The Phoenix Suns are still recovering from what the Dallas Mavericks did to them. In their four wins in the second round of last year's playoffs, the Mavericks made 42.2 percent of their 3-pointers, attempted 40 of them per game and scored 121 points per 100 possessions. It culminated in a Game 7 bloodbath on Phoenix's home court; at halftime, Luka Doncic had 27 points, the same amount as the entire Suns team, and Dallas led by 30.
Doncic and the Mavs did not have the same success against the Golden State Warriors in the conference finals, but making it that far was an achievement. In the 10 seasons that had passed since the 2011 NBA title, they'd made six playoff appearances and lost in the first round every time. If nothing else, the way Doncic dismantled defenses served as proof of concept for a style of play that could deliver Dallas its next championship in the very foreseeable future.
In June, Suns forward Mikal Bridges credited Doncic for getting into the teeth of their defense, slow-stepping near the rim and firing perfect passes to wide-open shooters. "You just look to see if he's about to make the shot and the dude would just skip that shit across the court," Bridges told JJ Redick on an episode of "The Old Man and the Three" podcast.
Redick, who spent the final few months of his playing career with the Mavericks, described their 5-out attack succinctly: "They're either going to get in the paint with [Jalen] Brunson or Doncic and they're going to score there or they're going to kick it out for a 3."
Even the eventual-champion Warriors were unable to stop Dallas from creating good looks. The Mavs created more wide-open 3s in their losses against Golden State (24.5 per game) than they did in their wins against Phoenix (21.5); they just didn't make them at as high a clip (35.7 percent vs. 46.5 percent) in the conference finals.
So the path forward seemed clear: Try to make improvements on the margins, then come back and give it another go. They'd already had their shakeup when they traded Kristaps Porzingis for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans midseason, moving on from a once-promising partnership that had run its course.
Instead of small tweaks, though, Dallas ended up making major changes. Mere months after Brunson dropped 41 points in 42 minutes to lead the team to a playoff victory with Doncic sidelined, he left for the New York Knicks -- and a four-year, $104 million contract -- in free agency. This was not the outcome the Mavericks expected when they, according to Brunson's father, declined to offer the former No. 33 pick a three-year, $56 million extension before the season and again in January.