It’s not customary for a team to lose its second-best offensive player and feel like it got better.
Yet, for the Dallas Mavericks, that may be the case.
Before losing Jalen Brunson, the Mavericks added Christian Wood, a double-double volume scoring threat, signed JaVale McGee in free agency and selected a tantalizing young prospect in Jaden Hardy through the draft.
However, what will make Dallas better isn’t the exterior roster additions — it’s Luka Doncic. Without Brunson, Doncic’s usage will undoubtedly rise, and as a result, so will his MVP chances.
As things stand now, Doncic is the Fox Sports’ preseason favorite to win the NBA’s most coveted regular season award at +450. And this marks the third-straight season he’s led the preseason MVP odds standings. But the 2022-23 NBA season looks like it will be the one in which Doncic finally makes good on winning the award.
Let’s examine a few reasons why.
1.) Doncic has been working on his body
In shape Doncic has made his rounds on the Twittersphere, and fans are rightfully excited. If, by some measure, someone hasn’t seen it, take a look:
— ’ (@_Talkin_NBA) June 27, 2022
Spending most of his summer with the Slovenian National Team, Doncic hasn’t had much time to relax, and it may work in his favor.
In the 2021-22 season, following the Olympics, Doncic said he may have relaxed a bit “too much,” which was evident in the way he started the season looking a step slow. His lethargic start hurt his MVP chances, despite his resurgence and rejuvenation when the calendar year flipped to January.
This year, that may not be the case. Doncic will be playing for Slovenia up until NBA training camp. There won’t be time for him to put his feet up and rest, meaning he will hit the ground running at the start of the season.
MVP storylines are crafted at the start of seasons. And oftentimes, once the storyline is embedded into a given year’s narrative, it is nearly impossible to shake.
By being in shape to start the season and playing well through the first two months, Doncic won’t just set the MVP narrative — he’ll own it.
2.) Increased offensive opportunity without Jalen Brunson
The second reason is clear. Without Brunson splitting offensive touches, Doncic will need to do and be more for Dallas on the offensive end. It may not be conducive to winning in the playoffs, but in the regular season, he will tally unprecedented numbers.
A good example of what increased usage may look like is Doncic’s first two career playoff series.
In those given instances, Doncic averaged 33.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 9.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He shot 38 percent from 3-point range and 49.5 percent from the floor over 13 games. With a roster better suited for his style of basketball — Wood being a viable floor spacer and McGee being a genuine lob threat — it’s easy to see how Doncic’s effervescent production may be sustained throughout an 82-game season.
He has the ability and talent to go on an offensive tear to the likes of MVP James Harden or MVP Russell Westbrook. Doncic’s production increasing with fewer surefire ball handlers on the team isn’t a new story. And it’s why, coming into the 2022 NBA preseason, he’s looked at as an MVP favorite.
With the current Mavericks roster, he should be.
3.) The fourth year was the jump, and the fifth is a leap forward
After one year under Jason Kidd, Doncic’s all-around effort on both ends of the floor changed. He put pride in his defense for the first time in his career.
With Doncic entering the second year under Kidd, it’s logical to assume — with the elevated comfort and familiarity — he will only get better in year five of his career.
It’s hard to change the narrative around being a below-average defender. Yet, slowly, Doncic has done so. He will never be a complete ball-stopper, shutting down the opposing team’s best player. But he will be an above-average defender.
He felt that he deserved some defensive recognition in the 2021-22 season. And he didn’t get it. Now, whether that is a perceived slight, who knows, but Doncic does want everyone to know that he defends and does so well.
With his increased focus on the ugly side of the floor and an elevated role within the offense due to Brunson leaving, along with playing basketball all summer for the Slovenian Nation Team, the 2022-23 MVP award feels like it’s Doncic’s to lose.
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Feature image via Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports.