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Popular Culture

Starting Lineups: Modernizing the Iconic Collectibles

You may have heard that after a 21-year hiatus, Fanatics has partnered with Hasbro and Panini to bring Starting Lineups back, with upgrades for the modern era that include NFT trading cards. We will dive in to that later in the article.

If you grew up in the 80’s or 90’s, Starting Lineups figures are nothing new to you. In the days before NBA2k and twitter, having a mini-figure of your favorite NBA player was one of the furthest extents that fandom went.

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The History of Starting Lineups
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

Starting Lineup action figures were actually conceived by former NFL wide receiver John McInally, who was known for his savvy intinution. He was the only player to ever get a perfect score on the Wonderlic test, an aptitude test all NFL prospects are given. In a toy store, McInally noticed all the G.I. Joe action figures, but none of famous athletes. His vision of famous athletes on toy shelves became a reality in 1986, the last year he’d play professional football. 

These figures also wisely included a trading card in the box, as the late 1980’s was in the midst of an explosive boom in that hobby. The combination of a toy and a card made for a perfect pairing, and they flew off the shelves.

In 1989, Starting Lineup released their NBA Slam Dunk Series, which featured NBA legends such as Michael Jordan or Larry Bird. What was special about these action figures is that they were more like figurines. Each player would be shown dunking on an NBA hoop, even with the hardwood beneath their feet. 

By the early 1990’s it looked as though Starting Lineup had issued and sold an action figure of every significant sports star. With a lack of innovation, people began to lose interest in the collectibles. Today, some of the Starting Lineup figurines that have a low population count are heavily sought after by collectors. 

Since Legacy One Inc. acquired the trademark for Starting Lineup in 2017, physical Starting Lineup action figures have generally been exclusive to sporting event giveaways, I.E if you are one of the first 5,000 people in the stadium you get an action figure of the team’s best player. 

Starting Lineups Can Sell For Big Money!

Because most kids decided to rip them out of the box and play with them–or display them on their shelves–some of the figures in the original packaging can be worth quite a bit of money. Even highly-graded examples of just the cards that came in the boxes have also sold for some big numbers.

For now, to illustrate how collectible just the cards have become, check out this list of the top 10 Starting Lineup card sales:

1. Michael Jordan 1988 Kenner Starting Lineup PSA 10 – $15,100
CardLadder

To kick off this list, we have a card from one of the most collected Starting Lineups ever.  

The 1988 Kenner Michael Jordan card is his first with the brand, and it features a young MJ gearing up to make a play in transition.  The accompanying figure has His Airness donning the iconic white Bulls uniform.  However, the card brings in a pretty penny when graded well; check out this PSA 10 copy that sold for over $15,000 in 2021.  

2. Michael Jordan 1991 Kenner Starting Lineup “Dribbling” PSA 10 – $9,300
CardLadder

Our next Starting Lineup card is a rare variation from 1991’s Michael Jordan figure.  This POP 5, yellow-bordered card shows another action shot of Jordan driving to the basket.  The “dribbling” variation, as it is called, has sold for up to $9,300It remains one of the rarest MJ Starting Lineup cards to date.

3. Michael Jordan 1989 Kenner Starting Lineup “One on One” PSA 10 – $7,250
CardLadder

Next, we have Jordan’s second-year Starting Lineup card.  This stunner shows MJ doing a solid impression of the NBA logo.  The card was a part of the “One on One” set, and it came with two figures: Jordan and longtime rival Isiah Thomas.  This PSA 10 copy shown above sold for $7,250 last year, and it’s unlikely that we will see another gem mint copy for sale anytime soon.

4. Michael Jordan 1993 Kenner Stadium Club Starting Lineup BGS 9.5 – $5,925
CardLadder

This card is the first on the list to collaborate with another popular set, Stadium Club.  MJ’s 1992 Stadium Club card is one of his most iconic poses;  we get a glimpse of His Airness as he attempts to posterize Patrick Ewing.  The card is also an extremely tough grade, which may be why a BGS 9.5 copy has sold for as high as $5,925.

5. Michael Jordan 1990 Kenner Starting Lineup “Yellow” PSA 10 – $3,330
CardLadder

Number five on the list is one of two cards used in the 1990 Starting Lineup.  This one, bordered in bright yellow, features a shot of Jordan during his rookie campaign.  Then a 21-year-old, Mike would go on to win Rookie of the Year for the 1984-85 season.  While the card may not have been produced during that inaugural year, it is still very rare and tough to grade. It sold for $3,330 in March of 2022.

