In the Mavericks’ 106-101 victory Friday night against the Detroit Pistons, something unique began to take shape. It started early, and had to emerge out of some ugly play by a few Mavericks’ staples. Few players seemed able to get a rhythm going. That is, except for the two youngest starters on the floor (for either team).
Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. came out assertive early, pushing in transition, finding each other in the open floor, and dictating play offensively. For long stretches it felt as if they were the only two finding any success.
As reserves entered the game it was the same song, different verse. It showed mostly through hustle: blocking shots, grabbing offensive boards, rolling hard off screens, hitting kick out threes — this time, from the bench trio of Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, and Dwight Powell.
By halftime, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic had combined for 31 points, eight assists, to just two turnovers. DeAndre Jordan was the only other starter to have scored (five points). And the collection of DSJ, Doncic, Finney-Smith, Kleber and Powell had scored 57 of the team’s 62 first half points.
By game’s end that group combined for 81 points (of 106), shooting 28-of-50 from the floor, and hitting 11-of-25 from three. In stark contrast, the other five players to play Friday, ones who would be considered the veterans of the team (Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, DeAndre Jordan, Dirk Nowitzki, and Devin Harris), went 9-of-31 from the floor, and 3-of-11 from deep. Just to drive the point home, the “non-veteran” group had:
- 16 of the team’s 24 assists
- 26 of the 43 rebounds
- Five of the eight steals
- Five of the six blocks
In fairness, this group also logged 132 of the team’s 240 minutes, so they theoretically should have the majority of production. But it paints a picture, and begs a question: when will the Mavericks start relying on this group more?
Let me be clear. This is one game. Maxi Kleber isn’t going 4-of-7 from three nightly, he’s shooting barely 34 percent on the season. Dorian Finney-Smith isn’t always snagging three offensive boards while shooting 66 percent from deep. And all this doesn’t even take in to consideration rookie guard Jalen Brunson, who didn’t even appear in this Friday night matchup. Still, this group needs the space and consistent opportunity to do so — preferably together. But this group has only appeared for two minutes in four games. Total.
While those five slot in nicely to all five positions on the floor, there are clear holes here. And perhaps that’s why Rick Carlisle has opted to not trot this unit out. Mainly on the boards, where Maxi and Powell have never been a real presence, both averaging less than five rebounds per game. In fact Luka and Finney-Smith have proven to be better rebounders this season.
But with that in mind, let’s slot DeAndre Jordan in to Powell’s spot for now, as he provides the most rebounding support down low. That Jordan group has appeared in 10 minutes over eight games. All season.
Carlisle is known to be an adjustments and rotations master. He tweaks little things, nearly unnoticeable throughout the year, that make big differences for players. Perhaps there is a method to this madness. And hopefully it isn’t due to a number of veteran players with very large contracts needing to be on the bench to let this group gel.
How much you want this group of young-ish players — we can’t say young players as Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber are both older than Harrison Barnes — to explore the floor together may depend on how you see this season. If it’s playoffs or bust (a goal that seems bustier more than ever), then allowing this group to play together, play through some mistakes, may not be in the cards. But if the future of the franchise is made better through getting these next generation Mavs on the floor together, and finding one, two, five of your core for years to come, then sign me up.