The first preseason game for each NBA team is coming up in the next few days, and the Dallas Mavericks seem to be going into the new season with a murky outlook.
Yes, they have Luka Doncic, one of the game’s truly special players.
An argument could be made that he’s the best player in the world right now.
But it takes a team to win, and the Mavs don’t have much of a team around Doncic.
Jalen Brunson, who played very well in last season’s playoffs and was their second-best player, quickly bolted to join the New York Knicks, which was seen by many as one of the biggest losses in free agency this summer.
But they are merely complementary players who won’t move the needle much.
Dallas brought in Christian Wood this summer, and although he averaged 17.9 points and 10.1 rebounds a game last season, there’s a perception that he isn’t much more than an empty calories type of player.
In fact, the team announced this week he will be coming off the bench.
The Mavericks plan to start JaVale McGee this season.
Christian Wood will "primarily” be a 6th man. pic.twitter.com/K3wERCz1fl
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) September 26, 2022
In its annual stats-based win projections for all NBA teams, ESPN picked the Mavs to finish seventh in the Western Conference at 43.1 wins.
“As much as the loss of guard Jalen Brunson, a key question for the Mavericks will be whether they can maintain last season’s jump from 21st in defensive rating to seventh under new coach Jason Kidd,” wrote Kevin Pelton. “These projections are skeptical, explaining Dallas’ drop in the West standings.”
That would be quite a drop from their fourth-place finish last season, not to mention a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
All things considered, there is a real chance they will even miss the playoffs entirely.
There May Be ‘D’ In Dallas, But There Isn’t Much ‘O’
The Mavs won with defense last season, but their offense was rather anemic, and it’s easy to see why.
Without a lot of men who can create and hit their own shot around Doncic, they finished 15th in offensive rating, which isn’t terrible, but they were only 24th in points per game at 108.0.
Dallas was also last in pace, and in today’s NBA, playing at such a slow pace as it did is a recipe for failure.
Wood may be able to give them a lift offensively, but it isn’t known if he will have a real impact on the win-loss record.
Dinwiddie is somewhat of a proven scorer, as is Hardaway, but neither has a history of being consistent and efficient.
Dinwiddie, in particular, has career averages of 41.1 percent shooting overall and 32.2 percent from 3-point range.
As a team, the Mavs were just 19th in 3-point shooting percentage last season.
It all resulted in Doncic having to do almost everything at times to carry his team to victory.
As phenomenal a player he is, it’s simply too much of a burden for him, or for anyone else.
Luka Doncic and the Mavericks offense. pic.twitter.com/uzUwRb1Ghy
— At The Buzzer (@AtTheBuzzer1) June 3, 2021
The Rest Of The West Has Gotten Better
The Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets are getting key stars back from injury, and both are expected to make a major jump in the standings.
There is also a chance the Los Angeles Lakers improve on last season’s 33-49 finish and return to the postseason.
If the Mavs finish seventh, as ESPN has projected, they will have to participate in the play-in tournament, and in a one-game playoff versus the Lakers, Timberwolves, or Pelicans, anything could happen.
Dallas could very well be forced to watch the 2023 NBA Playoffs on television.
Although, with Doncic on their side, it may be hard to imagine such a scenario coming to pass.