Following Wednesday night’s 121-100 thumping at Talking Stick Resort Arena, a surprising number of Mavs fans have expressed frustration with everything from the Luka Doncic hype to Dennis Smith Jr’s development and even the head coach himself. And while Dallas was pretty clearly outplayed by a team who, just last year, had an even worse record than they did, it’s important not to be so knee-jerk to one game. Seriously. It was game one of 82. Stop it.
The defense was unquestionably porous on the night, yielding better than 50% from the field and a blistering 19/34 shooting from beyond the arc. Needless to say, you aren’t going to win many games giving up numbers like that. At the same time, Dallas was right there within five points with seven minutes and change to play. You know, right before Devin Booker decided to never miss again and rattled off 17 points in the blink of an eye to push the lead to 21.
While Booker’s performance was undoubtedly impressive, it’s important to note that the Suns as a whole were playing out of their mind for most of the night. Any time you can shoot better than 55% from 3 on more than 30 attempts, you know its typically going to be your night. And while Dallas’ perimeter defense absolutely has things to work on, it’s hard to see it making a massive difference considering the kinds of contested threes Booker and company were making down the stretch. It was a three point party in Phoenix and for much of the evening, Dallas wasn’t welcomed in the door, as evident by Phoenix’s +27 rating from 3.
But enough about Phoenix. Let’s turn back to the Mavericks.
To label Luka Doncic a “bust” simply because he went 5-16 for 10 points and grabbed eight boards to go along with four assists (also four turnovers) in his NBA debut is so over-reactionary and ridiculous it’s almost amazing. While the numbers might not leap off the page, to ignore the play-making prowess he flashed in the first quarter before getting into early foul trouble is foolish. This might blow your mind but, believe it or not, Dirk’s debut wasn’t exactly dazzling. In his first NBA game, Nowitzki went 0-5 from the field for two points. Was he a bust? Of course not. You have to be able and willing to give young players time to develop. There are going to be peaks and valleys all throughout the first two-three years. Not everything comes with “instant gratification.”
Speaking of peaks and valleys, Dennis Smith Jr. probably played the worst game he’ll play all season Wednesday night. Despite showing flashes of improved on-ball defense, he managed just 13 points on 6-19 shooting and appeared to be out of rhythm for much of the contest. His frustration was evident, shoving at Josh Jackson after the the forward blocked his dunk attempt on the other end late in the third quarter. Moments later, DeAndre Jordan was seen giving a quick pep talk to the young point guard, reminding him there was a lot of time left and they were still in the game.
Listen. Any time a team -particularly a young team- adds a major piece to its core, there’s going to be a feeling out process. To do so in back-to-back years, with both players pretty much instantly becoming your best players and the pillars of your future only further stresses that process. Dennis Smith Jr played in 69 games last year. All told, he’s seen 70 NBA games -less than a full season. Luka Doncic made his NBA debut against a long, athletic team who may well be the most improved roster in the league this year, with mixed results. So, while Luka and DSJ appear to be great friends, even living in the same complex and routinely hanging out off the court, it’s important to note they still haven’t played a lot of basketball together, or really that much basketball in the NBA at all.
There are 81 games left to go. Give them time. Give this team time.
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