10 Biggest early-season surprises for the Dallas Mavericks

Nov 1, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA;  Dallas Mavericks center Dereck Lively II (2) and Dallas Mavericks
Nov 1, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Dereck Lively II (2) and Dallas Mavericks / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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3. Luka Doncic's defense

Luka Doncic took drastic strides in his conditioning this summer, and the ripple effects of it are slowly paying off through Dallas’ first seven games. The Mavericks are ranked 12th in pace in the entire NBA, and Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Kyrie Irving have all done an excellent job of pushing the ball in the open court the last few games as this Mavericks team is starting to become more acclimated with one another.

Doncic has been hampered with a quadricep injury the last few games but has played through the pain even if it’s noticeably hurting his game sometimes when the injury is re-aggravated throughout game action. It’s caused him to settle a little more on offense as he’s been shooting a lot of 3-pointers to start the season, but Doncic has still been able to get to his spots when the Mavs need it most.

Once Doncic’s injury starts to hopefully heal, this version may be the best we’ve seen of him so far as his defense has been extremely effective this year. Doncic has been much more laterally quick and sound, and he has a big enough body to be able to match up size-wise with most NBA wings. Doncic is averaging one steal per game currently, and that number makes sense based on how much he’s been able to pick passing lanes and make strips on defense when matched up one-on-one on the perimeter.

Doncic may never be an elite defender, as he still has some pretty blatant defensive rotation mishaps every game due to lack of effort, but those have been much fewer and far between this season in Dallas.

If Doncic continues to play perimeter defense at an above-average rate for Dallas this year, then Dallas’ defense will only become more lethal going forward as they tighten up miscommunications and silly early-season mistakes that likely won’t be there come playoff time.