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10 likes and dislikes from the Mavericks' first 3 weeks

Good things: first quarters are deadly, Dwight Powell is a monster and tons of open looks. But those open looks aren't falling consistently and with Dirk, that's especially dangerous.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Seven wins, 11 games. Offer that to the Mavericks a month before the season started and they would have snatched it running away. A start like that seemed absolutely ridiculous given what we knew at the time.

The injuries all chose their best possible path and Dallas has made the most of games where most of its starters did have to sit. So here they are, somehow third in the Western Conference as of my writing this. The rest of November will be testing for Dallas, as they face a grueling three-game road trip and a huge home matchup against the Utah Jazz, a team they may need to beat out for the playoffs this year.

But for now, let's take a second to dwell on what has happened so far. Here's some trends I've liked and disliked through the season's first 10 games.

1. The Mavericks KILL first quarters

How Dallas will look with a fully healthy Chandler Parsons is a big question that really won't be answered until the All Star break has passed. But if first quarters are any indication, a healthy starting five will be assassins.

Since Parsons returned against the Lakers in the third game of the year, the Mavericks are running with a 105.6 offensive rating and 96.9 defensive rating in the first 12 minutes. That's a net rating around plus-9, which is just fantastic. Obviously, in the last nine games that those stats come from, Parsons sat out two of them, against the Rockets and the Clippers. Regardless, they paint a great picture of how good Dallas starting five can be.

2. But in the fourth quarter, not so much

The first quarter highs are surely related to the way Dallas has struggled in the fourth, in which they've managed a net rating of minus-1.2.

The best example is the loss to Toronto, where they were outscored by 10 in the fourth after entering the quarter with a one-point lead. Chandler Parsons lobbied for an experiment where he only played the second half, which failed pretty spectacularly. Those fourth quarters haven't been a good look for Dallas after being such a strength (plus-4.3) last year.

As Parsons' minute restriction drops off, let's circle back and see how the Mavericks improve.

3. Dallas isn't finishing their open looks

Despite generating the fifth-most shots deemed "wide open" -- meaning there isn't a defender within six feet -- the Mavericks are shooting just 34 percent, dead last in the NBA. And it's not close, either: they trail Boston by three whole percentage points and are one of just nine teams to shoot lower than 40 percent on these wide open attempts.

Open shots, clearly, are good. How they're doing it is no secret, either: the Mavericks make the second-most passes in the NBA, behind only the constant ball movement sideshow that is the San Antonio Spurs. So why can't they finish off these shots, then? Is it just an outlier?

Maybe. Here's a couple of charts. The Mavericks' field goal percentage on these shots seem to be an outlier compared to the rest of the league.

open shots 1

Do open shots constitute better offense, though? Sort of, a little bit, yes they do.

open shots 2

You can see there's a slight upwards correlation. You can also see, though, that two teams directly left of the Mavericks who generate a similar number of open shots (the Magic and the Pelicans, for those curious) actually have worse offenses, despite better shooting percentages. (Orlando's at 39.6 percent and New Orleans, 46.6 percent.)

Open shots can be misleading. Sometimes, defenses allow them purposely. An open three-point attempt by a poor shooter may be much better in the long run than, say, a contested layup from Russell Westbrook. Like most advanced stats, you have to examine it all in context.

In Dallas' case, while they have to assume Dirk's percentages may fall slightly, they're also betting that Deron Williams will be better than a 30 percent shooter behind the line, that Wesley Matthews won't always shoot 34 percent from the floor, that Devin Harris isn't hitting less than 20 percent of his 3-pointers and that Zaza Pachulia improves on his dreadful 44 percent shooting on field goals. Those seem like relatively safe gambles at this point.

4. Devin Harris' defense has been phenomenal

Last year, Harris had three months shooting below 33 percent on 3-pointers and two (three if you count October) above 41 percent. He's a streaky shooter and his slow start to the year -- just 5-of-31 from behind the arc -- should rectify itself in time, even if it's frustrating now, especially after a solid preseason.

It's easier to stomach Harris' offensive struggles to begin the year when you realize how good he's been defensively. The game it really stood out to me was against Toronto -- a loss, but a loss feature great individual defense from Harris, particularly on these two plays against DeMar DeRozan.


Just how good Harris has been defensively throughout his career is already been a matter of contention as his metrics have fluctuated from year to year. To begin this season, though, he just looks superb. Defense is often judged by a few big moments -- chasedown blocks, weak side steals -- when in reality, a good defender is the sum of many small, often unnoticeable plays, like Harris fighting over a screen 28 feet from the basket and saving Dirk from a bad situation.


The numbers back it up, too. The Mavericks have been allowing nearly five more points per 100 possessions when Harris sits. Don't look now, but Dallas has a top-10 defensive rating. A strong bench showing on that end -- with Harris right in the middle of it -- has allowed that.

5. Dirk needs to make shots to be effective

... please don't make me write this. I don't want to. But it's true.

Let's preface this with some great news: Nowitzki's averaging a cool 50/50/90 so far, with a shot chart that looks like this. I know there's a few spots that are red, but that's not actually because he's missed shots from there, but actually the blood of the poor defenders who have tried and failed to match him in the post.


But unfortunately, Dirk is also one of the two Mavericks who have played all year with a negative net rating. (J.J. Barea is the other. More on him later.) With him on the floor, the Mavericks are minus-1.8 this season. Even more damning, with Dirk off the floor, the Mavericks are outscoring their opponents by 6.1 points on average.

