One of the great things about the NBA is that it incredibly unpredictable, and perhaps more so than many other leading sporting competitions around the world.
Last season, the LA Lakers were the favorites to win the NBA Championship, and in the end, they finished third in the Pacific Division – scraping into the playoffs via the Western Conference play-in game, before being defeated by the Phoenix Suns in the first round. For 2021-22, the Lakers are second-favorites in the basketball betting odds to win the NBA Championship, priced at odds of 9/2 behind favorites Brooklyn Nets, at 5/2.
As for the regular-season MVP Award, Nikola Jokic was considered nothing more than a 10/1 outsider before a shot was made – he would go on to leave the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James trailing in his wake.
The point is that even the experts, who employ the sharpest minds and the most comprehensive analytical models, can only occasionally predict the outcome of the NBA campaign with any real accuracy.
That said, some grains of truth come when many different opinions are pooled – the so-called ‘wisdom of the crowd’ effect. By that token, it would appear that another European looks likely to land top player honours in the 2021-22 season.
It’s too easy for @luka7doncic😂
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 9, 2021
There’s no doubting the quality of Luka Doncic, and he was already serving up something akin to MVP numbers last term – 28 points per game on average (up to 33 in the play-offs), with 8.0 rebounds per game and 8.6 assists as well.
The giant Slovenian is developing into the most all-round talent in the sport, and at the age of 22, it’s frightening to think of what he might become if he stays healthy and injury-free.
No one player dominates their team quite like Doncic, and last season he had more possession of the ball than any other NBA star – also accounting for nearly 60% of the Dallas Mavericks’ shooting actions.
In short, if Doncic does have a rare off-day then the Mavs have no chance.
But has there been an improvement in Dallas’ capabilities during the off-season? If there has, could they be the dark horses in an NBA season once again shrouded in unpredictability?
A Tight Ship
The Mavericks have looked pretty strong in pre-season, and while those friendly matches have to be taken with a grain of salt it’s clear that new head coach Jason Kidd has overseen a change in his side’s fortunes already.
They are already an impressive offensive outfit, and so it will be protecting their own net that the Mavs must focus on – guys like Kristaps Porzingis will have to return to their All Star form of 2018 for that to happen.
This is a good 24 seconds of Kristaps Porzingis doing cool stuff. pic.twitter.com/ImvkFQ1sws
— Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla) October 9, 2021
New faces Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown bring experience, while the likes of Jalen Brunson are another year older – his continued development will be key in taking some of the pressure off Doncic’s shoulders.
With Kawhi Leonard and Jamal Murray injured and question marks over how the LA Lakers 2.0 will fare with Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and co, the Western Conference does feel more open than it has for some time.
Doncic, matched with his improving teammates, will surely sense the opportunity.