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How Doncic, Mavericks Can Attack Warriors' Defense In WCF

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks have some options when it comes to attacking the Golden State Warriors.

The Dallas Mavericks managed to defeat the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns through two rounds of the playoffs. Now, they face a chance to earn a trip to the NBA Finals if they can defeat the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals

Luka Doncic began the Mavericks' playoff run sidelined as he recovered from a calf strain. He's since returned to play ten games and has averaged 31.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 6.6 assists while stepping in the big moment after big moment for the Mavericks against the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns. 

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns

“He’s (Doncic) gotten better coming back from that injury,” Kidd said. “He goes at his pace, he’s a willing passer, he trusts his teammates, and also he’s willing to post up or play on the perimeter. He’s a hard player to guard.

“Right now he’s seeing the court at a high level and we’re going to need him to see the court at a high level against a great talented defensive team.”

The top of the Warriors' priority list will be finding ways to contain Doncic. His regular season production against the Warriors is pretty emblematic of his overall playoff production as he averaged 31.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 5.5 assists in four performances. 

There's never too much value that can be taken away from regular-season results. When looking at the Mavericks' matchups with the Warriors, that is especially true. The final two of the four games they played did not include Draymond Green while the initial two occurred with Kristaps Porzingis still in Dallas.

Andrew Wiggins will be relied upon as the primarily on-ball defender to contain Doncic. He's a strong, explosive athlete that has the trust of the Warriors' defense to handle his assignment. Without a legitimate rim protector on the floor, he will be needed to do so. 

Wiggins guarding Doncic was one of the most frequently occurring head-to-head matchups the Warriors had throughout the regular season. Both players playing all four games certainly have an impact, but it still suggests there's an expectation that Doncic will be checked by him like Mikal Bridges in the series prior. 

When guarded by Wiggins, Doncic scored 33 points went 10-22 (45.5 percent) from the floor, 6-12 (50.0 percent) on 3s, and got to the free throw line for eight attempts. The only player Doncic scored more points directly against in the regular season was Ivica Zubac with Jonas Valanciunas (32), Garrett Temple (31), and Herbert Jones (30) all meeting the 30-point threshold, too.

While Draymond Green was sidelined for the Mavericks' most recent matchup against the Warriors, there were some clear themes. Doncic is going to get what he wants against their main wing defenders out in space, whether it's Wiggins, Klay Thompson, Jonathan Kuminga, or Otto Porter Jr. None of them can contain Doncic out in space.

One of the first targets Doncic tends to seek out from any given defense is a traditional big man. He knows he can get by them for finishes and he can get his shot off comfortably on the step-back 3s. He can even get to a turnaround jumper mid-drive if he needs to without resistance. Looney has a 7-foot-4 wingspan but is still just 6-foot-9. It's a considerable difference between him when compared to Rudy Gobert and Deandre Ayton.

Perhaps one of the more interesting elements about Looney or Green at the five is that Doncic's size presents the ability to post up any of the Warriors' players on the floor at a given time. Golden State may need to send double-teams considering even Looney is vulnerable to getting bullied down low. 

“Luka’s a little bigger, a little more physical than James (Harden) was,” Looney said. “James used a lot of quickness. His first step was pretty amazing. Luka’s able to post up pretty much anybody when he gets a shoulder on you — watching him post up guys like [Suns’ center DeAndre] Ayton. The big difference is the size. Luka’s really strong. That kind of surprised me this year.”

It wouldn't be wise to overlook the impact that Green provides defensively. He provides significant value when slotting in at the four serving as the low-man on defense and can anchor a unit switching 1-5 when playing the five. His value as a team defender makes it more challenging for any offense and that's likely where the Warriors will favor deploying him. If the Mavericks go small to fully space out, his impact could be mitigated to an extent. 

One of the limitations the Warriors face with their personnel is they're at their best with Stephen Curry and Jordan Poole sharing the floor. For as explosive offensively as they are, they can be hunted by the Mavericks' offense. Curry was a favorite target of Doncic, especially down the stretch in their final meeting. 

There is the option for the Warriors to use a pre-switching technique so Curry ends up on another perimeter player but two wings are instead handling the ball screen being set by a guard. There are limitations to this when considering the Mavericks tend to keep their spot-up snipers in the corners. So, if Curry is having a wing defender switch off a wing, he may end up having to guard Brunson or Dinwiddie after executing the pre-switch. 

The Warriors will be unable to deploy drop coverage against Doncic. He is able to get to a pull-up 3 taking a wide approach too easily for the defense to feel comfortable with giving up these sequences. As a result, Looney and Green will need to be ready to work close to the level when they are deployed in ball screen coverage. 

The on-ball defender attempting to deny middle in ball screen coverage against Doncic opens up the opportunity for him to reject the ball screen to attack the rim. With the Warriors not having a traditional center with high-level rim protection ability, they are put at a real disadvantage recovering in such a situation. 

If the Warriors stick to their base defensive strategy of soft switching ball screens against Doncic, Looney is not equipped to contain him out in space. It's unlikely this will be a technique that lasts long if Golden State comes out in their regular approach before making changes as they see fit. 

When a wing was deployed as the big defender guarding a ball screen set by a non-big, Doncic quickly went to work comfortably getting to his perimeter shot creation package. The window of daylight when the switch occurs creates enough of an opportunity for him to attack.

In the regular season, the Warriors primarily looked to use a show-and-recover technique to try to deny switches involving Curry for Doncic to exploit. The technique was deployed in the regular season with the goal being to keep Doncic from being able to turn the corner to get downhill and collapse the defense.

