The Memphis Grizzlies are coming off a win in another defensive battle against the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday afternoon. Today, they’ll return home to face off against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.
To prepare for tonight’s match up, I caught up with Kirk Henderson, the social media coordinator from SB Nation’s Mavs Moneyball and the former owner of my favorite name on Twitter, “Big Doncic Energy.” We discussed the Mavs’ weird starting lineup, matchups to look forward to in this game, and how the awesome Luka Doncic.
1. The DeAndre Jordan and Mavericks marriage finally happened. With this roster though, is it a case of “too little, too late?”
Absolutely. Dallas made a truly weird decision this off-season in that they tried to thread the needle in terms of being a passable offensive team and defensive team with the players they brought in in free agency. The idea that Jordan can anchor a defense has been proven silly for two seasons now, and the Mavericks let their best shooters (Doug McDermott and Yogi Ferrell) walk.
The result is this Frankenstein of a team that has starters who aren’t really great at anything (hi Harrison Barnes and Wesley Mattews), an older center who’s just cutting his check, and a pair of young players. The bench is weirdly effective though so if you find yourself yelling at the tv because of JJ Barea, remember this sentence.
2. Luka Doncic is currently hitting marks that only some of the all-time greats have hit. Did you expect him to be this good this quick?
I expected him to come in and make noise immediately, but this has gotten out of hand. He’s been great in areas I expected him to struggle, like shooting and scoring, and he’s been reckless passing the ball which was supposed to be his signature.
It’s worked out, mostly, because he’s certainly been effective. Against a team like Memphis, I suspect he’ll have a game that looks boring if you’re not watching the box score, but he’ll still finish with 16 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists somehow.
3. Dallas has struck out on A-list free agents over the past decade. Could the Luka-DSJ partnership break this trend and recruit All-Stars to Dallas?
This depends on who you ask, but I certainly don’t think so. I harbor a theory that players like the idea of Dallas but don’t care for owner Mark Cuban. That, and the fact that every team but the big markets are always leverage. Maybe in a few more years, if Luka is able to become an All Star, there’s an argument that Dallas should be a destination. But it wasn’t at any point during the 15 years of 50+ win seasons, so I just don’t see that changing.
4. The Mavericks starting lineup is quiet impressive. Do you think the bench will hold them back from being a playoff team this season?
The starters LOOK so good on paper. It SHOULD work, right? So far it really, really hasn’t. Wesley Matthews is attempting to fit into a different role but he’s had a green light in past years and he’s had some trouble scaling back. Harrison Barnes is a fine player with remarkable tunnel vision who seems to only be good at 90’s iso scoring. Dennis Smith Jr. is coming along, but he’s the kind of guy who needs the rock a lot to get a feel for the game. Luka’s their best player, and he often doesn’t see the ball for 3-5 possessions at a time.
The bench, as weird as it looks, has been very effective. Would you believe it if I told you the Mavs have outscored opponents by 20 points per 100 possessions when second team big men Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell share the floor? I’m telling you it’s been baffling this season.
Over all, I think the Mavericks *could* make some noise, if Rick Carlisle shuffles Wesley Matthews to the bench for a player named Dorian Finney-Smith, and Harrison Barnes tripped and fell into another dimension.
5. What is one matchup you’re looking forward to watching in this game?
First, I’m really excited to see Marc Gasol embarass DeAndre Jordan. You know how good Gasol is. I do too. So pair Jordan’s lackluster effort and waning athleticism against Gasol’s precision and power and it’s going to be a blood bath.
Second, I am really excited to see Jaren Jackson Jr. He was the 1B to Doncic’s 1A insofar as my draft wishlist. That he’s been as solid has he’s been this season isn’t a surprise to me, and I look forward to seeing what he does on both sides off the ball against a funky Maverick front court.