Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Juan, you wrote a fascinating article on NBA Argentina earlier this month about the Dallas Mavericks and how their offence might not be as historic as their offensive rating would indicate. You and I got to talking about it, and our conversation quickly turned into a discussion about how the Mavericks should build around Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis moving forward.
It came down to two options:
- Pair them with another star, essentially creating a Big Three in Dallas.
- Go all-in on depth by surrounding Doncic and Porzingis with role players who can complement their strengths and cover up their weaknesses.
The Mavericks aren't exactly in a huge rush to do anything - time is on their side with Doncic and Porzingis being as young as they are - but based on what we know about the two of them today, which one do you think would be better for them?
Juan Estévez (@JuanEstevez90): I think we have some recent examples that prove that you can win with two great players surrounded by depth, like last season's Toronto Raptors. Yes, they had three players who were All-Stars this season (Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam), but I don't think anyone would say they had a Big Three. Plus, their depth was their biggest and most important asset. If you have one top-five player like Luka, one top-20 player like Porzingis and you surround them with good veterans, that might be enough to compete for a championship.
The 2010-11 Mavericks are another great example of that.
One more factor: Luka needs the ball in his hands to be effective. So I'm not convinced that having another star who takes the ball away from him would be the best thing ... he's actually not much of an off-the-ball threat right now.
Rafferty: Luka's 3-point shooting in general is very weird, as I detailed earlier in this hiatus, but him shooting 26.9 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s this season - albeit on a relatively small sample size - makes absolutely no sense.
If they were to go the star route to form a Big Three, who would that player even be? Because like you alluded to, Luka is one of the more ball dominant players in the league and we don't really have a good sense yet of whether or not he is capable of playing off-ball. And yet, part of me thinks that he'd benefit greatly from having another playmaker in the backcourt with him, whether it's a Bradley Beal or Jrue Holiday.
Estévez: Well, Bradley Beal is actually someone who would make a lot of sense, in the same way that Klay Thompson makes sense next to Stephen Curry. Obviously Beal is a more complete scorer than Klay, but when Luka has the ball, Beal can still spot-up and space the floor. His 3-point shooting numbers this season are the opposite of Doncic - he's only shooting 33.0 percent on pull-up 3s but 38.0 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s - but we know he can play on and off-ball.
The question is how do you get someone like Beal without giving up Porzingis, taking into account that he's not a free agent until 2023. In a dream scenario, yes, that would be a great fit, but I'm not sure it's that realistic right now.
Holiday, on the other hand, might be more gettable. But is he worth it to give up your depth?
Rafferty: Yeah, that's sort of the problem the Mavericks face. Their best bet at getting another star might be in free agency given that Doncic and Porzingis are likely untouchable and they don't really have another valuable asset to get someone like Beal in a trade.
I really like the idea of Holiday, though, both because he can play with and without the ball and he's a ball-hawking defender. I'm not necessarily worried about Luka defensively because, while he might never be a "good" defender, he at least has the size to be a factor on that end of the court, but the Mavericks are probably going to need someone eventually who can guard the Stephen Currys, Damian Lillards and Chris Pauls of the NBA. Holiday has proven that he can do that.
The problem with Holiday, of course, is that he's not on quite the same timeline as Doncic and Porzingis. If they do go down the star route, they might be better off targeting someone a little younger.
What's funny is that we talked ourselves into Zion Williamson being a dream fit next to Doncic and Porzingis earlier in the season. I just, uhh, don't see Zion wearing anything but a Pelicans jersey for a long, long, long time.
Estévez: Ha, yes, I remember that. I think the only player that the Pelicans would trade Zion for is Luka himself, so we are going to have to wait for that to be an option.
There's also another potential problem. If the Mavericks take the third star route, they probably have to do it while Luka is still on his rookie contract, so that gives them this offseason and next offseason to find someone. This year, unless there's a surprising player who opts-out, there won't be any All-Stars available. And while the 2021 class has more much talent, I don't see a great fit among the unrestricted free agents wings.
Going back to my original point, what I do see are some great options for role players. Joe Harris, whose contract finishes at the end of this season, is someone I could see flourishing next to Luka. The same for Davis Bertans.
If I'm the Mavericks, I wouldn't overpay just to say we got a third All-Star.
Rafferty: Right, they have time to figure this out, which is the good thing. Provided Porzingis can stay healthy, there's no reason why Doncic and Porzingis won't be dominating the NBA together for the next 5-10 years. They're not really expected to win it all right now.
Let's go back to your article for a second. While these Mavericks might not have the best offence of all-time despite having the best offensive rating of all-time - more on that here - they've still been really, really, really good. And that's probably an argument for going down the depth route instead of the Big Three because Doncic and Porzingis should only get better and the Mavericks should be able to surround them with better players in the years to come, whether that is someone like Harris and/or Bertans.
It's interesting that you found that the 2003-04 Mavericks were the most dominant offensive team of all-time compared to the league average because they were led by a duo that Doncic and Porzingis have been compared to in the past: Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki.
Estévez: Yes, and what was the problem with that team? Defence. They were ranked 26th out of 29 teams that year and it cost them a first round exit against the Sacramento Kings. Luka and Porzingis are better defenders than Nash and Dirk, but that's still something they need to take into account when building for the future.
Your point about Jrue Holiday is really good, because while they do have a good perimeter defender in Dorian Finney-Smith and a bunch of rim protectors (Porzingis included), they don't really have that quick guy to defend opposite point guards. As a matter of fact, they are the worst team in the league at forcing turnovers - just on 10.9 percent of their opponent's possessions.
They definitely need help there.
Rafferty: These Mavericks aren't great defensively either. According to NBA.com, they rank 17th in defensive efficiency on the season. That's a little worrying.
I do think these playoffs will provide some clarity on what the Mavericks should do moving forward because it's going to be the first playoffs for Doncic and Porzingis. There's a chance we'll learn more about them, like what their true weaknesses are and what they need to do to take the next step in their development. We've seen it with young players over the last few years, such as Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and Ben Simmons. The playoffs are a huge learning experience.
Porzingis will have much more of a spotlight on him than Doncic because for them to reach their potential, the Mavericks need Porzingis to be a true No. 2. Based on the way he's played this season, I don't think anyone has any doubt that Doncic is a true No. 1. I still have some questions about Porzingis
If he's not capable of being a No. 2, that could very well change the calculus on everything and leads to the Mavericks going the Big Three route, making Porzingis more of their Chris Bosh than their Dwyane Wade to compare them to the Heatles, another team that popped up in your research of most dominant offensive teams of all-time.
Estévez: In a vacuum, I agree, I also have my questions about Porzingis. But the thing is that they fit so, so well together. Their historically great offensive rating is proof of that. But not just that ... they are outscoring teams by 6.7 points per 100 possessions when they're on the court together. They are producing at the level of the best teams in the league. And this is just Year 1.
The playoffs are going to be key for their future, but if both stars prove that they can compete with the elite there, I wouldn't blame the Mavs for choosing to build everything around Doncic and Porzingis. Again, there are some fixes and we named them: a more talented third option and a better defensive guard.
But if I have to say, right now, the Mavericks already have the structural pieces for long-term success. They just need to find the best supporting cast possible for them.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.