The Dallas Mavericks have caught many off guard this season.
While they were expected to improve on last season, few saw them becoming a playoff team led by an emerging superstar in Luka Doncic.
It begs the question: Is this team prepared to make some noise now?
Heading into their matchup with the LA Clippers on Thursday - a team they could face in the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs - our NBA.com Staff plays a game of Fact or Fiction based on the biggest storylines surrounding the Mavericks.
There are only five players better than Luka Doncic right now
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Fact. Our NBA.com Staff had him as high as fourth and as low as eighth when we ranked the 30 best players heading into the Orlando bubble last month. Personally, I had him sixth behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and James Harden. It's pretty remarkable considering he's only in his second season and is only 21 years old. He's already that special offensively.
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): Fiction. I have the same group of players Scott has above Luka at the moment, but I also have Damian Lillard. Luka may finish higher in MVP voting this season, but Dame has proven over multiple years that he's one of the best offensive weapons in the league. In fact, I think that Lillard is currently the best offensive weapon in the league with Steph Curry not playing. Will Luka be better than Dame at some point? Sure, but he's not right now.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Fact. Before even reading either of the above answers, I quickly brainstormed and could only think of the same five names that Scott named. That's it. I love Dame but I've gotta give the slight edge to Luka and his ridiculous averages of 29.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists.
Kristaps Porzingis is developing into the perfect No. 2 next to Doncic
Rafferty: Fiction. I'm still not sure that Porzingis can be the second-best player on a championship team. Third-best? Absolutely. He provides incredible spacing as a high volume 3-point shooting big man and he can be a menace defensively with his long arms. I just worry about his ability to create his own shot. We all know he likes to get the ball in the post, but he ranks in only the 28th percentile with 0.82 points per possession in those situations this season. To me, the perfect No. 2 next to Doncic would be able to take a little more pressure off of him as a playmaker.
Gay: Fact. I think this is a match made in heaven for the Mavericks. Let's not forget that before his injury, Porzingis was an All-Star averaging 22-plus points per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point range - and he was doing that with little to no talent around him in New York. As a second fiddle, he doesn't have the pressure to perform every night and he excels in an area that Doncic leaves a lot to be desired right now - the defensive end. Kristaps may have been made for Luka and the two together at their peak are certainly a good foundation for a championship team.
McGregor: Fact. As Carlan said, this is just about the best match Dallas could have made to get the most out of its young superstar. I think Porzingis has another level to tap into given the fact that entering this year, he hadn't played basketball in nearly two whole years. Their chemistry will only get better with time and their skill and versatility makes me extremely optimistic about their ceiling as a duo.
The Mavericks will upset a team in the first round
Rafferty: Fiction. I really like this Mavericks team. They've been dynamite offensively this season and you'd think that a team built around a top-six player in Doncic could absolutely upset a team like the Lakers, Clippers or Nuggets in the first round. The clutch stuff just really worries me. They've been a disaster in those situations this season, largely because Doncic's offence has fallen off a cliff. I don't doubt that Doncic is clutch, but considering this will be his first postseason - same for Porzingis - I don't think this is the season they make noise.
Gay: Fiction. The Mavericks are a fun team, but they aren't there yet. As I said, KP and Luka together are a good foundation for a championship team, but they need better pieces around them to get to that next level. Even if the Clippers fall out of the second seed and Dallas ends up playing the Nuggets, they just won't have the horses to compete with Denver. It isn't Dallas' time yet.
McGregor: Fiction. I'm probably gonna sound like a broken record here but it's not in the cards for Dallas to make that kind of noise in the postseason just yet. The Mavs are a fun team and I definitely think they can make a first-round series interesting depending on the matchups but I do see them making a team sweat in a few games and potentially pushing a series to six games to pick up some much-needed playoff experience.
Depending on who they meet and what they can accomplish, this postseason will be a key building block for future title aspirations.
The Mavericks will go after another star this offseason
Rafferty: Fact. If you couldn't tell by my Porzingis answer, I still think the Mavericks could do with someone other than Doncic in the backcourt who can create their own offence. It might not be a superstar like Bradley Beal, but someone like Jrue Holiday - a borderline All-Star who plays both ends of the court - would make a tremendous difference and vault this team to the next level.
Gay: Fact. I think they will go after another star this offseason, but I don't think they should. The Mavs should focus on building around Luka and Porzingis instead of chasing a Big 3. Luka and Porzingis are both young and they'll get better. If you can put solid role players around them, they'll become a championship contender before long.
McGregor: Fact. By many accounts, this team has overachieved based on the way it is constructed. They've gotten the most out of their role players this season but that's not the most reliable model for success in this day and age. I think one more star-calibre player can bring this team to the next level and will probably help address some of the team's problems down the stretch.
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