Report Card: Grading The 2019-20 Mavs
DALLAS - "Report cards'' are subjective things. Do we grade on a curve? Factor in expectations? Bow to the phenomenon of the "teacher's pet''?
The 2019-20 Dallas Mavericks, as a team, exceeded expectations. (Could the post-Dirk Nowitzki Era transition have gone any more smoothly?) That's the baseline we'll use in handing out our letter grades to everybody on the roster. And yes, we will acknowledge a teacher's pet or two ...
And here is that aforementioned "teacher's pet.''
Barea, 36, is a player in decline, largely due to the Achilles issue. The grit remains, but numbers aren't there anymore. However, grading the on-court JJB isn't enough.
Barea serves as a bridge from coach Rick Carlisle to the locker room. And maybe even more important: Who was the first guy to befriend Luka Doncic when he came to Dallas? JJB. And who was the first guy to befriend Kristaps Porzingis when he came to Dallas JJB.
As a player, JJB is at-best middle-of-the-road? But as an asset?
Jalen Brunson rolled into town as a rookie classmate of Luka Doncic's and while they are obviously not on the same level as players, they are on the same level - and were immediately - as :pro's pros.'' Brunson's mid-March shoulder surgery ruined whatever he might've done in the NBA bubble, and no, it was never going to look quite like it did at the end of last season, when he was required to carry a load for a bad team ...
But Brunson can look like a long-term caddie playing behind Luka.
The "We Love Our Boys In Blue'' approach creeps in here, because we are fresh off watching the young journeyman Burke at times appear to be un-guardable in the Round 1 playoff loss to the Clippers.
The upsides? Burke is one of those guys who will probably be a scorer for into old age. Additionally, his quicks off the dribble represent something Dallas' roster does not otherwise have.
How do we "overrate'' scoring 31 and 25 in playoff games? There is no "overrating'' of that; not many guys out of mothballs could've done it.
The downsides? He's smallish and inconsistent. Somebody else might overpay Burke this offseason ... but that doesn't mean Dallas shouldn't try to simply pay him.
We're seeing a lot of folks sit in judgment of Willie Cauley-Stein for opting out of the Bubble. "He made the right move for his family!'' vs. "He made the wrong move for his Mavs!''
There is a lot of "fake expertise'' going on here. Only one person can make that call, and no person - not even an all-knowing sportswriter - can make that call for another person.
Cauley-Stein played 13 games for the Mavericks and he seemed generally invested - a criticism of him in previous stops. But he didn't truly replace the injured Dwight Powell and his stay here will likely be stuck at those 13 games ... and sportswriters' opinions.
The only true criticism of Curry in Dallas comes when he is asked to do too much.
Set him up for perimeter shots, and he's elite - in that singular department. Ask him to play too many minutes, to play successfully on both ends, to be a ball-handling set-up guy for others?
You're asking for too much. You're asking for trouble.
Curry isn't going to be a "third-best player'' on a contending team. But he absolutely can play a key role on one.
It was the season-starting opinion of Carlisle that he wouldn't trade Luka for any player in the world. It seemed just a tad hyperbolic then.
It no longer does.
Luka is now on par, or just a tick behind, Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron. The MVP voting says it is so. The All-NBA First-Team nod says it is so.
Donnie Nelson and Tony Ronzone deserve credit for the maneuvering that brought the Slovenian Sensation to Dallas, and Carlisle deserves credit for working with (as oppose to "managing'') Doncic to the point where, at 21, he is recognized as a BBIQ master.
He can outscore you. He can out-assist you. He can out-rebound you. And most nights, he does all three at once. Luka Doncic is being acknowledged by his peers as "the future face of the NBA.'' And the only part of that they're getting wrong is that he's also "a present face of the NBA.''
We have an admission to make here: We didn't see it. At all.
Finney-Smith as a scrapper? Sure. But as a guy who would eat up minutes, add a three-point-shooting aspect to his defensive prowess and this season and emerge as Dallas' best "shut-up-and-play'' guy?
Didn't see it coming.
Dallas' needs more and better defense, and could use a "star'' in that department. And if that acquisition happens, that Player X will find himself in a daily competition with Finney-Smith to get the most out of himself ... which Dorian certainly has done.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
What we like most about Hardaway is his "defiance.''He's the son ofa former NBA star who is making a lot of money and could cruise on all of that - could even cruise on accepting his rep as a "volume shooter'' on a team in need of "a third star.''
Instead, he became more of a marksman on defense and did his best to become that third guy. And when he became a starter? His numbers vaulted accordingly.
The Mavs spoke (mostly privately) before the start of 2019-20 as if Jackson might become a starter.
