The Dallas Mavericks finally beat the Phoenix Suns this season, topping them 104-94 Wednesday night. Dallas’ rotations played a large part in staving off Phoenix. The Mavs’ starters saw extended minutes on the evening, with each one—aside from Wesley Matthews—playing at least 31 minutes. Even though head coach Rick Carlisle leaned heavily on his starters, his most interesting decision was to give Luka Doncic extended minutes with the second unit.
With 6:13 remaining in the first quarter, Doncic became the first Mav to sub out of the game, replaced by J.J. Barea. Doncic had been running point up until that point with Dennis Smith Jr. out, so the substitution made sense on that level. However, Doncic isn’t usually one to head to the bench with that much time left in the quarter.
As many people noted on Twitter, Doncic may be assuming Dirk Nowitzki’s role from last season where he started the game, subbed out early, and returned to play with the second unit. That’s exactly what Carlisle was doing. With 2:41 left in the quarter, Doncic returned and played alongside then unit.
Usually, this wouldn’t be news. However, it was something that Carlisle really hasn’t done this season. Prior to Wednesday night, Doncic appeared in a lineup featuring Barea, Devin Harris, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Dwight Powell in just four games. The kicker to that is that in those four games the time they spent on the floor together didn’t even add up to a single minute. Total.
It was entirely new territory for the Mavericks in their 41st game of the season. If that wasn’t enough of an experiment, Carlisle did it again in the second half. This time, Jalen Brunson entered the fray, replacing Harris in the same lineup. This unit has at least seen more than one combined minute on the floor together. They’ve seen four.
“[It’s] just something different to look at with our present roster situation,” Carlisle said about changing his substitution pattern after the game. “Did it one other time this year, when we were down some guys. I haven’t really done analysis of it, but generally it appeared positive just from the way the game went.”
That’s partially true. The eye test shows that the ball moved well with Doncic playing with these two variants of the second unit. Yet, the numbers, per NBA.com, tell a different story.
In six minutes, the lineup of Doncic, Barea, Harris, Finney-Smith, and Powell shot 22 percent, had five turnovers, and posted a minus-1. The lineup featuring Brunson faired slightly better. It posted a 25 percent shooting percentage, only one turnover, and a plus-minus of zero in three minutes of action.
That’s a far cry from the second unit that terrorized the league last season. Of course, the numbers don’t tell the whole story of how these lineups played, not to mention the extremely small sample size from which the statistics are drawn from.
Even though it’s the midway point of the season, it’s good to see Carlisle tinkering with his rotations. His go-to starting five isn’t working when healthy so he needs to find a new wrinkle in which to maximize the talent at hand. Playing Doncic with the second unit may hold potential. Right now, though, the experiment needs time to produce more data before it can be considered successful or not.