There are a lot of takeaways from the Mavericks loss to the Utah Jazz on Sunday night — Dennis Smith Jr. had one of his better games as a Maverick, the defense is still poor, DeAndre Jordan keeps making free throws and just in general it’s fun to watch the ground floor of the Mavericks building something special with Smith and Luka Doncic, despite the lumps they have taken over the last week.
However, there was one sequence that ran through my head dozens of times after the game ended. It was a fairly bland possession in the fourth quarter, as the Mavericks attempted to get back into the game:
This set isn’t out of the ordinary for the Mavericks. That’s the problem.
While the Mavs employ a flowing offense that encourages movement and passing, Wesley Matthews and various other guards and wings have run this action countless times over the years. At this point, I very much doubt it’s a called play, just part of what the Mavericks do. What Matthews does there, as he’s been playing in this offense for over three seasons now, must feel like muscle memory. When the Mavericks were losing games and biding their time for high draft picks, this wasn’t really a problem or something all that noticeable. The Mavs didn’t have a lot of playmakers the last two seasons, so Matthews had to overextend himself to give the team something.
Things have changed this season. Dallas has a second-year point guard drafted in the top 10. They have a do-it-all playmaking rookie forward drafted in the top three. Old habits die hard, however, and the Mavs and Matthews have just kept it going. Except somehow, it’s even worse than before.
Matthews is averaging just over 16 shots per game and he shot 17 times in the loss on Sunday. His current usage percentage is 22.8, which is third on the team and would be a career-high. Think about that, for a moment: at 32 years old and three years removed from his devastating Achilles injury, Matthews (a player not known for being a playmaker throughout his career) is on pace to set a career-high in usage on a team with Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. Side note: the 16 shots per game Matthews is taking this season would also be a career high and by a lot.
This isn’t working and it can’t work. It’s not the best role for Matthews and it isn’t helpful for the Mavs. There are qualifiers of course, with Harrison Barnes missing the first four games with an injured hamstring throwing the rotation and chemistry out of whack for what was supposed to be a crucial training camp integrating a more up-and-down style.
When asked about it after the game, Rick Carlisle balked and directed his answer to other aspects of the game. Before everyone wants to tar and feather Carlisle, remember that there is zero chance he publicly throws one of his vets under the bus. What was he going to say? “Well, you’re right — Wes is shooting too much.” No.
Carlisle later hinted that they are still looking at their analytics for the young season to suss out any trends or changes, so trust that the Mavericks are smart and know what is happening with Matthews isn’t conductive to winning. Knowing Carlisle’s penchant for favoring veterans, it’s easy to understand the concern, but as Barnes gets healthier and Doncic and Smith grow together, the shots for Matthews should go down.
At least they should. If there’s anything we can definitely point at and yell “this is a thing!” at this early point of the season, it’s that whatever the Mavericks are doing with Matthews isn’t working and it won’t work.