Again, advanced stats are just tools telling part of the story. Let's try to put some context to those numbers. We've already determined that the Mavericks are killing first quarters and that includes Dirk, of course. Usually, Carlisle has a quick hook for him, before getting him some quality minutes late in the first and early in the second anchoring the second unit.

That's a big part of it. Dirk-led second units, particularly those with Barea at the point guard, have bombed this year. When Dirk's making shots, the Mavericks are fine. His beautiful jumpers dropping through still scare defenses and his presence on the floor changes the way opposing teams play against this offense. But now 37 with the lateral movement of a tumbleweed, Nowitzki's defense is really killing Dallas. You'll notice that in Monday's game against Philadelphia, Nowitzki was the only starter with a negative plus-minus.

The solution may be Rick Carlisle phasing out these Dirk-led second units if they continue to be ineffective. Maybe Dirk's just not a good option to anchor those guys anymore and he needs to stick with his starting five. We'll see. This certainly isn't a funeral for the Big German, who clearly has shown he still has an abundance of life offensively. It just may be that Dirk takes a slightly altered role headed forwards, because when his jumper isn't falling, he's really not helping Dallas.

6. Zaza Pachulia's double fist pump

Let's be very clear: I don't like this. I goddamn love this.

7. J.J. Barea's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad start

In his return to Dallas last season, the Mavericks knew exactly what they wanted from J.J. Barea. As the second unit point guard usually paired with Devin Harris, Barea's job is to create offense through penetration. As long as that's happening, his ball dominating nature is acceptable.

Barea led the team last year in average seconds per touch at 4.6 seconds. That topped even Rajon Rondo, a slow-moving point guard who notoriously committed an eight-second violation in the playoffs, who clocked in at 4.2 seconds per touch. Barea also led the team with 5.1 dribbles per touch.

This season, Barea is still leading the team, with 4.3 seconds and 4.3 dribbles on average each time he touches the ball. If he was producing at the same levels he was last year, when the offense scored nearly four more points with him on the floor, the Mavericks would like with this, despite their love for ball movement. The problem is he's not.

Actually, through 11 games, his impact on offense is literally nothing. With him on or off the court, the Mavericks' offensive rating is 100.6. (Yes, that means the Mavericks' overall offensive rating is 100.6, which is good for No. 15 in the NBA.) That will probably improve to some degree to some degree when his percentages fall towards the mean: he's shooting just 35 percent on his shots right now. But even if he does that, there's no guarantee the offense becomes four whole points better with his floor. And given his defense and that a viable replacement in Raymond Felton has emerged, there's no reason for Barea to continue being an every day rotation player rather than an occasional spark off the bench -- $16 million contract be damned.

8. The Mavericks can ... rebound?

I said many times that my biggest concern headed into the 2015-16 season was Dallas' rebounding. And then Dwight Powell happened.

That the Mavericks have the NBA's sixth-best defensive rebounding percentage -- they vacuum up on the boards 79 percent of the time, much better than last year's 72 percent, which was second-worst in the NBA -- still blows me away. I never would have expected that. Somehow, Powell's defensive rebounding percentage is 28.3 percent. Seriously, what the hell.

That means Powell is better this season than Rudy Gobert, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan and Tyson Chandler grabbing the basketball off missed shots. It means that -- among players earning more than 20 minutes per game -- Powell is seventh best in the entire NBA. That's ludicrous. The dude wore a sweater over his shirt and tie combo with Vans after a home game the other day. THAT guy is seventh in the NBA in defensive rebounding.

(For what it's worth, Dwight, if you're reading this, I thought you pulled the whole look off nicely.)

Besides Powell, both Dirk and Pachulia have upped their prowess on the boards. I'm not convinced any of these numbers will hold and I wouldn't be surprised if we're talking about how Dallas is middle of the pack rebounding the ball by the All Star break. Still, seeing how I was convinced they'd be last in the league, that's a huge win.

9. Health matters

Something I both like and dislike. It's still shocking that Matthews is consistently able to play 30-plus minutes, although he's clearly not himself for whole stretches at a time. It may be months until we see the Portland version of Matthews night in and night out. Parsons, too, looks ready to shrug off his minutes restriction by Christmas at the latest. That's a huge departure from where we thought he was trending over the past few weeks.

On the other hand, you just know Deron Williams is going to get hurt at some point this season. If he doesn't, then I swear the Dallas training staff really does have reverse voodoo dolls. Williams missing several weeks would hurt, particularly if Barea continues on his current trajectory.

10. But hey, these Mavericks are fun

They're going to be inconsistent as hell. They're going to beat the Clippers at home on the second night of a back-to-back then barely scrape by against the Sixers. There's not a lot of quality athleticism on this roster and even less if Carlisle doesn't play Jeremy Evans, so a lot of this team's success depends on whether jump shots fall in or rattle out. Yes Chuck, jump shooting teams can win titles, but one set up like this is inherently inconsistent.

But we've seen flashes of them at their best so far this year and that's pure fun. I mean, what's more fun than this HORNS set ...


... turning into this Parsons drive and kick to an open Dirk Nowitzki for a 3-pointer he splashes home?

dirk 3

Let's hope to see plenty more of that in the coming months.

All stats from's stats page.