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The most surprising thing about the Mavericks is how unsurprising they are

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Dallas looks great and its happened without career leaps from the rest of the roster.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As I keep watching the Mavericks win games, whether it be impressive victories over elite teams or clubbing lottery squads to death, I wonder how exactly the Mavericks are doing it.

Well, I know why. It’s Luka Doncic. But look at the rest of the roster. I mean, really look at it. Dallas is 16-7, third in the Western Conference and it can be argued they haven’t gotten a leap from anyone else on the roster aside from Doncic. Tim Cato of The Athletic wrote this last week, a thought that he could have plucked from my brain at any moment over the last two weeks:

If you had told me this team would win 15 of its first 21 games, I probably would have assumed that Kristaps Porzingis was averaging close to 25 points, and Seth Curry was hitting more than half his 3s, and Justin Jackson had emerged as an essential scoring piece, and the team had beaten the Knicks twice. (I swear New York must have negotiated those two results into the fine print of the Porzingis deal.) But that’s exactly what hasn’t happened. Everyone’s playing about as well as expected – or, in some cases, worse than that!

Just about all the optimistic outlooks, both local and nationally, pegged the Mavs to have a couple of breakout players, in addition to the ascension of Doncic and Porzingis, for the Mavs to grab a playoff spot. Whether that was Justin Jackson becoming a quality fifth starter, Delon Wright having a career year or Seth Curry shooting flames. Let’s check in on that, shall we?

Jackson has played 10th most minutes on the Mavericks roster. He’s shooting well, but he’s mostly been a spot player off the bench, although he’s getting more minutes recently. Not exactly the bonafide fifth starter people predicted. Curry has had an inconsistent start, shooting 38.3 percent from three after finally percolating a bit in the last handful of games. He’s also shooting a career low 43.1 percent from the floor. Delon Wright started the season but is now the backup point guard and instead of busting out for a career season, he’s doing mostly the same things he was doing in Toronto — a solid guard that does a lot of things well coming off the bench. Hell, Porzingis’ struggles on offense have been well documented and I would imagine most felt like he was going to have to have a huge year for the Mavericks to be a playoff team. I know I felt that.

Take a look at the shooting numbers from the core Mavericks rotation guys, aside from Doncic, year-over-year:

Year-over-Year Shooting

Player Last Season TS% Current Season TS% Last Season 3PT% Current Season 3PT%
Player Last Season TS% Current Season TS% Last Season 3PT% Current Season 3PT%
Kristaps Porzingis 53.9 50 39.5 33.8
Tim Hardaway Jr. 52.7 58.3 34 38.1
Dorian Finney-Smith 53 58.2 31.3 32.9
Seth Curry 59.5 59.9 45 38.3
Dwight Powell 68.2 70.2 30.7 46.2
Maxi Kleber 57.9 57.6 35.3 36.9
Jalen Brunson 54.9 57.1 34.8 32.6
Delon Wright 52.3 57.3 29.8 35.1
Justin Jackson 56.1 57.9 35.5 39.7

Nothing from those numbers jumps out at you, especially the three-point shooting numbers. All the Mavs role players are mostly doing what they did a year ago, with a few improvements (like Hardaway Jr.’s awakening as a starter). Hardway is the only one of the Mavs top-9 in minutes played shooting at least 37 percent or better from three! This is a Mavs team with the best offense in the NBA.

So, again, praise Luka. It feels like he is dragging this team to whatever heights he wants to go, but credit the Mavs players for, at the very least, not crapping the bed. While Porzingis’ shooting numbers have been bad, most of the other Mavs role players are at least staying even with what they did last season or doing better. It might not be exceptionally better, like we thought would have to happen, but it’s enough when you combine an MVP-level Luka and the Mavericks shot profile. The shot profile is really interesting — the Mavericks are math-ing teams to death.

Despite Dallas not having a ton of shooters you’d consider elite or even deadly (until Seth kicks it into gear), it almost doesn’t matter because the Mavericks shoot so many threes to tilt the math in their favor. The Mavericks are second in the NBA with 40.5 three pointers taken per game. They only make 36.2 percent of them, which is 13th, so above average but not elite. But since, you know, threes are worth that much more than twos, above average at the volume the Mavericks are taking is great! Dallas doesn’t need to be elite at shooting threes, so long as they’re elite at taking them and taking good ones. Thank Luka for that, one of the best in the NBA in creating quality three point shots.

The rest also checks out — Dallas is sixth in free throw attempts per game and while they’re a paltry 27th per game at shots in the restricted area, they shoot 68 percent, which is third! They don’t take a lot of mid-rangers. Again, MATH.

To tie a bow on this, the Dallas role players also, well, know their role. Last season, the Mavericks had five rotation guys over the course of the season with a usage percentage over 20 that averaged 20 minutes per game. This season? Just two — Doncic and Porzingis, with Hardaway closing in at 19.5 percent usage. The ball is in the hands of the Mavericks’ best player as much as possible, he’s creating open three point looks and the role players are taking lots of them and hitting at an acceptable rate.

The best part about all of this is that it feels less smoke and mirrors. Outside of Hardaway cooling off, just about every other player on the roster is doing stuff that isn’t outlandish compared to the rest of their career. So long as Luka holds up, this feels sustainable and if nothing else, like the Mavericks could do a little more.

There’s been a nagging thought in the back of my head that it feels like the Mavericks are just scratching the surface of their potential — what does this team look like if Porzingis and Curry shoot 40 percent from three for a month? It’s scary to think about.