Mavericks mailbag: players to watch not named Luka Dončić, coaching changes and more

It’s always the quietest time of the basketball offseason. Here’s another episode of our Mavericks mailbag, answering the questions you all asked a few weeks ago.

We will have at least another set of answers to these questions. Note that the questions have been edited and condensed to maximize readability, but I have tried to answer them in the truest sense of the question that was asked.


Michael V. asks: “Who’s the leader in the locker room?” How much will we miss Brunson here?

I don’t believe this team had a single leader last season, and I don’t see the departure of Jalen Brunson changing that. As the team’s best player, Luka Dončić has the responsibility to set the tone. Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock create a sense of responsibility within the locker room. During the Rick Carlisle days, Dwight Powell served as an extension of the team culture established by Dirk Nowitzki, but I feel that has faded to some extent, as has his importance in the within the team. Tim Hardaway Jr. is probably the most willing veteran to pull someone aside and say, “That’s not who we are.” Theo Pinson is truly an amplifier. But it is a broad and shared responsibility between all the members of the list that does not rest singularly on an individual.

Honestly, I believe a lot of the culture comes from the coaching staff. Jason Kidd respects his Hall of Fame career, but has also profoundly changed his approach to coaching – his human approach, even – compared to previous stops. Sean Sweeney and Greg St. Jean, the latter of whom was promoted to top-tier assistant this season, are in their 30s, making them relatable characters for players in the locker room. Darrell Armstrong is a Pinson-esque figure in his consistent levity, and God Shammgod is legendary in his own right. I heard that Mark Cuban paid him well to keep him on the team when other teams showed interest.

Leadership and culture can come from many places, and each titular member of a franchise’s traveling band—especially those with authority—adds to it. At the end of the day, everyone understands that Dončić and Kidd are the two most impactful characters, but I think there’s real value in a culture that’s built more from the bottom up rather than being dictated by the top. That, to me, is the most impressive thing I witnessed last season, more than any deep playoff run or performance on the court.

Kavi S. asks: “Thoughts and details on the changes to the coaching staff?”

Igor Kokoškov left this summer and was replaced by Quinton Crawford, a Lakers assistant coach Kidd worked with in Los Angeles. It’s not surprising. Kokoškov was tasked with reinventing the attack, but after the team’s first 20 games, play on the pitch essentially reverted to a pick-and-roll attack led by Dončić who eschewed the principles of movement that Kokoškov had attempted to install.

I don’t blame him for that, not really, and it’s clear the team benefited from his role in out-of-bounds and post-time-out play. But Dončić isn’t quite ready to lead a more structured attack, and Kokoškov’s vision has been challenged by the team’s inexplicable shooting slumps at the start of last season – as well as awkward form by Kristaps Porziņģis. Once everything started clicking, there was never any real motivation to change it.

I don’t know much about Crawford, but I’ll write about him and the coaching staff more broadly when training camp begins. It’s worth humanizing those people you see behind the bench who are rarely in the spotlight. But while Kokoškov had a beneficial relationship with Dončić, I wouldn’t consider his departure as something that would affect the star of the team. Dončić does not need to be pampered; he is an adult who understands his role in this team and in this league.

Chris R. asks, “What do you think would be considered a successful season for Josh Green?”

It’s about the nocturnal impact for me.

I don’t care so much that he’s a rotation player every game, especially given Hardaway’s return, but I want to feel his effect on games when he plays. This is what he lacked in the last months of the season. He’s had too many games where he’s played 10 minutes without attempting a field goal or even really counting stats. We know he can be a hard-hitting passer and rebounder, and we’ve seen glimpses of his defense more, but too often he just existed on the floor, running up and down without really affecting how it played out. around him.

The easiest path to this is to shoot more 3s at a healthy percentage, which should create more times when he can attack the fences on the weak side. He’ll have to be more of a threat to finish on the rim, and I’d like to see him use his athleticism in a more functional way: more rebounds, more close defensive moments, more dunks. (He told me last March, “I need to start soaking stuff. I don’t soak it enough.”) If he can do it, whatever role he ends up playing, I’ll be thrilled. of his progress from the fringe player he was last season to a veritable cog in the wheel.

Chad S. asks, “What are the odds that Josh Green Salsa will stick around as a nickname?”

It’s Texas. We need to at least improve this nickname to green salsa so that it has a chance to hold. But this nickname has my blessing, especially if it does everything detailed above.

Joe Z. asks, “Can you rank the second through fifth best players in Dallas?”

Oh, that’s a fascinating question. What does mean better mean? The most talented? The most important? The most influential? Let’s actually rank two to five (behind Dončić) in several different ways.

The most talented players

  1. Spencer Dinwiddie
  2. christian wood
  3. Dorian Finney Smith
  4. Maxi Kleber

Dinwiddie has such a fascinating game, for me, that it has to rank first. He looks like James Harden at times, just as capable of hitting the hard shots that playoff success hinges on while regularly rinsing his defenders to burst in the paint, and he sometimes plays like he’s the best player in your run. local pickup who is bored with the challenge. He scored 36 regular season goals against Sacramento; Scoring that many points in an NBA game, you have to understand, really requires a level of natural ability that only a tiny number of NBA players have ever possessed.

Wood comes in second for that same latent talent, though he was helped by the volume he received on losing teams. I’ll put Finney-Smith third for his defensive flexibility and progressive improvement in dribbling skills. Kleber finished fourth for the same reason; his top games are sensational and make you wonder why he can’t do it more often.

The most important players for improvement next season

  1. Spencer Dinwiddie
  2. christian wood
  3. Tim Hardaway Jr.
  4. Dorian Finney Smith

This one looks similar, although I’m replacing Kleber with Hardaway. Dinwiddie would fall, but he is the only other blueprint maker on the team. Wood represents an advantage not found elsewhere on the list. Finney-Smith and Bullock have a certain level of duplicity, which makes Hardaway my third choice. The fact that he’s someone who can create shots effectively – as he did in the 2020-21 season more than last – would add another layer to this team’s on-court game.

The most important players for the style of the team

  1. Dorian Finney Smith
  2. Reggie Bullock
  3. Spencer Dinwiddie
  4. Maxi Kleber

If you just think about what made Dallas so successful last season, it was the 3 and D double wings that would take away the most from last season’s playoff success. Dončić is the floor setter; he could win 35 games with G Leaguers around him, I’m almost convinced. But the height from the ground is increased with every point and defensive-minded veteran shooter you put around him. This is why I placed Kleber in fourth, knowing that he often provides a larger facsimile of the same attributes as the two actors above him. Dallas simply can’t and won’t be a below average team with these three players complementing Dončić in the way we’ve seen. They may not be better than last season’s highs, but honestly, there’s no scenario where they’re worse.

Andre H. asks: “Can you recommend a place in Ljubljana?”

It is with great regret that I have decided that another trip to Europe and Slovenia will not take place this summer. My visit to Ljubljana in 2019 was a lifetime highlight and I would definitely recommend it to anyone. It is a beautiful country and a beautiful cityscape that simultaneously expresses its history and modern appeal.

I don’t have any particularly unique recommendations, but it’s definitely worth the hike to Ljubljana Castle, a stroll through the city center, and a stroll through Tivoli Park. Das ist Walter was a wonderful place described as a traditional Slovenian meal; I ate a lot of meats and beers there with my Slovenian podcaster friends. And check out the Metelkova Art Center, either earlier in the day for more family time or later at night for dancing.

(Photo by Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith: Kelley L. Cox/USA Today)