The Mavericks have had a strange preseason.
They earned the privilege to travel to Abu Dhabi for a double date with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Then, they faced off against Luka Dončić’s old club, Real Madrid, in Spain. They then had a long flight home and dueled against the Detroit Pistons.
All that travel to walk away with one win.
Typically, preseason provides fans a glimpse into the starting lineup and rotation trends for the upcoming season. However, injuries made it difficult to see that glimpse of a healthy group on the court. After Jason Kidd’s reluctance to publicly comment on the starting group and his experimentation with different lineups, it is hard to gather too many conclusions.
Yet, here is what we’ve learned so far.
O-Max is Raw
Olivier Maxence-Prosper, dubbed “O-Max” by Mavs fans and the Mavericks’ 24th overall selection, has the potential to be an impact player. His college tape highlights his nonstop motor and strong defensive chops, and he is big and long enough to carry this over to the NBA.
Offense, however, was not his calling card in college, and those struggles have carried over to the preseason.
In roughly 16 minutes per game, Prosper shot a horrid 26.1% from the floor, 9.4% from three and 62.5% from the free throw line.
Prosper has the size and strength to become a competent paint scorer, and the Mavericks’ history of improving players’ jump shots (Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber are two recent examples) bodes well for the rookie.
Still, for a contending team, it is unlikely that Prosper will see many minutes until his shooting improves. And that’s fine!
He’s a rookie.
Dante Exum, the Third Playmaker?
Few people batted an eye when Dallas signed Dante Exum, the former Utah Jazz lottery pick. The oversized guard had underwhelmed in the NBA and spent the past few years in the EuroLeague due to his inability to stay healthy and poor shooting. This seemed like another Facundo Campazzo-type signing.
Something, however, changed for Exum in Europe: he found his shot. Over three years abroad, Exum shot 46.6% from three-point range on nearly two attempts per game.
The shooting surge has so far carried over to the NBA, with Exum shooting 42.1% from the floor and 60% from three this preseason. He also supplied 5.5 assists per game, showcasing much-needed playmaking skills.
Seth Curry or Jaden Hardy seemed primed to be the team’s third playmaker. Hardy, however, struggled with this role in the Summer League, and while Curry is unquestionably a better shooter and equally solid passer, he is a smaller and less physical defender than Exum.
The third playmaker role is an open and desperately needed rotation spot up for grabs. If the preseason tells us anything, Exum may have first dibs.
Derrick Jones Jr. Will Get Rotation Minutes
Over the last few seasons, the end of the Mavericks’ bench was filled with players who brought a morale boost but little to the court: think Theo Pinson and Boban Marjanović.
Mavericks’ General Manager Nico Harrison thus moved to acquire players who, in limited minutes, provided on-court value. Derrick Jones Jr. seemingly filled this role.
The high-flying forward, however, may get more playing time than pundits thought.
Jones Jr. started a game this preseason and exhibited his defensive chops and athleticism. And, despite improving the roster, Dallas still has a shortage of reliable wing defenders. Exum is too small to routinely guard larger, more athletic forwards. While Josh Green filled the role admirably last season, his talents are better used as the primary point-of-attack defender. Grant Williams was brought in for this reason, but with Prosper needing time to develop, Jones Jr. is the only other alternative on the current roster.
Whether based on talent or need, we’ll see more of Jones Jr. than we thought.