6. Michael Jordan 1990 Kenner Starting Lineup PSA 10 – $3,150
CardLadder

The other card in Jordan’s 1990 Starting Lineup showcased his acrobatic skills around the rim.  It is another PSA 10 with a low pop, and it sold for $3,150 in a PWCC auction. While the other card was a callback to MJ’s rookie year, this copy showed 23 as he began his first Finals run.  The Bulls would go on to defeat the Lakers in the following summer, and the rest is history.  

7. Magic Johnson 1988 Kenner Starting Lineup PSA 10 – $2,200
CardLadder

We have reached the first card on this list that doesn’t have Air Jordan on it.  Magic Johnson’s first Starting Lineup also rolled out in 1988, which makes this rare PSA 10 copy a hot commodity.  The series was released when Magic and Bird were still the faces of the league, and both were battling it out almost every year for a championship.  This card sold for $2,200 this year, and it still serves as a remnant of the “showtime” era of basketball.  

8. Larry Bird 1989 Kenner Starting Lineup “One on One” PSA 10 – $2,150
CardLadder

At number eight, we have our first card of Celtics legend Larry Bird.  “The Hick From French Lick” only has a few known Starting Lineups.  His “One on One” set with former foe Magic Johnson is arguably the most popular.  The supplemental card shown above sold for $2,150 back in July, and it currently stands as a POP 14 as a PSA 10.

9. Ken Griffey Jr. 1990 Kenner Starting Lineup “Baseball Extended” PSA 10 – $1,670
CardLadder

This is the only baseball card on the list, yet it makes so much sense to see Griffey up here with names like Jordan, Magic, and Bird.  Junior’s collectible market is well documented, which explains why this POP 1 PSA 10 sold for $1,670 last December.  The corners and edges of these cards are hard to find in such pristine condition, so seeing this copy with a 10 beside it is astounding.

10. Kobe Bryant 1996 Skybox Premium Starting Lineup “Extended Series” PSA 10 – $1,560
CardLadder

Our last spot on the list is the only one to feature the Black Mamba.  Although Bryant’s action figures may not have been as prevalent as Jordan’s, they are still must-haves for Kobe collectors.  This 1996 Skybox Premium rookie was included in all of his rookie Starting Lineups, and it has sold for as high as $1,560.

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Starting Lineup Re-Launch
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

On September 22, Hasbro + Fanatics + Panini partnered to bring the iconic Starting Lineup figures back to market. They were made available for pre-order only on the Fanatics network of websites.

“We’re thrilled to be bringing back one of the most beloved sports collectibles brands of all time, Starting Lineup, and to be teaming up with Fanatics for its highly anticipated return this fall,” Eric Nyman, President and COO of Hasbro, said in the release. “The fast-growing sports collectibles category presents great opportunities to connect with fans of all ages, and we’ve got many exciting announcements to come from the brand in the months ahead.”

Eight of the NBA’s top players were featured in this launch including:

• LeBron James

• Luka Doncic

• Ja Morant

• Stephen Curry

• Trae Young

• Giannis Antetokounmpo

• Jason Tatum

• Joel Embiid

Gone are the more simple figure designs of the past. These new figures have a futuristic and sleek look, with improved packaging and extremely realistic details–all the way down to each players branded sneakers. For example, LeBron’s figure sports his LeBron 19 Low Nikes.

Also included in the packaging are additional accessories including two pairs of additional hands and a flight stand with base that has the modernized Starting Lineup logo on it.

There will also be a physical exclusive Panini trading card in the box, while consumers will also receive a link via email for digital NFT trading cards–a feature we will get in to greater depth later in the article.

According to Fanatics, these will be shipped to consumers on or around December 1st, 2022.

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So It Comes With an NFT?!
Starting Lineups

Panini recently made the decision to expand to the blockchain in 2022. The company says it did so to carry forward the legacy of Panini Collectibles into the digital era, as well as give users the highest degree of legitimacy for the digital collectible they own.

As previously mentioned, these new Starting Lineup figures will be accompanied by a physical and digital trading card. Each NFT trading card will be sent to buyers via email link. These digital collectibles will contain different rarity levels. Most will receive a common base card, but they might also get a rarer edition.

  1. Red: 1 out of every 100 people who purchase a Starting Lineup will receive a red parallel.
  2. Blue: The blue parallels will be sent to 1 out of every 200 buyers
  3. Green: The green parallels will be sent to 1 out of every 500 buyers
  4. Gold: One lucky person will receive an ultra-collectible one of one gold parallel of each player.

It will be interesting to see how much these cards sell for on the open market, and if the gold parallels top the prices of some of the older Michael Jordan cards we previously highlighted.

The digital Starting Lineup NFT trading card offer is valid on purchases from September 22, 2022 through 11:59PM EST on April 30, 2023 (or while supplies last).

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Sports

Everything You Need to Know About Eurobasket 2022

We’re in the fallow part of the NBA offseason—there have been 73 days since the last real NBA game and there’ll be another 48 days until the next one. With the thrum of free agency rumors and slop having ceased, there are but mere morsels of basketball content left to consume. Nothing is going on besides the vague promise that something will eventually be going on. In the absence of actual stuff, it’s now national news three guys in Brooklyn decide to aggrievedly endure each other’s company or when two guys in Seattle get all red-faced or when one guy in White Plains calls another guy in Utah. Next week, Eurobasket 2022 will mercifully end the drought, promising a level of intensity and quality that won’t be seen again until the NBA playoffs next spring. Here’s everything you need to know about the best sporting event that you aren’t watching.

What is Eurobasket?

As FIBA’s answer to FIFA’s Euros, Eurobasket is a biennial tournament to determine the best international squad in Europe. Outside of the Olympics and the FIBA World Cup, Eurobasket is the most prestigious event on the international basketball calendar, contested by the 24 best teams across the continent. Oddly, this is the first Eurobasket since 2017—it was canceled in 2019 to accommodate the FIBA World Cup and then again in 2021 for the rescheduled 2020 Olympics.

When is Eurobasket 2022?

Eurobasket 2022 begins on September 1st. The finals will take place on September 18th. 

Where is Eurobasket 2022?

The group stages will be scattered between Germany, Italy, Georgia and the Czech Republic. The knockout rounds and finals will be held in Berlin, Germany.

How do I watch it?

ESPN+ will stream every Eurobasket 2022 game. 

What is the format?

For the opening round, the 24 teams are put in four groups of six teams. From each group, the top four teams enter the single-elimination knockout stage, which is seeded based on performance in group play.

What are the groups?

Group A

Belgium

Bulgaria

Georgia (host)

Montenegro

Spain

Turkey

Group B

Bosnia and Herzegovina

France

Germany (host)

Hungary

Lithuania

Slovenia

Group C

Croatia

Estonia

Great Britain

Greece

Italy (host)

Ukraine

Group D

Czech Republic (host)

Finland

Israel

Netherlands

Poland

Serbia

Is there a group of death?

Yes, Group B is a bloodbath.

Who are the best teams?

Serbia (+300 to win Eurobasket 2022)

Nikola Jokic is the best player in the world, so it’s only fair that Serbia is the best team in Europe. While Serbia won’t bring their full complement of NBA players to Eurobasket (Bogdan Bogdanovic and Boban Marjanovic are hurt, Aleksej Pokusevski and Nikola Jovic couldn’t get approval from their teams), Jokic is such a singularly dominant and additive player that it doesn’t matter; surround him with any four ambulant players and he’ll make the offense hum. Defensively, Jokic benefits from FIBA’s slightly different set of rules—namely, that there’s no defensive three-seconds violation. Similarly, the relative paucity of dangerous scoring European guards ensures that Jokic can safely dock himself in the paint without having to huff and puff around the perimeter. 

Beyond Jokic, Serbia teems with elite Euroleaguers—as the 2021 Euroleague MVP and the reigning two-time Finals MVP, point guard Vasileje Micic is the best player in the world who’s not in the NBA; Vladimir Lucic is a sharpshooting wing who made the All-Euroleague team each of the last two seasons. 

