The Dallas Mavericks return to the court Wednesday night in San Antonio after an offseason that saw many changes in an effort to add defense, rebounding, and more youth to a young core that has already experienced a high degree of success.
The approach addressed several issues that plagued the team during its late-season collapse, leading to Dallas missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2018-19 season after reaching the Western Conference Finals in 2022.
“I think, if you’re a true Mavericks fan or even as a player for the Mavs, you understood what we needed to be a better team,” vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley told the media during the NBA Draft. “Whether that was [adding] players with more of a defensive mindset or our current players getting better defensively, we understood that was something that we wanted to improve on last year.”
The Mavericks began adding players in the offseason through the draft, selecting Duke’s Dereck Lively II and Maquette’s Olivier-Maxence Prosper — two players whose strengths match the team’s most significant flaws.
“They solve needs that we’ve been trying to solve defensively [and] athletically,” general manager Nico Harrison said of his two rookies after the draft. “They’re long, and both of them are big-time character guys. They both came in and worked out with us and had amazing workouts.”
Both players could see significant playing time this season, and Lively II has impressed his coaches and teammates.
“He’s been incredible. His energy is really, really high — running up and down [and] playing on both sides,” fellow big man Maxi Kleber told the media after Monday’s practice. “He’s got the little things right already. … He understands pretty fast and picks up what we want to have him do, especially on the defensive end. He’s a rim threat on the other side and a defensive monster under the rim.”
The rookies can also help add to the Mavericks’ new approach this season as they try to play faster and more aggressively, hoping to limit injuries.
“When you play faster, hopefully, that takes [away] a lot of the wear and tear and the hits and muggings Luka [Doncic] goes through in the game,” head coach Jason Kidd told the media after Tuesday’s practice. “… We’re trying to get bodies off of him, and I think that’s one of the ways.”
To help with the change in philosophy, the team added a host of veterans like forward Grant Williams and guards Seth Curry and Dante Exum who can help guide the team’s young core and provide more length and scoring options on the floor.
The Mavericks have nine players returning from last year’s team, led by Doncic and Kyrie Irving, who have both dealt with injuries since last season. Irving has been playing and should be good to go for Wednesday’s game, while Doncic’s status is less certain.
“We’ll see,” Kidd told reporters. “He did everything the last two days. We’ll go through shootaround and see how he feels.”
Doncic has been dealing with the injury since the team’s trip to Spain and played just five minutes against his former club, Real Madrid, in the exhibition. He has continued to ramp up activities and is officially questionable for Wednesday’s game.
“I’ve been practicing for two days, and I feel pretty good,” Doncic told the media Tuesday. “We’ll see tomorrow.”
Both the Mavericks and the Spurs ended up in the draft lottery after last season, where San Antonio won the right to select 7-foot-4 French phenom Victor Wembanyama — who makes his NBA debut on Wednesday.
“The things he does at that length are unbelievable,” Doncic remarked. “The way he moves, the way he handles the ball, shoots the ball, and, obviously, the blocks. I’ve been watching. He’s an amazing player.”
The debut means the Mavericks will have plenty of eyes on them in the season opener, as the game will be broadcast nationally as part of the league’s opening week.
“It’s great to be involved in tomorrow’s game,” Kidd said. “It’s great for the league, and it’s great for us as the Mavs to be tested here on the road early.”
The Mavericks and the Spurs tip off at 8:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday.