After back-to-back seasons of being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Clippers, the Dallas Mavericks’ main priority this season has to be to smash through that ceiling and make a deeper playoff run.
That doesn’t mean it’s championship-or-bust quite yet for Dallas, but another first-round elimination in the postseason would be concerning, especially if Luka Doncic keeps developing at the insane rate he has been.
Below, check out our preview for the 2021-22 Mavericks campaign.
Returning: Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, Tim Hardaway Jr., Boban Marjanovic, Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Burke, Tyrell Terry and Josh Green
Additions: Reggie Bullock (New York), Sterling Brown (Houston), Frank Ntilikina (New York), Moses Brown (Oklahoma City), Feron Hunt (SMU), Carlik Jones (Louisville), Eugene Omoruyi (Oregon) and JaQuori McLaughlin (UC Santa Barbara)
Departures: Josh Richardson (Boston), JJ Redick, Nicolo Melli (Olimpia Milano). Nate Hinton (Indiana) and Tyler Bey
* They have a generational superstar they have continued to build around… Anyone who saw Doncic play at Real Madrid knew he was bound to have a star-caliber career in the NBA, but what’s truly impressive is how quickly he’s surpassed that level, as at just 22 years old, the Slovenian magician already has two 1st Team All-NBAs on his resume. By far the biggest strength the Mavericks have going for them, Doncic is going to be knocking on the door of his first league MVP award. There may not be a better go-to player right now in basketball than Doncic, who masterfully blends high-level individual scoring with wonderful playmaking.
* Their best player is a proven playoff performer… Doncic currently owns the highest scoring average in playoff history (sample size, we know), and has beyond proven he’s not fazed by NBA postseason intensity. If the Mavericks around him can elevate their play next season, that could be the difference between a first-round elimination and a deeper playoff run.
* Their offense should elite once gain… Bringing back so many pieces from last season, including a potential MVP frontrunner for next year in Doncic, will allow the Mavericks to continue boasting a historically elite offense. In 2019-20, Dallas scored 116.7 points per 100 possessions, which, at the time, was an NBA record. That was since surpassed by seven teams in 2020-21, but even so, it’s the No. 8 scoring mark in league history. Meanwhile, last season, the Mavericks scored 115.4 points per 100 possessions, the 16th-highest mark in NBA history. That’s all to say, with a scorer/playmaker like Doncic running the show and surrounded by the shooting Dallas possesses, the Mavs should very well boast another ridiculously productive offense in 2021-22.
* Kristaps Poringis has had time to work on physical conditioning… Though that doesn’t guarantee he’ll be 100 percent healthy all season long, the fact that Kristaps Porzingis has had months off to condition and strengthen his body could be huge for the one-time All-Star. An engaged, healthy Porzingis should be a game-changer for Dallas, as few players league-wide combine his bombastic, deep three-point shooting and at-times elite-level shot-blocking.
* They have a good amount of continuity going for them… Dallas returns 12 players who saw action last season, the majority of whom were also on the team the campaign prior, and that continuity is going to be huge for a young squad developing chemistry together. The fact that those players head into 2021-22 already knowing their roles and how to play with each other will be very important for a team hoping to make a deep playoff run.
* Will there be more chemistry issues with Kristaps Porzingis? Since Porzingis’ arrival in Dallas, the fit with Doncic simply hasn’t been great, as the Latvian floor-spacer went from being a star with the New York Knicks to being a clear second – if not third – fiddle with the Mavericks. That has led to a lot of speculation about Porzingis’ future in Dallas, and although those seem to have quieted for now, could they spring back up if the Mavericks get off to a slow start this season? Porzingis and Doncic being on the same page will be paramount to whatever happens in Dallas this season.
* Questions exist about their leadership… Although the Mavericks might have the 2021-22 league MVP on their payroll, is Doncic the guy to rally the troops and bring positive leadership when things get tough? That might be the case next season – and if it is, that’d be huge for Dallas – but to this point in his career, that hasn’t been Doncic. Couple that with bringing in a new head coach and leadership will be a question mark for the Mavericks next season.
* Their defending will likely continue being mediocre… The Mavericks ranked 21st league-wide in defensive efficiency last season, giving up 112.3 points per 100 possessions. And although the pickups of scrappy defenders Frank Ntilikina and Sterling Brown could help improve that some, it likely won’t be enough to improve Dallas’ point-stopping to a level past mediocre.
* Their rebounding shouldn’t be much better, either… Though the Mavericks deploy multiple quick-footed big men who are solid switch defenders against ball-handlers, those guys’ lack of size and strength has made Dallas an average rebounding club, as evidenced by their 17th-ranked 73.4 percent rebound rate last campaign. They didn’t do anything to assuage those issues this season, either, besides adding another agile big man in Moses Brown.
* It will be Jason Kidd’s first year as a head coach since 2017-18… After 13 years with Rick Carlisle as head coach, the Mavericks decided to go in a different direction this season, hiring Jason Kidd, who has six years of head coaching experience in his own right, off the Lakers bench. And though Kidd does have head coaching experience at prior stops, he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory at the stops he had, boasting a 183-190 record over 373 games – and that’s without even discussing spilled-drink-related incidents. Dallas is undoubtedly taking a gamble with this hire, we’ll just have to wait and see how it pays off.
* Aside from training camp invites with little chance of making the team, the Mavericks currently have 16 players on their roster after signing Frank Ntilikina to a two-year deal. They’ll either need to cut someone or trade two players for one before the start of the regular season. It seems that the Mavericks still favor having an abundance of guards with nine currently on their roster. Dallas also has an abundance of centers and very few of them can play power forward. They could look to trade one of them for a player that could play both the three and four. They could also look to acquire such a player with their $10.9 million trade exception. They can comfortably utilize it since they are $16 million below the luxury tax.
* After conveying a first-round pick to the New York Knicks, Dallas is now only down one first-round pick over the next seven drafts. Unfortunately, they are limited to trading one first-round pick this season due to the Stepien Rule. It might be enough to put them in the bidding for an All-Star, but they could certainly combine one with their trade exception to get a solid starter.
* After extending Luka Doncic and re-signing Tim Hardaway Jr. to long-term deals, the Mavericks are set to be over the cap over the next few years. They could look to lock up other core players and establish more tradeable salaries. Jalen Brunson and Dorian-Finney Smith are eligible for extensions worth up to $55.6 million over four years. Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell are also eligible for extensions that can up to three more years.
Yossi Gozlan contributed to this section of the preview
1st in the Southwest Division, 5th in the Western Conference