Luka Doncic and Trae Young squared off Wednesday night for just the 5th time in their careers, just a week before their respective teams square off in a huge ESPN primetime game.
Revisiting The Trade
At the 2018 NBA draft the Hawks and Mavericks came to terms on a blockbuster NBA trade with the Hawks trading the rights to Luka Doncic for the Mavs 5th overall pick and a 2019 top-5 protected draft pick. The Hawks turned the 5th overall pick into Trae Young and used the 8th overall pick in 2019 on Cam Reddish out of Duke. After an abysmal shooting start to begin his rookie year the trade was starting to look like an object disaster for the Hawks as Luka instantly looked like a future NBA star. Fast forward 2 years later and both players are likely just a month away from being named to their second all star teams. Both players have become organizational centerpieces with the Mavericks trading away a bevy future picks to pair Kristaps Porzingis with Luka. The Hawks are coming off an offseason where they spent as much money as any team in the league, surrounding Trae with more shooting in the form of Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari. The Hawks have made the best out of a situation that at one time looked like a disaster, and Trae has done a good job not letting the Luka comparisons get in his head. The Cam Reddish aspect of the deal now becomes an interesting component. Reddish’s shooting percentages have been downright awful but he’s played some solid defense and has shown flashes of 3 level scoring ability; If he’s able to turn into a quality starter the Hawks will have to feel good about how they made out.
How Much Better Can Luka And Trae Get?
So far throughout their careers the label has been that Luka is the future of the league, while Trae Young was a case of a good stats bad team guy whose production was not translating to winning. Thus-far this year Trae has played winning basketball for the first time in his career while making plays that have proven critical in the last couple minutes of games. However, if Trae wants to seriously compete for titles and attract other star talent to Atlanta he needs to be able to play a more team-oriented game. Too often Trae is dribbling the ball for 18 to 20 seconds before launching a shot.
Trae’s creativeness of drawing fouls has helped make him a much more efficient scorer. The next step for Luka is also to become more efficient. Luka has shot 7.8 3s a game for his career but has hit on just 31% of his attempts. Luka doesn’t need to drastically improve, if he can get to around 34% from 3 and start using some of Trae’s tricks to get to the foul line more often it is well within his sights to become a 30 point per game scorer.
What’s Wrong With The Mavs?
The Mavericks came into this season as a media darling-after battling the Clippers in a first round series last year. It seemed like everyone was predicting the Mavericks to make a jump and become a top 4 seed in 2021. Heading into the season, Luka was the odds on favorite to win the MVP. Instead of taking a huge leap the Mavericks have plummeted as they’ve begun the season 8-13 and Luka’s scoring averages have dipped. After their historic offensive season a year ago, they can’t seem to buy a bucket.
Breaking Down Their Offseason Moves
After leading the league last year by averaging 116.7 points per 100 possessions and still getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs the Mavericks decided to swap some offense for defense. The results have been catastrophic. The Mavericks sent sharpshooter Seth Curry to Philly in exchange for 3 and D wing Josh Richardson and Tyler Bey. This year Richardson has played 381 minutes for the Mavericks and when Richardson is on the court they have a defensive rating of 115, which is the exact same rating the team had last year with Seth Curry on the floor. However Richardson’s lack of floor spacing and off-ball movement has killed the Mavericks offense as they have an offensive rating of 105 when he is on the court opposed to the record setting 123 offensive rating they posted last year when Curry was on the court. Overall the Mavericks offense has cratered after posting the highest offensive rating in the NBA last year, they have fallen back to 20th in the NBA in 2021. This offseason the Mavericks also gave away Delon Wright and didn’t really attempt to replace him. This Mavericks team could really use another playmaker to provide offense when Luka is on the bench. With the 18th pick in the draft the Mavericks took swing man Josh Green-who has struggled shooting and has failed to make an impact. They chose Green despite young guards such as Tyrese Maxey, Peyton Pritchard and Immanuel Quickley being available at their pick.
How Can They Turn It Around?
Simply put the Mavs need to start hitting their shots. If your star players are Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis you’re not going to win your games on the defensive end of the floor. As a team so far the Mavericks are last in the NBA in 3 point percentage at 32.8%, which seems bound for at least some sort of positive regression. Kristaps should get healthier as the season goes on, but this is a guy that has missed almost 40% of his teams games since entering the NBA, so him being healthy is not something that your season should be dependent on. Dwight Powell is still working his way back from knee surgery and he’s a player that has always provided value outside of the box score.
With the power stars have in today’s NBA the Mavericks must prove to Luka that they can build a contending team around them, and they must do it now. Tim Hardaway and James Johnson account for 34 million dollars worth of expiring contracts that the Mavs could throw in a trade to match a larger salary, however because of the first round picks they sent to the Knicks for Porzingis the Mavs can not trade a first round pick until 2027. The Mavericks do still have Luka Doncic which is a synonym for hope, and they do still have one of the brightest futures in the league, but to this point their 2020-21 season has been a complete disappointment. Executive Donn Nelson should be working the phone lines heavy in the next couple of weeks to try and bring in some guys that will fit in with this team if the Mavericks have any hopes to contend in this 2020-21 season. Executive Donn Nelson should be working the phone lines heavy in the next couple of weeks to try and bring in some guys that will fit in with this team if the Mavericks have any hopes to contend in this 2020-21 season.