“He’s (Doncic) seen everything, too,” Finney-Smith said. “I feel like they’re going to switch the defenses up to give him something tricky or give him something different every possession, because that’s what you’ve got to do against great players.

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“We expect some trickery, we expect them to guard him multiple ways. But we’re going to be prepared for either way.”

A technique the Mavericks deployed to counter the Warriors' attempts to deny switches was for Doncic to take the show-and-recover wide before turning the corner. As he drives to the rim after taking the showing defender wide, the original ball screener gets into a position to set a back-screen — sealing off for a clean drive. 

If Doncic draws both defenders deep after receiving a ball screen from a shooter like Reggie Bullock, it can create a clean catch-and-shoot look. It will be up to Curry to work hard to make the recovery to contest the jumper, which only helps to tire him out some more. 

The deployment of "Stack" pick-and-roll is another option for the Mavericks to involve Curry directly in the action. Similar to the Jazz with Mike Conley, it's unlikely the Warriors will have Curry switch onto Doncic since that's a matchup they seek to avoid. If the initial ball screen commands a switch, the defense can become discombobulated overall. 

The Mavericks could get creative if they aren't too concerned about forcing Curry into the action. They could have Dinwiddie or Brunson be a ball screen if the Warriors are attempting to show-and-recover to create a quick drive off the catch for one of them. 

“They’re a team that will throw different defenses on the fly,” Kidd said. “They’re very good at being able to change up their coverages without calling a timeout.

“So for us we have to recognize that and see that. We believe our quarterback has seen a lot of these coverages and he’ll be able to recognize it.”

Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns

The dribble handoff set the Mavericks like to run for Doncic is another way they can attack Loney out in space. Doncic can look to counter whatever strategy Wiggins chooses, whether he goes under or favors overplaying the drive going over. Another element of these sequences, the lob pass against a shorter center is easier to make.

The Warriors could look to send double-teams at Doncic in an effort to make other players beat them. When that happens, deploying the three-guard lineup with Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie becomes a key point of attack for the Mavericks' offense — taking advantage of an out-of-rotation defense. 

“For me, I’ll probably see a couple more double team this series, and that’s fine," Doncic said. “We faced double teams the whole season. I think we play the best when they double team – four-on-three basketball in the NBA. We have a lot of great players.”

The advantage the Mavericks have with their improved perimeter scoring punch is they don't necessarily have to rely on Doncic to attack Curry or Poole all the time. It can be Brunson or Dinwiddie aggressively breaking them down off the dribble and capitalizing on their inability to contain. 

Brunson was key in orchestrating the offense throughout much of the first round and continuing to provide a secondary threat next to Doncic. In the three playoff games without Doncic, Brunson averaged 32.0 points, 5.3 assists, and 1.0 turnover while shooting 50.7 percent overall, 41.2 percent on 3s, and 85.0 percent on free throws.

Dinwiddie has largely struggled in the playoffs to stay consistent, but part of it has to do with his paint-oriented game going against defenses with high-level rim protectors. He's coming off a 30-point performance against the Suns in Game 7 and shot 5-7 (71.4 percent) on 3s in each of his last two games. 

Both Brunson and Dinwiddie can aggressively power their way to the rim using a ball screen, attack a mismatch in isolation, or capitalize on being given a gap in ball screen coverage for a floater or pull-up. It's a genuine luxury to be able to deploy three of those threats on the court all at the same time without giving up size.

In the regular season, the Mavericks were the second most efficient isolation scoring team for a reason. Doncic sets the tone in a major way, but Brunson and Dinwiddie each are more than capable of getting into the paint to make a tough play or creating their own jumper off the bounce. Facing weaker matchups, both players will be needed to do so. 

There was one possession of this exact nature occurred in the Mavericks' last meeting with the Warriors. Doncic spaced the floor with Wiggins guarding him while Dinwiddie drew Curry on a switch using a ball screen. The end result? Dinwiddie played bully ball in the paint for an and-one finish in clutch time. 

Dinwiddie should see a far more favorable set of circumstances to attack in this series. He is a load to handle physically when attacking the paint and he's not going to be the focus of the Warriors' defensive game-plan. Without a Gobert or Ayton patrolling the paint, he's going to need to be aggressive. It opens up the option for Dinwiddie to be more of a threat attacking off the catch to score and create. 

When it comes to combatting double-teams, the Mavericks can also benefit from savvy veteran contributions from players doing the little things. For example, there was a pivotal drive off the catch from Dorian Finney-Smith where Dwight Powell sealed off the only help defender with a chance to pressure the finish in their last matchup. It all starts with countering the initial double-team. 

Another benefit of having multiple creators on the floor at once is the opportunities Doncic receives to space the floor and wait for chances to attack off the catch. Whether he's taking a catch-and-shoot 3 or getting a touch to attack without the defense being able to load up against him, the Warriors can't do much in these situations. 

Doncic has had a lot thrown at him defensively by the Clippers in his previous two playoff appearances, as well as by the Suns in the Western Conference semifinals. The Jazz being anchored by the NBA's best rim protector in Rudy Gobert shouldn't be overlooked either. Ultimately, Doncic has faced many challenges and adapts. 

A key difference for Doncic with this year's Mavericks team compared to last is the emergence of Brunson as a confident playoff scorer and the addition of Dinwiddie. With the ability to go small and spread the floor out, they have no shortage of versatility.