It was either a great night or a frustrating one depending on where you stand on team tank. Dallas beat a really good team and finally shed some of their clutch demons this season. However Dallas grabbed a pretty meaningless win that was mainly won by Dirk Nowitzki and J.J. Barea. Outside of Maxi Kleber, none of the young guys did all that much. Dennis Smith scored 8 points on a ghastly 3-of-14 shooting and Yogi Ferrell went 0-for-5 from the floor.
So yeah, it’s a win for the lottery-bound Mavericks spurred by players that won’t be here in two years. Oh well, it was still pretty fun to watch. Here are three things we saw and learned.
Dirk still Dirking makes me smile
Regardless of how low the Mavericks sink this season, seeing Dirk still do Dirk things is awesome. He’s now scored at least 18 points in three straight games, after finishing with 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting against the Raptors.
Dirk’s shot looks great, he doesn’t appear as winded as he did earlier in the season now that the schedule has calmed down a bit and Dirk has gotten over the shorter training camp. It was delightful watching Dirk pump fake defenders to half-court and scoring on mismatches in the middle of the floor. Dirk even mixed it up with a rim-roll and an offensive rebound putback! Dirk is still the Mavericks best player and the one that changes the entire court geometry for everyone on the floor. He might not be the leading scorer anymore, but he’s still the Mav that has the biggest impact whether he’s on the floor or not. That’s crazy (and honestly, a little sad).
Who knows exactly what, but Maxi Kleber has something
Every time I watch Kleber play since he’s started this run in the starting lineup, I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is about Kleber that makes him pop. He does a little bit of everything and isn’t overtly reliant on one skill or part of his game.
I think I found it though — Kleber has bounce. It leads to every good thing about his game, whether it’s the surprising defense or solid pick and roll play in the lane. Kleber can move his feet on both ends and really gets off the floor fast. It helps him scoot in front of guards in the pick and roll, rotate over to guard the rim, get up for blocks and thrown down alley-oops.
He showed off that well-rounded game again against Toronto, scoring 15 points, grabbing 8 rebounds to go along with two assists, two steals and uhm [checks notes] five blocks. Sheesh! That’s pretty damn good.
I don’t know where Kleber’s ceiling is and I don’t know what he becomes down the road or how he changes (if any) of the Mavs off-season plans this summer. But he’s another useful player plucked from the fringe of free agency and if the Mavs could just be as good at signing bigger talented guys like they are plucking the Klebers of the world, they’ll be in good shape.
Harrison Barnes is good but not good enough
Barnes had a really good first half, scoring 13 points and hitting 5-of-7 from the field. He finished with 16 on 6-of-13 shooting and four turnovers.
Down the stretch, as the Raptors clawed back into the game after Dallas went on a bananas 19-4 run to end the third quarter, the Mavs looked as aimless as ever, as Barnes couldn’t get off good shots, either turning the ball over in the lane or taking awkward mid-range jumpers.
That’s not all on Barnes, as the Mavs have a weird team with lots of over-30 role players and no true star or top player. But there’s this expectation from the organization that Barnes is that guy and it just becomes harder after every game to see him turning into that top-20 player the Mavs desperately need. Before tonight, Barnes was shooting 43.8 percent in the clutch, after hitting just over 49 percent last season. Maybe he’ll get there but watching how the Mavs have won and lost games since Barnes is here, it’s hard to imagine him becoming anything more than a second or third-option on a good team. That’s OK! Not every good player needs to be an MVP candidate. Hopefully the Mavs aren’t blinded by how great a teammate and worker Barnes is when making off-season decisions.