Through the first 2 preseason games, the Dallas Mavericks have a glimpse of what their team is with and without Luka and KP.
With a back-to-back to start the preseason, the Dallas Mavericks have seen 2 very different games from their team within 24 hours. Luka and KP sat out the first game and played the second game, delaying MFFL’s excitement of seeing their new dynamic duo for an extra day. And if absence makes the heart grow fonder, game 1 made MFFLs appreciate what they saw in game 2, even more, when their young studs made their season debut. Looking at how both games went illustrates the truth that the NBA is a star-driven league and why it’s so very good that the Mavs now have 2 of them.
Game 1: Mavs v Thunder
In game 1 versus the OKC Thunder, the Mavs were without both Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, which ultimately led to a 119-104 loss. The Mavs only held two single point leads the entire game, where they otherwise trailed the rebuilding Thunder. The Mavs started Maxi, Dorian, Justin Jackson, Delon Wright and THJ who managed to all put up negatives in the plus/minus column except for Maxi Kleber (+3). Their leading scorers in this game were Maxi Kleber and Justin Jackson who both had 14 points. 14 points from your two leading scorers is not good enough and only having 3 total players score in double figures is DEFINITELY not enough to compete in this Western Conference. When the team shoots 36% from the field and 26% from three-point range while allowing the Thunder to shoot 50% from three, there is a low probability of winning and definitely illustrates the team’s need for its biggest guns.
Game 2: Mavs v Pistons
However, in game 2, the Mavs FINALLY got to unwrap their shiny new toy in a fully healthy Porzingis to pair with reigning Rookie of the Year, Luka Doncic vs a Detroit Pistons team who made it to the second round of the playoffs last year. The Mavs lost this one as well, going down 117-124, however, they led the Pistons through the entire first half and the Pistons only tied the game with 1 minute left in the third.
After this, the starters checked out of the game for good and the Mavs never led again. So even though the Mavs lost by a similar margin as game 1, the starting duo made their impact felt through their 3 quarters of play. Luka and KP led the team in scoring, as expected, with 21 points and 18 points respectively, which allowed Tim Hardaway the space he needed on the floor to score 17 points on his own (as opposed to the 3 points he scored the previous night).
The team shot 46.8% from the field and 37.1% from three-point range, which both stats are 10 percentage points better than the previous night without Luka and KP. It’s no secret that Luka and KP make their team and teammates better, but to see it starkly laid out versus a superior opponent shows how much the Mavs will need to lean on their stars to compete this year.
WHAT DOES IT MEEEAAAAANNNNNNN???????
Star players are stars for a myriad of reasons, but they can primarily be boiled down to the skills they put on the court and how they positively affect their teammates when they play. Luka and KP create so much gravity that sucks defenders their way that they create better and more open looks for teammates. And they do so while scoring a third or more of the team’s points on their own.
For example, in the Thunder game, THJ only managed 3 points on a 1-7 shooting night, but with Luka and KP creating better looks for him, Hardaway exploded for 17 points on 6-10 shots. In other words, his efficiency went from an abysmal 14% to 60% just by playing with better players around him. This is emblematic of why the NBA is a star-driven league. Stars’ talents allow players to be better versions of themselves by commanding the other team’s attention AND still finding ways to excel with that extra attention shined upon them.
This phenomenon has its pros and cons. As a positive, the Mavs have two pieces they should feel VERY confident in building around for several years to come. Yet, as a negative, if either of them gets hurt for any real period of time, the team does not have the depth to step up to the challenge without them. The team is very focused on the “two-man game” being the driving force of their offense this year as it should be, but Carlisle has made it clear that Porzingis will strategically rest at points this season. If Porzingis is healthy other than scheduled rest, the team should be able to overcome that, however, if he has ANY setbacks or new injuries, this team’s playoff aspirations might come crashing down.
When two players on your team are the difference between your team competing for the playoffs and returning to the lottery for the 3rd year in a row, you know they truly are the pillars of your team and it’s clear the Mavs have made that known to the other players on the team. The vibe from media day, training camp and even interviews aired with the preseason games is that if they want to be a Dallas Maverick, they need to find a way to successfully play around Luka and KP. If that isn’t possible, their days are numbered.
Yes, It’s Only Preseason
To be clear, I am WELL AWARE it is the first two games of the PRESEASON we are analyzing. For one thing, WE’VE WAITED 6 MONTHS FOR MAVS BASKETBALL SO LAY OFF ME! But also, it’s the sample size we currently have and it already presents a stark contrast to what the team is with and without it stars.
The Thunder game felt as if Carlisle was just throwing lineups against the wall and seeing if anything stuck (it didn’t) and then the Pistons game felt like he was testing rotation options with Luka and KP checking in and out at intervals that would exist in regular-season games.
Even the coaching staff approached these games differently. The team also has a day off before they take their home court, which might be spent analyzing the games and tweaking things as they ramp up towards the regular season, so certain things might be wildly different even in game 3 against the Bucks.
The scariest thing for the rest of the league to think about is that Luka and KP scored 39 points together 28 and 19 minutes respectively on bad shooting splits, both going 7-18 or 39% from the floor.
Neither player should stay at that low of a shot percentage for long, once they get comfortable with the rhythm of the rotations and their lineups they’ll play with. These two are about to put the league on notice that the Mavs are coming for them.
Featured Image: Associated Press