Last Saturday (Dec 14th) the Mavericks went toe to toe with the Heat despite losing Luka Dončić in the opening minutes of the game. The residual impact of the overtime loss could shape the Mavs future this season and here’s why.
There is no consolation for losing your best player to injury. In typical fashion, the Mavericks adopted the “next-man-up” mantra used throughout sports. The only REAL issue with this is Luka’s greatness cannot be replaced. It can only be supplemented. This is why time without him could actually be beneficial to the team’s long term goals. Keep in mind Dončić’s return is still up in the air although he’s ditched the crutches according to Rick Carlisle.
Per RC. @luka7doncic is off crutches and out of his boot. He has responded well to treatment. He wont play on Wed vs BOS, and after that is TBD
— Chuck Cooperstein (@coopmavs) December 16, 2019
This Luka-less time can be used as a team-building experience. Dončićs’ greatness hides many of the team’s deficiencies so this hiatus gives the club an opportunity to analyze the inner workings of the team. Hopefully finding jewels that best fit with both Luka and KP long term. Luka’s return has not been set but he was seen putting up shots prior to the Celtics game.
Luka sighting ?. He’s putting up jumpers before tonight’s game vs Boston. He’s not expected to play tonight. #DalSN
— Mavs Nation (@MavsNationDAL) December 19, 2019
Who is the Third Piece?
This portion of the season could be a huge opportunity for the entire team especially Tim Hardaway Jr. Having started the last 13 games he’s clearly worked himself into the Mavs starting lineup. Against the Heat Tim lead the team with 28 points, five rebounds, and three assists while shooting .500% (11-22) from the field. Although inconsistent he’s provided a sorely needed scoring punch.
At one point this season he was tops in the league in three-point field goal percentage but at the moment he ranks 81st (.363%). In the last six games, the former Knick reached double figures just four times. These are just mere snapshots of the inconsistency he’s shown all year. Tim’s career journey suggests he is valued around the league so being a trade piece is possible. It’s easy to assume the front office is always ready to make a move.
Recently the Mavericks showed a renewed level of resilience versus the Bucks and Celtics. They beat arguably the league’s best team in Luka’s first game away due to injury. This was followed by a six-point loss to the Celtics where Kristaps Porzingis logged his tenth double of the year. Against the Buck KP and Seth Curry proved critical to the win as both contributed 26 points to the victory.
This level of production is expected from KP but not so much Seth. He’s a great shooter but expecting 20 plus a night from him is misguided. With this as a backdrop understand Seth has made the Mavericks a more dynamic team. His deadeye sharpshooting is tough to handle especially when utilized as a reserve. Currently, he’s averaging around ten points a contest while shooting .410% from three-point range. For players with at least 50 attempts, this mark leads the team.
For the Mavericks Seth and Tim have provided the necessary shooting that allows ideal spacing. The Mavs entire roster is filled with hard-nosed players willing to accept their roles to better the team. The Mavs must become more consistent as a whole if they plan to weather the storm without Luka. Essentially, becoming less dependent upon his production. As difficult as this seems alleviating some of the pressure placed on Luka is a luxury the Mavericks possess. They have a solid mix of veterans and young players that can facilitate the change necessary to succeed.
Ideally, this injury will be nothing more than a bump in the road for Luka and the Mavs. They have to build on this unfortunate time if they plan on remaining contenders. Every member of the team will be tasked with improving their production while Luka recovers.
To date, this hasn’t been a problem as the Mavs hold steady with the fourth-best record (18-9) in the western conference. In addition to going 1-1 in Luka’s absence.
Featured Image: Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images Stats: - nba.com - basketball-reference.com