What better way to open the NBA season than with a game that involves two of its brightest young stars whose career paths will be forever intertwined?
That’s the scenario on Thursday night when the Dallas Mavericks travel to Atlanta to start the season against the Hawks.
That means the scrutiny will ramp up for Dallas’ Luka Doncic and Atlanta’s Trae Young, the respective faces of their franchises. Doncic was originally drafted No. 3 overall by Atlanta in 2018, but was traded moments later to Dallas for the No. 5 pick that turned out to be Young, along with a future No. 1 that turned into Cam Reddish.
The debate surrounding Doncic and Young never ceases, but there’s no question that both players have star quality.
Doncic averaged 27.7 points, eight rebounds and 8.6 assists last season. Young averaged 25.3 points, 9.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds and averaged 28.8 points and 9.5 assists in the postseason.
Both teams made great strides behind their enigmatic young stars last year.
Dallas went 42-30, won the Southwest Division for the first time since 2009-10 and earned the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference. The Mavs lost a seven-game series to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.
The Mavericks will be making their debut under coach Jason Kidd as he takes over for Rick Carlisle, who had the job for 13 years and won the NBA title in 2010-11. Kidd has already made a point to speak with Doncic about his interactions with the officials, antics that drew 15 technical fouls last season, one short of earning him a one-game suspension.
Kidd is also trying to define the role for Kristaps Porzingis, who said he wants to be more than a 3-point shooter.
“We have high expectations,” said Dallas forward Maxi Kleber. “A guy like Luka, he’s a winner. Everywhere he’s played, he’s won championships. For us, the goal is to make the playoffs and go from there. We want to play our best and just win as many games as possible.
Atlanta went 41-31, but turned it on after March 1 when Nate McMillan became the head coach. From that point, Atlanta went 27-11, the most wins and the highest winning percentage in the Eastern Conference during that stretch. The Hawks were 23-6 in their final 29 home games, including the playoffs, and reached the conference final for only the second time since moving to Atlanta.
The Hawks spent big bucks on contract extensions to ensure Young, power forward John Collins, center Clint Capela and guard Kevin Huerter would stay with the team. They added center Gorgui Deng (free agent) and Delon Wright (trade with Sacramento) to go with holdovers De’Andre Hunter, fully recovered from last year’s right knee injury, and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
“With all the guys we have coming back — and playing time and minutes — it is going to take some time for guys to get comfortable in their roles,” McMillan said. “And they will find out those roles as we get into the season.”
Dallas won both meetings between the clubs last year, winning 122-116 in Atlanta and 118-117 in Dallas. They won’t play against until Feb. 6.