Rick Carlisle has a vision for the Mavericks that spreads the wealth among a wide array of players – something that would highlight the versatile talents of point guard Luka Doncic.
Carlisle even said Monday during the Mavericks’ annual media day, that he wouldn’t be surprised if Doncic’s historic rookie statistics took a dip.
To that, the reigning rookie of the year basically told his coach not to hold his breath.
And that’s a great thing.
What Doncic does for an encore is one of the most intriguing storylines for the Mavericks as they begin the post-Dirk Nowitzki era and take aim at a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
When asked what he wants to improve most in his game over the 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists he averaged per game as a rookie – the best statistical season by a rookie since Oscar Robertson in 1960-61 – Doncic had a very simple, direct answer:
“Everything. Everything must go higher. That’s what I’m looking for.”
That, of course, is the exuberance of youth talking. In his heart, Doncic knows that playing with Kristaps Porzingis is going to give the Mavericks a different look and a different dynamic.
But no matter what the numbers look like for the players who are leading the new Mavericks, Carlisle is more concerned with other aspects – like creating a new vibe and and new culture. It’s that last idea that has Carlisle intrigued – and a little trepidatious.
“One thing that’s a little scary but also very exciting is this group of guys, led by Doncic and Porzingis, has a chance to define what Mavericks’ culture is going to be like going forward,” Carlisle said. “Coaches are always involved in that.
“(But) the personality of the players and the level they commit to for a single cause is going to help define that. We talked about it last night when we had a meeting – the importance of family and that they’re going to have to be a brotherhood and they have an opportunity to chart their own course and how they want this culture, their culture, to be defined. While it’s scary not having a guy like Dirk any more like it was scary when Reggie Miller retired with the Indiana Pacers, how could you possibly be more excited about the opportunity if you’re a Mavs player right now.”
Count Doncic in with that excitement.
“Dirk’s been here 21 years,” Doncic said. “I want to stay here and follow Dirk’s steps.
“It (building a winning culture) is important. We want to go to the playoffs and I think we can. For sure, that’s my goal this season. The whole team is excited about the season.”
But, about those stats.
Doncic is such an interesting talent that Carlisle admitted that, while he loves having weapons all over the team like Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr. (who said he’s fully healed from offseason surgery, by the way), Jalen Brunson, Dwight Powell and others, he knows where the engine to the Mavericks is located.
First off, Carlisle made it clear that, even if Delon Wright gets fully recovered from a relatively mild hamstring problem and can start the season unhindered, Doncic remains the primary ballhandler.
“I view him as the point guard ever since I gave him the ball last year,” Carlisle said. “He’s a very unique point guard. We haven’t seen a guy exactly like him, really, ever in the NBA – 6-7 and has this particular skill set, his kind of strength, speed and quickness, feel, ingenuity on the floor. So he’s a very, very exciting player. And very exciting to work with because he has a savant like ability to view the game and see things before they happen.
“All that stuff is great. But one of the challenges is you got to play with four other guys out there. And I really think one of the things that makes him the most special is that he has the ability when he steps on the floor to make four other guys significantly better and has the ability to make the game much easier for them. And players like this are very rare.”
Then, he added: “I wouldn’t trade him for anybody. I wouldn’t trade Doncic for anybody. You step on the floor with guys (like Doncic), it’s a different game.”
Wow. That’s the kind of praise that doesn’t sound like a coach who really, truly expects Doncic’s stats to go down.
Which begs the question: Just how long does it take for a young player to progress from rising-star status to full-blown superstar or, perhaps, even transcendent talent? He couldn’t crack the top-30 in Sports Illustrated’s rankings of the NBA’s best players. He was higher in ESPN’s rankings (16th), but the top 10 NBA stars are hard to argue with. LeBron James was third, Kawhi Leonard second and Giannis Antetokounmpo at the top, with other veteran superstars rounding out the top-10. It took a few years for Damian Lillard, Paul George and Joel Embiid to crack the top-10.
How long will it take Luka? Or Zion Williamson or maybe Trae Young? It’s not an exact science. Young players have to prove themselves not only on the court every season but how long do they have to do it before they become card-carrying members of the superstar club?
“That’s a good question,” said J.J. Barea, the senior member of the Mavericks with Dirk retired. “That’s going to be on him, you know. He knows it’s going to be a tough year. They’re really going to go after him this year. But if somebody could jump pretty quickly to that level, it could be him. And with the team we got and coaches we got, we can
him. But it’s going to be interesting to watch.”
Barea agreed with Carlisle that it’s possible that Doncic’s numbers won’t spike again in his second season. And Carlisle, by the way, had some solid evidence supporting him.
“The problem is that people – not everyone – but people are going to measure progress by stats,” Carlisle said. “Last year was a stat-driven year because of the situation we were in, because he was in a big statistically driven rookie of the year race. Let’s be honest. This year’s going to be different.
He’s playing with more players and he’s playing with another star caliber player with Porzingis. So the dynamics of stats are going to be way different. And I don’t know what the whole thing is going to look like. I just know that if this team is going to be as good as we feel we have a chance to be, there are going to be a lot of guys that are double-figure scorers on this team. His stats may go down. But it doesn’t mean that he’s a lesser player. It probably means he’s having a greater impact on the game involving other guys. But time will tell exactly how the whole things going to go.”
Watching it all unfold should be thoroughly entertaining for Maverick fans.