Earlier this week, Jeff Sherman, manager of Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, tweeted the oddsmakers’ win total projections for the 2018-2019 season.
Vegas currently has the Golden State Warriors over/under at 62.5, a total the team has exceeded three out of the past four years. The oddsmakers are looking for the Los Angeles Lakers to make a 13.5 game jump from last season, setting LeBron James and Co. at 48.5 wins. All in all, the Western Conference is shaping up to be another bloodbath with 10 teams expected to win more than 40 games.
However, the Mavericks are not one of those teams as Vegas has set the over/under at 34.5 games.
Approaching this season with cautious optimism and tempered expectations is paramount, but that win total seems low for a few reasons.
The obvious case rests on the acquisitions of Luka Doncic and DeAndre Jordan. Doncic was widely regarded as the best prospect in the draft, and Jordan is an all-NBA level talent. But before we can discuss the offseason pieces, it’s important to understand the foundation those pieces are added to.
The Mavericks were bad last season, but not as bad as the 24-58 record indicates. It’s no secret the Mavs tanked -- Mark Cuban even said as much. Some of this tanking showed itself in the Mavericks “clutch” record, which NBA.com defines as the last five minutes of a game separated by five points or less.
The Mavericks, bless their hearts, went 12-38 in 50 clutch games with a minus-31 net rating. For perspective, the Brooklyn Nets lost the second most clutch games (31) in as many contests with a minus-10.9 net rating. But Dallas wasn’t just bad in the clutch last season, they were historically bad. NBA.com tracks team clutch stats all the way back to the 1996-97 season – you know, the season where the Washington Bullets were still a thing, and the Gizzlies played in Vancouver – and the Mavericks 38 clutch losses stands alone as the most in more than 20 seasons.
This isn’t to say the Mavericks were victims of fluky losses. They were bad and were flat out beat many nights. But to think that the Mavs clutch record isn’t somewhat of a byproduct of lineups played down the stretch or a specific “strategy” is foolish. In the 2016-17 season the Mavericks owned a minus-6.6 net rating in the clutch, and in the year prior to that, it was a plus-16. The clutch record should correct itself, netting the Mavericks a few more wins.
Even scaling back from “clutch time” and looking at the season as a whole sheds light on what exactly this team was. Per NBA.com, the Mavericks’ season total net rating was a minus-3.3, which was right in between the Los Angeles Lakers (minus-1.4, 35 total wins) and Brooklyn Nets (minus-4.2, 28 total wins). To put this into context, the Atlanta Hawks, who sported an identical record as the Mavs, owned a minus-5.8 net rating. With a certain amount of conviction, we can say the Mavs probably should have won right around 30 games last season, and Basketball-Reference actually backs that up, giving the 2017-18 Mavericks an expected 33 wins.
It’s important to not lose sight of those facts when forecasting the win total of the 2018-19 Mavericks. And it’s an important baseline when considering what Doncic and Jordan add to the team.
The Mavericks filled a gaping hole at the center position with Jordan. The former Los Angeles Clipper checks most of the boxes the Mavericks ask from their big man, and his elite rebounding will be a sorely needed skill in Dallas. And after two years of losing, the franchise is getting an unprecedented winner in Luka Doncic. He’s a Eurobasket and EuroLeague champion, propelling Slovenia and Real Madrid to the top of their leagues while earning accolades at an historic age.
The Mavericks have playoff aspirations, but those are lofty, ambitious goals in a conference that could have as many as 12 teams fighting for eight playoff spots. At the end of the season, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see Dallas win around 38 games and narrowly miss out on postseason play.
These past two seasons represent anomalies for what Rick Carlisle’s teams do, and that’s exceed expectations. Armed with new talent on the roster, and nothing to gain in the 2019 draft, the Mavericks are primed to do just that.