Skip to main content

Mavs Will Rely on Frank Ntilikina, Josh Green as Ball Handlers

The Dallas Mavericks unfortunately lost Jalen Brunson in free agency. Now, Frank Ntilikina and Josh Green factor into their plans in a big way.

Following the free agency departure of Jalen Brunson, the Dallas Mavericks did not outright replace him with a traditional playmaking threat. However, the team remains confident in the in-house options available. 

“You can’t overcome (the loss of Brunson),” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said. “You’ve got to be able to, one, be thankful that we had him last year and enjoy the success that he helped with the Mavs.

“We wish him luck in New York, but we can’t replace him. We’re going to have to do it by committee because he brought so much to the table, not just on the court but off the court.”

For the starting lineup, Dinwiddie will be a trusted option to fill the Brunson void directly since he'll start next to Luka Doncic. The new role that he'll have is something that Kidd feels has been under-discussed, but is worth highlighting.

“He has a new role,” Kidd said. “Nobody’s talking about his new role, because he’s going to play alongside Luka. … We had JB there last year, so this is going to be interesting to see how he will digest this new role that he has to play.”

Considering that Dinwiddie was partly acquired in the midseason trade as a hedge for the potential departure of Brunson, the real problem is actually replacing the important contributions that Dinwiddie offered as part of the bench unit.

There was some speculation about Goran Dragic being a potential bench guard addition, but the Mavs had other plans. Frank Ntilikina and Josh Green have been two names mentioned as options to shoulder some of the bench ball handler responsibility.

“I thought Frank and Josh played well for us last year,” Kidd said. “(Josh is) a guy that we truly believe has improved. He had a great year for us last year and has worked on his game this year, so we’re going to ask him to do a little bit more playmaking and handling the ball.

“Frank’s been in this league (for five years), and he’s run a team before (with the New York Knicks). So we’re going to lean on those two to do that.”

There is a significant difference in simply bringing the ball and being the main point of attack that initiates offense within the half-court. It'll be important to see the style of half-court offense and how often Doncic and Dinwiddie have their minutes staggered before making too strong of a judgement either way.

An advantage that comes from, say, Green bringing the ball up on a grab-and-go rebound is the potential chaos it causes for the defense. It's more challenging for the defense to gain their ideal matchups at the start of the possession. 

For a Mavericks team that boasts a lot of size on the perimeter, a smaller guard could get stuck on Doncic, depending on how the sequence plays out. From the start, that's an advantage to attack. Again, that's the benefit of that chaos from playing faster in a less predictable way. 

There are some elements to the Mavericks' guard depth to take into consideration. Neither Ntilikina nor Green have been considered reliable initiators in the half-court during their careers. The offense could flow primarily through Christian Wood, but what's the plan if Doncic or Dinwiddie were to miss time due to an injury?

"When you go on vacation, you kind of simulate a lot of those questions in the sense of a lot of guys don't play 82 games," Kidd said. "Having Spencer and Luka out gives Frank and Josh an opportunity. There's other ways you can play, especially with your bigs being able to handle — C. Wood and Maxi — being able to bring the ball up.

"I know everybody kind of laughed about Dorian last year when I wanted him to bring the ball up, but we're going need other guys to start the offense. I think the other guys are up to that challenge."

Kidd's answer on media day certainly aligns with what has occurred during recent practices that have been open to the media. There has been early offense flowing through the big at the top of the offense. It allows the team to leverage the shooting gravity of their frontcourt and to play out of ball screens, handoffs or various half-court actions.

Playing more through Wood presents different spots to attack from and different half-court actions to utilize. He could prove to be a helpful option in mitigating some of the limitations that arise from no longer having a third guard of Brunson's caliber. Wood can thrive in the middle of the floor, on the low block, or attacking from the 3-point line. He presents a lot of options for an offense.

Perhaps an important factor to consider is the impact of Jaden Hardy in his rookie campaign. Expecting too much from a first-year player may come with inconsistency, but again, 'growing pains' are part of the development process. He could perhaps emerge as an intriguing option to turn to if more shot creation and playmaking was needed.

“[Hardy] can also talk to a young Josh Green, who in his first two years of just understanding what happens when you don’t play for maybe a year and then you come out and play,” Kidd said. “Just understand what the ups and downs and how that makes you feel, and I think Josh is the perfect candidate for him to kind of talk to.

“But I think, also, the coaching staff being able to work with him all summer, and will continue to work with him. Again, he’s having a really good camp.”

A roster doesn't necessarily have to be a finished product in September. If it turns out that a more dynamic offensive threat is needed to come off the bench behind Doncic and Dinwiddie, they could utilize a trade before the NBA midseason deadline, or leverage the buyout market.

You can follow Grant Afseth on Twitter at @GrantAfseth.

Want the latest in breaking news and insider information on the Mavericks? Click Here.

Follow on Twitter.

Follow on Facebook.