The 2021-22 NBA season begins on October 19, and between now and then, the Crossover staff will go through all the big stories ahead of what promises to be an unforgettable campaign. You can find our NBA Preview stories here.
Jason Kidd is not one to ignore the obvious.
With seven head coach vacancies opened over the summer, Kidd considered leaving the Lakers after his second year as an assistant. And as he pondered a possible third round as NBA boss, there was a factor that made one of the positions stand out. “Being able to have the opportunity to work with a young star like Luka is not something I can pass up,” says Kidd. “He is super talented. He knows how to play the game; he has a drive that is unique for such a young player ”.
So now Kidd returns to Dallas, where he is the all-time leader in assists per game, looking to build a winner around the 6’7 “Slovenian point guard who remains on that list: Luka Dončić, 22, who year Last year he became the third player in NBA history (joining Tiny Archibald and Oscar Robertson) to average 25 points and seven assists in his first three seasons.
But it is much more than Dončić’s numbers that caught Kidd’s attention. It is his knack for the dramatic, his comfort at the end of matches, especially for such young players. Dončić buried a buzzer to beat the Clippers in a 2020 playoff battle, a shot that elicited perhaps the “Bang!” More exclamatory. of Mike Breen’s television career. Last season featured an acrobatic game winner to beat the Grizzlies in April when the Mavericks scrapped playoff positioning and three 40-point outbursts in a seven-game first-round loss to the Clips. “What you can do when the lights are brighter is not normal,” Kidd says. “Is special”.
That brilliance hasn’t been lost on his teammates. Center Dwight Powell praises Dončić’s “eyes in the back of his head” as the two dance down the lane on pick-and-rolls, and 2018 point guard and teammate Jalen Brunson is still in awe of a pass that Dončić made in a corner. three during his rookie year.
All of that, the production, the morality, led the Mavs to commit $ 207 million to Dončić on a five-year contract that begins next season. While he acknowledges that there are higher expectations, he is also quick to appreciate what he has accomplished so far. “My dream was just to play in the NBA,” says Dončić. “Being in this place now, it’s amazing.”
But with a mega salary comes the pressure, especially in a franchise that won just one championship during Dirk Nowitzki’s 21-year streak, which came in 2011, with Kidd on point. Taking advantage of the best of Dončić is imperative. That helps explain Dallas’s change of address. When Dončić joined a top-notch talentless team, the plan seemed simple: ditch the veterans, endure a few years of pain, and return to the playoffs with a new Dončić core and lottery picks.
Dončić’s precociousness upset the plan. He averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists as a rookie, cutting opponents with triples and crossed dimes thrown with both hands. So the Mavericks made the first major alteration to their plan, sending three players and a pair of first-round picks to the Knicks for 7’3 “Kristaps Porziņģis.
Porziņģis is no stranger to Dončić’s brilliance. They met before Luka’s NBA debut, a September 2017 showdown between Slovenia and Latvia in the EuroBasket quarterfinals. Dončić added 27 points in the 103–97 victory. Porziņģis was not far behind, scoring 34, the game-high, but in the final minutes, Dončić took control. He got Porziņģis into the lane with two strong dribbles, creating an abyss of space, then calmly retreated, put his feet up and nailed a triple. He then nodded in celebration as he passed the Slovenian bench, an 18-for-28 phenomenon.
“Every time I think of Luka, I think of the natural talent that he is,” says Porziņģis. “The boy is incredible. He has always known what it takes to win. “
Bringing the two together seemed like a coup for Dallas. Both are prodigious offensive talents who entered the NBA as relatively polished products, and their skills are complementary. In theory.
Dončić excels at pick-and-roll orchestration, shielding defenders on his back as he fights his way through the paint. The 26-year-old Porziņģis is a perfect partner for such actions, able to rise above the rim like a man rolled or tiptoed behind the three-point line, where he is a 36.1% running shooter. The association has displayed flashes of brilliance, including a 20-game stretch to close the 2019-20 season in which Porziņģis averaged 26.3 points. The end of last year was a different story.
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Porziņģis spent significant time outside the arc to stretch the defense, not getting involved as Dončić danced on the perimeter. In the last five games of the Clippers series, Porziņģis scored just 58 points. He launched not-so-cryptic criticism of former coach Rick Carlisle’s strategy. “They used me a lot as a spacer and I was only shooting triples,” Porziņģis said in September. “That is not my complete game. There is more to my game, more than I can do. “
Dončić realizes that part of his job is to unlock those other facets. “There are many things that I can improve on, off the pitch and on the pitch,” says Dončić. “Obviously, [involving teammates] is one of them. “This summer he noticed a difference in Porziņģis.” He is in better shape this year, especially mentally, “says Dončić.” You could see him in a good mood when we were playing pickup. I think we have a great year ahead of us. together “.
Creating a more equal attack is a high priority for Kidd, one of the most visionary playmakers in NBA history. As a coach, he helped guide the Bucks from 26th place in offensive index in 2015-16 to 13th the following year, and empowered Giannis Antetokounmpo as a leading ball handler, relying on his vision and form of play even as he played them. Turnovers increased at 6’11. “Unicorn.
Kidd emphasizes the need for every player to participate in the attack, a seemingly obvious point that is often missed in today’s game. Don’t expect to see Dončić go into isolation after isolation like James Harden did with the Rockets. Kidd sees his protagonist more as an offensive foothold than a single engine. “There is a significant level of stress [Dončić] leads, and we should have ways to alleviate some of that, ”Kidd says. “We have a good team here and a lot of offensive talent. Kristaps can carry a team during stages; we have other guys who can create their own shots. We should be able to take some of that stress off Luka’s plate. “
The X’s and O’s haven’t been difficult for Kidd in his previous training stops. He He left Brooklyn in 2014 after a tumultuous year, and when the Bucks fired him midway through his fourth season in ’18, there wasn’t exactly a parade of team personnel wishing him luck. He earned a reputation for being overly demanding and intense in Milwaukee, ripping off harsh reviews without raising his voice.
While Kidd won’t be mistaken for Mr. Rogers any time soon, he now speaks with compassion and an openness that has not been seen in his previous stops. Kidd now sees his role as “more of a collaborator” than as the leader of a team. When asked what his greatest strength is, Kidd pauses for a long time before a concise answer. “Today?” Kidd says. “Is listening”.
Kidd dove headlong into training, going from donning a Knicks jersey to coaching the Nets in 2013-14, and did not take a sabbatical before accepting the Milwaukee job. A two-year stint as Frank Vogel’s assistant with the Lakers allowed him to learn every aspect of an organization without the pressure to make final decisions and see the game more holistically. “Starting as a coach at the highest level, there was no manual,” Kidd says. “You think you know most of it and you don’t. Being able to communicate with your team, with your coaching staff, with management, the basis of that is listening. That’s something I learned from Frank. He’s always asking his boys questions; he’s always measuring the room. ”
In that regard, he should enlist the help of Dončić, who recognizes the need to be more vocal. He says that after being trapped in a hotel inside a bubble with his teammates at the Tokyo Olympics, where he led Slovenia to fourth place, he learned the value of spending time together. “We have to spend more time together,” he says.
There is also an eagerness to make your game even more complete with your new coach. “It’s unbelievable,” Dončić says of playing for Kidd. “It’s an opportunity for me to learn from a guy who was a champion here as a player, playing in the same position as me. He was one of the best passersby
in the NBA, and I’m very excited about that. “
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.