Preseason is over, something for which all NBA players are grateful.
The record doesn’t matter, even if it was 4-0 for the Mavericks.
What does matter is what we gleaned from the three weeks that have passed since training camp opened. Here’s our six pack of observations of what we’ve learned about the Jason Kidd-led Mavericks heading into Thursday’s regular-season opener at Atlanta.
Kristaps Porzingis looks reborn: Just as importantly, he sounds reborn. It was clear that he was a little beaten down by the end of last season. Now, he looks and acts totally different. Might be his health, which is better than it’s been in four years. Might be the new coach. Sometimes, changing the face delivering the message helps a player, even if the previous coach didn’t do anything wrong. Whatever the case, Porzingis is rejuvenated mentally and physically. It would surprise nobody if he got off to a fast start. Said Kidd for why Porzingis is so sharp: “Health, first and foremost. Sometimes if you’re hurt, you’re not able to do what you normally do. To give him credit, he never complained, he just did what he was capable of doing with the injuries. But when you’re healthy and can move, the fun, the joy comes back and you start to feel good.”
The defense may have a fighting chance: This could be a byproduct of Porzingis’ revival, but the Mavericks’ defense appears to be legitimate. They led the NBA in fewest points allowed in the preseason, but basing anything off of that is dangerous. It’s skewed by the 59-point smothering of Charlotte on Wednesday. Still, the Mavericks have done a good job of putting in the defensive effort. And that’s at least half the battle. “The guys really bought into what we were selling,” Kidd said. Rising into the top half of the league would represent solid improvement on the defensive end and as good as the Mavericks are offensively, it would set them up for a nice season.
Luka, assist leader? Dončić has a legitimate chance to lead the NBA in assists. We say this for two reasons. First, he’s got better shooters surrounding him and Kidd is stressing ball movement even more than Rick Carlisle did, which was a lot. The Mavericks tied for the lead in assists in the preseason with Golden State, not bad company, by the way. There are other reasons that Dončić likely will lead the league in dishes. Russell Westbrook and LeBron James have led the league in assists the last two seasons. They now play together on the Lakers. The only other player who has finished ahead of Dončić the last two seasons is Atlanta’s Trae Young, and he was only a fraction ahead. With a little imagination, you could see Dončić passing everybody. And we all know he has plenty of imagination.
Chairmen of the boards: The Mavericks were No. 1 in the preseason in scoring at 118.5 points per game. They were No. 1 in rebounding at 57 per game. Coincidence? I think not. They won’t average 15 more rebounds per game than their opponents in the regular season. But they shown all the signs of being a ball-hungry team on the glass, if for no other reason that players like Moses Brown, Boban Marjanović and Dwight Powell are strong offensive rebounders, something that’s being stressed. The Mavericks have a point guard that’s going to average perhaps eight to nine rebounds per game, which is even slightly more than Kidd did in his prime. With that advantage, the Mavericks have no excuse not to be a good rebounding team.
Singing Kumbaya: The Mavericks are a tied-together team. Kidd has made sure of it. And he told the players as much Saturday morning at practice. “One of the compliments I gave those guys this morning was we had about $400-million sitting on the bench yesterday (at Milwaukee) and they were into the game as much as anybody,” Kidd said. “And a lot of times, they (reserves) think no one’s watching, but Tim (Hardaway) and KP and Luka were into the game and helping those guys on the floor and cheering. That just shows how close we are as a team.”
Great potential ahead: Six of the Mavericks’ first 10 are at home. Also, six of the opponents did not make the eight-team playoffs in each conference last season. Getting off to a 7-3 start or better isn’t mandatory, but it’s certainly within reason. And it would certainly give them Mavericks some cushion for when the schedule turns a little tougher in the last half of November.