Luka Doncic

NBA Power Rankings: 2018 NBA Draft class making a huge impact

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USA TODAY

NBA Power Rankings: 2018 NBA Draft class making a huge impact

The 2018-19 season is off to being one of the more interesting ones in recent memory. Though NBA fans are finally free—sorry Cleveland—of the dreaded Warriors-Cavaliers NBA Finals matchup, the regular season season was still expected be boring. The Warriors and Rockets would decimate the Western Conference, while the now wide-open Eastern Conference would be a parity-filled snorefest.

We're 25 games into the season and the NBA couldn't be anymore exciting, and the 2018 draft class has played a major part.

As the Warriors struggle with complacency and injuries, the Rockets have struggled with their depleted depth. And during all of that, the stellar play of rookie Luka Doncic has pushed the Dallas Mavericks into the playoff race. Doncic's play (18 PPG, 6 RPG, 4 APG) is awesome for any player, let alone a rookie. If his ceiling is as high as some scouts believe, Dallas won't need to add much more to their roster to be a complete team.

The Suns are awful and dealing with an injury to star Devin Booker, but No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton has shown off much of the skills that made him the top pick in the draft. He has a sky-high 62.5 true shooting percentage and has flashed a great amount of ability as a playmaker. Ayton is averaging a double-double, with 16 points and 10 rebounds per game. The Suns will get another high lottery pick, and it could be the final piece to their core, with Booker and Ayton looking like surefire future All-Stars.

And back on the winning side of the spectrum, the Grizzlies and Clippers are 6th and 2nd in the Western Conference standings. They likely wouldn't have those records at this point of the season without the play of their 2018 1st round picks. No. 4 overall pick Jaren Jackson Jr. posted a monster 36-point, 8-rebound game in a double-overtime win over the Brooklyn Nets last Friday. In that same game he was a team-high +13 on the floor. The Grizzlies are 1st in the Southwest Division and seem to have completed their vision of being a competitive playoff team that simultaneously has an eye towards the future.

For the Clippers—who at the time of publication have a better record than the Warriors—No. 11 overall pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been a relief as a reliable starter at just 20 years old. He is averaging 10 PPG, 3 RPG and 2 APG for a team that is scoring over 117 PPG. Gilgeous-Alexander has the 2nd best defensive rating of the Clippers starters and has been great at using his length (6-foot 6) to bother the many smaller guards he goes against nightly.

Less heralded rookies like Donte Divincenzo, Mitchell Robinson, Landry Shamet and Hamidou Diallo have all played well and most have played roles in the success of their teams.

This upcoming week has some great games on tap. Warriors-Cavaliers (sorry again Cleveland), Warriors-Bucks, Sixers-Pistons, Rockets-Mavericks and of course Thunder at Bulls (on NBC Sports Chicago), will help us further with understanding where teams stand in the playoff and (NBA lottery odds) race.

Check out our latest 2018-19 NBA power rankings here.

Bulls will try to slow down Mavericks' dynamic young backcourt

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USA TODAY

Bulls will try to slow down Mavericks' dynamic young backcourt

Through the opening four weeks of the NBA season, Dallas swingman Luka Doncic has emerged as one of the early favorites for the Rookie of the Year award. The 19-year-old from Slovenia is averaging 20.8 points on .489 shooting from the field and .395 from the 3 point line, along with 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

We’ve been hearing about Doncic for a number of years because of his sensational play in the European leagues, but some scouts questioned whether his lack of elite athleticism would limit his ability to excel at the NBA level.

So far, Doncic has silenced all the doubters with his innate feel for the game and the joy and flair he exhibits on the court. Paired with high-flying second year guard Dennis Smith Jr., Doncic is giving basketball fans in Dallas hope for the future despite the team’s current 4-8 record.

The Mavs beat the Bulls in the third game of the season in Dallas, 115-109, led by 19 points and 6 assists from Doncic and 18 points and 16 rebounds from veteran center DeAndre Jordan. The Bulls got outrebounded 41-34 and fueled the Mavs’ transition game with 19 turnovers that led to 27 points for the home team.

Monday’s rematch could be even tougher since Dallas will have the services of talented small forward Harrison Barnes. Barnes, who missed last month’s game because of injury, is averaging 14.5 points and five rebounds a game.

Even though he’s only shooting .377 from the field right now, Barnes' presence gives the Mavericks another three-point shooting threat on a team that lives and dies on its proficiency behind the arc. Dallas currently is tied for fifth in the NBA with 33.9 three point attempts per game.

Wesley Matthews scored 20 points in the first meeting between the two teams and veteran guard J. J. Barea always seems to comes up with big games against the Bulls. Barea is coming off a 21 point performance against Oklahoma City Saturday where he knocked down three of four attempts from three-point range.

So, what will it take for the Bulls to earn a split in the season series Monday night?

1. DEFEND THE THREE-POINT LINE Like so many teams in the modern NBA, the Mavs won’t get discouraged by early misses from long range. They’ll keep jacking up threes throughout the game, with everyone on the roster except DeAndre Jordan given the green light. Doncic, Matthews, Barnes and Smith Jr. are all capable of big nights from three-point land, as are Barea, Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith off the bench.

2. LIMIT TURNOVERS  Dallas wants to play at a fast pace with their young guards making plays in transition, so careless turnovers will make the Mavericks even more dangerous in the open court. Inserting Ryan Arcidiacono into the starting lineup improved the Bulls offensive efficiency early in their win over Cleveland on Saturday, but the challenge now is sustaining that efficiency over four quarters.

Shaq Harrison also gave the Bulls quality minutes at the point guard position against the Cavs, and he’ll use his size and aggressiveness to put some defensive pressure on the Mavs’ guards.

3. ANOTHER BIG NIGHT FOR ZACH  LaVine poured in 34 points in a losing effort in Dallas last month, and he’ll have a big advantage in quickness against either Doncic or Matthews. Dallas might go with Barnes on LaVine at times to challenge Zach’s outside shooting, but that might open up more opportunities to drive to the rim, where Jordan will be waiting.

LaVine has been very successful so far in challenging opposing centers on drives, and even though Jordan is an excellent shot blocker, don’t expect the NBA’s fourth leading scorer to back down.

With match-ups against Eastern Conference heavyweights Boston, Milwaukee and Toronto coming up, you know the Bulls would love to come away with a win over Dallas on Monday night.

We’ll have the game for you on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app, starting with Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium at 6:30. Neil Funk and Stacey King will have the play by play call at 7, followed by Bulls Postgame Live and Bulls Outsiders.

We hope you make your plans to join us Monday night.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.