Without a doubt, the Dallas Mavericks have stumbled out of the gates. They’ve played 25 games and they’re 11-14, which has them just outside the playoff picture and toward the bottom of the Southwest Division.
That can partially be explained by Kristaps Porzingis missing the first nine games because of offseason knee surgery. The Mavericks also went through a rough patch where they were without key rotation players due to absences related to COVID-19. And, as if those challenges didn’t make it hard enough for Dallas to perform up to expectations, they’ve had the second-most difficult strength of schedule in the NBA, per basketball-reference.com.
However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. For example, Porzingis isn’t playing up to par at either end of the floor. He’s shooting 33.3 percent from beyond the arc and, while there’s value in stationing him on the wing to space the floor, perhaps Porzingis and the Mavericks would benefit from dialing up more pick and pops with Luka Doncic. Defensively, Porzingis has been a step slower than we’re accustomed to seeing and he’s surrendering 112 points per 100 possessions.
Then there’s the Seth Curry for Josh Richardson trade, which hasn’t worked out nearly as well as Dallas anticipated. The Mavericks accepted the downgrade in three-point shooting believing Richardson would space the floor and knock down catch-and-shoot threes – all while providing them with another player who can create quality shots and address their need for stingier defense. So far, that hasn’t been the case.
Richardson is shooting less than 30 percent from beyond the arc, and he’s only averaging 13.1 points per game. Defensive stats are flawed, but not to the extent that someone who’s playing well would have a 117 defensive rating and a negative defensive box plus/minus. The Mavericks are hoping it’s only a matter of time before Richardson, who missed games due to a COVID-19-related absence, shakes off his struggles and starts playing up to his capabilities.
As much as it hurts the Mavericks to have two of their most relied upon players not performing up to expectations, their struggles extend far beyond Richardson and Porzingis. Exemplifying their lack of productivity this season is that they rank 26th in points allowed per 100 possessions and they have the worst three-point shooting percentage in the league.
Although Dallas must sort through the problems plaguing them, they can take comfort in last season, when they produced the highest offensive rating in NBA history, as a reason for them to believe they’ll climb from their current ranking of 15th. A team starting Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber also have reason to believe – if they can stay healthy – they’ll make strides defensively as the season progresses.
But even if that happens, how far will internal improvements take the Mavericks? Will it get them to the Conference Semifinals? Rather than banking on that being the case, Dallas should be aggressive in its effort to bolster the talent around its MVP candidate.
Right now, the Houston Rockets don’t qualify for the play-in tournament – so if they’re willing to trade P.J. Tucker, he’s someone the Mavericks could realistically acquire who would help them on both ends of the floor. Tucker’s still one of the NBA’s best three-point shooters from the left corner, where he’s taken 28 shots and made 42.9 percent of them this season. His stat line isn’t robust; he’s averaging 4.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, but Tucker’s a stout and versatile defender who makes the game easier for his teammates on both ends of the floor.
If the Mavericks want to add a veteran ball-handler who can lessen the burden on Doncic to create quality shots for him and his teammates, George Hill is a potential target who checks that box. This season, he’s averaging 11.8 points and 3.1 assists while playing 26.4 minutes per game. The 34-year-old guard is shooting 50.8 percent from the field, taking 4.1 three-point attempts per game and making them at a 38.6 percent clip. Like Tucker, Hill’s a two-way player, and at 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, he’s a versatile perimeter defender.
While it won’t stand in the way of Hill getting traded, he recently underwent a minor procedure to address a mallet finger injury of his right thumb. He’ll get re-evaluated in three weeks.
The Mavericks are a better team than their record suggests and, in time, that will prevail. However, in a loaded Western Conference where they currently wouldn’t even be the eighth seed, to avoid another first-round exit, they should upgrade their roster to increase their margin for error.
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