That didn't even come close to happening.
The shooting was poor and the minutes disappeared and he fell completely out of the rotation. Now? He's devolved back to the point where he'll have to be considered a "prospect,'' and maybe even a fading one.
As always, it's impossible to pinpoint "fault.'' Is the affable Jackson not a good pupil? Are the teachers on this staff failing him? Jackson went from 60 to zero this season, earning him about as poor a grade as we'll issue.
Kidd-Gilchrist is a stop-gap guy who basically does one thing - rebound - well. That's not enough to make him a long-term Mav, but to his credit, he also provided some defense against the Clippers series and he even made a couple of 3's as well.
A Kidd-Gilchrist with a jumper would be a different player. But that's not the reality here.
Some day, the Mavs will be a better defensive team, and Maxi Kleber will be a part of that better defensive team ... and together we'll all look back and laugh at how Maxi was asked to spend an entire playoff series guarding Kawhi Leonard.
Maxi deserves credit for accepting the impossible challenge, and his failure as a shooter in that Round 1 series can, we say, be directly attributed to the effort he was required to give on the other end.
Somebody on this team had to play defense - perimeter stuff and rim-protection and physicality - and along with Finney-Smith, Kleber was that somebody.
Kleber blocks and challenges shots like a center, has developed a perimeter shot (usually) that can keep him on the floor, and is a rotational contributor on a good team.
And he'll be better for his 2020 NBA Playoffs experience ... as long as he never again has to cover Kawhi Leonard.
DallasBasketball.com wrote more stories about the Mavs' efforts to trade Lee and his $12.7-million expiring contract than Courtney played games. We almost sense that Carlisle played him - even started him! - just to thumb his coaching nose at the stories.
But the stories were true ... just as it's true that Lee has a 3-and-D guy did OK here. Lee probably re-established that he's still an NBA player (that was probably one of Rick's actual goals) even though that's unlikely to continue happening in Dallas.
We believe "The Romanticizing Of Boban,'' which is meant to be a method of praising his engaging personality, is actually a backhanded compliment.
Boban isn't a mascot or a clown; he has always been a very productive offensive player when his minutes are controlled and his spots are managed. We frankly thought it was ridiculous that once the playoffs started, Marjanovic's ability to "be a backup center'' was questioned.''
There should be no question. He's a backup center. Seven minutes here and nine minutes there and in a pinch he goes wild in a game.
Boban's qualities as a teammate and as a person are, as with the aforementioned Barea, of value, too. But as a player? Ask yourself this: When he was doing his thing this year against quality foes like the Nuggets and Clippers, don't you think they wished he was with 'em rather than against 'em?
We're not handing out any "Incompletes'' here, though so much of Porzingis' odd-and-tantalizing season might merit that. He was rehabbing, then "load-managing,'' then ultimately playing hurt again in the playoffs? He was a "tough guy'' but an arguably injury-prone one. He was "unstoppable'' except for a slow start during which he seemed to "stop'' himself.
He was the second-best player in a Dallas offense that is statistically the NBA's best-ever ... but he wasn't good enough?
The Mavs are committed to the idea of Porzingis, 25, being healthy next year, with one knee injury having nothing to do with the other one, and re-emerging as an All-Star. There were glimpses of that this year, but ...
If you're "The Unicorn,'' there shouldn't be quite this many questions about whether you were "good'' (which he surely was) or "great'' (maybe?).
We're hopeful that Porzingis' future report cards are overflowing with "A's.'' But that's not the case yet.
There are also issues about Powell's future due to injury, but again, that isn't what his 2019-20 grade needs to be about. At this stage in his career, we and the Mavs know exactly what he is: A rim-roller and a finisher, a defensive change-up and a worker bee.
And coming off him his rupturing his Achilles, he'll need to be a worker bee at that - which he unquestionably will be.
Powell is critically important to the culture of this team as well. Folks write a great deal of how Doncic and Porzingis have "taken the Dirk baton,'' but Powell has done it as well and as powerfully as anyone, behind the scenes. It's too bad that in the bubble he was robbed of contributing anything but leadership.
Maybe this isn't Wright's fault, but there is really nothing about Dallas' "big'' (relatively) offseason signing that worked. He was brought here to be a starter, did so in Game 1, and then, nah. He was brought here to add defense and ball-handling, but he wasn't proficient enough on offense to allow those luxuries.
Wright - who it is worth noting has never really been an NBA starter - is probably simply a guy who might excel in a different system. Dallas obviously isn't going to change its system for him ... but Dallas can ook to deal him to a place where he fits and maybe even excels.