It’s that time, ladies and gents! The NBA season is here! After a long, exciting offseason for the Mavericks, adding Luka Doncic and DeAndre Jordan, Dallas is ready to take the league by storm and shock some people. Us here at Dallas Sports Fanatic, took the time to go through some questions about the upcoming NBA season. We discussed the most exciting storylines, projections for the Mavericks, and predictions for the playoffs and NBA awards.
1. What story line most excites you about the Mavs this season? Most exciting non-Mavs story?
Ehsan Azad: The biggest storyline that intrigues me with the Mavs is Dirk’s supposed final season and how will he adapt with this very young roster. We know he is slated to come off the bench when everyone is healthy and that alone would be something to look at. Plus, the hopes that he can be healthy enough to play most of the season.
The non-Mavs story line is whether LeBron James can work his magic in Los Angeles. Can he take the Lakers out of the basement and put them in contention in just one season?
Darien Clark: I realize the Luka hype will more than likely be the common answer but I want to see DSJ rise as a top point guard in this league. With the additions of Luka and DeAndre, there will be a lot of weight lifted off of his shoulders in terms of expectations which will allow him to settle down and make better decisions. I’m looking forward most to how he improves in running Carlisle’s half-court offense. This team is going to be able to move the ball very well in that set and produce very effectively and efficiently.
My most exciting non-Mavs story has anything to do with who will knock off Golden State. The Warriors have unfortunately ruined the basis of sport in the NBA and that is maintaining a level of competitiveness. However, with that said, Boston is so fun to watch and is coached with expertise all-around. I really look forward to seeing the deepest team in the league find success this year, and potentially beat the Warriors in seven games when they meet in the Finals. Other potential teams to reckon with the Warriors are Toronto, Houston (meh), and the Lakers. Yeah, I went there.
Bo Dauster: Without question, I am most excited to see the “Young Guns” storyline. Will Luka take the league by storm or with a whimper? What will Dennis look like as a sophomore? More of the same razzle dazzle but lacking efficiency, or will he take a step towards becoming a true unguardable star? Will they thrive playing together or will it be a rough first season of growing pains?
Dylan Duell: I’m really curious to see if Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic become one of the most exciting young duos in the NBA this season. The boom-or-bust factor will be hard not to overreact to after each and every game, but the highs will certainly be enjoyable.
The Eastern Conference is going to be very intriguing this season. You can make jokes about it but I think there are some very, very talented teams in the top half of it this season. Kawhi Leonard in Toronto, a hopefully fully-healthy Celtics and maybe a big jump for Giannis and the Bucks are things I will monitor closely all year.
Darreck Kirby: 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.
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.
Michael Mulford: I think the universal focus will stem from Luka and his transition to the NBA game as well as how the new duo of DSJ and Luka will coexist as the new faces of the organization. But, you can’t forget that this will likely be Dirk’s last season. Let’s all hope that he can get healthy and go out on his terms. In regards to a non-Mavs story line, I think everyone is curious on what type of level LeBron can elevate this young Lakers team too. Never doubt the King.
Trevor Rathbun: Outside of the story of Luka-DSJ developing on the floor, I am most excited about Dorian-Finney Smith’s development. This is his contract year and after two seasons worth of work on his shot it is time to see how it pays off. So far during the preseason, he has shot a very efficient 41% with five made threes in four games played. Of course, it is just preseason and he needs for it to finally translate to the regular season. Finney-Smith has shot 40% or above from three in his three years worth of preseason games but only 29% during the regular season for his career. If he can just get to 35% from three and continue playing his style of defense he can be a valuable contributor to the Mavs and earn himself a nice contract.
2. Which Mavs acquisition do you see making the biggest impact on the Mavs this season: Luka or DeAndre?
Azad: The latest Maverick acquisition to make a bigger impact is Luka Doncic. While Deandre Jordan sure helps solidifying a need, Luka is a dynamic Swiss-army knife that can do multiple things at different positions for you. I think Rick can get more out of Luka than what he can get out of Jordan.
Clark: The biggest impact this season will have to be DeAndre. The Mavs were in the bottom of the league in offensive and defensive rebounding last year and you know why that is? We had a 40 year-old Dirk starting at the five. No shots at him or the team, but that was literally the best option we could throw out there and unfortunately that wasn’t Dirk’s forte especially at his age. DeAndre will make defenses protect the paint whereas last year, opponents stayed out at the perimeter against us. This will allow DSJ and Luka to play there games without the pressure they would draw if DeAndre wasn’t here.
