Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Mavericks plan to pursue a “big fish.”
According to basically every reputable Mavs reporter, including Marc Stein and Tim MacMahon, they plan to target Charlotte Hornets All-NBA guard Kemba Walker. That understandably will make many fans nervous given their free agency history, but with newly minted Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis already forming the foundation, striking out on Kemba isn’t the end for them.
But finally reeling in that big fish and landing Kemba? That opens up all sorts of possibilities.
One thing you often hear personalities who cover this sport talk about, is the mythical, constantly evolving “Modern NBA.” What is that? How should you build your team within that context? I interpret it as this: You want as many playmakers and shooters on the floor as possible, and you want as many guys on the floor who can defend those playmakers and shooters as possible. Kemba certainly isn’t a defender, but the championship version of this team won’t be built in one offseason. Taking what would be a very large baby step with Kemba could turn the Mavericks into one of the most dynamic offenses in the league, and possibly ever given Rick Carlisle’s track record with this type of talent.
Some worry about the overlap of usage between both Luka and Kemba. Last season, Walker registered a usage rate of 31.5%, the highest mark of his career. Luka checked in at 30.5%, spiking in the mid-thirties after the blockbuster trade in late January. Those would qualify as the ninth and eleventh highest rates in the league. That’s two very large mouths you are trying to feed and fit into one offense, and we haven’t even touched on Kristaps Porzingis yet.
The good news is, Kemba has played some of his best ball when sharing the floor with another playmaker. He can find his shot on spot-ups, off of screens, or in transition playing off others. For example, the 2015 Hornets. They were a roster rather short on talent, but the tandem of Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin, yes that Jeremy Lin, brought them to the postseason for just the second time in Kemba’s career. They almost got by Miami as well, losing in seven games. You saw more of this with others like Nic Batum and an aging Tony Parker, albeit to a lesser extent. Now imagine that, only he gets to play with Luka Doncic instead.
This is where I think the Mavs selling point to Kemba starts. With KP and Luka anchoring the team, they can evenly disperse the scoring and playmaking responsibilities across three dynamic and talented weapons, each having their own unique skill set. With Luka serving as the jack-of-all-trades point forward and KP drawing rim protectors out to the great beyond, Kemba can be cast in probably the most natural role for him. He’s been a score first point since his days at UConn, and with Luka essentially lifting the burden of running the team and getting a less than spectacular supporting cast involved, Kemba can be completely unleashed on the league. That should be an exciting thought for Mavs fans.
These are fun times for Maverick fans everywhere really. With Luka Doncic being the face and future of this franchise, the possibilities are endless. Priority number one should be putting pieces around him that fit. With Kemba, that’s exactly what you would be getting.
He doesn’t have an ego, which might seem minor, but established vets usually aren’t too fond of youngster stealing their shine. Not Kemba though. He and Luka also cover for each others skill sets very well. If you’re planning on playing another ball handler with Luka, he probably needs to be a downhill attacking type that can put a defense in rotation. It’s why a popular Mavs free agency name like D’Angelo Russell never made sense. Neither of those guys have the dynamic quickness to put pressure on defenses, so there wouldn’t be that natural compliment to one another. But Kemba has that quickness they are seeking in spades, it might be the thing he’s most known for.
What about Kemba? What are his weaknesses and how does Luka cover for him? Well for one, Luka is big. Kemba’s small stature has been a hot topic of discussion for a lot of fans and justifiably, but when your two cornerstones in Luka and KP are both 6’7 and 7’3 respectively, you can get away with a small guard in the lineup. Secondly, Luka plays with a pass-first approach. As we pointed out earlier, Kemba’s aggressive default setting should pair well with Luka’s deferential nature and likely won’t have them stepping on each others toes as we have seen when pairing high usage guards in the past.
You would be wise to have concerns about the defense with both Luka and Kemba playing big time minutes, but that’s where your third star in Kristaps Porzingis covers for the both of them. He is one of the leagues elite when it comes to correcting defensive mistakes at the rim and provides all sorts of spacing for them on offense. Pairing these three just makes too much sense, especially with mad scientist Rick Carlisle pulling the strings.
Kemba will have to see it that way though. Mavs fans are all too familiar with how quickly players of his caliber can be whisked away. He won’t be short on heavyweight suitors either, with Marc Stein reporting that the Celtics are seriously interested in nabbing him. They are obviously one of the leagues historic franchises and have a track record with small guards, plus a nice duo of youngster as well. The incumbent Hornets are also expected to be in the mix, and Kemba has about 221 million reasons to consider returning.
So, what will it be? Will he take the money in Charlotte and run, opt for the history and tradition in Boston, or buy into the future in Dallas? We will find out soon enough.
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