This iteration of the Mavericks took the American Airlines Center court Saturday for the first time as a team, and the open Fan Jam scrimmage marked the end of Dallas’ formal training camp — and the start of a clearer preseason picture.
After a hectic offseason that included a frontcourt makeover, the departure of Jalen Brunson and a whole lot of Slovenian Luka Doncic highlights, the past week of practices and interviews have shed light on some of the changes and expectations awaiting the Mavericks this season.
Here are five things we’ve learned through observations and conversations so far.
Luka’s preseason plan
This week, Luka Doncic looked like, well, Luka Doncic.
At Fan Jam on Saturday, he scored a team-high 27 points, including 24 after the scrimmage’s halftime, talked trash to backcourt co-starter Spencer Dinwiddie, bantered with Maxi Kleber in their one-on-one matchups and lobbied with head coach Jason Kidd to play a two-minute overtime after the two sides tied at 83 after two 20-minute halves.
But don’t expect to see him as frequently this preseason.
The 23-year-old superstar had just eight days to recover between the Slovenian national team’s return from EuroBasket Sept. 15 and his return flight to Dallas Sept. 24.
The Mavericks preached patience while holding him out of full activity to open training camp Tuesday, but Kidd has learned Doncic doesn’t like to sit back and watch others play and compete without him.
Doncic sounded confident — “Yeah, I’ll play” — when asked at media day about participating in the Mavericks’ three preseason exhibitions, but Kidd said a day later that Dallas’ leader likely won’t in at least “a game or two.”
With fatigue more a consideration than conditioning this preseason, Doncic’s biggest development before the regular season opens Oct. 19 in Phoenix might be patience.
Jason Kidd left no question before training camp started when he confirmed at media day that Doncic, Spencer Dinwiddie, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith and JaVale McGee will comprise the Mavericks’ starting lineup to open the regular season.
But uncertainty remained about Christian Wood’s fit and acceptance as the sixth-man center and how the second unit would rotate with Tim Hardaway Jr.’s return from injury and Dinwiddie’s promotion from the bench.
Kidd and his staff often rotate lines during end-of-practice scrimmages to experiment with different combinations of players, but Fan Jam provided a more realistic glimpse of the top units.
Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Green, Maxi Kleber and Wood joined the starters as scrimmage starters Saturday with Dwight Powell, Davis Bertans and two-way guard Tyler Dorsey the first subs for each side.
Josh Green hype
While Ntilikina has more experience and fit as a true back-up point guard to Doncic, Green has received the most unprompted praise from Mavericks coaches and teammates this week.
After falling out of the playoff rotation last spring, Green formed a detailed training plan with the Mavericks’ coaching staff to execute in Las Vegas — alongside the mentorship of Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry — and so far, the returns have been promising.
The third-year guard dazzled during Friday’s practice, which the NBA live-streamed for fans, and followed up Saturday with a strong performance next to all starters minus Dinwiddie at Fan Jam. Green scored 10 points, including a sequence with an and-1, 3-pointer and buzzer-beating dunk on consecutive possessions.
“His aggressiveness is night and day,” assistant coach Jared Dudley said.
Back to full strength
For the first time since last January, Tim Hardaway Jr. played to American Airlines Center court Saturday as the hottest-shooting Maverick in the arena.
The 30-year-old hit six 3-pointers in the scrimmage, including four in quick succession after the brief halftime, and after a few weeks back in Dallas, working closely with assistant God Shammgod, Hardaway looked strong and confident on his surgically repaired left foot.
He also brought the ball up on several of his team’s offensive possession’s Saturday, a sign he’ll be another option for starting the offense when point guard rotations are thin.
Frontcourt upgrades showing off
The Mavericks’ two biggest offseason additions — in stature and notability — have shown flashes of what Dallas expects will be a more imposing, more assertive frontcourt rotation this season.
McGee, who’s familiar with many of the Mavericks’ coaches from the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2020 NBA champion staff, has appeared to fit in pick-and-roll situations and on the boards, particularly on offense, just as the front office hoped when he signed on the first night of free agency.
“His length and his athleticism is something we haven’t seen as of late,” assistant coach Kristi Toliver said.
Wood, meanwhile, looks to be the team’s most effective off-the-dribble big of recent seasons, flashing versatility in pick-and-rolls, in the post and on the perimeter to score 17 points during Fam Jam.
Next step: showing the same cohesion and progress when true preseason play starts Wednesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.