While the NBA has evolved in recent years, the league is still driven by stars. If you want to make it to the top of the mountain, you need to have at least a couple of elite players on the team.
On paper, that’s what the Dallas Mavericks have with Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. In reality, though, things didn’t come together. The Western Conference club went 8-12 with Irving in the lineup and finished outside of the postseason picture.
Will things be different this year, now that the duo has a bit more experience working together? Byron Scott, a three-time NBA champion as a player and one-time NBA Coach of the Year, doesn’t think so. In fact, the former guard foresees more complications in Big D.
Scott isn’t sold on Mavs’ top duo fitting together
During his time as a player and a coach, Scott has seen plenty of talented NBA players come and go. And while he has faith in Doncic’s and Irving’s abilities, talent isn’t everything. The personnel has to fit together. The latter part, in Scott’s mind, could be the problem.
“I think Dallas has got a really good team, but I still think it’s going to be hard for [head coach Jason Kidd] to kind of figure out how to use Kyrie and Luka together,” Scott said on Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson’s podcast. “Both guys are very dominant with the ball, you know, so it’s really going to be hard for him to figure out how to play those guys together, you know, as a team. But they got some talent.”
So, what does that mean for the Mavs and the ultimate dream of winning an NBA title?
“Dallas is going to be a good team this year. I don’t think that they’re gonna be a force in the West, it’s just too many great teams, but Kyrie Irving is one the most talented players that I’ve ever seen,” the former Laker added.
Scott isn’t alone in his concerns
Scott isn’t the only one to raise an eyebrow at the idea of an Irving-Doncic partnership. NBA legend and commentator Charles Barkley, who’s never shy about voicing his opinions, shared his thoughts after Irving inked an extension to stay in Dallas.
“Yeah, I was surprised,” Barkley said on The Bill Simmons Podcast, according to a Sports Illustrated write-up. “I was surprised they gave him that much money….I don’t think the Luka-Kyrie thing is gonna work.”
In May, an unnamed NBA general manager took a similar position.
“I think [the Mavs] want Kyrie and they like Kyrie, but what I can tell you is that Luka, who wasn’t against the trade, just like so many young players today, doesn’t want to share,” the GM Steve Bulpet of Heavy. “Kyrie was on great behavior—like he was doing everything to try to win over Luka and be a teammate. Every single player on that team and everyone in the organization loves Kyrie from his time there so far.”
Later in the conversation, that executive returned to the idea of Luka sharing the ball.
“I think that he just doesn’t want to share. He just doesn’t know how. He’s out there on the court and the ball has been in his hands; no matter what, it’s his ball,” he continued. “And now there’s actually consideration that I might need to pass the ball to somebody else and let them do the magic, instead of me just waiting for the clock to run down and shoot a step-back 3 from the hashmark.”
Even if pairing works, Mavs still have questions
While the concerns about Doncic and Irving working together make sense—both stars want the ball in their hands, and they don’t fit into a traditional guard-big man dynamic—the fears weren’t completely realized. Dallas didn’t exactly light it up after Irving headed West, but the pair did put up numbers when they were on the floor together. Instead, defense and rebounding proved to be glaring weaknesses.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban appears to understand that reality—he touches on it in the interview embedded above—and made offseason moves to address the flaws. Grant Williams can play good defense on the wing, which usually matches him up against the opposition’s star scorer, while Dereck Lively II, Richaun Holmes and Olivier-Maxence Prosper will bolster Dallas’ interior presence. Seth Curry also arrived from Brooklyn, providing a shooting threat who is comfortable pitching in as a role player.
Are there still questions? Of course. When you combine the Mavs’ poor season with Irving’s less-than-stellar reputation, it’s natural to be skeptical. The fact that he and Doncic, when things are going poorly, can both monopolize the ball and stagnate the offense doesn’t help.
With that said, though, talent does matter. And if the club’s offseason moves can provide some defensive fortitude and rebounding ability, Doncic and Irving won’t have to outscore the opposition to have a chance of winning.
So, will Scott and Barkley be proven right? Or will Cuban’s gamble to double down on the Doncic-Irving partnership pay off?
We’ll just have to wait for the NBA season to find out.