What story line most excites you about the Mavs this season? Most exciting non-Mavs story?
For the Mavericks, the main thing everyone is going to be focused on is, of course, Luka Doncic and how well/smoothly he translates to the NBA. To me, however, the most exciting story is Dennis Smith Jr trying to take that next step in his development. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about Luka too. I just think that DSJ has the potential to be not just the leading scorer on this team, but a future All Star as well. The addition of a floater to his game this Summer really shows me he’s committed to rounding out his game. If he can do that while posting better efficiency numbers, he could be a candidate for Most Improved Player. Imagine what having that and Doncic winning Rookie of the Year could do for Dallas’ future outlook!
As for the most exciting non-Mavs story, I think that would have to go to the chaos in Minnesota right now with Jimmy Butler. The East isn’t loaded with the same depth of talent as the Western Conference –especially now that Lebron is in LA- so seeing where Butler ends up could either be a small step in swinging the pendulum back a bit toward a more level playing field, or it could remain lopsided but take an already absurdly good team in the West and make them a monster. Looking at you, Houston.
Which Mavs acquisition do you see making the biggest impact on the Mavs this season: Luka or DeAndre?
DeAndre Jordan will help Dallas immensely on the boards and in protecting the rim –even with his drop off to 0.9 BPG last season. It’s not about purely getting blocks but rather changing shots around the rim. Tyson Chandler was great at this despite never having eye-popping numbers with regard to his per game. That said, this has to be Luka Doncic. Doncic isn’t only a longer term investment but a guy who at 6’8 can play anything from the 1 to the 4. He can run the offense, he can score, and he’s already a fantastic playmaker with tremendous vision. He’ll bring a dimension to the game Dallas hasn’t seen… maybe ever.
Who’s your sleeper team in the league that you think will surprise some people? Most overrated team?
My sleeper pick this year is Oklahoma City. The Thunder managed to turn Carmelo Anthony into Dennis Shroder, who will instantly become one of the best backup point guards in the league, while saving a boat-load of cash. They also managed to not only keep Paul George, something literally no one thought was possible a year ago, but got him to sign on for at least 3 years in the process. That alone should give OKC a stable core to build around without fear of free agency for the first in a few years. They also added former Mavs flame-out, Nerlens Noel to serve as backup center to Steven Adams, giving them solid depth there as well. If Andre Roberson can return to form defensively, this team will be more dangerous than most people realize.
The most overrated team to me is Houston. While that by no means is to say they’ll be bad, I do think the losses of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute will be felt defensively. Yes, they still have Chris Paul, and yes, they have reigning MVP James Harden, but the length and athleticism they possessed made them a nightmare for Golden State last year, and bringing in Carmelo Anthony, as Oklahoma City discovered last year, isn’t necessarily a positive move. Houston may still make a deep playoff run but to me their best chance to upend the Warriors was in keeping last year’s dynamic squad together.
Who do you see taking home the hardware for MVP? Rookie of the year?
I think MVP will be a tough race this year. If Houston slips a little bit, Harden may struggle to repeat. Kevin Durant is great but on that team, he’s not able to stand out over the course of a season the way he needs to to win the award. Lebron in Lakerland is interesting, so given the media frenzy that surrounds that team/city and LeBron as an individual, let’s go with that.
As for Rookie of the Year, while Doncic is heavily favored to win the award, capturing more than 40% of the votes in the league’s GM survey, he’ll have his work cut out for him. For Doncic to become just the second Maverick ever to win the ROTY, he’ll have to join some rare company, becoming just the sixth man in league history to win the award after being drafted third overall. This would put him in the same company as Michael Jordan, Pau Gasol, and Grant Hill. Can he do it? I think so. But it’ll be a tight race.
Ultimately, who do you see making a run at the championship from each conference and who takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy?
In the West, it’s the Warriors. By the time the playoffs roll around, DeMarcus Cousins will be back on the floor and working his way back from a torn Achilles. Will he be the Boogie of old? Probably not this season, but on that team and with the absurd talent they have, it won’t matter. Anything of himself he can offer them is vastly superior to JaVale McGee or Zaza Pachulia.
In the East, my money is on Boston coming out. Lebron leaving Cleveland means the Cavs will fall back to Earth, leaving Toronto, Miami, and Boston as the favorites to rise up and claim the conference title. Miami is good, and Toronto has evermore been the Bridesmaid (never the Bride), but Boston is stupid loaded with young talent. Don’t forget they nearly made it to the Finals last year without their two best players, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Hell, you might be able to argue they aren’t even their two best players at this point. Regardless, their additions can only make Boston stronger.
In the Finals, give me Golden State (begrudgingly).
Lastly, what does a successful Mavs season look like? And what are your projections based on record and playoff chances?
Vegas has the Mavs at 34.5 wins for the season, making just over 10 games better than last season. While the West is stacked, I think this is selling Dallas a bit short. Luka Doncic will have a tremendous impact on this team, and if Dennis Smith Jr can be a candidate for Most Improved Player, the future will be white hot in Dallas with free agency and a ton of spending money awaiting them. DeAndre Jordan should also give Dallas something it hasn’t had since Tyson Chandler left town, a rim-running big who can rebound and block, or at least alter, shots.
Off the bench, Dallas will have a solid assortment of playmakers and scores, especially now with Dirk Nowitzki set to come off the pine for his presumed final season. And look for wild card contributors like Ray Spalding, Jalen Brunson, and Ryan Broekhoff. Does all of this necessarily make Dallas a playoff team? It’s hard to say. But I think it makes them somewhere around 40 wins, and that should at least have them in the race.
A successful season for Dallas is Doncic proving he is that dude, DSJ continuing his rise to superstardom, and DeAndre Jordan proving himself an essential staple of the organization for the next two-three years beyond this season. That way, playoffs or no, Dallas will be a clear franchise on the rise and can attract some serious free agent talent. Perhaps, say, Khris Middleton?