The NBA regular season starts one month from today for the Mavericks.
They begin training camp on Oct. 1, with the preseason opener a week later.
The roster is full at 20 players, two of which are on two-way contracts and three of which will have to be waived before the regular season begins.
With that in mind, here are five burning questions for which we’ll be seeking answers when camp opens and the preseason begins on what will be a long, six-month NBA season.
Prepare to be amazed (we hope): The No. 1 reason for excitement, and perhaps a bit of anxiousness, is how Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will mesh. They are the Mavericks top two players, Doncic the reigning rookie of the year and Porzingis the only player on the roster who has been an all-star. If the Mavericks are going to make a major leap forward in the standings this season, those two are going to have to be the heavy lifters. While this will be a deep, strength-in-numbers kind of team, it also will rely heavily on its two young stars. With Porzingis having been out since February, 2018, nobody can be totally certain how he will return from the knee injury. The ceiling is high. But the Mavericks go into this season also with at least some level of concern about how long it might take for Porzingis to be his best, and, by extension, how long it will take “Donzingis” to be all it can be.
Breaking down the backcourt: For the past several years, the Mavericks have needed all the depth they could get in the backcourt. Injuries happen and they sometimes seem to hit the same position. That’s happened at the guard spots recently. For that reason, the Mavericks stockpiled a lot of perimeter players. Apart from Luka Doncic and Delon Wright, who figure to be the primary ballhandlers, they have J.J. Barea, Jalen Brunson, Seth Curry and Courtney Lee, all of whom have proven track records and normally would command a sizeable share of playing time. That’s six players who are used to playing. It will be interesting to see how coach Rick Carlisle utilizes each of them. But you’ll never hear any coach complain about having too many capable players.
Who is the fifth starter? If we pencil in Doncic, Porzingis, Wright and Dwight Powell – and there are no guarantees about the last two – then the question becomes who the shooting guard/small forward will be. Not that starting is the biggest thing. Who finishes games that are close is probably more important to the coaching staff than who starts them. For the Mavericks, there is no reason why they couldn’t have a starting seven with three or four members who start some games and come off the bench against other opponents. But if Powell and Wright are on the court for the jump ball, the candidates for that fifth spot would appear to be Justin Jackson, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith. The bottom line is that there’s probably not a wrong answer among them. Hardaway and Jackson are better shooters, but Finney-Smith’s defense, combined with his hard-nosed offensive game and improving 3-point shot, would provide a different sort of look for opponents to deal with. This is one of those questions that only time will answer.
Health concerns: The Mavericks probably will have to monitor the progress physically of at least three players – Porzingis, Hardaway and Barea. All are coming off of significant surgeries. Porzingis is 7-3 and 240 pounds and it’s not easy to predict or project how a big man will recover from ACL surgery. Barea had a ruptured Achilles tendon and while he’s on pace to participate in training camp, his activity could be limited for a while. The same goes for Hardaway, who had a stress fracture in his lower left leg repaired. All three of those players figure heavily into the playing rotation this season, so it makes sense to take every precaution in their recoveries.
What about the back end of the roster? Two players are on two-way contracts, Antonius Cleveland and Josh Reaves. They don’t count against the 15-man roster. In the past, we’ve seen the Mavericks swap out different players on the two-way deals. It’s a maximum of two that you can have. But if you cut one, you can sign another for a relatively small financial commitment. Meanwhile, the final spot on the roster appears to be second-round draft pick Isaiah Roby’s to lose. He signed a multiyear contract. But the Mavericks have never been shy about eating such contracts if another player clearly stands out. Among the hopefuls for that last spot are Dakota Mathias, Aric Holman or Yudai Baba. It’s also possible that the Mavericks could opt to wait until other teams make their cuts. If a player they like becomes available, it’s always nice to have a spare roster spot. But watching Roby grow during camp will be an interesting subplot.