With unique players like Luka and Porzingis on the court this year, the Dallas Mavericks will focus on skillsets rather than positions.
The new-look Dallas Mavericks that will take the court in October will look very different than they ever have before. Most notably, the lack of the sweetest shooting 7 footer to ever play the game wearing a Mavs jersey (we’re still in denial on this one), but also the way the lineup will be constructed.
In one season, the Mavs went from a team with clear and defined roles 1-5 in their opening day starting lineup to one with so much versatility that terms like a point guard and center aren’t quite applicable anymore.
For example, the opening day starting lineup for the 2018-2019 season was:
PG – Dennis Smith, Jr.
SG – Wes Matthews
SF – Luka Doncic
PF – Dorian Finney-Smith
C – DeAndre Jordan
This lineup, with Dorian subbing in for the injured Harrison Barnes, is about as traditional of a lineup as you can run in the modern NBA. DeAndre was tied to the basket, rebounding, defending the paint and shooting only within 6 feet of the rim. Dennis was to distribute and run the offense and Wes was to do what a shooting guard does and shoot. Dorian was to defend the other shooting big and Luka was there to do a little bit of everything. These players played their determined position on offense and guarded their corresponding position on defense. As The Rock would have said, these players “Know their roles, Jabronies”.
However, after the meteoric rise of Luka Doncic and his excellent ball-handling skills emerged, things began to change. Most notably, the midseason trade of 80% of the Mavs’ starters that sent away Dennis, Wes, Barnes, and DeAndre in January, which caused the lineups to remain fluid for the rest of the season. The team then made moves for the future and MFFLs who prefer to have position labels put on their players might find the start of this upcoming season a bit puzzling.
When your team gets players like Luka Doncic who can man the ball, but is sized at 6’7” and finish at the rim while shooting deep, deep 3s and a Porzingis who is 7’3” and is termed by KD as a UNICORN for his distinctive skill set, the team must be built to maximize what makes them unique rather than trying to mold their game to fit into a position box.
For example, asking “who is our point guard” won’t fully answer the question you want to know because TECHNICALLY our point guard will be Delon Wright, but Luka will be our primary ball-handler and distributor even though he will be listed as either a SF or SG. Delon will, however, be the main defender on the perimeter of opposing point guards so the duties will be split. The team also has 2 bigs with very different skillsets. On offense, fans will see Porzingis lighting it up from outside and Powell as the elite rim runner he is, while on defense, KP will be a next-level shot blocker and Powell will continue to be a solid defender on big body scorers.
The way-too-early projected starting lineup for your Mavs this year is probably something like:
PG – Delon Wright (but he’ll be secondary ball-handler)
SG – Luka Doncic (but he’ll do more facilitating than outright scoring)
SF – Justin Jackson or Dorian Finney-Smith
PF – Kristaps Porzingis (but he’ll be the paint defender)
C – Dwight Powell (but he’ll defend bigs on the perimeter)
It’s better to look at the Mavs this upcoming season by skills rather than positions. And in truth, this makes the most sense for basketball success anyway. Why would you force a player who is lacking in one area to be a specialist on that just because of an arbitrary position designation? In truth, this has been happening in the league for a long time, yet the position stigmas still persist. For example, Justin Jackson and Dorian Finney-Smith are far better perimeter defenders than Luka Doncic at this point, so why let the team suffer by forcing Luka to get torched by Bradley Beal and get beat for 40 on opening night when other defenders are available? The short answer is that you never would.
The Mavs have done this already with Dirk in his last few years, by organizing the offense around his prowess as a great shooting power forward and then hiding him as the center on defense whenever they could. Because everything must be categorized, they re-categorized him as a stretch-5 rather than the stretch-4 term that he helped coin 20 years earlier (which was a term made up to categorize him for redefining the position back then, too).
The point of all of this is to say that even though the team lists a player at a position, it’s much more useful to look at him in terms of his exact skill set rather than the position he’s listed at. Carlisle has spoken about this process for years now and it seems the time for it has finally arrived in Dallas. Even when the team first traded for KP, Carlisle spelled this out by telling Tim Cato of The Athletic
“He’s been an effective rim protector. If you look at it that way, him guarding 5s and then playing 4s on offense is probably the way to go.”
This clearly isn’t a new concept, but MFFLs are going to see this idea fully realized with their new-look roster in October.
This versatility will allow the Mavs to mix and match based on the needs of the opponent and give Carlisle a diverse tool kit he can use to confound opponents with in-game changes. This is only a good thing, even if it takes fans a little while to adjust to it. If anything, it gives MFFLs reason to really get to know their roster and know which specialist is going to help in any given situation.
Maximizing the talents of Luka and KP are paramount to this team’s success now and in the future, and the Mavs showing them that they are willing and able to adjust to them sets the scene for a long-term tenure for Dallas’ new dynamic duo, and that’s the bottom line.
Featured Image: AP Photo - LM Otero