The Dallas Mavericks are a basketball team in a very odd situation.
They have an outstanding head coach with a great track record. Their roster is stocked with multiple veterans who have “been there” and know what it takes to win. The future looks bright with promising young talent who will take the reigns of the franchise whenever Dirk Nowitzki decides to ride off into the sunset.
Yet something still seems to be amiss.
Looking at where the Mavs are right now, they are in the basement of the Western Conference and one of the five worst teams by record in the NBA. It could be expected considering they’ve played the third-toughest schedule to date, according to ESPN.
And sure, they’ve had their fair share of health issues keeping key pieces off the court, but that doesn’t appear to be the main issue here. So let’s break it down with some statistics.
NBA.com’s “miscellaneous” list isn’t the tell-all story, but you’d be naïve to think it’s not at least an indicator of the product on the floor. Amongst every team in the league per game, Dallas ranks dead last in points off turnovers (13.5), second-chance points (9.7), and points in the paint (39.1). They’re also scoring just 8.6 fastbreak points per game, which is good for the fourth-lowest average amid their peers.
Offense isn’t the strongest suit of that group unless it comes to taking care of the basketball, an area where the Mavs excel—their 13.4 percent turnover percentage ranks second in the league, according to Cleaning The Glass. They also share the ball well and can knock down the three-ball, so there are some positives.
But continuing the see-saw of numbers, Dallas only gets to the free throw line roughly 18 times per game as a team. It’s kind of a farfetched number, considering they’re one of four ball clubs in the NBA that has had over 400 total isolation possessions. Possibly it’s because they don’t push the ball, or perhaps it’s the drive and kicks as reasoning for it, but it’s not so bad since they thrive as catch-shooters (57.7 effective field goal percentage) anyhow.
On the flipside, the Mavs’ defense struggles because of their slower tempo. If they’re in the halfcourt for the majority of the game and they don’t make easy baskets, opponents take advantage by sprinting off of rebounds and beating them down to the other end of the floor. It’s a clear basis for why they’re giving up close to 15 points per game in transition.
Rebounding is a major concern as well. Only one player on the Dallas roster pulls down at least six rebounds per game, and that’s Harrison Barnes. In order to compete in this league, you’ve got to crash the boards. They’ve done an okay job of that on defense, but they sure as heck haven’t given their offense extra opportunities. Rick Carlisle should really think about giving one of either Dwight Powell and Salah Mejri more playing time to fix that.
It’s not surprising that the Mavs are where they are because of how much they rely on Dennis Smith Jr. The rookie point guard has shown so much promise this year and looks to be the eventual face of the franchise due to the excitement he brings. But to have the highest usage rate on the team in his first season as a pro? That might be a little too much of the load to carry.
Wesley Matthews is having an up-and-down year. The veteran wing helps Dallas as a scoring threat on the perimeter and even on some drives, but there’s no question he hasn’t quite been the same player as he once was in Portland.
A change of scenery might do him some good and would also allow Carlisle to give Yogi Ferrell a more prominent role. Let’s not forget that Seth Curry and Dorian Finney-Smith are still on the shelf either.
There’s still plenty to be optimistic about though, which is why the Mavs are so perplexing.
Barnes is continuing to adjust to being the go-to guy for an entire game and is progressing beautifully in the post and as a perimeter threat. Devin Harris is having arguably the best season in his career at 34 years old. His net rating per CTG is a plus-18.6, which puts the veteran guard in the 98th percentile.
When it comes to three-point percentage, Dirk Nowitzki is posting the best numbers in his 19 years in the league and is attempting triples at the highest rate he ever has. J.J. Barea has been his steady self, coming off the bench both as a scorer and somebody who gets others involved.
Rookie big Maxi Kleber is full of energy and displays an IQ for the game that has gotten him in the organization’s good graces.
Per Basketball-Reference, Dallas is playing like they are 17-24 rather than 13-28. While that isn’t the most positive stat to fall back on, their expected win-loss record is consistent with their type of team.
Surely some changes are coming soon, especially if the plummet continues. But regardless of what they decide to do in the near future, you can’t really put your finger on what the Mavs’ identity is.
Maybe it’s time they figure that out.
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