Brendan Haywood and the NBA TV crew recently were on hand at a Dallas Mavericks’ practice session, and the former Mavs center walked away very impressed with what he saw.
And it wasn’t just superstar point guard Luka Doncic who caught Haywood’s eyes.
“The Mavs looked pretty good,” Haywood told Mavs.com. “The first couple of drills in practice were all defense, and I loved it.
“I thought the young fella, (Josh) Green, really stood out and had a great practice. He was hitting the corner three, making smart decisions. (Jaden) Hardy stood out as well. I think if they get great production from those two guys the sky’s the limit for this team.”
And then there’s Doncic.
“Luka looks like he’s in great shape, and the team is defending at a high level,” Haywood said. “When you have excellent defense and a true superstar on your team, you’re always going to have a chance to win any playoff series you’re in.”
A studio analyst with NBA TV, Haywood – he helped the Mavs capture the 2011 NBA championship — sat down with Mavs.com to talk about the regular season set to start in less than two weeks.
QUESTION: WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON THE OFFSEASON ADDITION OF JAVALE MCGEE AND WHAT HE CAN GIVE THE MAVS?
HAYWOOD: JaVale, he’s somebody that I just consistently root for because he’s changed the narrative for how people view him. When he came into this league, people thought he was more of a jokester and didn’t really take him seriously. And now he brings a lot of veteran stability to that locker room. When you talk to people that know JaVale from Golden State, the Lakers – even the Phoenix Suns – they talk about how he just helps police the locker room, how he helps young guys in the locker room. Even early on in the process, Jason Kidd loves the maturity and the professionalism that JaVale has brought to this team. Oh, and he can still play as well. He’s more than just in the locker room. He can make plays above the rim, he’s still a shot blocker, he’s still bouncy, even though he’s got to be about 35 now. If I’m 42, JaVale’s got to be 35. Even in his mid-30’s he’s still a big-time athlete. I thought that was an underrated get for the Dallas Mavericks. Great job by (Mavs general manager) Nico (Harrison).
Q: CHRISTIAN WOOD IS ONE OF A HANDFUL OF PLAYERS WHO AVERAGED A DOUBLE-DOUBLE LAST SEASON WHEN HE PLAYED FOR HOUSTON. DO YOU BELIEVE HE CAN OFFER THE MAVS THAT SAME TYPE OF PRODUCTION?
HAYWOOD: Wood is a very unique big man because he can score. And so, when teams switch the pick-n-roll with Luka (Doncic) and they try to put a small on Wood, you can throw it in there and he can get fouled. He’s a good free throw shooter, he can get you a nice little jump hook, a turnaround jumper. So, I really like that he brings that dynamic to the team.
Q: THIS TIME LAST YEAR, NO ONE PICKED THE MAVS TO REACH THE WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS. HOW DID THEY WIN A GAME 7 IN PHOENIX IN THE CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS?
HAYWOOD: The first thing I saw was look at how J-Kidd switched the defense. The defense was key in that Phoenix series. They really got up at the level, started showing Devin Booker a lot more coverage and took away his mid-range game. And once you took away Booker’s mid-range game, (Phoenix) didn’t have any other answers. Chris Paul wasn’t able to respond, and the series was over after that.
Q: ONCE AGAIN, THE WESTERN CONFERENCE IS EXTREMELY TOUGH. HOW WILL THE MAVS SURVIVE THE WILD, WILD WEST THIS SEASON?
HAYWOOD: The best way to get through it is to have a lot of depth on your roster so you can get through the regular season. Obviously, you have to be blessed to stay healthy. But I like the way this team is built, with guys like (Josh) Green and (Jaden) Hardy possibly giving this team a lot more depth. We talk about all the depth with the big fellas they have inside. I think they have the depth to get into the playoffs. They have the true superstar that can win you a playoff series, and this Dallas Mavericks’ defense is really, really elite. I think that’s the biggest thing that J-Kidd has done since he’s been here. He changed this team from an offensive-minded team to a defensive-minded team, and that’s been a total culture shift.
Q: IT’S RARELY DONE, BUT CAN YOU WIN AN NBA TITLE WITH ONLY ONE ALL-STAR?
HAYWOOD: I think the Mavs can do it with one All-Star because that one All-Star is special. I always tell people Luka is the best offensive player in the league. I’m not saying he’s the best shooter, I’m not saying he can score more than KD (Kevin Durant). But KD can’t pass like that. Giannis (Antetokounmpo) is great, and he can get you 30. But he can’t pass like Luka. Luka is the only guy in the league I know right now — outside of maybe LeBron (James) — that can go out there and get 30 on a given night or get you 15 or 20 assists on a given night. So, to me he’s the best offensive player in the league. And I think because he has so many levels to his game, that’s why they can win a championship with one superstar.
Q: LUKA DONCIC HAS BEEN PROMINENTLY MENTIONED IN THE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER CONVERSATION THE PAST THREE SEASONS. WILL THIS BE THE YEAR HE WINS THE MVP AWARD?
HAYWOOD: If the Dallas Mavericks have enough team wins, I think he has a chance to be. I think you’re looking at Luka and Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and (Joel) Embiid as my three front-runners. I think (Nikola) Jokic (who won the past two MVP awards) is going to be a little bit of voter’s fatigue.
Q: WHERE DO YOU THINK THE MAVS WILL FINISH IN THE WEST THIS SEASON?
HAYWOOD: It comes down to health. I think the Mavs can finish anywhere in the top five. How healthy are they going to be? How quickly is the adjustment going to be? Who’s going to step up with (Jalen) Brunson gone? All of that stuff takes time. I think Dallas’ defense carried them last year and it’s going to have to carry them again. Obviously, Luka is going to have to play at an all-world level, because there’s a lot on his shoulders. But at the end of the day, I think this is a team that is definitely going to be there in the end.
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