Like many teams in the league, the Dallas Mavericks are looking towards the All-Star Break to get the team rolling again.
It’s here. The unofficial halfway mark of the season. The calm before the storm that is the playoff push. The All-Star break is upon us and not a moment too soon for the Dallas Mavericks.
This should be a productive break for a team anxious to get back to the playoffs.
Luka and All-Star Weekend
Only one Maverick is headed to Chicago this weekend for the festivities: Luka Doncic, who is set to be the youngest All-Star Starter since Lebron James started 15 years ago AND just the 3rd All-Star Starter the Mavs have ever sent to the game (the other two being Dirk and Kidd). He will also participate in the Rising Stars game for the second year in a row as a part of the team world.
While these honors may appear symbolic to some, to a 20 yr old kid who grew up watching the All-Star games in Slovenia dreaming and wishing to reach that pinnacle, this is anything but symbolic for Luka Doncic. He has had an excellent season with MVP buzz surrounding his first half of play before a nagging ankle injury slowed down his molten pace.
And for the Mavericks as a franchise, it’s hard not to think of Luka participating in All-Star weekend as the “long con” of team building. This is a chance for Luka’s personality to mix with potential free agent targets for the Mavs in future offseasons like Giannis Antetekounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and even LeBron James, who will all be free agents in 2021. Are all of these pipe dreams? Of course. However, fans have seen Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant decide to team up based on their friendship as well as Kawhi and Paul George.
With Luka not coming up in AAU basketball or playing in a US college program, he has some catching up to do with interpersonal relationships that can net the Mavs the “big fish” they’ve been trying to land for a decade. Of course, it helps when you play like an MVP with a near triple-double average…
Outside of Dwight Powell’s season-ending Achilles injury, the entire Mavs roster is healthy again. Luka is back after a 7 game absence and rejoins a team that appears just a tad tired. KP had his nose broken, Delon Wright rolled his ankle, Seth Curry was missing games due to his back, but NOW the injury report only lists Dwight Powell.
It may not seem like it, but between KP’s knee injury in January that sidelined him for 18 days and Luka’s 2 ankle sprains that took him out of 4 games in January as well as this recent 2-week stretch, the Mavs are missing roughly a month of gel time between its two cornerstone pieces. However, since they’ve reached the week break, the players all get a week to recharge and practice as a full squad to really mesh as a team for the playoff push. And with KP looking like he has both his legs and confidence back, there should be no roadblocks between him and Luka locking in together.
The New Guys
As covered by our own RC Takes, the Mavs added Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to the roster via waivers and said goodbye to the underrated Ryan Broekhoff. This switch could not be clearer on what the Mavs feel is needed to excel this year in the playoffs: defense. They waived a 40% 3PT shooter for a player with no jumper that can defend multiple positions. Giving up a fringe rotation player that was part of the league’s #1 offense for a player who can bring extra help as wing defender to the 22nd place perimeter defense in the league is a move that hopefully helps in close games down the stretch.
However, MKG’s been in town for 1 game and now he has a week to practice and get familiar with the Mavericks’ system so that he can accurately help where he’s needed. The same goes for Willie Cauley-Stein in some respects. He was asked to contribute with very little practice since his arrival and he can use a deep refresher to bring out his best contributions for the last 28 games of the season.
Keep in mind that NEITHER of these players has really gotten to work with Luka ever. True, neither of them slated to start for this team if it’s healthy, but Luka plays a good chunk of his minutes with the second unit, so time familiarizing themselves with playing next to him will be crucial this week.
Most players will take the long weekend off with players either visiting home & family or jetting off to a secluded beach to recharge, but they’ll return to practice next week. Coaches, however, get to take the All-Star break to look at big picture planning rather than just the next opponent. There is so much work that goes into prepping players for the next matchup that it’s both hard to make any progress on a player’s individual trajectory or reset any schemes for the team overall.
Coach Carlisle is an excellent coach, but he can only address what’s in front of him. It’s up to his staff to raise issues and come up with ways to subtly improve a team that has literally played .500 ball since Dec 29th. The Mavericks’ roster is locked for the rest of the season, so maximizing the talents of what they have in front of them to solve things like their home game struggles or, more importantly, come playoff time, their woes in clutch games.
If the coaching staff can tinker with what has been working both with and without Luka and present it to the team next week, this team will be a true threat in the playoffs.
For most people, this week is a break from basketball, but for teams like the Dallas Mavericks, it’s a long weekend with a bunch of work before the real crunch time begins again next Thursday.
If the Mavs can use this time wisely between Luka showing his stuff to the world over the weekend AND the team tightening up their play for the last 32 games, this could be a very worthwhile “week off”.
Featured Image: NBA Illustrations/nba.com