The Dallas Mavericks season started on Wednesday, and their first priority is to make a trade immediately.
If the Mavs are to fulfill their ambition of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, their opening night roster will not suffice. They have to find another scorer.
The Western Conference is more loaded than a drunk.
Former Mavs coach Don Nelson once said that all NBA players can score; that they led their high school, AAU or college team in scoring. The question is whether or not you can win with that guy as a primary scorer.
In order to just be the eighth seed in the West, the Mavs will need Tim Hardaway Jr., Justin Jackson or Delon Wright to be that guy to complement to Eastern-European duo of The Luka and The Zingis.
“We’re a team that’s going to have a certain balance,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t want to be a team with top-heavy scoring.”
About that ... the respective career scoring averages of Hardaway, Jackson and Wright are, in order, 13.1 points per game, 7.0 and 7.4.
With Luka Doncic entering his second year, and the healthy return of Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavs have two scorers who should combine for approximately 40 points per game, while creating another 15 to 18 on assists or second-chance opportunities for others.
On the best teams there is a delineation from the top two players and the rest of the roster. The gap between the Mavs’ best two players and the rest of the roster happens to be a bit bigger than every hopeful NBA team.
By “big” think Pacific Ocean.
Hardaway scored it well enough with the Knicks, but durability is a concern. He is healthy right now, but injuries kept him out of large chunks of each of the last two years.
In keeping with that troubling trend, Hardaway rolled his right ankle in the first half of the season-opener against the Wizards; it looked worse. He was cleared to return shortly after limping off the floor.
Both Wright and Jackson have good size to be a slasher; they just have to prove to be a threat for other NBA defenders.
“It’s something you have to want and to strive for,” Jackson said. “It can’t be something that you are pressing for. Of course I would love that. For one, it would help our team. The consistency is the key. That’s my goal.”
The question for all three is whether they can be productive players for a winning team; it’s one thing for a player to score a lot in an NBA game for a team that loses, and quite another for a team that wins.
Mavs face obstacles to improving roster
The Mavs have a few obstacles in upgrading their roster during the season. They don’t have immediate first-round picks. They don’t have many assets that other teams want. They don’t have attractive expiring contracts.
The most in-demand player on their roster is second-year point guard Jalen Brunson, whom they would be stupid to trade at this point. He has the look of a player who could be the steal of the 2018 NBA draft.
To complete the trade to acquire Porzingis, the Mavs dealt a pair of future first round draft picks to the New York Knicks.
Their most attractive expiring contract belongs to veteran journeyman Courtney Lee; every other player of note on the roster is locked in for an additional season.
The roster’s deficiencies would not be such an issue if the Western Conference was not so stacked. You know things are rough when an LA Lakers roster that features LeBron James and Anthony Davis are not the best NBA team in that city.
Other than the Phoenix Suns, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies, it’s easier to find a Republican who agrees with a Democrat than an easy win in the Western Conference.
“Is the West as good as it was last year?” Carlisle asked. “Yes, I would say it’s every bit as good.”
If the Mavs are somehow going to reach the eighth spot in the West, given their team, they will have to do it with what they have.
What they have is an upgrade over last season.
What they have are two of the better players in the NBA.
What they have is a fun NBA team that will be fun to watch.
What they have simply is not enough.