Unlike most teams whose lineups are more or less set in stone heading into the NBA’s opening night, the Dallas Mavericks‘ starting five is difficult to project.
This is partly because star Kristaps Porzingis is ruled out from his off-season knee surgery, but coach Rick Carlisle is also known for his lineup experimentation. With the new-look Phoenix Suns posing a difficult challenge on Wednesday, Dallas will need to be at its best, meaning Carlisle could throw off Phoenix with some interesting personnel mixing and matching.
Continue reading for the most informed predictions as to who will start in the Mavericks’ first game of the season.
NBA opening night: Projected Dallas Mavericks starting lineup
Point Guard: Luka Doncic
With all due respect to Jalen Brunson, point guard is the one position set in stone for Dallas. While he could be classified as a forward, Luka Doncic is a point guard in Carlisle’s high octane offense.
As the primary ball-handler, the Slovenian is the odds-on favorite to win MVP heading into the year. Doncic deservedly made first-team All-NBA during the 2019-20 campaign and is expected to take another leap this season. Now an indubitable top-five player in the league, Doncic will lead the Mavericks on NBA opening night.
Shooting Guard: Josh Richardson
One of the Mavericks’ main offseason goals was to add a defensive guard to pair with Doncic in the backcourt. The Mavs found what they were looking for in Josh Richardson.
Arriving in the Seth Curry trade, Richardson can shoot from the perimeter, handle the ball, and be a legitimate third scoring option on offense. He will guard the opposition’s best perimeter player every night and add much-needed toughness to Dallas’ lineup. Despite Trey Burke’s stellar play in the Orlando bubble, Richardson’s superior defense will net him a larger share of minutes.
Small Forward: Tim Hardaway, Jr.
The first big question in the lineup comes at small forward. After a fruitful offseason, the Mavericks have interesting options at the wing. Dallas selected Josh Green with the 18th pick of the 2020 NBA Draft and he’s already a good defensive wing. However, Green struggles with his shot and spent the preseason playing with the second unit.
The real decision comes down to Dorian Finney-Smith and Tim Hardaway, Jr. Finney-Smith had a breakout year for the Mavs, leading the team in minutes and emerging as the best defender on the team. He also improved his 3-point shooting to 37.6%.
Hardaway, Jr. surpassed everyone’s expectations at the start of the previous season. Acquired as salary filler in the Porzingis trade, THJ shot 45% from the field, as he settled into a strong supporting role alongside Doncic. However, his shooting tanked in the bubble, and he may not be able to replicate his early-season form from yesteryear.
With Richardson’s excellent defense, Finney-Smith becomes more expendable in the lineup. Hardaway, Jr. is a better on the offensive end and, with Porzingis out, he’ll be needed in the early season. Expect Hardaway, Jr., to start at first, but Finney-Smith will be heavily used as Carlisle tries different lineups.
Power Forward: Maxi Kleber
Porzingis’ injury leaves a big hole in the frontcourt. Carlisle has many capable options, but no one can replace the production from the Unicorn.
Although Finney-Smith may slide down to the power forward role, he’s best utilized guarding small forwards. James Johnson is an interesting choice, especially if Carlisle wants to change the attitude and toughness of the squad. He’s probably too much of an unknown quantity at this stage, however. That means Carlisle will ultimately roll with Maxi Kleber as the starter. A solid perimeter and paint defender who can stretch the floor, the German is the prototypical modern power forward.
Until Porzingis returns, Kleber will play some center, but he’ll primarily handle the four.
Center: Dwight Powell
Another tough decision for Carlisle at center. Boban Marjanovic is a fan favorite and an underrated offensive center. No one is counting on him for starter minutes. Carlisle will find the right matchups and Boban will shine in limited minutes.
Willie Cauley-Stein has shown tantalizing glimpses of what he can do for years. Alas, consistency has eluded him, and he’s never been able to put it all together. Despite an improved jumper and an environment on a contending team that could well lead a career year under Carlisle’s tutelage, there’s no way Cauley-Stein will start opening night.
By default, that leaves Dwight Powell. One of the top pick-and-roll big men in the league, Powell tore his Achilles last season. Ideally, he’d be eased into the season from the bench. The absence of Porzingis has altered the circumstances, pushing Powell to start. If he can replicate his previous from, expect the dynamic big man to carve out a role in the starting lineup — even when Porzingis returns.
The Mavericks have a tough start to the season and will look at the opener against the Phoenix Suns as a good opportunity to get a win. With this starting five, the Mavericks have every chance to open with a win.