The 2018-19 Dallas Mavericks were ironclad proof that unless you’ve got one of those players who can put up seasons like a top-5 in the entire league player, you’re not getting to the mountaintop—or, in the Western Conference, even the playoffs—with just one star.
Those 2004 Cavaliers went 35-47. The 2019 Mavericks went 33-39.
This year, however, Doncic is entering the build-on-his-talents year, Kristaps Porzingis is coming back from injury, and the Mavs have become a trendy sleeper pick with Vegas pegging them at an even 41 wins.
Granted, that’s only good for ninth in the West, but there’s always that team that massively overachieves every year (the 2018 Pacers come to mind), so is this Mavs squad capable of rising above mediocrity and into the West’s upper echelon in only the second year with their Slovenian wunderkind?
2018-19 record: 33-49
2019-20 over/under: 41
A Fine Post-All-Star Mess
Let’s start by considering how bad Dallas was after the trade deadline last year. They beat Portland by one point on Feb. 10 to go to 26-29. They went 7-20 the rest of the way, including a stretch where they went 2-15.
That suggests that whatever they got out of the Knicks—the injured Porzingis and the execrable Tim Hardaway Jr.—was, well, the kind of thing you get when you trade with the Knicks.
But they also had the rotting corpse of Dirk Nowitzki on his farewell tour, the early-season disaster that is Harrison Barnes (and his minus-0.4 VORP; of players with at least 2500 minutes last season, only Barnes, Collin Sexton, and Andrew Wiggins posted negative value over replacement player), and no clear idea exactly what they were supposed to do with Doncic.
So let’s not look at a 17-game stretch in a lost season other than to mention that when this team was bad last year, they were putrid.
HERO OF SERBIA
The Mavericks are paying Boban Marjanovic $7 million over the next two seasons ($3.5 million per year) to continue to post brain-exploding advanced stats.
HERO OF SERBIA has never failed to crack .200 WS/48 in his NBA career. His career total is .255 WS/48; of every player in the history of the league ever to log 1800 minutes, Boban is No. 1 all time, ahead of Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Chris Paul, and LeBron James, who round out the top 5.
Put simply, Boban is the GOAT.
He’s also one of those guys who (let’s face it, he ain’t MJ) is the ultimate bench contributor at the center position, and as such he’s a massive upgrade over anyone Dallas ever ran out in that role last year.
Laugh all you want, but the guy’s got 9.7 career Win Shares in just over 1800 minutes. Last season, Stephen Curry was 12th in the NBA in Win Shares…with 9.7 in 2,331 minutes.
Consider the following. The Mavs got rid of Barnes in favor of Justin Jackson, a positive-VORP player who is just 24.
They have Dwight Powell, who posted 7.5 Win Shares mainly off the bench (.215 WS/48) and who is going to get the minutes vacated by Dirk’s farewell tour.
They got rid of DeAndre Jordan, who brings his offensive limitations and defensive prowess to Brooklyn, but a Porzingis-Powell frontcourt presence (Powell is a plus defender) more than replaces Jordan’s output.
They got HERO OF SERBIA.
Luka will finally be old enough to drink this year, in case his ceiling wasn’t mind-blowing enough.
With the exception of Hardaway (a Dumpster fire with a minus-0.2 VORP who couldn’t guard a corpse), it’s upgrades all the way.
Put simply, I love the collection of talent the Mavs have, I love the addition-by-subtraction mentality letting Dirk retire and getting Barnes off the books while letting Jordan walk, I love Luka’s ceiling, and you all know I love Boban.
The advanced stats say they’ve got a loaded roster that can translate that talent into wins as they age into their potential, Porzingis can only get better now that he’s got Rick Carlisle coaching him instead of the roving carousel of sadness in New York (sorry David Fizdale, but until you win something, I’m not convinced you’re actually a good coach)…
Every year, there is a sleeper that comes like a bat out of hell and wins a lot more games than they’re supposed to.
This year, that team is the Dallas Mavericks.
There are simply too many good pieces here not to see them rise the way Denver did a couple of years ago (when they barely missed the playoffs and then grabbed the 2 seed last year.)
That’s the track I think the Mavs are on. They are the new Nuggets, and they will put the league on blast, win 45-50 games, and possibly even give some team all it wants in the first round of the playoffs before falling in 7. Over. Confirmed. The Dallas Mavericks are good.
NEXT: San Antonio Spurs.