The Mavs lost to the Timberwolves Thursday as they kicked off the NBA Preseason, losing to Minnesota 111-99.
Mavs offense looked more fluid with Kyrie/Luka minutes than most of the minutes they shared in the regular season post-trade. Defensively, it is hard to judge where they will be, but they should be better than their 26th ranked defense post-trade. The depth to be able to be 2 deep at every position short of center looks promising for Dallas, but the Mavs will need to get creative quickly in the front court. I also think that, like I have preached in the offseason and training camp, Josh Green should & will be in the starting lineup in place of Olivier-Maxence Prosper. However, I like that Kidd is showing trust early in Lively & OMP to be have the freedom right away of starters in terms of the rotations they are part of.
For reference, ahead of the breakdown, the first half was a more likely accurate representation of the regular season rotations Dallas will roll out. This breakdown will also mostly ignore Luka Doncic & Kyrie Irving since they are established superstars, and any breakdown of their game is repetitive of prior notes & analysis. The only analysis for either so far is that one thought that ran through my head is that if Luka can become a great charge-taker, which he tried to do a couple of times in transition, his defensive value will improve.
The overarching note I had for the Mavs in the first quarter is that the shot distribution, shot quality, and ball movement all looked promising. Everyone played unselfishly as a creator, which is the opposite of the notorious label Luka Doncic has earned.
The Mavs’ biggest offseason acquisition, Grant Williams is coming off a great year in Boston, having a full breakout season after improving each year in that department. In his contract year with Boston, he shot 39% on catch & shoot jumpers, which should only increase next to Kyrie Irving & Luka Doncic. In this game alone, he took three open 3s on seven three point attempts, and was a beneficiary of the Wolves’ double teams. Defensively, Williams’ versatility to play in the paint as both a post defender & help defender, as well as being capable against drives makes him a positive addition to the Mavs defense.
Right away, the Mavs’ top pick in the 2023 NBA Draft was tested against one of the best frontcourts in the NBA of Karl-Anthony Towns & Rudy Gobert. I watched for the process of how he saw the game more than the results of plays on both ends. Defensively, how quickly and how much strength Lively adds will be key to achieving his upside. The only two negatives I found with processes of Lively were one on each end: defensively, Lively has to keep on top of movers when helping at the rim to always know where the next play is (videos below). Offensively, Lively was used almost exclusively as a hand-off piece, a la Dwight Powell for the last few years. With minimal rolls, Lively needs to sell that he can keep defenses on their toes to maximize spacing, but instead Lively showed his hand by picking up his dribble too early ahead of the handoff. More positively, the lob Lively had in traffic was promising, which showcased his fantastic length, size, and athleticism to finish in traffic with Luka Doncic lobs. He played good defense a couple times that he was involved in the P&R drop coverage, which is also promising for Dallas. The best thing the Mavs can do for Dereck Lively right now is to let him play through the preseason and give him a long leash. This means letting him play with foul trouble and allow him to play his way out of slumps or low confidence. Since the Mavs are competing for a top playoff spot, this may be difficult to do, but the best way to manage this is allowing for him to make mistakes in big leads early in the game.
Also referred to as OMP, O-Max, or O-Max Prosper, he has often been compared to former Mav Dorian Finney-Smith as a 3&D wing. However, the dream is still not quite ready to happen on day one. One example is that Finney-Smith used to handle KAT defensively until he was at the rim, a testament to his strength, whereas OMP was bullied a couple of times by KAT, completely pushed off of his spot. While OMP didn’t make avoidable mistakes defensively with good rotations, he was largely invisible offensively with only 1 point. Prosper will need a strong second preseason game to help solidify his starter status, otherwise Josh Green may be re-taking that spot.
