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Mavs Mailbag: the bench, the starters, and Fortnite

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We dive in to your questions as we head in to Thanksgiving.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Memphis Grizzlies Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a wild last two weeks for the Dallas Mavericks. They endured a six game losing streak, getting embarrassed at home by a Porzingis-less New York Knicks squad, and followed it up by winning five of their last seven. It’s true, some of those wins were against tired or injured teams, but let’s not dwell too long on the how’s or why’s.

In the midst of the chaos, we here at Mavs Moneyball (me) lapsed on our mailbag. We (I) are very sorry. We (I) will do better.

Nevertheless, here are your questions from last week. As always, we take them directly from our twitter feed. So if you have a burning question, find our next mailbag post @mavsmoneyball and post in the replies.

@Holdawaylan: Can the Mavs just play the bench the rest of the game?

This question came in at the start of the second half of the Mavericks’ game with the Chicago Bulls last week. It was a game that saw the bench core of J.J. Barea, Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber all score in double digits. It also happened to be a game where all five bench players were in the plus in box score plus-minus, and all five starters were in the minus. ...not exactly a recipe for consistent success.

But also this happened in the fourth.

But let’s back to that bench group. There’s a lot of way to look at production, and why different units work so well together. The Mavericks bench crew has great chemistry, built with vet savvy and time played together. And they match up well against weaker, younger bench opponents. It’s interesting to note here that the highest net rated three-man lineup for the Mavericks (of lineups that have played at least 48 minutes together) is the trio of Jalen Brunson, Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell. In 112 minutes together this season they have an offensive rating of 121, a defensive rating of 91.9, a net rating of 29.1, not too bad.

Still @Holdawaylan, while I understood the sentiment in the moment, I think the Mavericks are good with relying on those starters. Putting responsibility on Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. may mean some ugly games (like that one against Chicago), but that’s part of the rebuilding process.

@DanielP27121040: Why don’t they give the ball to Luka more? It’s so frustrating to watch him stand in the corner possession after possession as other players dribble the air out of the ball.

While I think this feels true to a certain extent, especially in the first several weeks of the season, as the season has progressed I think the Mavericks have found solid ways to place Doncic on and off the ball. I do think they can find some more creative ways to get him involved in plays even if the frequency is the same, primarily as the on-ball screener for Dennis Smith Jr. or others.

Looking at the numbers, there is some discrepancy between basketball-reference.com, and NBA.com in the usage numbers for players. On one Doncic is second on the team, less than a percentage point behind Barea, and the other he leads the team in usage. All that is to say, I don’t think he’s being left out too much. I just want to see some more creative sets to get him involved.

@nickcmanske: Has the offense seemed more fluid without Matthews in the game? Less iso and more passing maybe?

Matthews has now missed three of the last four games with injury. In those three games the Mavericks are 2-1 with wins over Chicago and the Golden State Warriors. They averaged 101 points, and allowed 101.6 points per game in that stretch. While I don’t have numbers in front of me for pace in those games compared to games that Matthews has played in, I’m not sure we could pinpoint these three games as having “less iso” or “more passing”. Harrison Barnes is still the main culprit for dead end iso possessions. Matthews is fifth on the team in usage, and while I’d like to think Carlisle wants to limit the amount of times Matthews is trying to take opponents off the dribble, I do think he likes the sets they have designed for him. Mainly in the post.

What I can tell you is that the traditional starters of Smith, Matthews, Barnes, Doncic and DeAndre Jordan have a net-rating of -8.8 in 150 minutes of basketball together (93.4 offensive, 102.2 defensive). But those starters with Dorian Finney-Smith in place of Matthews has a barely positive net-rating of .4 (97.2 offensive, 96.8 defensive) in 99 minutes of play together. That may not tell the whole story, but I’ll let you decide what that 9.2 point difference means.

@BearMavs: A lot of folks have different takes on tanking, or simply just not being good. After a few down years, do you think it’s in the Mavericks best interest to work on a serious playoff run to give Dirk a nice farewell, or is it more important (now) to work on life after Dirk?

A couple things here: first Dirk just needs to work on getting healthy enough to get back on the floor, if that’s what he’d like to do. There are reports that he might make an appearance soon, but he still has work to put in. Next, while this recent win streak was fun, I think we still know what this team is, and how much of an uphill battle it would be to make a “serious playoff run”. I can only assume by serious you mean just trying to make that eighth spot.

Ultimately, the Mavericks need to be making decisions for the long term. A huge part of is what happens next summer. Most likely, the Mavericks will be giving some kind of lottery pick to the Atlanta Hawks, and then they have money to spend in free agency. But, and this is a large BUT, working on life after Dirk doesn’t necessarily mean not getting better this season. Especially when they owe a pick to Atlanta.

If the Mavericks can find a trade that makes them more competitive this season, and also is a sound long term move, why not get better? I don’t see that happening, but the front office should always be on the look out. What they absolutely should not do is make moves that only make them competitive for what could be Dirk Nowitzki’s final year.

**Co-Winning Question of the Week:

@182_Drew: Is Luka playing too much Fortnite? @AustinLemke: Mostly joking: judging from his Instagram stories, should we be worried about how much time Luka spends playing Fortnite?

Luka Doncic leads the team in points, is second in assists and rebounds, and is fourth in PER among players that have played consistently. So maybe we should be asking whether he can teach the vets to play Fortnite?