Greece (+430)

As the best Greek basketball player of all time, Giannis Antetokoumnpo is ready to move past his puzzling lack of international success. The last time he donned a Greek jersey in real competition, Antetokounmpo seemed oddly cowed, averaging just 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 9.2 field goal attempts as Greece staggered to an 11th place finish at the 2019 World Cup. Since then, though, he’s polished away whatever flaws remained in his game and became an NBA champion and Finals MVP in the process. Accordingly, Antetokounmpo once again has looked appropriately Greek Freaky in his two tune-up games before Eurobasket, averaging 33 points and 7.5 rebounds against Serbia and Belgium. 

Although Antetokounmpo is the team’s undeniable star, he’s hardly their only important contributor. On the perimeter, naturalized guards Tyler Dorsey and Nick Calathes provide a necessary counterweight to Antetokoumpo’s interior dominance—the California-born Dorsey is a dynamic shooter and the Florida-born Calathes is one of Europe’s best-ever assist-men. 

Slovenia (+470)

Slovenia and Dallas aren’t really that different, basketball-wise at least. With Luka Doncic at the helm, both Slovenia and the Mavs pair their superstar with a crafty lefty guard as his main sidekick and stretchy forwards dotting the perimeter. The formula works. For evidence, just rewatch the Mavs upset the Phoenix Suns to make the Western Conference Finals for the first time in a decade last season or how Slovenia won Eurobasket in 2017, in large part because of a breakout performance from an 18 year-old Doncic. More recently, Doncic carried Slovenia to the cusp of the gold medal game of the 2021 Olympics, just barely falling short against France 90-89. If NBA players are largely hopeless against Doncic, Euroleaguers are even hopeless-er; against overmatched competition, Doncic led the Olympics in both points and assists last year. Look for him to repeat that feat at Eurobasket 2022. 

France (+550)

At full strength, France is by far the best team in Europe—and maybe even the world. It’s easy to imagine a frontcourt of Victory Wembanyama, Rudy Gobert and the newly naturalized Joel Embiid rampaging through the 2024 Olympics to secure the gold medal. But, in 2022, France is fairly depleted—Embiid, Wembanyama, Nic Batum, Frank Ntilikina and Nando De Colo are all injured. Still, the spine of the 2021 Olympic silver medalists who nearly swept the United States remains—Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert are among the most dangerous one-two punches in the field and France has depth up and down their roster, whereas most countries are either big-heavy or guard-heavy. 

Lithuania (+1200)

Speaking of big-heavy rosters, Lithuania is ready to mash. Led by Jonas Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis, Lithuania has a frontcourt that most NBA teams can’t even equal. Despite the fact that both Valanciunas and Sabonis are deficient NBA defenders, luckily, this isn’t the NBA.  To wit, both big men can fluently negotiate the tight spaces and facilitate within the slow tempo of the European game, giving Lithuania a rare level of potency and security that few teams can boast. Granted, Lithuania doesn’t quite have the high-end star power of Serbia, Greece or Slovenia, but they compensate with a deep, well-constructed roster that’ll contend in Europe for years to come. In this sense, the next generation is already here: Michigan standout Ignas Brazdeikas is a smooth bucket-getter who should start on the wing; future Knick Rokas Jokubaitas is a steely lefty guard who will run point. 

Games to watch (all times Eastern Standard Time):

September 1: Lithuania vs. Slovenia, 11:05am

Sabonis versus Doncic! Valanciunas versus, uh, Mike Tobey?

September 2: Greece vs. Croatia, 10:50am

Giannis kicks off his Eurobasket 2022 campaign against a dangerous Croatian team headlined by Dario Saric, Bojan Bogdanovic and Ivica Zubac. 

September 3: France vs. Lithuania, 11:35am

Gobert tussles with Sabonis and Valanciunas—think: Eurobasket’s answer to Godzilla vs. Kong.

September 5: Serbia vs. Finland, 2:50pm

Serbia is in a laughably easy group, but the showdown between Jokic and Lauri Markkanen could offer some intrigue.

September 7: France vs Slovenia, 11:05am

Could this be a preview of the finals? 

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Sports

Can the Mavericks Help Luka Doncic?

On any given day, Luka Doncic might just be the best basketball player in the world. This is hardly a novel sentiment—Doncic is averaging 31.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game while nursing a gimpy calf—but it feels worth verbalizing. For whatever reason, Doncic was shunted to the outer rim of the MVP conversation, his all-world last 60 games of the season canceled out by his pudgy, lethargic start to the year. Unfairly, his gaudy box scores bear the stigmata of unvirtuous stat-padding, numbers derived in part from gluttonous usage rate and grift rather than purely from ethical skill. Still, this unlikely Dallas Mavericks run to the Western Conference Finals has revealed a surprising truth about the heliocentric Doncic: none of this is really about him.

