The Dallas Mavericks have been off to a blazing start to the 2018-19 season. They are currently riding a three-game win streak that saw them win eight of their last ten games, leaving behind top Western Conference teams, like the Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, and reigning champ Golden State Warriors, in their wake. Their ability to bounce back in this fashion after taking six losses in a row has been much more than just a breath of fresh air for this franchise.
This time last year the team was sitting with a 3-14 record and already looking towards the offseason. They finished 13th in the Western Conference last season and in the bottom half of the league in both offensive and defensive rating. So far this season they are top 10 in both ratings and showing serious dark horse playoff team potential. So, what’s so different about these two teams?
Luka Doncic is absurd pic.twitter.com/fqtkL4pevU
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) November 29, 2018
The 19-year-old former Euro League MVP has been the answer to owner Mark Cuban’s tanking prayers. Holding the early lead for the Rookie of the Year race, the young Maverick is averaging 19.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.5 three-pointers made, and 1.0 steals in 33.2 minutes per game, all while shooting 39.8 percent from deep and 45.7 percent overall.
His ability to be a reliable weapon for the Dallas Mavericks’ offense is partly the cause of their early season success. He has scored at least 20 points in six of the last ten games, sunk at least two threes in every game this season but two, and is yet to put up a single digit scoring performance. Doncic is showing he can be counted on in big moments and Dallas is learning how valuable it is to have a rookie with unshakeable confidence. Whether it’s going against one of the best rim protectors down low,
I’m still thinking about how Luka backs down Rubio, gets his own rebound, then makes Rudy’s head spin. Sheesh. pic.twitter.com/pjIfJ4KLon
— Justin Benton (@JustinKBenton) November 19, 2018
putting up a three over a well-respected perimeter defender to cap off a half,
LUUUUUKAAAA ??? pic.twitter.com/8GwwZlLUcg
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) November 15, 2018
or rising to the occasion down the stretch to carry your team to a victory over the best team in the league,
— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 18, 2018
Luka has put the league on notice that he isn’t ever looking to back down.
To add some perspective to how solid this team has played behind their star rookie, over the last ten games in the league the Dallas Mavericks have put up the highest net rating. Along with a net rating of 10.0, 0.8 points above the Oklahoma City Thunder, they also have put up the fourth-best defensive rating, per NBA.com.
Though Doncic is not the team’s strongest defender, and questions surrounding his defensive capabilities are what caused uncertainty in his draft position, he makes up for much of it with effort and head coach Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks have made it work. When Luka is on the floor, the team plays faster, seeing a 1.11 increase in pace. Playing faster and emphasizing the importance of running and defending fast breaks help minimize the potential of Doncic’s unpolished athleticism being taken advantage of in the half court. Carlisle has also played Doncic minutes exclusively in forward roles (82.0 percent of the time at the 4, per Basketball Reference), rather than as a guard for the same reason.
Very few rookies enter the league with an ability to be an impact defender right away, and with the expectation that the “Wonder Boy” will be able to develop more athleticism as his body matures along with his game, there is no worry about his early defensive set-backs. This rings especially true when he continues to show he can help the team win, regardless of defensive skill set. It is already apparent that this young player has all the makings of a franchise player.
“I like him a lot,” Durant said. “He’s polished. He’s skilled. You can tell that he played professional basketball already and they’ve got a great guy in him to lead this franchise in the future. Him and Dennis Smith play well together.”
The future is certainly bright for the Dallas Mavericks, and they seemed to unlock some of that magic right away for this season. If they can keep it going and secure a win in their next game against the Memphis Grizzlies, they will increase their win streak to five games, something they weren’t able to accomplish at all last season. As long as Luka Doncic plays like he has recently, the Mavericks could absolutely make that happen.