“Doncic pulls up! Three pointer! Bang! BANG! It’s good! Doncic wins the game at the buzzer!”
These immortal words by Mike Breen encapsulate the wonder that is playoff Luka Doncic.
That was in August of 2020 when he dropped 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. That was the real night that LUKA MAGIC became forever entrenched into the minds of NBA fans. It has lead to Luka having playoff averages of 33.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 9.5 assists, 1.7 stocks, .582 True Shooting percentage, a 27.5 Player Efficiency Rating, and an absurd 10.1 BPM over the 13 games he has had to go it alone against the defensive juggernaut that was the Clippers.
This year things are different Luka has turned his passing into an even more powerful weapon, only increased by the fact that his teammates are now empowered to do more. The selfish and often whining Kristaps Porzingis had playoff averages drastically worse than his regular season performances. He was traded in a move in order to get off his contract. Instead, that trade has made the Mavericks a deadly offense with the 3-headed ball-handling monster of Luka, Jalen Brunson and newbie Spencer Dinwiddie.
The Mavs, as a team, have really improved and those improvements are highlighted by the development of 4 old Mavs Jalen Brunson, Josh Green, Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith (who’s struggles in the past earned them the nickname “The Marvs”) and the new addition of Dinwiddie.
Lets start with Dinwiddie. The Mavs needed to get a secondary ball handler, especially one who could take over bench units to allow Luka and Brunson to play together in the starting lineup. The pickings for such a player were very slim at the trade deadline. Porzingis was no longer playing because of his injuries and every time he entered the lineup it threw off the groove that had been created in his absence. His constant whining and demanding touches had made the ability to keep him untenable.
That meant to get the ball handler the Mavs needed it would take them scraping the bottom of all available players. Spencer Dinwiddie was not fitting in playing in Washington. He thought his experience in Brooklyn would make him have the ability to be a vocal leader, the Wizards did not. Clashes with Wizards former All NBA Guard Bradley Beal lead to the Wizards front office deciding Dinwiddie had to go. Spencer did not have many expectations, someone who clashed with teammates and was only averaging 12.6 points, 5.8 assists on 37/31/81 shooting with control of an offense that teammates did not want to run.
His arrival was miraculous for the Mavs. Moving to a bench role, Dinwiddie has moved his points per game up to 16.2 without increasing his shot attempts. His shooting line in Dallas is 49/38/72 and his ability to attack the rim has revitalized the non-Luka minutes into a time no longer bleeding points and that the mavericks sometimes now win.
The major improvements in-house to this Mavs roster cannot be overstated and it all starts with Jalen Brunson. Last year under coach Rick Carlisle, Brunson was not given the freedom to create for teammates. It lead to the false assumption that he was not capable of playing Point guard and would never be able to run the offense. Brunson has showed a vision he did not seem to posses. Now that new Head Coach Jason Kidd has freed him, his passing has been extremely needed while also raising his scoring by almost 4 points per game.
The other major improvement area has been his defense. Brunson will always be undersized guarding forwards, but his strength makes him hard to post up and his hustle and IQ are really starting to make him a slight positive on that end, whereas last year he had to be benched in the playoffs because of his struggles on both ends. Brunson could be in for a major payday if he produces well against the bad defensive back court of either the Jazz or Nuggets.
Josh Green was buried on the bench by Rick Carlisle, who hated the draft pick and therefore never gave him a chance. This year coach Kidd decided to let him loose. He has turned into a very solid three point shooter (36% on the year but 39% since January 7th), a dynamic passer and an incredible athlete who uses his hustle to blow up opponents offense and defense. Green seems to have earned coach Kidd’s trust and seems to be a major part of the Mavs future as another athletic 3nD wing this team has desperately needed.
Dwight Powell has been my personal nemesis on my favorite team for years. Even before the Achilles tear I was not a fan. His inability to play defense in the drop or to make smart decisions in the roll killed me. This year things are different. He’s figured out the short roll in a way where he can tear teams apart. The new switching scheme highlights his athleticism and makes his lack of elite length not as much of a problem as a drop. In 2022 he’s shooting an absurd 70.8% from the field.
Powell has had monster games this year, including out-playing Karl-Anthony Towns in every meeting this year and a complete dismantling of the defending champion Bucks on their home court.
Dorian “Doedoe” Finney-Smith is one of the best defenders in the NBA. He is not getting his due, but he deserves it. EVERY SINGLE NIGHT he takes the hardest opponent matchup, Domantas Sabonis, Kevin Durant, Donavan Mitchell, DeMar DeRozen, LeBron James, Steph Curry, Jason Tatum, Julius Randell, Jimmy Buttler, Ja Morant. It doesn’t matter what position you play, Dorian is going to make your life miserable.
Dorian is one of 3 above average defenders on a team that is top 7 in defense. Dorian is the only one of those 3 to play 70 games and the only one to start 40 (he has played and started 78 as of the time of writing this article. With a high minute load (33 a night) and increased offensive responsibilities (career highs in points, assists, minutes and shot attempts) he still has become one of the best defenders in the association while also being a consistent threat from 3 with the ability to now attack close outs and create for others.
Jason Kidd has made freedom on offense a priority and commitment to defense and rotations a necessity. This team is primed to make noise in the playoffs behind the SUPERNOVA that is Luka Doncic and the true team of help behind him he hasn’t had in the past.