To a degree, Doncic is so good and so prolific that his own greatness is almost immaterial to the outcome of a game. In Dallas’ nine playoff wins, Doncic has averaged 29.3 points and 7.7 assists (out of 14.3 potential assists) per game;  in their eight losses, Doncic has put up 34.3 points and 5.1 assists (out of 13.1 potential assists) per game. During any given game, Doncic will do Doncic things—he’ll dribble the ball enough to grow new calluses on his hands, get his teammates open by twisting anxious defenses into recklessness, and score somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 points. He creates consistency through volume—there’s an upper and lower bound on how good or bad he can be.

In this sense, the Mavs fate rests in the hands of everybody else. When the Mavs win, they have a 65.6 percent effective field goal percentage on catch and shoot opportunities; when they lose, that number shrinks down to 50.6 percent. This is hardly groundbreaking shit; it’s shot variance. 

But beyond that, the Mavs are ironically, uniquely reliant on their role players because of the way that Doncic hogs the spotlight. By dint of Doncic’s individual dominance, the rest of the Mavs handle the ball within specific, frantic moments of opportunity while the defense is in fire drill rotation. Doncic invariably creates good chances for his teammates; it’s up to the likes of Dorian Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock, Spencer Dinwiddie and especially Jalen Brunson to transform them into great ones. 

Unsurprisingly, the Mavs season-prolonging, Game Four win doubled as both their best shooting and best passing performance of the Western Conference Finals. With the Warriors prepared to recover on Doncic’s kick-outs, the Mavs recognized that the pressure point of the Warriors’ defense was their ability to make second and third rotations rather than simply executing the first. 

As such, Dallas weaponized Brunson and Dinwiddie as sources of shot creation rather than merely as possession-ending shooters, trusting them to exploit advantages against the Warriors. Accordingly, both Brunson and Dinwiddie were more involved as passers—Brunson made 50 passes (up from his average of 43.8 for the playoffs) and Dinwiddie passed 36 times (up from 31.8). Similarly, the Mavs increased their off-ball creativity, setting pin-in and flare screens away from the ball to further obstruct the Warriors’ attempts to contest shots. As a result, over 49% of the Mavs’ threes were either open or wide open. 

Of course, all this is secondary to the less romantic reality that the Mavs won mainly because they made shots rather than miss them. More than any other year in recent memory, these playoffs have been decided by the basic arithmetic of field goal percentage and have spawned an anticlimax of blowouts and non-competitive fourth quarters. Staring down a 3-1 deficit, the Mavs are still probably going to be fodder on the way to another Finals run for the Warriors, but their evolution to suit peccadillos and peculiarities of Doncic could vault them from a year as a surprising contender and into years of perennial contention. 

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Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From December 6th-12th

On any given night, NBA Twitter is abuzz with reminders to appreciate Lebron James or Kevin Durant while they’re still active. This week, they gave us ample opportunities to do so. To be sure, though, they weren’t the only players in the league to have notable performances. Down below are our four takeaways from it!

LeBron and KD continue to add to their highlight reels
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While their greatness gets anticipated on a nightly basis, James and Durant somehow surpassed even the loftiest of expectations this past week. In addition to leading their teams to a combined 6-2 record, the pair of former NBA Finals MVPs produced one signature performance after another.

Between Durant scoring 51 points, the most scored by a player this season, and James becoming the oldest player in league history to produce a 30-point triple-double on Sunday night, it only served as additional highlights on their overwhelmingly extensive resumes.

Kelly Oubre Jr is becoming must-watch TV
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Despite his obvious talents, Kelly Oubre Jr. has flown under the radar and hasn’t really showcased the true breadth of his abilities. But throughout this month, the 6-foot-6 swingman has played the best basketball of his NBA career, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the playoff-contending Charlotte Hornets.

Oubre Jr is not only averaging 26 points per game since December 1st, but he’s helping the Hornets as an additional playmaker who takes some pressure off of star point guard LaMelo Ball. And the Kansas product should be applauded for being a willing rebounder, too, as he snagged ten rebounds against the Philadelphia 76ers last Saturday night.