Dauster: Luka will keep the ball moving, hit open shots, and have us cheering his name at least once every game. But, by providing the defensive presence we’ve lacked since Tyson Chandler, DJ will IMMEDIATELY make every defender on the floor better. No longer will the Mavs paint look like a welcome mat to opponents. DeAndre will also catapult the Mavs up the team rebounding ranks.
Duell: I think Luka’s impact on the team might not be as easily measured by stats with the likes of pushing the pace and getting the ball to someone else to make a play and lots of “hockey assists.” He will undoubtedly be huge for the team this season. However, I’ll have to say DeAndre Jordan since this franchise has had so few legitimate starting centers in its history. Jordan’s rebounding and threat above the rim will make both Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. look a lot better as his mere presence should open up a lot of playmaking possibilities.
Kirby: DeAndre Jordan will help Dallas immensely on the boards and in protecting the rim. 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 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.
Mulford: Both will make an immense impact on the landscape of the team, but I think DeAndre’s impact will be more visible. Having such a great defensive and rebounding presence in the middle of the paint is something that Dallas has lacked for some time and desperately seeked over the years. But that’s not selling Luka’s impact short. The Wonderboy’s affect on the Mavericks’ offense as an already elite playmaker will certainly lead to more points on the board for Dallas.
Rathbun: I really want to say Luka, especially after how it felt like every highlight play he had during preseason made it to NBA twitter in the blink of an eye. But I really think DeAndre Jordan is going to have the biggest impact on the Mavs this season. Dallas has struggled with interior defense and rebounding since Tyson Chandler left. Now, Dallas gets a player who is the top 10 of the NBA in rebounds and one of the best defensive bigs in the game.
3. Who’s your sleeper team in the league that you think will surprise some people? Most overrated team?
Azad: My sleeper team is the Toronto Raptors. I really think that if he be pushed to play well, Kawhi Leonard can fit in nicely with that Raptors team and make some noise in the East. The most overrated team is the Golden State Warriors. I just can’t see Boogie playing well with that squad.
Clark: My sleeper team in the league this year is the Washington Wizards. First of all, they’re in the East and second of all, they made the quiet acquisition of Dwight Howard. Howard has been extremely underrated over the past couple of years and I believe adding him alongside arguably the best backcourt duo in the game is going to be lethal.
The most overrated team in the NBA is the Minnesota Timberwolves. Most preseason projections have them as a sure-fire playoff team. I personally don’t view them as one. The mixture of the divided locker room and the extreme Western conference schedule will get the worst of this team. Which then leaves them heading home at the start of April.
Dauster: Am I being too much of a homer to suggest that the Mavs are going to straight up shock people this year? Give Rick Carlisle a talented roster with versatile weapons and I’ll go to war with just about any other coach.
Most overrated team? Philadelphia 76ers. People want to put them in the category with Boston and Toronto, but I don’t see it. I think they are clearly too undisciplined and too reliant on Embiid (with his injury history) and Simmons (literally cannot shoot) to be expected to contend with the upper tier in the East.
Duell: There are a lot of candidates for sleeper teams in the Eastern Conference. I think the Indiana Pacers should comfortably finish over 50 wins and be a lock to win a playoff series with the further development of the likes of Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis plus their additions of Tyreke Evans and Doug McDermott.
An overrated team is tough to choose whenever it seems so clear that there’s Golden State and then everyone else. The Lakers are getting both a lot of hype and a lot of doubt, but the potential bust of their mix of young talent and quirky veterans is going to be interesting. I wouldn’t bet money on their demise or anything, but maybe the King’s first year in L.A. is spent watching the playoffs from home?
Kirby: My sleeper pick this year is Oklahoma City. The Thunder managed to turn Carmelo Anthony into Dennis Schroder, 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 no one thought was possible a year ago, but got him to sign on for at least three 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. 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.
Mulford: I think the Milwaukee Bucks are primed and ready to take the next step. With LeBron now in the West, Eastern conference teams are licking their chops as the King’s throne is up for the taking. This will be the season that Giannis takes the next step and becomes a strong contender for MVP. Along with an upgrade at coach and an underrated acquisition in Brook Lopez, the Bucks will be a 50-win team and a factor in the playoffs. I also think the Raptors, with a healthy and motivated Kawhi Leonard, will be a good team with what could be a great defense.
In regards to the most overrated team, I’m going with the Rockets. Like Kirby, I believe they’ll be a great regular season team, likely the two or three seed in the West. But, when it comes to the playoffs and getting timely stops, the loss of Ariza and Mbah a Moute will be recognizable. I’m just not a believer in a team having both Harden and Melo on the floor at the same time when a crucial defensive stand is needed.
