We're about to find out how valuable Jalen Brunson really is.
The 25-year-old left a significant void in the Dallas Mavericks' backcourt when he signed with the New York Knicks. He thrived in his first full season as a regular starter and hit a new level when the playoffs arrived.
Losing Brunson was bad enough for the Mavs. Compounding the situation is that they lacked the salary-cap space to sign a replacement and already used a first-round pick and salary filler to land Christian Wood.
As a result, Dallas might have to lean even more on Luka Doncic, who's already on pace through his first four years to have the highest usage rate (35.1 percent) in NBA history, per Basketball Reference.
Replicating a fourth-place finish in 2021-22 won't be easy for head coach Jason Kidd.
2022-23 Mavericks Schedule Details
Season Opener: at Phoenix Suns (Oct. 19)
Championship Odds: 25-1 (via FanDuel)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
Minnesota Timberwolves (Dec. 19, Dec. 21, Feb. 13)
The Minnesota Timberwolves made the single most aggressive move of the offseason when they acquired Rudy Gobert from the Utah Jazz.
Did the Timberwolves give up too much for the three-time All-Star? Probably. But that's the tax teams in smaller markets like Minnesota have to pay in order to get players with the Frenchman's resume.
You can't blame a franchise with two playoff appearances since 2004 for pushing in all of its chips, either, when it looks to have a roster that can be a steady postseason contender.
At the least, Gobert should raise the Timberwolves' ceiling in the regular season. The Cleveland Cavaliers also showed with Lauri Markkanen, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen that super-big lineups could be a way to counteract the current tactical trends in the NBA.
The Timberwolves figure to be stiff competition for Dallas in the battle to secure a top-four seed.
Denver Nuggets (Nov. 18, Nov. 20, Dec. 6, Feb. 15)
The same can be said of the Denver Nuggets, which will have Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back to support two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.
You don't need to wade into the analytics discourse to convey the Serb's value to Denver. He averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.5 steals and shot 58.3 percent from the field.
The Nuggets were mostly a one-man show and managed to still win 48 games and claim the sixth seed in the West.
Murray is coming off a torn ACL, and Porter's back injury is even more concerning because of what it portends for his future. Maybe neither player is the same upon returning to the court. But getting 60 percent of Murray and Porter is more than zero percent, which is what they basically combined to deliver in 2021-22. (Porter was limited to nine appearances.)
There are plenty of reasons to question the Nuggets' championship credentials, but they aren't going anywhere as a top-half team in the West.
Doncic had a bit of a reality check last year when he conceded in December his preseason conditioning probably wasn't where it needed to be. Players at his level simply can't afford to cut corners when it comes to off-court preparation.
Following an uneven start, the three-time All-Star hit his stride midway through 2021-22. Here are his stats through January and then from February on:
- 36 games, 25.6 PTS, 8.9 REB, 8.9 AST, .444 FG%, .309 3P%
- 29 games, 31.9 PTS, 9.4 REB, 8.6 AST, .472 FG%, .398 3P%
Still, it remains to be seen whether Doncic performing at an MVP-type level for a full season will be enough for the Mavericks in 2022-23. From top to bottom, their roster may not be much better than it was last year, while others in the West are potentially on the way up.
The New Orleans Pelicans should have a healthy Zion Williamson again. The Los Angeles Clippers are immediately back to being a title threat now that they can pair Kawhi Leonard alongside Paul George. And then there's the aforementioned Timberwolves and Nuggets.
All of those teams finished below Dallas in the standings.
Because Doncic is so good, you can't take another 50-win season off the table, but the odds of the Mavericks hitting that mark might be low.
Record Prediction: 47-35
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