Luka’s conditioning is now in the spotlight
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Although many things said on social media about NBA players and teams don’t gain any traction, the conversations surrounding Luka Doncic and his conditioning have only gotten louder. Ever since he arrived in the league, the Mavericks’ superstar has thrived despite not being in top shape, and fans have wondered what it would be like if he were.

But with his recent ankle injury expected to have him out for multiple games, Doncic’s health is being examined more than ever. Alongside dealing with various ailing injuries over the years, Doncic has struggled with his weight and conditioning, especially with the star confirming his issue of staying in playing shape.

The LA Clippers have discovered another talent in Brandon Boston Jr
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When people think about the Los Angeles Clippers, they immediately think of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but the franchise has quietly become one of the league’s best talent developers. This season, Terrence Man has built on the role that he established in last year’s playoffs and second-round rookie Brandon Boston Jr. has wormed his way into the rotation.

The 2021 second-round pick from the University of Kentucky had his best NBA game against the Boston Celtics last Saturday. Boston Jr scored 27 points and was a marksman from downtown, making five out of eight three-pointers. Even though George and, eventually, Leonard will determine the Clippers’ immediate success, their team’s ceiling could be defined the development of its promising young talents.

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Sports Strength

Can the Dallas Mavericks Save Their Season?

For the Dallas Mavericks, this should’ve been the easy part. They already have Luka Doncic, the era-defining megastar they poached in the 2018 NBA Draft, whose eliteness has already been accepted as indisputable, universal knowledge. His presence alone guarantees a tremendously high baseline of perennial playoff appearances. Accordingly, they’ve tried to tailor a bespoke supporting cast for Doncic—a stretch big with burgeoning defensive chops (Kristaps Porzingis), an implacable rim-runner to catch lobs (Dwight Powell), nervy shotmakers (Tim Hardaway Jr and Jalen Brunson) and defensive-minded wings (Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, Frank Ntilikina and Sterling Brown). But by building so comprehensively around Doncic, the Mavs have forgotten to build anything else.

Offensively, Doncic is empowered to play with such freedom that it borders on solipsism—there’s no offense beyond the realm of his own creation. His 41 percent usage rate and 46 percent assist rate are both the highest in the NBA (per Cleaning the Glass) and yet those figures still undersell his ball-dominance. Of the 35ish minutes that Doncic plays per game, he controls the ball for over nine of them, according to Second Spectrum stats; assuming that the Mavs are on offense half the time, Doncic holds the ball more than the rest of his teammates combined when he’s on the court. 

And, to an extent, this approach makes perfect sense—it’s generally good when good players have the ball rather than bad ones; nobody is exactly clamoring for Dorian Finney-Smith to cook. More, it’s hardly a departure from Dallas’s strategy in the past—Doncic’s usage rate surpassed 40 percent in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons too. The main difference? It used to work. Whereas the Mavs had the most prolific offense in NBA history two seasons ago, they’re now scuffling to a 107.7 offensive rating this year, which qualifies as one of the 10 lowest marks in the league. 

Since the Mavs’ attack can basically be boiled down to Help me, Luka Doncic, you’re our only hope, any small tremors that interfere with Doncic’s Atlas-ian undertaking quickly grow into a season-derailing earthquake. Compared to the last two seasons, Doncic’s production is down a skosh, but he’s still Luka Doncic; he’s fundamentally the same All-NBA caliber force he’s always been, even if his body looks especially yeasty this year.

As such, the problem with the Mavericks isn’t so much Doncic’s relative struggles as much as their own misconceptions about themselves. Going into this year, they seemed to think that their Doncic-driven approach was an indestructible black box, that Doncic was so incredible that he could sustain an elite offense regardless of the context. Conversely, their offense is more of a Swiss watch, its small, fragile mechanisms hidden beneath a glossy bezel. 

So far this season, Doncic is getting to the rim at the lowest rate of his career and his drives peter out in the midrange because the paint is too densely packed; the Mavs three-point percentage has plummeted because Doncic’s skip passes find shooters who aren’t comfortable with the new Spalding basketball;  is getting to the rim at the lowest rate of his career. Individually, it may not be such a huge deal that the Mavs rely on two-big lineups with scrunched spacing or that Reggie Bullock is in a slump or that the new balls feels weird or that their roster “is not built to play defense” (ok, maybe that’s a big deal), but minor hindrances compound into bigger problems.