Rathbun: I am going to be a homer and say the league’s sleeper team is the Dallas Mavericks. I think Dallas can get at least 20 more wins than last year, which would put them at 44 wins. The Minnesota Timberwolves were the 8th seed last year with 47 wins. The West is stacked, as always, but the 8th seed is a very realistic expectation for this years Mavs team. Minnesota is a dumpster fire, the Pelicans lost key members of last years squad, and the Spurs are decimated. All three of those teams rounded out the last three playoff spots last year. Dallas has a very real chance to replace one of them.
4. Who do you see taking home the hardware for MVP? Rookie of the year?
Azad: The MVP this season is The Greek Freak. Giannis has gotten close but I think it all aligns for him this season. Rookie of the Year will be Luka Doncic, no doubt about it.
Clark: The MVP this year will be Anthony Davis. It’s about time someone recognizes this man, but not only that but gives him what he deserves. Apart from assists, AD finished in the top 15 of every major statistical category by the end of last year. In those stats, he finished top five in points (PPG), rebounds (RPG), blocks (BPG) and player efficiency rating (PER). This man is a force on all aspects of the floor and in my opinion is the best two-way player in the league by a mile.
The rookie of the year award goes to DeAndre Ayton. Every year, the award is offered to who performs at the highest level, statistically. It isn’t necessarily the best or most valuable rookie, but who has the best numbers. Late year is a perfect example. Most people believe Donovan Mitchell should’ve been awarded, but in the end Ben Simmons possessed the better overall statistics. This year will be the same case. Doncic will look like the better player and more valuable player, but Ayton will have the most opportunity to light up the stat board.
Dauster: It feels like its AD’s time to take home the trophy but will the team success be there? I wouldn’t bet against any man with eyebrow hair that powerful! For the ROTY, Ayton will put up big numbers with very nice efficiency. Unless Luka comes out and takes the world by storm, I’d bet the number one pick takes it home.
Duell: I’ll go with Giannis Antetokounmpo as this year’s MVP. I don’t think the voters are going to give it to any of the usual contenders (James, Durant, Curry, Harden) simply because that’s a stale narrative. The Bucks have a decent shot at eclipsing 50 wins in the wide-open East and the Greek Freak has clearly ascended into a top-whatever-you-want-to-say player in the league.
I’d like to vote Luka for Rookie of the Year, but I just don’t think his stats will be as sexy as some of his peers. “Good stats on a bad team” candidates like Marvin Bagley in Sacramento or Trae Young in Atlanta will probably have the most eye-popping numbers, but I think Jaren Jackson Jr.’s presence in Memphis among vets like Mike Conley and Pau Gasol will allow him to show off his strengths in a good way and not have to overexpose any flaws.
Kirby: I think MVP will be a tough race this year. 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. Can he do it? I think so. But it’ll be a tight race.
Mulford: It’s a three-man race in my eyes; LeBron, Giannis, and AD. I see both Giannis and AD having incredible statistical seasons but the deciding factor rests on the number of wins for either team, which I’d give the nod to the Bucks. But, if LeBron can lead the Lakers to 50+ wins and a top four seed, I’d have to lean in his direction because voters love a good story and bringing the Lakers and that young team back to glory outshines any other storyline.
Like the rest of the panel, I see it as a battle between DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic. Ayton will most likely have the better numbers and higher scoring totals but I believe Luka will have the bigger overall impact on his team. If the Mavericks can win a few extra games than expected, give me Doncic.
Rathbun: LeBron James will lead the Lakers to the playoffs and prove that he can dominate in the West. If he puts up numbers similar to last year and he does take the Lakers to the playoffs it is a good bet that he will take home his fifth NBA MVP, tying him with Michael Jordan. Luka Dončić will take home the Rookie of the Year award, barely beating Deandre Ayton.
5. Ultimately, who do you see making a run at the championship from each conference and who takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy?
Azad: I believe in the power Of LeBron James and the Lakers will make a move or two this season to ensure they make it past the Warriors to get to the NBA finals. In the East, its simple, the Boston Celtics don’t have to worry about LeBron anymore and clearly are the best team in the conference. In the end, the Celtics have too much talent and depth and will win the championship.
Clark: There couldn’t be a more obvious choice here, but I’m going to “go out on a limb” and say that Boston will knock off Golden State in the Finals. I just think this team has the best 12-man lineup and will literally run the Warriors off the court. Sorry Golden State, no three-peat for you.
Dauster: West: Warriors East: Celtics Champ: Dubs…again…barf.
