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Dallas Mavericks: 4 burning questions ahead of NBA training camp

Excitement is in the air for Dallas Mavericks fans heading into the start of training camp, which will open in two weeks.

At the heart of the excitement is the continued development of 2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic and his potential superstar pairing with Kristaps Porzingis, who is coming off of an ACL injury. The Latvian forward-center spent more than a year rehabbing from the injury, missing last season entirely.

What can we expect from Dallas this season? Here are four burning questions for the Mavericks ahead of NBA training camp:

4. Does Rick Carlisle still have it in him to help the Mavs succeed?

Rick Carlisle is one of the few head coaches in the league to own a championship ring. He earned it when his Mavs team beat the superstar-laden Miami Heat in 2011. 

Since then, however, Dallas has only made the playoffs three times and has won no more than 33 games the past three years. After losing so many games in recent years, one has to wonder if Carlisle still has the ability to succeed as a head coach.

It’s no surprise that the Mavs enjoyed a nine-win improvement from the year before as it coincided with Doncic’s arrival. Based on last season’s development, it’s likely that Carlisle just didn’t have the right personnel to succeed the past few years, especially with Dirk Nowitzki’s declining skills.

Now that he has Doncic, Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. as his cornerstone players, there’s hope on the horizon that Carlisle can lead them to the playoffs once more.

3 Do the Mavericks have the personnel to make the playoffs?

Making the playoffs in the Western Conference this coming season will be quite an achievement for the Mavs. There are at least 11 teams that have a legitimate shot at making the postseason.

The Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves will be their likely competitors for the eighth and final playoff spot.

As presently constructed, the Mavs have the following key players on their roster:

Projected Starting Lineup:

G – Luka Doncic

G – Delon Wright

F – Tim Hardaway Jr.

F – Dwight Powell

C – Kristaps Porzingis

Key Reserves:

G – Devin Harris

G – JJ Barea

G – Courtney Lee

G – Jalen Brunson 

G – Seth Curry

F – Isaiah Roby

F – Justin Jackson

F – Dorian Finney-Smith

F – Maximilian Kleber

C – Boban Marjanovic

The Mavs appear to have a solid starting five, but it is their depth that is a cause for concern. They don’t have a trusted scorer from their reserves and this could be their undoing. Many teams, even those who won’t make the playoffs, rely on a player who can come off the bench and provide instant offense for them.

One solution to this problem would be to move Tim Hardaway Jr. to the bench and make him their sixth man. This will provide the second unit with a more potent offensive weapon and, at the same time, give Doncic and Porzingis more opportunities to create offensive opportunities for themselves without worrying about getting another scorer involved.

With Hardaway as the sixth man, this team may be good enough to crack the postseason, but only as an eighth seed, and this is largely dependent on the projection that Porzingis is back to his All-Star form of two seasons ago. 

If Porzingis is healthy and productive, they’ll be in the playoffs. If not, the Kings and Timberwolves will battle it out for the eighth seed.

Speaking of Porzingis…

2. How healthy is Kristaps Porzingis?

The 2019-20 season will mark Porzingis’ first game with the Mavericks after trading for him in January. He and Doncic are expected to become the future superstars of the Mavs heading into the next decade and, hopefully, beyond.

Although Doncic is virtually a surefire star, the health of Porzingis makes his status shakier and more unpredictable. The Mavericks gave up a lot to acquire him from the New York Knicks (including salary cap space due to Tim Hardaway Jr.’s hefty contract), making it more imperative that the organization’s gamble pays off.

The Mavs signed the talented 7-foot-3 Latvian to a lucrative five-year, $158 million contract that speaks more about his potential than actual long-term production on the court. He’s really only had one franchise-player worthy season, and that was the season when he had an ACL injury.

It wasn’t that long ago when his future in the league was so bright.

Before the injury, which occurred in the middle of the 2017-18 season, Porzingis was averaging a career-high 22.7 points with 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 2.4 blocks per game. He also drilled 39.5 percent of his threes. He was so good that he earned an All-Star berth for the first time in his career. 

Unfortunately, the injury robbed him of participating in the 2018 All-Star Game, putting his career trajectory in doubt.

According to Doyle Rader of Forbes.com Porzingis’ biggest concern is the realignment of the left side of his body.

“How Porzingis handles his realignment is going to be one of his biggest tests,” Doyle wrote. “How he moves, plants and lands will illustrate how far he has come and how well he may perform going forward. If his old habits return, there may be reason for concern. But if all the training pays off, there’s a chance that Porzingis could return to some semblance of his former self. That’s exactly what the team—and fans—want to see.”

More than just a semblance, for the Mavs’ investment on him to pay off, he has to perform at an elite level eventually.

His first basketball action came last March when he played his first 5-on-5 scrimmage during practice sessions with the Mavs. When they see him again in training camp, the team hopes to see him back fully recovered from the injury.

But how healthy is he? That’s the major concern of every Mavs fan, but the question won’t be answered until the preseason gets underway and we will finally see firsthand how he performs.

1. Is Luka Doncic a Leader?

Doncic is one of the league’s most exciting young stars who is capable of developing into a bonafide superstar as early as the 2019-20 season. Remember, he nearly became an All-Star as a rookie last season and is almost certainly going to be one in his sophomore campaign.

He showed flashes of leadership during his rookie year, but Dirk Nowitzki was always there to take over the reins as the team’s franchise player despite playing the lowest minutes of his career. This time, Nowitzki will no longer be around and the keys to the franchise will now rest on the 20-year-old’s hands.

As a point guard, Doncic showed that he could direct traffic and carry his team to victory. This coming season, all eyes will be on him to see if he develops into the leader that the Mavs need.

He was used to playing with players older than him in Europe which will help him lead the team without Nowitzki. Now that he’s had a taste of what it’s like to play with and against the best players in the world, don’t be surprised to see coach Rick Carlisle and the rest of the team gain confidence in the Slovenian’s leadership as the season progresses.