Green, who is entering a contract year and free agency in 2024 if the Mavs do not extend him by the end of the month, had an effective game on both ends of the floor. With good playmaking, some jump shooting, and positive defense, Green stood out off the bench with a variety of lineups. One lineup he was in that could have potential as a mixed starters/bench lineup was Doncic-Curry-Green-Williams-Powell, allowing for versatility on the wings on both ends of the floor, and could benefit Green. The two areas for improvement the Mavs need to see right away that showed in this game were consistent pull-up shooting, being able to have the same repeatable shot he has on the catch with the same arc, and confidence to attack the holes of the defense. The first video shows, while a made shot, the flat arc on a pull-up, which will limit his FG% on jumpers off the dribble. The second video shows him passing up an open transition pull-up three, instead passing to Markieff Morris who misses. Still, Green has shown more than enough both in prior years & in the first preseason game to warrant becoming the starter on the wing again.
Hardy was a close miss off of the All-Rookie team in 2023, and the Mavs have high hopes for him to improve off the positives already in place, such as great shooting. The Mavs want to empower him as a creator, something they focused on in Summer League, and he had some flashes in this game, both for others and himself. As he continues to make the right decision off of screens, his secondary and tertiary point guard skills will help him boost his stock to be more than just a shooter. With 13 points and 3 assists, Hardy should see a higher usage rate in the preseason than he had last year.
The Mavs confused some fans by signing Morris back, having mostly shown flashes from the April games, including a hot shooting game vs Chicago that forced him to be benched for playing too well. Morris looked promising on both ends of the floor, creating turnovers on defense and hitting jumpers offensively. Morris hasn’t been himself since getting injured from a strike by Nikola Jokic, but if he can prove a healthy season, the Mavs’ depth improves in the frontcourt. He is someone that could be showing a real flash, or this could be an example of reading into something in a meaningless game.
Holmes didn’t see the floor until the third quarter, which raised my eyebrows since he was acquired for the Mavs to take on the pick that led to OMP. Known for having an elite push shot, he didn’t take a push shot attempt this game, but still had a couple of positive defensive plays due to active hands. It is hard to tell from this game what his offensive role will be, but as of now it is safe to assume he is a reserve heading into the season. A reminder though, that rotations don’t usually become solidified until around late December or January, so this could change.
With outstanding athleticism, Lawson thrived at getting to the rim. However, unless he is hyper-efficient on drives, his playing time and impact may be hard to justify. He can pass off of drives, which is important for a jump shooting based team, but as of now, it’s hard to see him graduating from a two-way unless he finds an elite role away from slashing, which currently largely takes place from transition offense.
Brown, who is friends from AAU with two-way guard Mike Miles (who racked up a DNP) thrived defensively. He is not a shooter, and didn’t have an impact offensively, however, which makes his best chance to make the team as an athletic defensive specialist that can guard multiple positions. He is still likely to start the season in the G League, but could be a dark horse candidate for the final two-way spot.
Lastly, Dexter Dennis, who earned me a shoutout on the broadcast from Bobby Karala, is someone I was high on during the pre-draft process due to 3&D upside with excellent athleticism and good size. His motor was on display on the glass, constantly being the first to follow a miss, leading to 3 rebounds along with 7 points and 2 steals, all in 12 minutes. With an open two-way contract, after game one Dexter Dennis separated himself in game one. How he plays in the next game will be key for his status as a fringe roster spot.
Milton was always a favorite of Wolves fans as a top ‘sneaky’ signing, but he looked the part in this preseason game. How he looks off the bench will be key for Minnesota, adding much needed depth and potential efficiency to their backcourt. Being able to play both on-ball and off-ball is key in coming off the bench next to either KAT or Anthony Edwards in any given lineup.
NBA writers and fans already know Mcdaniels is an elite defender. His offense & creation looked good in this game, which is big for a potential breakout season. Shooting has been trending up, but if he can be a two-way creator that can hit spot up shots too, could he be headed to an MIP season?
Moore had a couple nice passes, along with good defense. Both of these traits were big selling points to him being a late first round selection, and if his jump shooting can improve, he should be able to crack the Wolves’ rotation. He still has issues as a jump shooter, particularly his base, as it seems to almost bail on him on moving jump shots. Fixing this should help him as a shooter, and shooting is the easiest way to rotation minutes for the second year player.
The Mavs and Wolves face off again in Abu Dhabi Saturday, and look for the reserves of both teams to get more run.