In this Golden Age of analytics across sports, it’s really hard to find something you can’t quantify.
This is the case in every sport, especially so in basketball. Go to the league’s official stats page and you can find out everything from how fast a player is to how much one hustles on defense. We know a lot. Probably too much.
It drives us crazy when there’s things we can’t dig up out of a formula or box score, like team chemistry. How the hell are you supposed to quantify whether dudes like each other or not? We don’t know for sure but it’s not for a lack of effort.
So that brings us to this Mavericks team. A year ago at this time, the team was absolutely dreadful. Harrison Barnes was in a serious slump and the new-look starting lineup was getting drilled every single time they were on the floor.
After a terrible showing last preseason against the Rockets where the starters played decent amount, Rick Carlisle scoffed at a question about Barnes and said “playing without any conviction and without any force as a team is a much bigger problem.”
It was a kind of troubling statement at the time for a team with a lot of vets. Remember, last year’s Mavs weren’t particularly young at the start of the season, with Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut as veteran starters. Somehow that equated to Dallas losing by an average of 14.8 points per game last preseason.
Now we get to this preseason and the Mavs are a fun 3-1 so far. The starters have done well when Carlisle has played his full rotations and there seems to be a general positive spirit around the team. Things are better than last year and it’s hard to quantify outside of just a pure talent boost.
Rick Carlisle: "I don't remember much about last year. This year is just much different. It has a much different feel to it."— Earl K. Sneed (@EarlKSneed) October 9, 2017
It’s more fun, isn’t it? It certainly helps that stone-footed Andrew Bogut and his weird Twitter takes are no where near the team this season. Bogut was absolutely miserable in his time with Dallas and anytime the Mavs tried to play him and Dirk together, it felt like watching a professional basketball team try to hoop in quicksand. The also slow Williams, who has a history of moodiness, is gone too.
In their place is a potential superstar rookie point guard who not only likes to jam with authority, but create for his teammates. Dirk booted Bogut from the starting center spot last January and the team hasn’t looked back. A year ago the Mavs opened the season slow, old and bad. Now they’re fast, young and bad. It makes a difference!
After being one of the slowest teams in the NBA, Carlisle is letting Dennis Smith Jr. push the pace. He’s playing crazy bench lineups with three point guards, all in the name of getting the ball zipping from side to side. It’s a far cry from the Mavs’ offense at this point a year ago, which consisted of Williams failing to turn the corner on a screen and letting Bogut hold onto the ball for 18 seconds.
Everything is more fresh and more fun. There’s the natural hope with a young player like Smith plus the stylistic change he brings that undoubtedly is more fun to play. It’s hard to say how much of this is better chemistry or just having better players, sort of like a chicken and egg scenario. It feels like this stuff matters, especially when the Mavs went through this stuff with Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo.
The hard part is it’s hard to prove it. There’s no stat that tells you how much a team likes being around each other. It’s just something you know from watching the team or spending time in the locker room.
There’s also the fact that this is the preseason, so seemingly none of this matters. That’s mostly true; however, last preseason the Mavericks looked like slow butt and in the first two months of the season they played like slow butt. That doesn’t mean this season the Mavs are going to come out and win a lot of games, but they should at the very least be a more cohesive and fun basketball team to watch.