Once again, the Mavericks started and closed with the lineup of Dennis Smith Jr., Luka Doncic, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, and DeAndre Jordan. The very same lineup which has the current net rating of -8.2.
If you’re like me and you’re not super into numbers, net rating is pretty simple: per 100 possessions this is how many points ahead or behind the line up is. A negative net rating is bad. So, with over 400 minutes of data spread out across the season, this specific Maverick line up is the worst line up in the league with at least 250 minutes together. And yet the Mavericks keep rolling them out there.
Coach Rick Carlisle has been asked about the starting line up repeatedly over the course of the season, because anyone with eyes can see this is a problem. His answers range from deflections to platitudes about not discussing strategy. I wasn’t aware that starting losing lineups could be considered strategy.
After last night’s Raptors game, The Athletic’s Tim Cato worded the question about lineups to Carlisle carefully, and actually garnered a response:
Carlisle said fatigue was the reason he opted to go with the starters down the stretch over the bench— Brice Paterik (@BricePaterik) January 28, 2019
To lay this decision on fatigue is easily refuted by facts. Dorian Finney-Smith played 28 minutes, Maxi Kleber played just 12, Jalen Brunson played six. Whatever is going on, it’s not just coaching instinct or fatigue or strategy or whatever other excuse the coaching staff comes up with in the moment. It’s bad coaching.
For a team that is trying to make the playoffs, to continue rolling with players and lineups which are objectively not working is obtuse. There’s not a basketball reason to play Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews together, not when Luka Doncic exists. There’s also not a trade value reason to give heavy minutes to either of the pair because neither is particularly trade-able — they’re too expensive and limited.
Starting games and ending games with this lineup simply doesn’t make sense anymore, not if the Mavericks still have the stated goal of making the playoffs. They’ve lost far too many winnable games for coaching mistakes to even be an option. The players who are likely to be in Dallas uniforms next season should start and finish these contests. Who knows, maybe they might surprise the coaches and win some games.