The Dallas Mavericks have been one of the big surprises this NBA season, amassing a record of 14-6 with wins against the likes of the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors, and, most recently, the league-leading Los Angeles Lakers.
They’ve accomplished this thanks in large part to the sensational play of their sophomore superstar Luka Doncic and the strong bench play. With these two elements performing at a high level, the Mavericks have gone 7-2 on the road this season and have wins in 7 of their last 8 games overall.
That’s not to say it’s been nothing but smooth sailing, of course. The Mavs inexplicably found a way to lose to the New York Knicks not once but twice in the span of just six days. They also suffered heart breakers early in the year to the Portland Trail Blazers and Lakers. Despite this, they’ve only been visibly outmatched once on the year during a 114-100 loss to Los Angeles Clippers. That’s not why the rest of the league should be scared, however.
With Kristaps Porzingis still finding his groove offensively following a 20-month layoff from a torn ACL, the weight of Dallas’s success has ridden squarely on Doncic’s shoulders, and the Slovenian “Wonderboy” has delivered at just about every turn.
In the month of November, Luka Doncic became just the third player in NBA history to average a 30-point triple-double, and his 63% true shooting percentage during that stretch took what was a Mavs team hovering just over .500 and catapulted them into fourth in a stacked Western Conference.
Triple-doubles may have lost their shine somewhat in recent years thanks to guys like Russell Westbrook and James Harden making them so commonplace in box scores, but these are hardly empty numbers Luka is putting up. Doncic’s efficiency rating has been crazy good through the first 20 games of the year, challenging, and at times even surpassing Wilt Chamberlin’s All-Time mark of 31.8. He’s Dallas’s leading rebounder even with Porzingis snatching boards at a career-best rate of 9.2 a night, and he’s imposing his will on anybody who dares check him whenever he brings the ball up the court.
Perhaps the greatest example of this was Luka’s third quarter against the Lakers in which he scored 16 points on near-perfect shooting and assisted on 10 more points for the visiting team. During that run, Dallas outscored LA 28-5 and flipped what had been a 3-point halftime deficit into a comfortable lead.
What’s crazy is that this isn’t even an aberration for Doncic, as he’s made his presence most-felt in the third quarter of most games this season. He’s also averaging a near triple-double at 30.6 points, 9.9 boards, and 9.6 assists a game almost nearly a quarter of the way into the year. The fact that he has yet to receive the benefit of a fully realized KP only makes this more impressive. When Porzingis does return to form, the compliment of one of the strongest bench units in the league makes for an almost unfair match up to the majority of the league.
Dallas’ bench is just outside the top five in points per game and leads in average plus/minus. This has helped the Mavs overcome KP’s slow start where he’s averaging just 17.2 points a night, the lowest since his rookie season. Despite this offensive dip, Porzingis has more than recaptured his defensive impact and has even elevated his rebounding prowess significantly to offset the dip in his production.
This has led Mavs coach, Rick Carlisle to muse on KP’s potential impact as he continues to find his shot.
He would be the ultimate stretch-5, with his ability to shoot easily from 30 feet. And he rebounds well and he protects the rim.
As good as the Mavericks have been this year, this is what should scare the rest of the West. Prior to his injury, Porzingis was an All Star with the Knicks, averaging 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game. Should he recaptures that offensive form as the season goes on, Dallas could go from quality playoff team to a monster capable of wreaking havoc no matter the match up.
Perhaps the craziest thing about this Mavericks team is that they weren’t even expected to contend this year. Owner Mark Cuban and President of Basketball Operations,Donnie Nelson assembled this roster merely with the goal of building continuity between stars Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. With a year of chemistry building and tape to show potential star free agents, the real window for Dallas is supposed to be a year or two away at least.
This is a solid team anchored by one superstar and, hopefully, another match-up nightmare and All Star in Porzingis. While Dallas doesn’t have a true or designated “third man” to chip in 15 points+ a night, they do have a host of guys capable of filling the role on a given night.
Tim Hardaway Jr, despite a slow start, has been red hot the past couple of weeks, averaging just under 20 points per game. Dorian Finney-Smith, a “relatively 3” and definitive “D” wing has plenty of defensive versatility in his arsenal and has crept toward becoming a reasonably good three point shooter this season by connecting on a career-best 33% of his attempts.
Further down the line, you have Seth Curry and his career 43.3% three point mark to contend with. He’s off to a pretty slow start but has enough of a track record to believe he’ll round into form over the course of the year. Top it all off with Justin Jackson and his 46.7% marksmanship this year and you’ve got a loaded bench filled with capable, if temporary “number 3s.”
Led by a generational talents in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, and possessing a solid bench, Dallas looks capable of beating just about any team on any given night and, health permitting, they’re only going to get better. If the rest of the Western Conference didn’t know that already, they’re surely realizing it now after cutting the Lakers down to size in the Staples Center.