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Regarding the Mavericks offense, chaos theory and accepting it all regardless

Let me take you on a chaotic adventure. Shall we?

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

I remember, in the offseason, when a fellow writer here on MMB said that they had figured this Mavericks team out. I can't remember who said it, but it stood out to me because I remember thinking, "it should be straightforward...and yet I don't totally get it."

This far into the season I think I've finally figured it out: I will never "figure it out" because this team wasn't designed to be understood.

The 2014-15 Mavericks are constructed to be coherent enough to be good -- all-time great player, several good shooters who are also off-the-dribble threats, elite big man, great offense and mediocre defense -- but it's not coherent enough to be a team where you understand everyone's role precisely, or even whether or not players are playing well.

But let me explain: this team is an amorphous blob, a chaos engine built to be just potent enough to damage everyone, but not potent enough to really destroy others or itself. Beyond that, beyond the fact that it's identity is chaos, there's no real identity. They do what they need to do and sometimes they don't and then sometimes they do a little of both. Sometimes they do what's expected and mostly they do whatever the hell they want.

This has already produced some of the most fun basketball watching experiences that I've had in the last 4 years.

This was all never more clear than it was against the Bulls on Tuesday night, which was a game more akin to Shakespearean drama than to basketball as we know it, except maybe that no one died (though, if given a chance I briefly felt like ending Monta at one point, so close enough).

Dallas' offense, as has been mentioned by just about everyone everywhere at this point, is possibly the best offense in basketball ever. But what's been misleading is that everyone has painted that offense as a great, masterful work of art: the Sistine Chapel of offenses. It's not, though.

Here's the thing: it's not a weird quirk of the Mavs' basketball art that they have constantly gone on droughts where they're just completely incapable of doing basic basketball things. Like, Monta single handedly playing Dallas out of a regulation win and into a double overtime win that will mean the Mavs are exhausted in a back-to-back against Milwaukee is not a thing that happened in spite of Dallas' identity and offense, but as a fundamental construct of what this team is, what it does, and what it cares about.

This offense is built to do one thing, and one thing only: get guys the shots that they want. Carlisle has always talked about how his flex offense is about playing in rhythm, running plays that work in the context of the moment and the defenses that Dallas is facing.

Ideally, he thinks, they're not having to call plays at all because the team is instinctively running the plays that work the best in a given moment. At its most fundamental, Carlisle's offense is built around the team internalizing how and why plays have to work, and executing them on the fly, accordingly.

The result has been an offense that, thanks to Carlisle's brilliance at teaching what "the best in a moment" actually means, looks incredible.

That's also partly a response to the fact that a team running flexible sets around one of the smartest, most defense-breaking players of all time -- along with a brilliant scorer and playmaker, genius screener and roll man, and good shooters -- can never ever result in a bad offense.

Still, the Mavericks have a lot of boneheaded players too. And they have a lot of players who are really good sometimes and really not-good others. And those players often want shots that aren't actually the best shot for the moment. Carlisle's offense was built to allow that, too, and it's why you have instances where Monta is shooting three horrible baseline fadeaways for three plays in a row.

On average, the good will win out because the talent and coaching forces it to, but the offense is built to allow the best of the good, and with that comes a lot of the bad. It's free market capitalism, if free market capitalism could play basketball.

And, like free market capitalism, most of the time Dallas basketball seems to make no goddamn sense. Also like the market, the ups and downs of watching the Mavs are sharp, intense, and irrational if also cyclical, and they all feel like they could have been prevented, somehow.

Watching Monta just bumble and fart his way to shooting the Mavs out what should have been a certain win in regulation was legitimately horrifying. I yelled things aloud in my living room that should never be repeated in front of a living thing, and I can only be thankful that there wasn't anyone that I know within a mile-long radius of the filth I spewed. Funnily enough though, after that, by the end of the second overtime I was still cheering and screaming because Monta hit the game winner in second overtime, a completely batshit in-no-way-could-that-have-possibly-gone-in shot.

It was absolutely freaking amazing, too. Just incredible. Monta won a double overtime game, and it was electric. It felt like maybe it shouldn't have been so amazing, but I also didn't care. Chaos is weird and fun and I don't understand it, but I think that's mostly the point.

This is the crux of this Mavericks team. This is what they do.

They bumble and they fart when they want to, but despite all that, they mostly make something akin to art because, mostly, that's what they want to do, and they've been given the freedom to do it. It's just that art is boring so sometimes they want to do stupid stuff, which I can't fault them for but is really infuriating when they're doing it in the last 5 minutes of a really, really close game.

So, in essence, we'll never really know what this Mavs offense is trying to be -- beyond the Devin Harris 2-for-1's, the Monta-Dirk pick and rolls, and Chandler Parsons jump-pass in transition -- because the players don't know what the Mavs offense is trying to be, right up until they're actually doing the damn thing.

Remember that scene in Jurassic Park, where Jeff Goldblum tenderly takes Laura Dern's hand and drops water on it, and he talks about how the flow of that water represents chaos, that impercetible changes in the skin, in the air, and the water cause the water to drip down the hand differently each time it's dropped?


The Mavericks are those tiny drops of water. They are chaos. It's never really clear what changes from moment to moment -- from possession to possession -- beyond some imperceptible change in what the players actually want. But that change produces chaos. It produces a team identity that we will never understand.

I, for one, am fine with that.

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