The NBA is back. Kind of.
The league is facing their version of a new normal. In their words, it’s a whole new game for everyone. What wonders will the Disney Bubble bring to the teams, players, fans and even the league itself?
The current state of the world has forced many of us to rethink the role of sports in our lives. For the longest time, we’ve measured the value of athletes based on their ability to win a championship. But as the pandemic has taught us, it’s not the championships which we miss out of sports; it’s that feeling of excitement and inspiration we get out of the stories of our athletes. Whether that means coming up with the trophy or falling short because of one reason or another, we find ways to relate ourselves to the work athletes put on the court.
Even with the NBA’s impending return in the bubble, we’re still in a tug of war between these two opposing spectrums. The journey towards winning a championship won’t always elicit excitement or inspiration. It is often a frustrating task that sacrifices entertainment value for personal gains. The Kevin Durant Warriors were the perfect example of this. They won mercilessly, blowing out teams in the process. The Lakers and the Bucks, despite having the best players in the league, have fanbases anxiously waiting for a championship and nothing less.
The same trade off applies for teams that maximize excitement. The New Orleans Pelicans, while memorable and exciting, still have a lot of growing up to do if they expect to win championships in the future. Highlights may be plenty today, but will it eventually translate to wins?
Then there are the teams that are able to strike that happy medium. To achieve basketball’s equivalent of an Ikigai is both rare and wonderful. Led by a Wonderboy, Unicorn, and genius head coach, the Dallas Mavericks are the team in the bubble to support if you want a nice balance short-term security and long-term promise.
As of this moment, the Mavericks are ranked seventh in the West, but don’t let that record fool you. Out of their 27 losses, 20 were in single digits and in terms of Net Rating, they’re ranked fourth in the league (6.09) on top of teams like the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors. There are two ways of looking at this:
“They’re losing a lot of close games. They’re choking. That’s a bad thing!”
“They’re losing a lot of close games. That’s a lot of potential. That’s a good thing!”
For the case of the Mavericks, it would be best to side with the latter for two reasons: youth and expectations that have already been exceeded.
Even though the Mavericks were expected to make it to the Playoffs this season, no one saw them playing this well this early. In just his second year in the league, Luka Doncic is already leading the league’s best offense EVER. Not just a top offense this year, but in NBA HISTORY. Doncic deserves plenty of credit for Dallas’ success, but Coach Rick Carlisle must also be given praise.
While the Mavs run plenty of pick and roll (of course they do, they have Luka FREAKIN’ Doncic) their offense doesn’t sputter even when defenses trap their ball-handlers. They blend various actions, from hand-offs, to simple drive and kicks, to get their players the best scoring opportunities possible. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Seth Curry have emerged as great floor spacers for the Mavericks. Maxi Kleber’s versatile game has been a treat to watch. Kristaps Porzingis has risen from the ashes, looking like the franchise player he once was two years ago, except this time, he isn’t rocking a Knicks jersey.
The result has been an offense that is both exciting and valuable. Their wide array of offensive options makes them both a League Pass worthy team and the squad you wouldn’t want to face in the first round. The Dallas Mavericks are that good. The scary thing is, they could even be better in the not-so-distant future.
As elite as their offense is, their defense is still average (110.6 Defensive Rating, 17th in the league). Their losses in the clutch are indicative of their roster construction as well since their current build has them relying too much on Luka during crucial situations. He’s a Wonderboy, but remember, even Iron Man and Captain America needed help to beat Thanos. The Mavericks are in need of a secondary ball-handler who can relieve some pressure off Luka when the going gets tough. LeBron had Kyrie and Wade in separate runs. Durant had Curry. Kawhi had Lowry and VanVleet in last year’s Finals. Porzingis is great, but in the age of guards, you need another option in the perimeter to get over the hump.
Despite that, there’s still so much to be positive about. There’s no rush for them to win a championship right now. Doncic is still young. This is the first year of the Luka-Kristaps duo. The championship pressure will come, but given the unique circumstances we’re in, why not enjoy the balance Dallas is able to give us?
The Mavericks give us the best of both worlds. They’re able to satisfy our appetite for winning while stimulating our cravings by giving us basketball that is plenty entertaining. That’s really all we need at this point; our Ikigai. In the NBA, the Mavericks provide that the best. There’s no way you will lose when you support Dallas.