In 2017, the late, great Kobe Bryant issued “Kobe Challenges” to help better the stars and up-and-comers of the league to improve at one area of their games. The Dallas Mavericks are coming off of one of their most disappointing seasons, and the Mavs need to improve in a lot of areas. What would a Kobe challenge for each of the current Mavs’ players look like? Or in this case, what about a “Dirk Challenge?”
Finally mature enough to move on from missed calls from refs, which in turn would lead to less being in danger of being suspended from too many technical fouls. This would trickle down, allowing him to focus on getting back on defense, and staying more engaged on the defensive end in the half-court as well.This year, Luka Doncic’s defense was a key element of the Mavs finishing with a bottom ten defense.
Prove the narratives to be false around his availability and play 70+ games in a season for the first time since he was a Cavalier. While much of the narrative around Kyrie Irving’s availability, or lack thereof, is warranted, he had minimal issues in that regard in his brief stint with Dallas. Should he re-sign, having him play 70+ games would likely mean the Mavs are heavily flirting with a top 3 seed in the conference.
Work on the 3 point shot to become somewhat of a stretch big again. Before his Achilles injury in 2019, Dwight Powell was shooting threes occasionally for three years (285 threes from 2017-2019). While he only shot 31% from three, being able to stretch the defense would open up the offense because instead of teams dropping on the roll against him, they would have to decide to contest the shot or defend the rim. Remember, defenses defend off of volume, not percentages.
Improve defensive ability to earn the trust of Jason Kidd, eventually leading to potential votes as a third place vote in 6th Man of the Year voting. The first few months of his rookie season were rough for Hardy, with his shot not falling and his defense being shaky. After a G League stint, Hardy found confidence and was able to outperform his defensive issues with strong offense. Hardy being able to remove the label of being a liability in the pick & roll would go a long way on his impact on the game, and would be a gateway to more minutes.
Add more volume to his shooting while maintaining a notably above-average 3P%. While his percentage took off in his third year, Green still was taking more (106) open threes than contested (59) threes on the season, with a percentage breakdown as follows:
Open catch & shoot 3s: 35.6%
Guarded catch & shoot 3s: 43.4%
While both numbers are impressive, given his pre-season reputation as a shooter, creating similar results on more volume with stronger commitments from defenses will open up the offense in ways that can benefit both Green and his teammates. With the defense and playmaking Green has already provided, becoming a knockdown shooter that commands the same respect the other top shooters on the team warrant will not only allow for Green to get more money in the offseason as a potential restricted free agent, but also will raise the ceiling for the Mavericks team as a whole.
Shoot a career high from 3 and eclipse his pervious career high of 41% from 3. By doing this, Kleber will need to become more mentally aggressive, and be willing to pull the trigger more easily with more confidence. Too often, Kleber was shy to shoot near a late contest, or he would pass out of the right shot. Putting his injury history behind him at 32 would be key for the Mavs as they hope to re-open their title window.
Tim Hardaway Jr:
Average 3 FTA/G for the first time since being traded to Dallas. In other words, be more willing to get to the line by being more aggressive on drives. THJ’s shooting ability attracts defenders, and often gets defenders off of their feet. However, Hardaway doesn’t often take advantage of that by going to the rim and attacking the closeout. This would also help Hardaway in transition, where he took 73 shots this last season, shooting 52% from 2.
Derrick Jones Jr:
Become a 35%+ 3 point shooter. One of the very best athletes in the NBA and a great defender, Jones is aptly nicknamed Airplane Mode for his high-flying dunks. While his finishing and defense stand out, continuing on a steady improvement as a jump shooter will be key as a bench wing. Over the last 4 years, while still underwhelming percentages, each year has been a year-over-year improvement in the 3 point shooting department: 28% in 2019-20, 31.6% in 20-21, 32.8% in 21-22, and 33.8% in 22-23. Adding 1% better this year would put him roughly at 35%, which is generally seen as respectable, even if below average.
