What Are Reasonable Expectations For The First Year Of The Luka Doncic-Kristaps Porzingis Era In Dallas?

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Virtually everyone agrees that the Dallas Mavericks have a potentially excellent two-man core. Luka Doncic claimed the 2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year award by a wide margin, and the 20-year-old is already a budding star. Midway through Doncic’s maiden voyage in the league, the Mavericks executed a trade deadline deal to acquire Kristaps Porzingis. After a lengthy layoff in an attempt to rehabilitate his knee injury, the talented big man got a max contract from the team and is expected to suit up for the 2019-20 campaign.

However, things get dicey in a hurry when perusing the depth chart for the Mavericks, and with expectations rising in some circles, it is important to maintain a rational baseline.

While NBA growth isn’t always linear, it is reasonable to expect Doncic to improve, even after a tremendous rookie season. Players don’t average 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and six assists per game by accident and, if Doncic is willing to work hard on improving his body, the sky is the limit in terms of stardom. Beyond that, though, Porzingis is more of a question mark than some project, with the former New York Knicks standout having not played in a game since February of 2018.

Even if Porzingis is back at full strength as expected, a layoff of that length is no small thing, and the track record of health and durability for players his size is checkered. Porzingis fits snugly with Doncic as a player who can finish near the rim while stretching the defense offensively, and at his best, Porzingis can also be a top-tier defender. The lack of relative “safety” in the projection for 2019-20 is noteworthy, however, and that makes the uncertainty with the rest of the roster all the more glaring.

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On one hand, the Mavericks produced 33 victories without Porzingis last season and had the net rating of a 38-win team. Pencil in traditional growth from Doncic, a top-flight contributor in Porzingis, and intriguing additions like Delon Wright and Seth Curry, and having optimism about the team makes sense. A deeper look, though, indicates that Dallas might not have the clearest path to Western Conference success in the near term.

The West is absolutely loaded, with a bevy of projected playoff teams and stiff competition from up-and-comers like the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans. It might be fair to suggest that a Doncic-Porzingis pairing would rival most squads in terms of star power, but with Porzingis anything but a certainty, the Mavs’ depth comes into question, which reveals some potential holes. While the additions of Wright, Curry, and Boban Marjanovic are interesting, the Mavericks received more than 6,000 minutes worth of contributions from Harrison Barnes, DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr., and Dirk Nowitzki last season. Some of those players were long gone by April, but at any rate, their season-long contributions shouldn’t be ignored.