons where they were under .500. Carlisle was still able to squeeze out 40 to 50 wins a season which is a tedious task in the Western Conference.
The squad’s discipline in trusting the process has led to incredible results. Now, Doncic and company are considered a mid-tier team that has all the potential to peak in the NBA Playoffs.
Doncic and Established Core Group
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are two of the most important pillars of the Mavericks. There’s no question in that. But for diehard fans, they know the likes of Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Richardson, Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, and Willie Cauley-Stein are as important as the two superstars.
The aforementioned players have been with the team for at least two seasons. Talent is important, but it’s also imperative that a team has spent significant time together on and off the court. Just look at the top teams today like the Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, and the Phoenix Suns. Sure, they added some new players to their roster, but they pretty much have a core group with formidable chemistry. This will play a huge role in the NBA Playoffs where they have to place their utmost trust on one another.