Great Expectations: What’s Next For Luka Doncic's Mavs?
Before the rollercoaster 2019-2020 NBA season began, many national analysts were discounting the Dallas Mavericks as a potential playoff team. Thanks to Luka Doncic’s meteoric rise to MVP-like stardom, the Mavs not only made a lot of those people look silly by making the playoffs, but the team was just a game-and-a-half away from surpassing the Houston Rockets as the fourth-best team in the Western Conference while also serving up the most efficient offense the league has ever seen.
“We had a very productive year and a lot was accomplished,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Getting back to the playoffs is very significant. Being 11 games over .500 in the regular season is significant. ... We went through some great experiences.''
Making the playoffs was an accomplishment, especially for a franchise that hadn’t tasted the postseason since 2016, but there was still a lot of doubt about whether or not the Mavs would be able to put up any kind of legitimate fight against a stacked Los Angeles Clippers team featuring two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and the deepest roster in the league.
Once again, Dallas alleviated those doubts, pushing the Clippers to six games mostly due to the sheer brilliance of Doncic, who finished his first-ever playoff series averaging 31 points, nine rebounds and nine assists against one of the best defenses in the league.
It’s amazing that the Mavs were able to be that competitive with the Clippers despite all the obstacles they faced — Kristaps Porzingis only playing in two-and-a-half games due to a questionable ejection in Game 1 and a meniscus tear, Doncic rolling his ankle badly in Game 3, and having key contributors like Dwight Powell and Jalen Brunson out for the season before the bubble games even began.
READ MORE: Porzingis Addresses Knee Injury
Doncic and the Mavs pushed through all those unfortunate circumstances to make the series as competitive as they possibly could have, and if Porzingis hadn’t suffered his unfortunate knee injury, you have to wonder if the Mavs could’ve pulled off the upset. After all, Game 2 was the only contest in the series in which Doncic and Porzingis played the entire time, and the Mavs won that one convincingly by 13 points.
So now, even though the Mavs season ended with a first-round exit in the playoffs, the league is officially put on notice that 1) Luka Doncic isn’t far off from making NBA his league, and 2) the up-and-coming Mavs are just a piece or two away from shooting up the Western Conference standings and becoming true championship contenders for the foreseeable future.
The Mavs don’t have to do anything special for that first point to come true. Doncic will undoubtably put in the work this offseason to come back even better next season. If Doncic could just find a way to shoot the league-average from deep (around 35 percent), he could very likely win the MVP award next season.
As for the second point, the Mavs’ front office has some work to do this offseason to make sure the team makes that collective jump into title contention in 2021.
“There were a lot of great things that came out of this season and there is going to be great optimism for the future,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got to keep building the roster around Luka and KP, keep adding pieces that fit around those two guys so that as we move forward we can continue to grow the team. That’s really the most important thing.”
Could the Mavs be better next season simply by having having better luck when it comes to health?
Sure they could, but even before the injury bug hit Dallas this past season, the team still struggled heavily in 41 clutch games, going 17-24 in said games. The Mavs and the Orlando Magic were the only playoff teams to rank in the bottom-10 when it came to clutch-game winning percentages.
Part of those difficulties in the clutch have to do with lack of experience, but the other part has to do with not having a true third option that is capable of getting a bucket down the stretch when Doncic is being doubled and creating wide-open looks.
In the Mavs’ elimination Game 6, Doncic scored 38 points on 15-of-28 (54-percent) shooting from the field and 4-of-9 (44-percent) from deep. The rest of the Mavs roster went 23-of-62 (37-percent) from the field and 7-of-28 (25-percent) from the three-point line. Shorthanded or not, a lot of the Mavs' misses, especially from beyond the arc, were on wide-open attempts because of the attention Doncic draws.
Dallas having a healthy Porzingis and another significant threat that can consistently knock down those wide-open looks would help immensely.
There are many ways Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson can help take the Mavs to the next level this offseason, whether it's through trades, free agency or both, and we'll be mapping out a handful of those options throughout the next couple of months. In fact, we're kicking things off later today on DallasBasketball.com with a Mavs blueprint to trading for a certain high-scoring Sacramento Kings shooting guard who could be due for a change of scenery.
"My goal at the start of every season is to win a championship," said Doncic in his final postgame press conference of the season. "There is no other goal ... that is going to be mine."
The Mavs, collectively, have to take on that same mindset this offseason, because as nice as it was to prove the doubters wrong this past season, the expectations for Dallas will now grow exponentially with Doncic playing at the level he's been playing at. Buckle up and hold on tight, because the Mavs' offseason speculation and efforts begin ... now.