DALLAS - With Luka Doncic having solidified himself as one of the NBA's elite players, the Dallas Mavericks must do their part to capitalize and contend for a championship.
There is plenty of work that needs to be done for a franchise to go from consecutive first-round playoff exits to taking the leap toward breaking through for an NBA Finals appearance.
One of the quickest methods of taking that leap for any team is to add a dynamic talent that makes an instant impact. Perhaps no greater example as of late has been the change of fate the Phoenix Suns experienced after trading for Chris Paul.
The Mavericks proved unable to add such a co-star to pair with Doncic this offseason. Instead, Dallas will need Kristaps Porzingis to recover his previous form and assume that role. A truly successful team goes beyond just its top stars, however.
When asked about the Mavericks' biggest key to returning to championship basketball, head coach Jason Kidd made it clear that the 'biggest thing' will be defense.
“The biggest thing is the defensive side of the ball,” Kidd said. “We’ve got to pay a little bit more attention to detail, understand we all have one goal and that’s to win a championship. We’ve got to get stops. The last time we won a championship here, we did get stops.”
There is substantial room for improvement for the Mavericks to take before taking the next step. Dallas had hoped the Josh Richardson trade would help in achieving this goal but that proved to not translate.
The Mavericks finished the regular season with a defensive rating of just 112.3 (21st) only to worsen to 119.7 (10th) in the playoffs. There were some clear shortcomings in both the on-ball and rim protection departments.
The simplest way to raise the floor of defensive impact for a unit is proficient rim protection. In the playoffs, Porzingis was a liability in addition to his shortcomings guarding switches and defending out in space, in general.
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There was clear confidence from Tim Hardaway Jr. in Porzingis' ability to recover his previous form. While it remains to be seen if that can occur until games are played, that would be the single greatest outcome for the Mavericks to elevate as a group.
"Injuries do play a part of the game and we have to look at that as well with him not really having his rhythm or him not probably being that confident out there because of all those surgeries and everything he had to go through," Hardaway Jr. said. "I know what type of player he is, I know what he's capable of probably more than anybody in here. Once you get that type of KP back, I think we can beat anybody."
The Mavericks displayed some genuine limitations in the fourth quarter of playoff games when it became clear that too much of a burden was placed on Doncic to shoulder the load.
Kidd made it clear that growing the chemistry of the team as a whole will be necessary for the Mavericks to achieve. This was something that Doncic himself had expressed in previous comments from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
“I think one of our leaders said it this summer: We’ve got to work on our chemistry,” Kidd said. “Our chemistry has to improve. We are a family. There’s going to be disagreements, but we move forward and we help one another.
“I think that’s the biggest thing we’re going to see, the fans will see is that this team is together.”
The Mavericks made no shortage of additions to their coaching staff with an emphasis placed on player relatability and locker room management. The most recent assistant coaching hire of Jared Dudley is a prime example and will need to translate in the team chemistry department.
It remains to be seen how far the Mavericks can go on a potential playoff run if they were to avoid the LA Clippers as a first-round opponent. If Dallas falls short again, it will be a requirement to head back to the drawing board.