Mid-August typically is a dead zone for the NBA. A lot of players are getting away from offseason workouts or rehab.
Coaches are getting some down time, at least those that don’t have responsibilities working out rookies and other players who might be working on their games to get an edge going into the upcoming season.
And, of course, this is back-to-school season for some players/parents/coaches.
Which makes this the perfect time for the inaugural edition of Sefko’s Offseason School of unofficial storylines and questions involving the Mavericks and the other teams in the Southwest Division because, let’s face it, if you can’t leapfrog some of the teams in your own division, you’re not going to jump very high in the wicked Western Conference standings, either.
So prepare for your enrollment in the SOS as we tap into our big brains (or what’s left of them) and go probing the biggest issues in the Southwest.
What will the Mavericks get from KP?
This is the $158-million question, since that’s reportedly what the team committed to Kristaps Porzingis with his max-contract extension. The answer to that question won’t be official for months. However, because we have crystal-ball powers here at SOS, we know that Porzingis is going to show very few signs of the torn ACL that will have sidelined him for 20 months before the regular season begins Oct. 23. Will there be some rust? Of course. Will there be some minutes limitations and the dreaded “load management?” Certainly. But young players who suffer major injuries have an excellent chance of returning to their best form. And it’s the same whether you are a guard or a big man. Look no further than Al Jefferson and Blake Griffin for proof that major knee injuries don’t mean the end of being an elite player for a big man. Both (Jefferson from an ACL, Griffin from a broken kneecap) returned from surgery in their younger years better than ever. So expect Porzingis to do everything he did as an all-star in 2017-18. Maybe not right away. But eventually.
Will the Mavs finally be a better rebounding team?
It’s a fact that the better offensive players you have, the better chance you have of being a better rebounding team (Milwaukee, Golden State, Toronto, Portland all were in the top six in scoring and top 10 in rebounding). And the Mavericks have been a poor offensive team (and, subsequently, a poor rebounding team) the last few seasons. The only exception was when DeAndre Jordan was on board for the first four months of last season. After he was traded, the Mavericks reverted to subpar rebounding numbers. But there is hope. Offensive rebounding should improve with the addition of Delon Wright. And Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith figure to get more chances to steal missed shots on the offensive end with Luka Doncic and Porzingis (and Tim Hardaway Jr. at some point) getting the bulk of the shots. The rebounding should be better. And it’s a positive that it will have to be done by committee. That means one person won’t have all the rebounding pressure. That’s the way this team is being built in all aspects.
Does the Harden-Westbrook combo work in Houston?
This depends on your definition of “works.” The Rockets know that if they don’t conjure up a championship in the James Harden era, it will be a blown opportunity. It didn’t work with Chris Paul. It didn’t work with Dwight Howard. Maybe it will work with Russell Westbrook, who most people would agree is better than those other two, but will undoubtedly take the ball out of Harden’s hands more, too. The Rockets are a love-‘em-or-hate-‘em team, but no matter which side of the fence you are on, they are going to be must-watch entertainment this season. If the marriage of Harden and Westbrook works – and Clint Capela and P.J. Tucker do all the dirty work on defense – then the Rockets will be in the conference finals and possibly even deeper in the playoffs next spring. If not, Mike D’Antoni likely will be the undeserving odd man out.
Who comes up big from deep in the Mavs’ rotation?
The easy answer is that Jalen Brunson, who wasn’t really deep in the rotation by the end of last season, would be the breakout player this season. But the truth is that the Mavericks need at least three of these five rotation players to take major leaps this season: Brunson, Maxi Kleber, Justin Jackson Dorian Finney-Smith and Ryan Broekhoff. They are all dfferent sorts of players and all will contribute this season. But it’s clear that a less-slender Jackson (he’s added 20 pounds) will be an impact player. And by the way, after my more-athletic Twitter followers pointed out that it’s physically impossible to put on 20 pounds of muscle in three months, I’ll amend that statement to say that he put 20 pounds on in all the right places. He did not put it on where sportswriters typically do. Anyway Jackson will get ample opportunity to be a sixth-man type of producer. Or perhaps a starter in smaller lineups. And don’t sleep on Finney-Smith as a 3-and-D specialist and Broekhoff as a shooter. Plus, we all know Kleber and Brunson will produce.
Do the Spurs finally – FINALLY – take a step back?
They’ve only been in the playoffs for 22 consecutive years, even if they did slip in as the No. 7 seed last season. They still survived the exit of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. They always seem to find a way to be competitive. And while coach Gregg Popovich is going to have to rely on DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, plus a rebooted Dejounte Murray. Personally, we here at SOS feel it’s financial suicide to gamble against Popovich and the Spurs. Smart additions like DeMarre Carroll and Trey Lyles will help. Bottom line: the Spurs are still the Spurs and it just doesn’t seem feasible that they won’t be one of the top eight teams in the West.
What does Luka Doncic do for an encore and will he be the Mavericks’ leading scorer again?
There’s not really a wrong answer here. If Doncic builds on his rookie of the year season and becomes one of the most dangerous players in the NBA, the Mavericks will be on their way to the playoffs sooner than later. And if Kristaps Porzingis emerges as the leading scorer, it probably means that Doncic will be among the league leaders in assists and be racking up triple doubles. Where’s the downside? What we know is that this is Doncic’s team now and he’s going to be the driver. Whatever the numbers end up being, they end up being. Doesn’t matter. His biggest job this season is to manufacture more wins, pure and simple.
How do the Pelicans stack up in the Southwest?
Zion Williamson can’t do it alone, and he won’t have to. Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Derrick Favors and J.J. Redick are going to make his life easier. There’s not a lot of depth behind that group, but New Orleans has talent on the front end and the excitement level around the top pick of the draft is going to be off the charts. This is a team the Mavericks have to rise above if they are serious about being playoff relevant. If it weren’t for Houston, watching the Pelicans’ growth would be the best storyline outside of Dallas for Maverick fans to watch.
Where’s the playing time for Seth Curry, J.J. Barea, Courtney Lee, Delon Wright and Antonius Cleveland?
If the Mavericks have learned anything through the years, it’s that injuries happen. And rotations evolve. And every member of a 15-man roster eventually gets a chance to help win games. One member of this group of guards probably will be starting (Wright?). The others will be scrambling for time behind Luka Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr. Coach Rick Carlisle is nothing if not adaptable. He will change starting lineups often. He will use different rotations. The minutes are going to be limited for this group. But the smart way for Maverick fans to look at is would be to know that Carlisle usually figures out a way. And by the way, even though Barea is not yet signed, he will be soon and his minutes will be watched closely early in the season.
What about Memphis?
Rebuilding processes are hard. And normally slow. Just ask Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Minnesota and … well, you get the idea.
Is Boban Marjanovic the new Salah?
It certainly looks that way. Marjanovic is a bigger version of Salah Mejri who can rebound and score in the short minutes he’s played throughout his four-year career. He’s not a great shot-blocker at 7-3, but he’s going to give the Mavericks a nice change of pace when he fills in for Porzingis or Dwight Powell or Maxi Kleber. And, like Mejri, Marjanovic is a character. Best of both worlds.