After the roller coaster first half of the season, how do you feel about this Mavericks team now compared to a month ago?
Corey Douglass: It has been a roller coaster of a first half for my Mavs expectations. To put this in perspective, coming into the season, I thought the Mavs would be able to contend for a homecourt playoff series and potentially win that playoff series. I thought coming out of the bubble, the emphasis to become a better defensive team and a healthy Kristaps Porzingis would go a long way. However, a month ago I had to relax those thoughts because of how poorly they were playing defensively and the offense wasn’t the same offense we saw a year ago.
As we sit here at the All-Star break, Dallas currently sits two games over .500 after winning 9 of 11 going into the break, I feel like the Mavs are definitely a playoff team but I am not sure I see this team winning a playoff series as currently constructed.
Mark Lindahl: I feel like the team is much more confident in their identity than before when there was a new starting lineup every single night and guys were playing out of position. Rick Carlisle’s lineup wizardry is widely regarded throughout the NBA, so all it took was some time to iron out who had what role and when they would be doing it.
Luka’s rising three-point percentage is exciting to see, but the free throw struggles have been equally perplexing. It’s nice to see Josh Richardson finding his groove early in the first quarter with hard drives in transition and staying aggressive instead of trying to fit into a cookie-cutter spot-up shooter role. While having to work back from a six-game losing streak would have never been the path chosen, the Mavs are showing halfway through the season that they have the grit and the guts to fight for solid playoff positioning.
What area of the team concerns you the most even as the team has turned things around in the win/loss column?
Corey: My main concern for the Mavs at the moment is the lack of a second consistent playmaker behind Luka. The Jalen Brunson first half was awesome to see, but in a perfect world I would not want Brunson to be the second best playmaker on the team.
Mark: While opponent three-point percentage and defensive rebounding are very important pieces to the puzzle, I’ll go with the lack of a solidified secondary creator. Without Luka in the lineup in a 87-78 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder (their lowest point total of the season), the Mavs shot 20% from deep and only scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, not having a significant offensive spark to carry them with the same energy down the stretch.
The Mavs fell to the Blazers in the final minutes as one of their two losses during the hot-streak, and their late-game woes in the recent past have been well-documented. If Dallas is fortunate enough to make the playoffs, opposing coaches will have ample amount of time to scheme the ball out of Doncic’s hands and force others to create shots. Without a high-end secondary option or Jalen Brunson’s continued ascension towards becoming a bona-fide bucket-getter, the Mavs may struggle when Luka can’t bear all of the burden.
Who is one realistic option you’d like to see the team add via trade or buy-out over the next few weeks?
Corey: Of course, my dream has been the Mavs acquiring Bradley Beal or Zach LaVine. However, with those not being realistic, I would like the Mavs to make a move to get JJ Redick from the Pelicans. Its not a splashy move, but the Mavs could use another shooter and Redick has been one of the best in the business throughout his career.
Mark: I think Taurean Prince of the Cleveland Cavaliers would be a perfect fit. Prince is the third-highest paid player on a young, rebuilding team this season earning $12,250 and $13,000 next year. While Prince has received high praise from the coaching staff, the Cavs are certainly sellers instead of buyers and the salaries can easily be matched up. Dwight Powell and a couple of second round picks may not quite get the job done, but as long as it’s not Maxi Kleber or Brunson being shipped out, the need for a big-body wing stopper is huge.