Back in 2008, 23-year-old LeBron James took an extremely shallow Cavaliers team into the second round and ended up not getting much help against the Celtics. He had 45 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals in Game 7 but fell short of expectations. I’ve been thinking about this series this month as I watch 23-year-old Luka Doncic lead the Mavericks.no history Exactly A repeat after 14 years. The Luka Mavericks didn’t make it to the first round until this season. They didn’t lose in the second round, instead beating a 64-win team in a Game 7 win over the Suns. But now in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors have exposed their flaws, their free-to-the-rim spin offense and a defense that plagued Doncic enough to limit his scoring efficiency. The Mavericks trailed 3-0. It looks like this is where their season will end.
“The first two quarters, I played really bad. That’s my responsibility,” said Doncic, who had 40 points, 11 rebounds and three assists on Sunday. 109-100 failure“I’m still learning. I think after this season, whenever I can, I’m going to look back and learn a lot. This is my first NBA conference finals. I’m 23, man. I’m still learning a lot. .”
Luka has LeBron’s mind and talent, but his body needs to catch up. On the first day of training camp this fall, it will be obvious whether Doncic is working hard this summer to get the best out of his life.
It’s encouraging to hear Doncic publicly blaming himself instead of blaming himself. The statement demonstrates a willingness to take responsibility, introspect and improve weaknesses. Next he needs to act. Most of the time, Luka needs to improve enough defensively so that he doesn’t become a liability when he’s targeted, and the Golden State Warriors have successfully exploited that many times.
Second Spectrum said Doncic has been brought into the pick-and-roll as a pick-and-roll guard 21.6 times per game this postseason. Sometimes he needs to hedge the screen, sometimes he needs to switch. The Jazz averaged 0.89 points per game when they took Doncic to the pick-and-roll in the first round. But their weapons weren’t strong enough to use him the way the Suns started the second round. And now, the vaunted Warriors are crushing Doncic, who is scoring 1.16 points per game when he’s a screen guard.
As good as Doncic is on offense — and he great, averaging 32.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his 26 playoff games — the Mavs couldn’t hide him from playoff defense. He needs to perfect his game to be the best player on the last team.
It’s terrifying to imagine the way Ripped Luka performs. If he does his job this summer, then Jason Kidd, Nico Harrison and Mark Cuban need to be ready to fight for the title. Let’s take a look at Dallas’ upcoming pivotal offseason.
what the Mavericks are missing
The Mavs’ starting center Dwight Powell and backup forward Maxie Kleber, who had to get bigger, couldn’t stop the Golden State Warriors from attacking the rim. Dallas absolutely needs to upgrade its center.
Spencer Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson are key pieces of the Mavs offense, but they haven’t solved their problems at the rim. And none of them have the second-best player on any other conference finalist team (or many others in the league). The Mavericks also need a better second-best player.
Reggie Bullock and Kleber, two key role players, went 0-for-15 in Game 3. Combined with shooter Dorian Finney-Smith, the Mavericks lacked consistent shooters around Luka. Bullock and DFS played 40-plus minutes a night, chasing the Golden State Warriors’ scoring threat. The Mavericks could also use more help on the wing.
There are plenty of holes to address, but the Mavericks are under pressure to overcome. After LeBron’s 23-year-old season, Cleveland’s point guard was upgraded from Booby Gibson to Mo Williams. But in the playoffs against Orlando, that wasn’t enough. The following year, new arrivals like Shaq and Antoine Jamison weren’t enough to overcome the odds either. LeBron then brought his talents to South Beach. If Dallas can’t build a better contender, there’s a chance that Luka will also leave one day.
In an offseason, upgrade to center, look for wings, and hope to find a better No. 2 star behind Doncic. Oddly enough, this is a multi-year project for the Mavericks. But this team is in good shape, as evidenced by its conference finals. The bones of a championship team are there.
Doncic is about to enter the first year of a five-year max extension, and his supporting role is better than LeBron’s lineup at this time. But Dallas doesn’t want to worry about the possibility of Luka leaving in a few years. So what can the Mavericks do?
Should the Mavericks pursue Gobert?
Many NBA fans dislike Rudy Gobert. I get it. But Dallas should consider giving up what it takes to get him. Two first? Three first…one protected? Negotiate with me if you want, but if the only other part involved is salary filler (Tim Hardaway Jr. and Davis Bertans), or maybe an expendable young player (Josh Green), Please register me.
love him or not Gobert is the best interior defender in the NBAOver the past five seasons, including the playoffs, Second Spectrum says only 42 players have defended at least 5,000 pick-and-rolls. Gobert’s defense is second only to Nikola Jokic. But Gobert is only scoring 0.88 points per pick-and-roll, which is by far the best in the NBA. No one else is below 0.9. The Mavericks shouldn’t settle for knockouts. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year was just what they needed.