 You know, all for want of a nail, etc.

In this sense, beset by truly lousy vibes and struggling to maintain a winning record, the Mavs are discovering the perils of such extreme heliocentricity (which is NBA Twitter-speak for giving one guy the ball all the time). The secret recipe to this strategy’s success, though, is that you have to create an environment in which your star can actually succeed—the Bucks did so by finding the right mix of players and spacing to optimize Giannis Antetokounmpo; the Rockets cynically and rigidly did everything imaginable to give James Harden maximum space. Instead, the Mavs, uh, have made the floor as cramped as possible, repeatedly posting up their alleged stretch-big and stocking their rotation with non-shooters. This is baffling self-sabotage, the hoops equivalent of slopping an otherwise delicious steak.

Dallas’s ability to win games is contingent on Doncic doing everything, but they can’t help themselves from getting in Doncic’s way. Doncic is their clear, guiding star; the Mavs need to allow him to shine.

Categories
Sports Strength

NBA Highlights From November 1st-7th

If there’s any lesson to learn as an NBA fan, the regular season is a marathon, not a sprint! Things can change quickly across this league, so you have to accept that. Who would have thought the Cavaliers found their best answer to life post-LeBron so soon? Why does Luka Doncic have a thing for breaking the Celtics’ hearts? Can the 76ers continue their hot streak despite the outside noise? Down are my four takeaways from the NBA’s latest week in action!

Evan Mobley is the Cavs’ answer to surviving life without LeBron
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Among the many storylines that have lived in the NBA over the past three years, it’s the Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles without once, long-time superstar LeBron James. Outside of their 11 years together with James, which included multiple Finals appearances and one title, the Cavaliers have not made the playoffs and are also an annual participant in the league’s draft lottery. But things may have changed this season.

Evan Mobley, the team’s third-overall pick from this year’s draft, appears to be the answer the Cavaliers needed to succeed in life without James finally. Besides being a key component in the team’s surprising 7-4 start, Mobley’s versatile skill-set and potential are recognized across the NBA as the traits needed for a prospect who has the keys to the franchise. And only 11 games into his career, the USC product has produced a pair of signature performances, including his career-best 26-points in a 126-109 road win against the NY Knicks on Sunday.

Luka breaking the Celtics’ heart is now common

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Sometimes it doesn’t take much for anything to become a trend, and we’ve reached that point with Luka Doncic and the Boston Celtics. For the second time in two seasons, the Mavericks’ superstar has broken the Celtics’ heart by making another step-back three to win the game, 107-104, last Saturday night.

What makes Doncic’s latest game-winner insane to think about is he not only made it but attempted it from nearly the same spot he made his first game-winner against the Celtics. But the biggest difference? Doncic now made it with three defenders over him, including stellar defense by former teammate Josh Richardson.

The 76ers have quieted the noise so far!
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While Philadelphia’s off-court drama has hogged most of the spotlight, fans and media should pay just as much attention to the Sixers’ on-court dominance. Despite the Simmons drama, the 76ers have locked in and played good basketball to start this season, storming out to the best record in the Eastern Conference at 8-2.

Even though center Joel Embiid hasn’t yet matched his production from last season (his 21.4 points per game are down more than seven points from last year), the East’s No. 1 seed has taken an all-hands-on-deck approach. Seven players are averaging double-digit points per game, and six players are shooting over 50% from the field while also producing player efficiency ratings over 20.

Cole Anthony’s sophomore season is going to be spectacular
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There were a lot of crazy, and at times egregious, events that transpired last NBA season, and one of them involved Cole Anthony. The then-rookie point guard of the Orlando Magic didn’t make either of the league’s All-Rookie teams, despite being more productive than the likes of Issac Okoro and Isaiah Stewart. But Anthony isn’t one to cry over spilled milk.

Fast forward 11 games into his second season in the league and Anthony is proving his doubters wrong. Not only has the UNC product averaged more than 20 points per game (up from 12.9 last year), but he’s built on that same confidence and swagger that he exhibited towards the end of last year. 

On Sunday night, Anthony sparked the Magic’s rallying 24-11 run by scoring 10 of those points en route to a 107-100 comeback victory over the heavy-Western Conference favorite, Utah Jazz.