NBA teams are shattering records. Not even two weeks into the season, scoring is up across the board and games are being played a breakneck speeds. It’s an outburst that has been brewing for some time.
It’s also one that the Dallas Mavericks have seemingly embraced. While the team has been at the forefront of offensive innovation, this is something new. It’s the beginning of a new era, not only for the Mavericks, but for the league.
“I’m sure Dick Harter is turning over in his grave right now. He was a coach on the Knicks in the 90s and I worked with him for many years,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said after the team’s 140-136 win over the Timberwolves. “This is a new age of basketball. This is where we are. The days of games in the 80s are probably done. Everything is spread out. It’s freedom of movement. There’s four attackers and, often times, five three-point shooters. There are missiles flying everywhere.”
Threes for everyone
That’s sure been the case in Dallas’ first four games. The team is pouring in shots from downtown. The Mavs have taken 170 three-point shots this season—45 percent of their total field goal attempts—third most in the league. They’re also leading the NBA in attempts per game with 42.5. Against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Mavs hoisted a franchise record 50 threes. Beyond the attempts themselves, you can see how the game is evolving in where the shots are taken and the personnel the Mavs are using.
Dallas isn’t hugging the three-point line when it launches from deep. Along with the rest of the league, the Mavericks are taking more threes from Stephen Curry-range. The reason for this is spacing. The further away a shot comes from, the more ground the defense has to cover. When more shooters are on the floor, it makes it all the more difficult for opponents.
“Because the athletes are getting bigger and faster and all that,” Carlisle said, “the only way to make the court bigger is to shoot from further out and open up space with more skill players.”
As a result, the Mavericks are getting a lot of open looks. The majority of their three-point attempts come with the defense scrambling, six or more feet away from the shooter. Dallas is knocking down 42.1 percent of these shots. It’s a shift the league has seen for several years now, as more emphasis is placed three-point shooting—as well as scoring at the rim—because of the efficiency of such shots.
Pace of play is also impacted
Much of the change the league is seeing is the result of analytics. Another area it’s impacted is the pace of play. After four games, Dallas is averaging 103.63 possessions per game. That’s tied with the Houston Rockets for the 11th fastest mark in the league. For comparison, last year’s team was the fifth slowest in the league with a pace of 96.61.
“It’s unbelievable how fast this team is playing,” Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Rick has done a great job getting them to buy in and getting out and playing with pace.”
When pace increases, possessions go up and the number of scoring opportunities does the same. The Mavericks are averaging 114.8 points per game this season because of that. Playing fast has become the team’s mantra.
“I would say we like to play fast so we can play more possessions,” Luka Doncic said, in his matter-of-fact style.
There are some drawbacks to playing this way, though. With pretty much every NBA team embracing the run-and-gun approach, the Mavericks must be ever more vigilant on the defensive end. Unfortunately, that’s where the team is struggling. Dallas is allowing opponents to average 119.3 points, which is one of the worst marks in the league. A lot of this has to do with how poorly they defend the three-point line, where they are allowing 50 percent shooting. It’s an incredible percentage and it’s the worst in the league. Even the defensive emergence of Dorian Finney-Smith can’t help them.
The days of crashing the glass may be done
The way teams are shooting has also impacted how the Mavs rebound. Though you’ll often see two players look to crash the glass once a shot goes up, it’s something that has to be done with a note of caution, especially when hunting for offensive rebounds. DeAndre Jordan has told Doncic not to go for rebounds because of it. Getting back on defense in transition is something that Carlisle, Hoiberg, and a number of Mavs players have stressed.
“We can’t have three or four guys crashing the boards,” Carlisle said. “Even if you score, you’re going to give up a three at the other end. That’s the world we’re living in. It’s not like the game is totally different and new this year, but it has been amped up.”
Amped up, eye-popping, explosive, all of those adjectives fit today’s NBA. The innovations the league has seen in the past decade have ushered in a new style of play, totally foreign and almost unrecognizable to how the game was played a generation ago. The game is faster than ever, the scores keep climbing higher, and the Mavericks have embraced it. But this isn’t just an early season novelty. This style of play is here to stay.
“The game,” Carlisle said, “has never been more exciting to watch.”