Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving: The Best Duet in the West
On February 6th, the middling Dallas Mavericks swung for the fences in a marquee trade for Kyrie Irving. Following yet another uninspired season despite the herculean efforts of Luka Doncic, this is the kind of ambition that Mavs fans have been clamoring for. Dorian Finney-Smith’s defensive prowess and versatility will be sorely missed, and Spencer Dinwiddie was solid as a switchable, secondary ball-handler. But all the off-court drama aside, Kyrie Irving as a basketball player is as elite as they come. Led by Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, the Dallas Mavericks will be a force to be reckoned with in the West.
By all accounts, both players are keen on becoming the league’s most fearsome duo. Despite buying into the idea of sharing the floor, the process of learning to play off each other has been bumpy. The duo’s lack of offensive flow has been most apparent in crunch time, most notably in the final moments of a loss to Minnesota when they played hot potato with the ball expecting the other to take the last shot. However, chemistry takes time to build, so growing pains like these are inevitable. Irving is still getting his feet wet, and Doncic is returning from injury.
An Offensive Juggernaut
Outside of these moments of crunch-time confusion, the effect of Kyrie Irving on the Mavs’ offense has been scintillating. Luka Doncic can break down any defensive coverage with his vision, craftiness, and strength. But too often has this team resorted to Doncic in the post with shooters on the wings and bigs in the dunker spot. Whether on or off the ball, Irving is a constant threat, pulling and pushing the defense with his shooting and ball handling. This kind of multifaceted scoring threat has unlocked an already potent offense.
In the half-court, Kyrie Irving’s gravity opens up more driving lanes for athletic slashers like Josh Green to attack the rim. Putting pressure on the rim facilitates ball movement around the perimeter, and more paint touches means more kick-out threes and hockey assists. With two extraordinary PnR ball handlers surrounded by an array of shooters and rim-runners, the Mavs’ offense is playing on easy mode.
In the full-court, Luka-ball plods as much as it plots. Before the trade, the Mavericks ranked near last in pace. From the jump, Kyrie Irving has injected this team with more energy and pace. Doncic is a maestro at setting up catch-and-shoot opportunities in the halfcourt, but Irving’s tempo has released the floodgates for their shooters in the form of easy transition threes. With Irving pushing the ball in the open court, Reggie Bullock, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Josh Green have had free rein to let it rain.
But where this duo gets really interesting is how they can play off each other. Surrounded by shooters, trying to stop actions with Doncic and Irivng will be an exercise in futility for opposing defenders. Doncic can traumatize smaller players in the post, or draw help and pick out the perfect pass. And Irving can cross slower players into a Shaqtin A Fool YouTube compilation, or carve out gaps in the coverage with his off-ball prowess.
With Doncic and Irving’s combined gravity and playmaking, the Dallas Mavericks have the potential to become an offensive juggernaut.
Depth and Defensive Concerns
The Dallas Mavericks have a glaring weakness that will ultimately determine their fate in the playoffs: defense. To be clear, this has less to do with the Doncic-Irving fit and more to do with roster construction. Doncic has quietly become a satisfactory defender by learning to use his size and instincts. And Irving has the balls to clamp down and compete with any matchup.
But the Mavs’ defensive structure was flawed before the trade. Maxi Kleber’s injury exposed how thin they are in the middle. Christian Wood and Dwight Powell are productive players off the bench but far from defensive anchors. Not to paint too grim of a picture, but this team is a revolving door on the perimeter and an invertebrate in the paint.
Now, they’ve traded away their most valuable and versatile wing/forward Dorian Finney-Smith. Reggie Bullock has a similar game but is not as impactful or versatile as Finney-Smith, and Tim Hardaway Jr plays more like a scoring wing than a defending forward. On the bright side, Josh Green has stepped up to the plate and become a key player for this team, shooting and slashing at a high level while taking on the toughest defensive assignments.
To help, the Mavs just signed Justin Holiday, another 6’6 wing who can switch and spacer the floor in bench lineups. Also, the return of Maxi Kleber, along with his rim presence and lineup versatility, will raise their defensive floor. Still, with such a diminished and limited rotation, Jason Kidd will need to be savvy with the lineups.
With all that said, the sky is the limit for a team spearheaded by Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. If the Dallas Mavericks can come together and just be mediocre on defense, they’re a 50-win team with the firepower to outgun any team on any night. With the conference as wide open as it has been in years, they’ll be a formidable matchup capable of making some noise. Plus, Luka Doncic is the ultimate trump card in the playoffs. As far as predictions go, the Mavs are a wildcard that will likely fall just short in the semi-finals to a better-built, established contender: the put-up-or-shut-up Denver Nuggets with Nikola Jokic, the championship-or-bust Phoenix Suns with Kevin Durant, or the when-they’re-healthy LA Clippers with Kawhi Leonard. However, looking ahead, this offseason will be the Mavs’ chance to secure Kyrie Irving for the long haul and assemble a championship roster around Luka Doncic.
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