The NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks have one superstar, and a cast of high quality players that contribute in ways that compliment their star. As good as Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Bobby Portis were during stretches, any casual observer would tell you that Giannis was doing the vast majority of the heavy lifting, and that’s to be expected.
Giannis Antetokounmpo did what very few people thought he could do. For the duration of the regular season it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Brooklyn Nets would be representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals, meanwhile the Bucks kept their heads down and stayed under the radar. By the time the playoffs rolled around the Nets had physically started falling apart (although they had never really been 100% the entire year), and the Bucks simply outplayed them, and everyone else in their way. Sure, you’ll have some people crying about injuries, but the best ability is availability, and it wasn’t as though the Bucks were somehow the only team able to escape the dings and bruises of a regular season coupled with a deep playoff run. Surely their guys were hurting at the end, but they fought through the pain and came away with a title.
The Bucks found a blueprint that works for their superstar, and the Dallas Mavericks have a coach in Jason Kidd that helped set that very same Bucks team on the right course just a few short years ago. At that time, Kidd was helping a 23-year old Antetokounmpo become the player we saw put a franchise on his giant shoulders this postseason, seeing his scoring go from a mere 12.8 ppg to 27 in three seasons, and there’s no reason to think he can’t help another young superstar realize his full potential (which is scary to think that Luka could get any better, but he can). All that’s missing for the Mavericks are the right pieces to compliment Luka.
Tim Cowlishaw apparently has a different attitude towards Kidd. In his recent piece on the Mavericks learning from the Bucks (which was published as I’m writing this so I had to go back and include this point), he says that it was Kidd who was holding the young “Greek Freak” back, and that Kidd was incapable of getting the most out of his team that he took to 41 wins after they had previously been at the bottom of the league. The difference of opinion on Kidd’s player development is just funny to note. Giannis literally went from a developing wing into a superstar under Kidd’s watch, and Cowlishaw says Kidd was only hurting the team at the time.
Obviously it would be nice to get another superstar, and take the super team route, but Mavericks fans have been spurned enough by free agents that they should know better by now than to assume a guy like Dame or Kawhi are coming to Dallas. Instead, the Mavericks need to focus on acquiring players that bring out the best in Luka, and also hide some of his flaws, namely his necessity to take breaks… Just play all 48 minutes and a lot of problems go away…
The Mavericks desperately need another playmaker. Jalen Brunson is a scoring guard. Josh Richardson is a pull-up shooter. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a pure shooter. We really have no idea if Josh Green or Tyrell Terry can create plays. Aside from Luka, the Mavs don’t really have anyone that can create opportunities for the other guys on the floor. Although the Bucks didn’t have elite playmakers, Middleton has always been a solid offensive player, and Holiday can fill up a box score if he gets hot. Even when he’s ice cold from the floor, Holliday is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, so he’s always reliable at one end of the floor while still able to create plays for others. The Mavs simply do not have another shot creator or distributor.
Looking at the current Mavericks, there aren’t a lot of great defenders on the roster. Dorian Finney Smith is probably the best defensive player on the team, but aside from him there aren’t a lot of guys who are going to put the clamps down on another team’s best player. The Mavs thought they were getting a defensive stopper in J-Rich, but his offense was so bad at times that it negated anything he would do on defense. Fortunately, this offseason features a few premier defenders who are also capable of making plays with the ball in their hands (hello Mike Conley Jr.).
Aside from a playmaker, the Mavericks need additional help defending the post. Kristaps Porzingis is spending his first healthy offseason as a Mav developing his game, taking time away from his national team to focus on next season, and the hope is he returns to all-star form. That being said, the Mavs can’t make hope their strategy, and need to find a guy who can defend the pick and roll, and catch alley-oops from Luka. The ability to stretch the floor would be a huge bonus, but a solid big-man for the second unit, and for defensive situations should be another priority for this team.
Additionally, the team could use a shooting wing capable of defending on the perimeter. Although the hope is that Green develops into this kind of player, there are capable guys on the market who would fill this hole (assuming THJ is gone). If THJ stays, then the Mavs will want to scrap up what little change remains and find a guy to eat minutes without being an absolute liability at either end.
The Mavericks don’t need to put all their eggs in one basket hoping to sign an MVP-caliber player. Instead, the team needs to look at what pieces best fit around their superstar, and go for guys who fill specific roles. The front office can’t sit around and wait for big names to sign while quality players ink deals under the radar. The Mavericks’ championship window is open for as long as Luka is on the team, and this year’s NBA champ proved that sometimes all you need is one superstar (and several quality role players) to get it done.