The Mavs are still a playoff team, and while losing four games is disheartening, it doesn't affect their ability to finish strong and make a run in the West. The trade for Rondo was still the right move.
Listen, losing four games in a row sucks -- especially because as fans, we are simply not used to seeing the 2014-15 Mavericks lose with consistency. But I think through a lot of the doom and gloom, we fans -- and the outside critics for whom recency bias seems to loom large -- forget a few things.
First, the Mavericks played a very easy schedule before the trade. They didn't have a ton of travel-intensive back-to-backs, they had some decent-sized homestands. They played a lot of Eastern Conference teams; they didn't have the injury concerns other West teams had.
Then, they shook up the entire team with the Rondo trade. Whether you were in favor of or against the trade, it was probably the right move for a team that needed some measure of competitive balance to have a hope of getting out of the West. And how often do you have a chance to get an elite point guard at a discount?
We've now had 19 games of Rondo, and Rick Carlisle has talked extensively, even recently, about needing time to fully integrate him into their system. We all knew the trade would change the complexion of this team, hopefully for the better. That adjustment period, unfortunately, happened to show up at a time when the schedule ramped up with more Western Conference games and a lot of time out on the road. January has featured a few back to backs and FOUR whole home games. Even the home games in January have felt like away games -- there haven't been two in a row since the end of December.
There's also the adjustment to the game itself. We knew that the trade would probably disrupt the high-level offense a little at the expense of improving a really really bad defense -- but it wasn't clear how much. And guess what -- both things happened! The Mavs are much more balanced on offense and defense with room to grow - going from 1st on offense a to 2nd, and from 20th up to 15th on defense with room to grow as the team continues to learn with each other.
You can filter out games from before the trade and look just at numbers since the trade if you want, but the fact is, those numbers reflect an adjustment period where the complexion of the team changed dramatically, a Dirk shooting slump, and a more intense schedule that the first part of the season simply didn't have. Turnovers doomed the Mavs for the past couple games; that's fixable. They need a more consistent backup big, and whether or not Jermaine O'Neal arrives, Dwight Powell has been a nice surprise and is a smart rookie who seems to be learning well on the fly.
The Mavs are still in 6th place, with a couple of homestands and the All-Star break looming. This is a team of high-profile professionals -- and I have little doubt that they will take that break to figure out what's or hasn't worked with Rondo, Dirk will take that break to rest and figure out his shot, Carlisle will look at film and figure out which lineups are just silly -- and this team will emerge from the All-Star break ready to fight their way back to elite Western Conference playoff team status.
And if they don't get in as a, say, 4 seed? Well once you're in the playoffs, records go out the window, especially if you're a Rick Carlisle-coached team. We saw that against the Spurs last year.
- Rebecca Lawson
Two weeks ago, I didn't think it was time to panic. But this week I think a little concern may be in order. Why? All teams go through rough patches. This four-game losing streak wouldn't be so worrying if it were an aberration, but this is starting to seem like more of a continuation of a trend than just a bad week.
The Mavericks have had several chances to prove they are capable of beating the best of the West, and with one exception, they've blown them. The Mavs should still make the playoffs, but Rondo is a marginal upgrade at best due to his limitations. Dallas may limp into the playoffs unless something changes drastically.
This team had a lot of problems on defense before the trade, but it's been incredibly frustrating to watch Rajon Rondo on offense this year. He really has been mediocre, whether you look at his stats one by one or at more holistic measures. No matter your preferred flavor of advanced stats, he's been not just below average for an NBA player, but significantly worse than he was in Boston, where despite his poor shooting, he was doing quite well earlier this season.
Surprisingly, it's not really his shooting that's to blame for his dip in performance. He's still a bad shooter, but his true shooting percentage hasn't really changed at all, although he's unfortunately started taking more shots than he did in Boston, which is just not something Rondo should be doing. His rebounds per 36 minutes are down, his assists are down, his turnovers are down a little (but not even remotely in proportion to his assists), and his fouls are up. In short, he's not been the player the Mavericks thought they were getting.
It's true that the Mavericks still look strong when it comes to both offensive and defensive ratings. To win a title these days, you generally need a top ten offense AND a top ten defense, and if you look at the current standings, things certainly seem like they've moved in the right direction. The offense has dipped to a mere second best in the league, the defense has climbed steadily from 20th to 15th, and the team still has the fourth best point differential in the league, an impressive +6.9.
But when you ignore games from before the trade and look just at the offensive and defensive ratings of the team as it's currently constituted, things don't look quite as rosy. The defense looks a lot better, but it's still outside the top ten, even with Rondo on the team. The offense has dropped all the way to eighth, and the team's point differential (a really important predictor of postseason success) has dropped to a decent but not overwhelming +3.9, just seventh in the league.
I'm certainly not going to try to argue that Rondo is worse than the other point guard options the team has, but on net, he's really not been that much better. Given the wonky big man line-ups Carlisle seems to be experimenting with lately (Charlie V and Aminu? Really?), I'd much rather have Brandan Wright back in the rotation alongside any of the other mediocre point guards on the roster.
Dallas will almost certainly make the playoffs, but I think it's become increasingly clear over the last two weeks that they're not built to go very deep. The Mavericks were aware of Rondo's offensive limitations when they acquired him, but he's underperformed to such an extent that his defensive contributions are unable to compensate, and I think we're finally seeing that more clearly as we get into a tougher schedule. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think there's much chance of this team climbing back up in the standings.
- Kate Crawford