Checking in on the Dallas Mavericks

Despite a 5-3 start to the young season, the Dallas Mavericks have some glaring issues to address if they want to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. While it is too early to panic eight games into the season with much basketball left to play, the early trends are concerning. Superstar Luka Doncic does not seem like the world-beater he appeared previously, despite nearly averaging a triple-double as of this writing. While slow starts are nothing new to Doncic as we have seen before, the two-time All Star is shooting just 42% from the field, 25% from three and 69% from the free-throw line as of this writing. Those numbers are not indicative of an MVP caliber player which many believed he would be this season and he needs to turn it around quickly. Kristaps Porzingis has missed the last five games with a back injury, complicating matters even more, as the Latvian forward is the second-best player on the team behind Doncic(on paper, as Jalen Brunson currently holds that title). Further complicating the situation is the lack of a reliable center on the team, with Porzingis constantly unavailable due to injury, Dwight Powell not playing up to expectations, Willie Cauley-Stein battling inconsistency and Boban Marjanovic does not seem to fit the way the game is played today. Maxi Kleber has been Dallas’ most effective big man this season, but he too is battling an injury at the moment. Without a reliable interior presence on both sides of the ball, Dallas will have some issues scoring efficiently and containing premier big men around the league.

After the departure of longtime head coach Rick Carlisle in the offseason, the Mavericks opted to bring in the former head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets, Jason Kidd to help lead the franchise. The Hall of Fame point guard turned head coach was an interesting choice to lead the Mavericks after a decidedly average tenure as a head coach thus far. Despite more experienced coaches on the market, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban presumably decided to hire Kidd owing to the long-lasting relationship the two enjoy. While Carlisle was undoubtedly one of the best head coaches in the league and is currently plying his trade as the bench boss in Indiana, it was clear a change was needed. Yes, Carlisle helped bring Dallas its first and only championship in 2011 led by Dirk Nowitzki and current head coach Kidd, among others, but failed to lead the Mavericks to a deep playoff run since then. Reports also surfaced of tensions between Carlisle and Doncic, as ESPN’s Tim McMahon described their relationship as “strained”. This should not come as a surprise given Doncic’s tendency to coast and go off-script at times while Carlisle is a coach who does everything by the book. However, despite his reputation, Carlisle oversaw several playoff disappointments or outright failure to even reach the playoffs since 2011 and in this league, coaches take the blame more often than not. Last season, Dallas held a 2-0 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers during their first-round matchup but fell to the Clippers eventually. Various factors contributed to the disappointing loss, but after failing to get past the first round in six playoff appearances since winning it all in 2011, Carlisle’s luck had run out. The dysfunction within the Mavericks organization was also well documented in a report by McMahon where the former director of quantitative research and development Bob Voulgaris compared his time there to a “high school drama”. Often thought of as the ‘shadow GM’ of the Mavericks, Voulgaris butted heads with Doncic and former general manager Donnie Nelson, after Voulgaris’ close relationship with Cuban made Nelson feel threatened. Nelson was replaced in the offseason with Nico Harrison, previously a Nike executive for the last 19 years, before making the jump to the league this year per a report by Marc Stein.

“JB needs to continue to stay aggressive, continue to be that anchor and that motor that’s coming off the bench for us, whether he’s coming off the bench or starting”

MAvericks Guard Tim Hardaway jr. on Jalen Brunson’s performance this season

The roster itself has not undergone any major changes and the core has been left virtually intact, save for the addition of veteran forward Reggie Bullock and young point guard Frank Ntikilina. However, the front office and coaching staff have been overhauled completely, with many new faces now calling the shots around the organization. Another interesting development was the news of a Leadership Council within the team consisting of Doncic, Porzingis and veteran guard Tim Hardaway Jr. requesting Kidd to allow all 15 players to see the floor in their season opener. While much was made of this story, it does not have to be something that needs to be discussed at length as it simply gives everyone on the team a chance to contribute and show what they can bring to the team. Most teams have a certain rotation that they stick to each night while players with untapped potential waste away on the bench and never get a chance to prove themselves. There are several examples of players over the years who bounce around across the league, before finally finding a home somewhere after they were given a chance to play meaningful minutes. As long as this faction’s influence does not cause issues within the locker room, the Council may not be such a bad idea. 

Point guard Jalen Brunson has been a revelation this season, slotting in as Dallas’ second-best player. The Villanova product is certainly flying under the radar right now, but that may quickly change if he keeps up this level of play. Brunson seems to be the most consistent player on this roster as it stands, with a guaranteed contribution every single game and after exploding for 31 points and 10 rebounds against San Antonio, Kidd may have a tough time pulling him out of the starting lineup. “JB needs to continue to stay aggressive, continue to be that anchor and that motor that’s coming off the bench for us, whether he’s coming off the bench or starting,” said veteran guard Tim Hardaway Jr. after Brunson’s career night.  Despite the 5-3 record, the Mavericks still have major issues on offense, shooting just 41.2% from the field and scoring just 101 points per game on averagegood for bottom five in the league. Unless they find some way to improve offensively, a tumble down the standings is not out of the question. For a team that posted the best offensive efficiency mark in NBA history just two seasons ago, this level of offensive inefficiency is a tough pill to swallow. Of course, after overhauling the coaching staff and implementing new schemes, things should get better soon. 

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