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Iso-Ball: Mavericks ball movement may be the key to improved play

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A focus on moving the ball might take the Mavericks offense to the next level.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

[Editor’s note: this piece was submitted before the 11/18 Spurs game]

The fog of the last two weeks for the Dallas Mavericks, the relative highs and lowly of lows, can often muddy the outlook on this team. In matchups where they can’t contain a team like the New York Knicks, fans and team alike can walk away frustrated that they have so much to improve. But that same room for growth is rather thrilling after a home win against the Toronto Raptors.

With a roller-coaster of outcomes, it can be hard to zoom in and focus on what the Mavericks are doing well — one play, scheme or idea — and where they need to take a step forward. That’s what we’ll do here with Iso-Ball.

How many passes?

Growing up, I swore the best basketball teams would pass the ball four times on every offensive possession. Because I was a basketball savant? No, I just watched a lot of Hoosiers. And while that quota shouldn’t be as closely held as Norman Dale did with Hickory, there’s no doubt the concept is sound.

The Mavericks are lucky to have the best young playmaker in the game, and they’ve leaned into that ability entirely this season. But as made clear at Madison Square Garden last week, Luka Doncic simply can’t do it all on his own. And outside of just making more of the shots he opens up for them, the rest of the team can really weaponize ball movement to find high-percentage looks.

The Mavericks are currently 3rd in the NBA in three-point attempts, while falling to 23rd in percentage. Good or bad, nearly every player in the rotation loves heaving the long ball. The Mavericks weren’t shooting well Saturday night at home. While they didn’t cut the three-ball out of their scheme, they did a great job of counteracting the space Toronto gave them along the perimeter.

The Raptors, a top ten defensive team, have the length and athleticism to pack the paint and switch on the outside. The Mavericks found ways to draw multiple defenders, forcing the defense to scramble, then making the extra pass. Several times.

Early in the game, Delon Wright nears losing control yet still draws three defenders to the paint, and kicks to a very open Tim Hardaway Jr. Often in this spot THJ would take that shot. But his extra pass to Justin Jackson forces once extra defensive shift. Jackson uses OG Anunoby’s aggressive closeout to get all the way to the basket.

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In the third quarter, the starting unit of Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Seth Curry, Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith found a great chemistry and rhythm along the perimeter. And their ball movement led to the lane opening and looks at the rim.

The Mavericks were forcing Toronto to scramble, and with that, aggressively closing out along the three point line. The Mavericks refused to settle for open or half-open jumpers. And the jumpers they did take were born out of beautiful ball-movement.

Much of what this comes down to is the team as a whole deciding to attack. Whether it was off the dribble, around a screen, or making the extra pass, the activity and energy they brought offensively neutralized the defensive prowess of the Raptors.

The Mavericks are going to be a three-point shooting team. That won’t go away. But what can be improved is knowing when to shoot and when to attack. It’s remarkable what bypassing a good look to create a great look can do. The Mavericks laid a great foundation for that this weekend, and should continue to build on it.