Duell: Obviously the Warriors are coming out of the West until proven otherwise, but the one who emerges from the East is a tough decision. I think there’s just as much of a chance that Kawhi Leonard has been traded from the Raptors by February as the chances that everything goes right and they make a run through the East. Boston has so much talent but only five spots on the court at one time. Between the two, I guess I’d take Boston to meet the Dubs in the Finals with Golden State once again lifting the O’Brien trophy.
Kirby: 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 leaves Toronto and Boston as the favorites to rise up and claim the conference title. Toronto has evermore been the Bridesmaid (never the Bride), but Boston is loaded with young talent. Don’t forget they nearly made it to the Finals last year without Irving and Hayward. In the Finals, give me Golden State (begrudgingly).
Mulford: Seems like a pretty answer here; Warriors and Celtics. I honestly see this as an easy coast to the Finals for the Warriors, barring any injuries, of course. The East will be interesting with the 76ers, Raptors, and Bucks looking to fight off the favorite Celtics to become the first non-LeBron team to make the finals since 2010. Ultimately, I see Golden State hoisting their fourth Larry O’Brien trophy in five years.
Rathbun: The Warriors are going to win, again. The Rockets will test them in the Western Conference but Chris Paul will be dinged up as always and Houston will come up short, even with Carmelo Anthony coming off the bench. The Warriors-Celtics finals match up is going to be so fun and so good for basketball. Assuming Boston is healthy, they have a legitimate shot at dethroning the champs. After all, they do have the one player who stuck a dagger in the Warriors championship dreams at the last second in 2016. Kyrie Irving knows how to beat them and that they are beatable. But in the end Golden State will win and the Kevin Durant offseason speculation will begin, again.
6. Lastly, what does a successful Mavs season look like? And what are your projections based on record and playoff chances?
Azad: A successful Mavs season to me is that they learn and develop and get better as the season goes on. Competing and being in it almost every game this season would be the best hope I ask for. I would say realistically they win 40 games this season and fighting for the 8th seed. I don’t see them getting out of the first round but this is just the beginning.
Clark: A successful Mavs season involves continued development of the youth and competing in the playoffs to be able to acquire free agents next offseason. Plain and simple. Next year’s free agent list is unending and the Mavs will be in a good spot financially to make another big move or two. If they can make a statement with their play, it could be an attractive place for big fishes to come here. I believe the Mavs will finish 46-36 which will get them the 7th playoff spot in the West where they will eventually lose a hard fought 1st round. Overall, this Mavs teams will exceed expectations and will have a bright future by the end of the year.
Dauster: An optimally successful season would be to see our two young guns grow into one of the deadliest combos in the league and win enough to bring The Big German one final taste of playoff basketball before he rides off into that glorious sunset he so richly deserves. But honestly, that feels like a bit of a long shot. I would still be extremely happy to see Dennis & Luka flourish together so effectively that we can be confident that The Mavs have drafted two sure fire stars to build on for the next decade plus. My guess at the Mavs record is something like 39-43 while missing the playoffs.
Duell: I’d like to see the Mavericks nab one of the West’s final playoff spots and I do think it’s possible. Even if they don’t, a successful season is still possible. As long as the morale around the team remains high and they improve their win total into somewhere in the 30’s, I think the team will be on-track for being an appealing option in next summer’s free agency pool. With likely no first round pick next June, improving via free agency will be vital to accelerating this team back to regular playoff contention.
Kirby: 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. A successful season for Dallas is Doncic proving he is that dude, DSJ continuing his rise to super-stardom, and DeAndre Jordan proving himself an essential staple of the organization for years to come. That way, playoffs or no, Dallas will be a clear franchise on the rise and can attract some serious free agent talent.
Mulford: I see a successful season for Dallas is hitting the 40-win mark. At the end of the day, the West is stacked and will be hard for this team to crack the top-8 seeds in conference. A season where Dennis and Luka create a strong chemistry and continue to come into their own as two young superstars in this league is most important for the growth of this franchise. And of course, if this is the final chapter of Dirk’s career, sending him off with an undeniable amount of love and praise from the city of Dallas and basketball fans all over the world, is atop the priority list. If anyone deserves it, it’s #41.
Rathbun: I believe Dallas can get to 44 wins and will miss the playoffs by 2 games, finishing 9th. A successful Mavs season looks like 40-45 wins and competing for the 8th spot playoff spot in the Western Conference. Getting Luka and DSJ comfortable with each other, as well as others, in the Mavs line up is the top priority. If Rick Carlisle can get these guys to be Dallas go-to weapons and help them learn how to finish out close games, the Dallas coaching staff would have a successful season and have them set up for the playoffs in 2020.
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