Pardon Luka Doncic if he started out skeptical of coach Jason Kidd.
During the preseason, reserve wing Sterling Brown, who played for Kidd in Milwaukee, shared some details of Kidd’s hard-driving approach as the Bucks’ leader from 2014 to 2018. Brown may or may not have used the word “screamer,” Dorian Finney -Smith recalled Monday.
But in good news for Doncic — Kidd’s latest superstar pupil on a list that includes upcoming opponents LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo — Brown included this caveat with his insights:
“He’s the total opposite now.”
The Mavericks’ matchups this week against the Lakers (Tuesday) and the Bucks (Sunday) serve as a reminder of Kidd’s coaching past, so now marks a natural time to check in with Doncic.
How has his pairing with Kidd developed as 46-29 Dallas eyes his first 50-win season since 2015?
Doncic didn’t hide his smile Sunday as he reflected on the last nine months of learning from and with the former Hall of Fame point guard.
“Just everything,” Doncic said. “I think we’re a way better team now. … He’s been great for us. He communicates with the players. He’s just been great, helping not just me but everybody, just to see a better picture.”
Statistically, Kidd’s imprint in Dallas has been easy to recognize.
He’s been blunt about expectations for defense … and more defense.
Since Doncic joined the Carlisle-led Mavericks in 2018, the team never finished with a defensive rating below 110.1 points per 100 possessions, and it always ranked in the bottom half of the league.
Through 75 games with Kidd — but mostly the same rotation contributors as before — the Mavericks’ defensive rating is sixth overall (108.5) and second since Jan. 1 (108.3).
Think the Lakers will enter American Airlines Center on Tuesday with envy?
In two seasons with Kidd on coach Frank Vogel’s staff, Los Angeles led the league in defensive rating last season (106.8) and finished third during their 2019-20 championship run (106.1).
Though roster moves and injuries have also impacted productivity this season, the Lakers have run the NBA’s 20th-ranked defense (112.2) in Kidd’s absence.
“He’s got a genius-level mind in the game of basketball, and he’s not afraid to coach guys hard and give tough love, and I think you’ve seen that with his approach towards Luka,” Vogel said after the Lakers’ practice Monday in American Airlines Center. “But he definitely has a genuineness to him as well, and he cares.
“You’re seeing that with how he’s coaching this Mavs team, and you see how they’re performing on the floor. Obviously he’s doing a great job here.”
For an anecdotal perspective, the Mavericks have frequently lauded Kidd’s honesty.
“He’s just going to give it to you so blunt and straight up, you don’t know how to take it sometimes, but we need that as a team,” Finney-Smith said. “One game, he would just say, ‘If you don’t shoot the ball, you’re coming out.’ Just like that.”
Kidd’s interactions with Doncic — especially in light of frosty pairings with Carlisle and Kristaps Porzingis — will always receive the most attention.
Many wondered whether Doncic was upset with the Mavericks’ turnover this summer after owner Mark Cuban fired general manager Donnie Nelson — whom Doncic had known years before joining the Mavericks — and chose Kidd over now-Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley, Doncic’s go-to assistant on Carlisle’s staff.
But unbeknownst before Monday to all but those involved with the Mavericks’ hiring committee, Doncic participated in Kidd’s Zoom interviews in June while he trained with the national team in Slovenia.
They talked about schemes and what Doncic wanted the Mavericks to do next.
After the Olympics, Kidd joined the Mavericks’ contingent in Ljubljana, Slovenia, to celebrate Doncic’s rookie max contract extension, and he said “that’s when the relationship started” in earnest, with regular texts and communication before training camp.
”Obviously when it’s serious, it’s basketball,” Doncic said, “but we joke a lot around, too.”
Perhaps their main source of friction has come via card games on the team plane.
When asked for his poker rankings, Doncic didn’t hesitate to declare himself the most exceptional player. But his answer might’ve encompassed his overall appreciation for Kidd, too.
“Yeah,” Doncic said. “Better, for sure.”
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