Here are a few rational disclaimers — the leap the Mavericks are trying to take is one that doesn’t happen a lot. Dallas won 24 games last year. While they had a very good offseason with Luka Doncic and DeAndre Jordan, there is still a lot of that 24-win team still here. Actually, some of it is gone! Harrison Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki are pretty good.
If you remove the context of trying to make the playoffs, the collapse against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night isn’t really that bad. I mean, it is still headache inducing, but when you view it through the lens of “a bump in the road of a still in progress rebuild” it doesn’t seem all that bad. Dennis Smith Jr. is 20. Luka Doncic is 19. Dorian Finney-Smith is being counted on for major minutes after missing basically all of last season. Jalen Brunson is now a key bench cog because Devin Harris is hurt. These things take time! As a very smart and handsome blogger once said, the Mavs have to crawl before they can walk.
But holy shit the Mavericks really blew a 26-point lead to the Hawks. THIS SUUUUUCKS. Here’s why:
- When you have a roster that is mostly small guards and bigs and one of the two wings in your rotation is a 19-year-old rookie not known for defense, you’re going to give up a lot of threes! Teams are now shooting 50 percent from three against the Mavs, averaging 15 made threes a game. The Hawks went 15-for-38 and the Mavs simply can’t navigate screens or get back in transition or just generally stay attached to anyone’s hip right now. It’s hard to close out to shooters when most of the defenders closing out are bigs that shouldn’t be doing it or a guard that isn’t taller than 6’4. Wes Matthews looked 100 years old on defense tonight. The bench without Barnes has zero wings in the rotation.
- I get that Smith is going through something he’s never had to do as a basketball player — sharing the role of the alpha. From the time he could probably dribble, he’s been the show, running the offense and getting up shots. Playing alongside Doncic in the starting lineup means he has to share those responsibilities more than he ever has in his career. That’s not something that happens overnight. That said, why does this feel so much like a regression after four games? After a putrid game against the Bulls on Monday, Smith looked pretty great through three quarters. Then in the fourth he went 2-of-5 from the field, no free throw attempts, no assists and three turnovers. It’s like he forgot how to do things. Smith has to adjust, but I don’t understand why playing with Luka means he can’t finish at the rim, or make the passes he made last year or attack the basket more aggressively or play better defense. It’s not like he’s playing with Rajon Rondo or Monta Ellis. Doncic is perfectly fine playing off the ball, using his shooting and passing to spread the floor. I think just throwing out that Smith has to learn to play with Doncic discredits Smith — he’s better than this.
- Speaking of that fourth quarter for Smith, he got hurt toward the second half of the quarter and for some reason the Mavs let him play for another two to three minutes. He was clearly hobbled, couldn’t make it up the floor well and was attacked by the Hawks every possession he stayed on the floor after he got hurt. I get trusting your guys and maybe wanting him to play through it to, but the Mavs need Smith healthy for the long haul, not the fourth game of the season against Atlanta. That was super weird.
- Apparently all of Barnes shots are going to Matthews, who had 21 tonight. That’s too many shots! Holy crap, that’s way too many shots! Wes went into hero mode in the fourth, going 2-of-7 from the floor, 1-of-5 from three and some very bad fouls on defense. The Mavs need Barnes back just to put Matthews back in his spot. This can’t keep happening.
- I was ready to run through a brick wall after seeing Doncic’s first quarter. I’m going to be very excited when he can get through an entire game without looking like he wants to throw up and his shot collapsing. Doncic was 1-for-7 and 0-for-3 from three in the second and third quarters and didn’t start making shots again till the game was out of hand in the fourth.
- Another Barnes trickle down effect — Maxi Kleber guarding wings during crunch time in the fourth quarter! Please, stop.
- J.J. Barea had 10 shot attempts in just under 20 minutes. He’s averaging a career-high in shot attempts per 36 minutes.
- Wes shot 14 threes.
- I never thought I’d say this but I wish Dwight Powell got more minutes.
- There are going to be a fair amount of games where DeAndre Jordan gets his numbers but the Mavs look really bad. It’s not really his fault, since he can’t stop a team from shooting threes. But it stinks.
- What’s most discouraging about the Mavs defense is how comfortable they make teams. There’s nothing difficult about how the Hawks tried to get their shots tonight, even ones they missed. That comfort breeds confidence and you can’t be shocked a team starts hitting tough fallaways and pull-up threes when you’ve allowed them to get to their spots all night without any friction or resistance.
- Dallas’ schedule so far this season — Phoenix, last season’s worst team in the league. A Minnesota team that very much plays like ass without Jimmy Butler. A Bulls team that was one of the worst in the league last year and added doubled-down on bad defenders this summer. A Hawks team that won the same amount of games the Mavs have and didn’t make a dent in the off-season outside of the draft. Here are the next four games: Toronto, Utah, San Antonio and the LeBron Lakers. Things are only going to get harder for this team.
- Here’s something I’m not actually annoyed about: I’m glad I’m getting annoyed! The Mavericks last two (and really three) seasons felt very soulless. It’s good to get mad again, to get frustrated. That means the Mavs are building something or my lizard brain at least has some semblance of expectations for the team. That’s fun! That’s progress.
- Seriously Wes what in the living hell.