Improve his playmaking total/volume back to the levels of 2021-22. While Curry still had an impressive 2:1 assist:turnover ratio last season, his volume drastically fell off from the prior years despite a similar total games played, falling from 200 assists to 109 turnovers in 2021-22 to 99 assists to 51 turnovers in 2022-23. This doesn’t need to entail running more complex sets and more pick & rolls, which will hinder his ability to reach higher assist totals, but being more creative as a shooter and trusting the extra pass will be key in Dallas. Putting up similar playmaking numbers to 2011 Jason Terry while shooting near 40% from 3 would be big (4 assists to 2 turnovers per game), especially if Curry can copy the extra passing mechanisms Terry mastered, including the great back-and-forth passes he used to have with his fellow shooters.
Average at least 2 blocks per 36 minutes, or simply find the niche role or elite skill right away that creates immediate minutes. Lively had some struggles in Summer League in adjusting to the NBA speed, particularly as a rim protector against quick drives. He was often just a second late against contests, which allowed for a higher FG% against him than both he and the Mavs would have liked to see. When he eventually adapts to the NBA tempo, Lively will need to hang his hat on one skill that allows for him to play as a specialist in year one. This could be rebounding, defense, or something else, but following Dwight Powell’s path of having one great skill (rolling to the rim) and knowing where to be without the ball and defensively, will allow for Lively to capitalize even more with a greater frame. It is unlikely Lively ends up shooting 3s this year in meaningful minutes, but having that down the road would be a long-term “Dirk Challenge.”
Prove the shooting from his meteoric rise was real by shooting at least league average from 3. A pretty simple task, but OMP was one of the biggest risers of the draft cycle, being a cool name to monitor in April to a first round pick in June that impressed in Summer League in July. Defensively, while teams and scouts I talked to wanted to have seen him produce more defensive stats in college, he should still be able to create advantages for the team on that end of the floor right away. If the Mavs truly envision OMP to fill in for Dorian Finney-Smith as the 3&D small forward, he must be able to shoot in the heliocentric offense next to Luka Doncic.
Become part of the 50/40/90 club. With more spot-up shooting opportunities and being a noticeably above average shooter on spot-ups (80th percentile in 2022-23), in the Mavs’ system Williams should see even higher quality shots, including more open shots. In 2021-22, Williams eclipsed 40% from 3 and 90% from the free throw line, but missed the FG% mark by 2.5%. The Mavs’ expectations should be to have him flirt with those numbers, with an increase in FG%.
Become more of a stretch shooter and take a career high 1 3 point attempt per game. Holmes lost his fit in Sacramento last season under new coach Mike Brown, and he has never been able to showcase 3 point shooting despite being initially developed to stretch the floor down the road in Philadelphia before heading to Phoenix. The indicators suggest shooting touch, but he will need to prove he can hit 3s in game and be able to stretch his shooting touch to the 3 point line. With a great push shot that has been his main weapon + a 79% FT% over the last 4 years in Sacramento, the shooting touch is there. Holmes needs to prove that this was a trust issue in Sacramento that he wasn’t shooting 3s, and not a concern of his ability.
Stay healthy and be a two-way contributor while maintaining offensive efficiency like he had in Europe. Exum had a ridiculously efficient season last year with Partizan overseas with splits of 52/39/84.5, and if he can continue that into a more minimal role while at least being an average defender, Exum will be seen as a major upgrade over the same spot occupied last season by Frank Ntilikina. As for health, Exum has been out of the league for almost 3 years because of injuries, and has only played 50 or more games twice: in his rookie year and his third year (after missing the whole year as a sophomore). Dallas shouldn’t need Exum every night, which could be a pathway to less injuries and for him to play 50 games without much concern.
Be a 40% shooter from 3 that plays defense when asked to be a change-of-pace forward in the games he is asked to play legitimate minutes in. In 2023, Morris only played the last two games of the season, and his jump shot looked good. However, he hasn’t looked healthy since his incident resulting in an elbow to the back with Nikola Jokic a couple years back. Achieving 40% from 3 and being competent defensively would be a positive sign for his career at this stage.