Last season Luka Doncic led the team in usage finishing the season with a rate of 30.5%. In addition, he played 71% of his minutes at shooting guard solidifying his place as the Mavericks primary ball-handler and facilitator. This offensive strategy was optimal considering the roster but to obtain future success something has to change.
The Mavericks have a chance to surprise many oddsmakers this year. The first step towards executing this revelation is finding a point guard.
Who’s primed to join Luka in the Mavs back-court opening night?
Delon Wright, Seth Curry, J.J. Barea, Jalen Brunson
Dennis Smith Jr. started last season at point guard while Jalen Brunson ended the year in this role. The off-season additions of Delon Wright and Seth Curry strengthen the guard position as a whole yet questions still loom surrounding point guard.
On the one hand, the club is anticipating the breakthrough of at least one of its off-season signings. While on the other returning Mavs hope to fill this void. The Mavericks roster has glittered with unproven starters hopefully only in need of an opportunity.
Delon Wright, Seth Curry & J.J. Barea started a combined 15 games last year. This stat only reinforces their collective status’ as career back-ups. The leap from bench to the starter is challenging especially when a career rhythm has been established.
case is met with extreme caution after suffering a ruptured right Achilles last season. The Puerto Rico native recently signed the veteran minimum to re-join the Mavericks. Barea only played 38 games last season none of which he started. In 802 career contest, J.J. has only started 101 times. Numbers like this all but eliminate him from the starter discussion as he’s proven to be a valuable commodity as a reserve. The 35-year-old veteran will be eased into duty in the hopes of securing a season of health.
has played some lead guard but his primary position is off the ball. In his last stint with the Mavericks (2016-17), he played point guard 58% of the time. A career-high since entering the league in 2014 where he only played PG.
Rick Carlisle has established trust with the six-year veteran which gives him a shot at the starting role, although unlikely. Last season with the Portland Trailblazers Curry’s primary position was a reserve shooting guard. He logged 70% of his minutes at this spot.
For Seth, the most detrimental aspect to a potential starting role is oddly two-fold. First his undersized frame of 6’2″ isn’t ideal for a starter. Secondly, his ability to space the floor and knock down open shots is situational and borderline redundant with Luka & KP on the floor. It’s unlikely the aforementioned duo would have any issue getting buckets.
In the last three seasons, Seth has shot 56% (2015-16) and 49% (2016-17 & 2018-19) from three-point range. The urge to place him in the starting lineup will only hurt the Mavericks overall team depth. To begin contests Luka & KP will be tasked with providing the primary scoring punch. Chris Frasier touched on some of this in his own case for Seth to start.
Curry can’t be expected to maintain such high marks against starters when his career is based on success as a bench performer. Last season he proved to be a huge part of Portland’s playoff success by providing a boost from the bench. Ideally, he could do the same thing for the Mavs. Barring injury, I see Seth as a top tier reserve for the team.
seems to be the most probable choice to start at point guard. His frame and athleticism suggest as much. Delon has lacked game experience from the lead guard spot similar to Seth. The majority of their career minutes have been logged at shooting the guard. In the seasons final 26 games, Delon played mostly point guard for the Grizzlies.
In fact, this 26 game stretch was clearly the best of his career. Averages of 12.2 ppg, 5.3 apg, 5.4 rpg and 1.6 steals per game establish momentum he can use going forward. The California native only started 11 of those 26 games which deserve to be mentioned. The lack of starting experience doesn’t help his chances but Delon is used to overcoming adversity.
Wrights campaign to start has obvious holes offensively. In the previously mentioned stretch of games, DW shot 26% from three. He sports a career three-point field goal percentage of 33%. Unattractive numbers to a Mavericks team looking to improve its outside accuracy.
To this point of his career, Wright’s calling card has been a defense. When acquired by the Mavericks ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski lamented over his defensive acumen. Outlining his ability to guard multiple positions (1-3) and compete with the leagues top tier guards on the defensive end. All critical needs the Mavericks hope his addition addresses.
was a part of 14 of the 25 deployed starting lineups in 2018-19. He averaged 9.3 ppg and 3.2 apg (4th among rookies), shooting 47% from the field (2nd among rookie guards minimum 60 games played) and 35% from three. In addition, he started 38 games, averaging 29 minutes in those contest.
Brunson started significantly more games than his competition. In those 38 games, he averaged 13.0 ppg, 4.3 apg and three rebounds per game. A three-point percentage of 37.0% and a field goal percentage of 49% are all incremental upticks needed to justify his potential starting status.
Aiding his campaign is a late invitation to USA Basketball’s Select Team. He recently participated in the Blue vs White intrasquad scrimmage.
Jalen Brunson doing work with #TeamUSASelect. Last night in a intrasquad scrimmage vs. Team Blue he put up 8 pts, 6 rebs, 2 ast, 2 stl #MFFL #Mavs #Mavericks #DSN #TEAMUSA pic.twitter.com/iQBSIpj9W3
— Mavs Nation (@MavsNationDAL) August 10, 2019
The former NCAA National Champion held his own establishing himself as a starter for Team USA Select. Jalen’s value is on the rise and its due to his diligence and work ethic. The second-year point guard understands there are areas of his game he can improve.
Standing 6’3″ its key for Jalen to guard against mismatches presented after screen switches and bad transition match ups. Avoiding these scenarios will force him to apply his customary ball pressure while keeping him out of the paint.
Starting JB allows everyone to play their natural position, except on defense. A third guard/ small forward (Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Justin Jackson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Delon Wright, etc.) would be forced to handle the primary scorer while Jalen would match up with the secondary scorer. Leaving the least effective perimeter player to Luka. This equation is the most significant pitfall to a regular starting job. Although stable he doesn’t provide the same level of flexibility defensively as he does offensively.
With these factors in mind, Jalen Brunson fits the role of starter for the Mavericks. His ability to blend well with the team’s stars, superior basketball IQ and recent starting experience headline JB’s rationale to start. I fear he would be forgotten amongst a second unit full of same-size guards with a slightly better shooting ability.
Rick Carlisle is accustomed to utilizing roster flexibility. It’s proven to be a customary part of his coaching style. Last season the Mavericks used 25 different starting lineups. 15 of which were used either once or twice the entire season. These high numbers could be chalked up to severe roster turnover but it shouldn’t overshadow the obvious need for a lead guard.
Opening night the Mavericks should start Jalen Brunson at point guard. The intangibles he brings far outweigh his shortcomings. The egocentric nature of the NBA is in direct contrast of the second year players character. The Mavericks roster is full of role players that have capitalized on relatively small opportunities. Brunson is no different. The familiarity with coach Carlisle’s system is a major piece to solving the Mavs puzzle.
Regardless, expect the starting lineup to be fluid when the season starts. Carlisle has never been shy about mixing things up in an effort to find the right lineup. I anticipate him using the same logic until JB emerges as the starter the Mavs need at point guard.
Phots: www.Mavs.com Stats: www.Basketball-Reference.com Twitter: @MavsNationDAL