Finney-Smith, Kleber and Bullock will be the best wing supporters of Gobert’s career. If Doncic can improve defensively, there really isn’t any player to target. All of these players have the size to help in the paint, even if Gobert gets pulled to the perimeter when switching. The Mavs can be very strong and provide Doncic with the best screen and lob threat he’s ever played.
They should at least figure out if the price is right for Gobert. It may not be. Maybe the Jazz got a better offer or decided to keep their All-Star center. Maybe the Mavericks thought Gobert was too expensive. Over the next four seasons, Gobert will make $42.4 million a year. There are cheaper options, which will allow Dallas to spend more elsewhere.
Jusuf Nurkic makes sense as a target for a sign-and-trade with Portland. What about DeAndre Ayton? Or maybe Ayton’s backup, JaVale McGee, costs a lot less? I would love to see Mo Bamba and Doncic. Young players like Isaiah Hartenstein or Mitchell Robinson might get paid more than the taxpayer’s middle-class exception, but trades are always possible. Dallas has also always liked Atlanta’s John Collins. Will Indiana accept Myles Turner’s price? There are many names that make sense for the target.
But the Mavericks don’t have a ton of assets to work with. They have a taxpayer mid-level exception worth $6.4 million. They also received a $10.9 million trade exception from the Josh Richardson trade. A big one can fit. Or maybe take in fewer flanks than that, like Alec Burks or Royce O’Neal. There’s no shortage of options to consider.
Another big storyline for Dallas this summer: Jalen Brunson will be an unrestricted free agent. ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reported last month that Brunson could receive $20 million to $25 million a year, which is roughly the same as what I’ve heard. McMahon also said the Knicks and Pistons should go after him, why shouldn’t they? Brunson did nothing but improve his stock during the playoffs, averaging 22.7 points, 3.6 assists and just 1.2 turnovers. Everything that worked in the regular season is now transforming.
Teams in the league want to know what he can do with a higher usage rate. Brunson averaged just 20.0 pick-and-rolls per game in the playoffs (versus Luka’s 46.5). But according to Second Spectrum, Brunson is doing well, scoring 1.03 points per opportunity. When he’s singles, he’s putting up a stellar 1.1 points per game in the playoffs. All it takes is one team to overpay, and Brunson is a good bet.
It may be in the Mavericks’ best interest to re-sign Brunson. He’s a terrific player who plays a minor role behind Doncic while still making a big contribution. Brunson is also only 25, so he’s still developing as a player. But he’s also only 6-foot-1, and as mentioned, he’s not a defensive finisher.
McMahon reports that the Mavericks will not consider any sign-and-trade options involving Brunson.But given Brunson’s continued play and rising price tag, they may Have Consider them. But that’s a two-way street. Why not pursue another unrestricted free agent, Zach LaVine? If he says he wants to go to Dallas, and if Chicago wants to replace him rather than risk losing him for nothing, a double-sign and trade isn’t out of the question.
LaVine is a lethal off-ball scorer, and he’s far better than Brunson when it comes to off-ball threats. He’s a consistent lob threat and nearly 40 percent 3-pointer, and can shoot on the move or off the dribble. The only problem is that LaVine probably wanted a bigger role, not a smaller one, after sharing rock with DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.
Now, it’s all fantasy world stuff anyway. Brunson going for nothing is the absolute worst-case scenario. If he wants to play a bigger role on another playoff team, there’s no guarantee he’ll stay.
The Mavericks need to take a swinging approach. They need to create as many paths to the Finals as possible because ultimately Brunson takes his own destiny as an unrestricted free agent.
what is at stake
The Mavericks reaching the Western Conference finals is an important step forward for the team. But Lucca alone does not guarantee future success. The Mavericks could meet the Warriors in an earlier round next season. The Suns can reload. For that matter, so can the Lakers. What if Zion Williamson gets healthy and the Pelicans become a force? The Mavericks aren’t the only team trying to get better this summer.
The NBA is much deeper now than when LeBron was dragging those Cavaliers in the Eastern playoffs. There are more great players now. The bar for sustaining success is higher, which speaks to what differentiates Golden State from the rest of the West. The Warriors are heading to their sixth NBA Finals in the past 10 years. Stephen, Klay and Draymond remain at the core. But the Warriors have adapted, tweaking supporting roles and injecting youth into the roster.
Golden State owner Joe Lacob may be right about the Warriors leading light years. The question now is how others can bridge the gap. The Mavericks aren’t there yet, and Luka’s form will only increase the pressure to build the ideal lineup. A young LeBron showed Cleveland what happens when teams don’t. But it could be worse. Luka is a potential MVP on the Hall of Fame trajectory, signed for five years, but has yet to reach his peak.