It’s been about a week since the trade deadline and two weeks since the massive Kristaps Porzingis trade. The Mavericks basically have a new team, one that has played a decent chunk of minutes this month. It’s been neat!
While it’s still very early to make any sweeping judgement, I have noticed some things since the trade. So since I am lazy, I’m just going to dump them all into this blog post.
The Mavericks look better, even if they actually aren’t
As I wrote extensively about a few days before the Kristaps Porzingis trade, the duo of Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes were killing the Mavericks.
Barnes and Matthews weren’t great passers and when the two played together; the Mavericks offense bogged down despite having Luka Doncic. It was just too much ball-stopping, too many contested shots against three defenders. Now that those two and DeAndre Jordan have been traded, the Mavericks are at the very least more aesthetically pleasing.
They aren’t better though. The Mavericks have a minus-4.1 net rating since the trade, down from their season mark of minus-0.3. According to the data on NBA.com, they’re actually passing less per game since the Porzingis trade (310 passes per game on the season, 300 per game since the first trade.) Even with those numbers, the Mavericks at least appear, at times, like a more balanced and well-fitting team next to Doncic.
With Smith, Barnes, Matthews and Jordan out of the way, Doncic is running the show. He has the ball in his hands more, he’s running more direct action and the rest of the Mavericks role players are fitting into their more comfortable spots. The results have been uneven, but Doncic is averaging 7.2 assists in his last five games and Dallas has had some nice team passing overall in wins against the Hornets and Cavaliers. I tweeted about the Mavericks assist rate as a team shooting up a bit since the trade before the Miami game — the Mavericks top lineups since the trade move the ball. More minutes for guys like Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Jalen Brunson is giving Luka more room to run the offense and also not clog up sets by holding onto the ball.
There’s of course a catch to that and a reason why the Mavericks might look better but aren’t actually better: Dallas needs more playmakers or at least just one more. As nice as it is to have Finney-Smith and Kleber ping the ball around when Luka drives or makes a play, defenses are starting to load up on Luka like never before and forcing the Mavericks ill-equipped role players to make plays off the bounce.
Doncic had six turnovers against the Heat on Wednesday, with three of them looking like the play above. Defenses aren’t scared of Kleber, Finney-Smith, Brunson or even Tim Hardaway Jr. as much as they are of Doncic coming off a screen. As much as Barnes, Matthews and Jordan dragged the Mavericks offense down, they still garnered more respect from defenses because of their past reputation.
This is why I was so bullish on the Mavericks making sure they tried to make it work with Dennis Smith Jr. Defenses are too good and too smart now — good teams, playoffs teams need at least two playmakers on the floor to win games. And if you don’t agree, just look at what happened to James Harden in the playoffs before Chris Paul arrived. It’s too easy to take the ball out of a lead ball handler’s hands if the defense doesn’t respect the next two or three guys down the totem pole. Dallas needs one more guy to do that and Doncic needs to trust his new teammates — on a few of these bad passes against the Heat, Doncic had Hardaway as a release valve but tried to hit the home run.
Of course, having a healthy Porzingis will make a lot of this moot. But even then, Porzingis is a big and it’s easy to take away their touches. Dallas still needs one more playmaker next to Doncic to ease some of the burden off him when defenses get aggressive. There are some interesting options at guard this summer, even from some of the smaller names.
Tim Hardaway Jr. will be...interesting
Hardaway’s contract always felt like the price tag that came along with trading for a 23-year-old center that can bomb threes and block shots. His contract stinks and the Mavericks have to make do, so it’s been fun to see how he’s being used in Dallas so far.
The results are, uhm, mixed? Sure, let’s go with that. In five games with Dallas, Hardaway is shooting 40.3 percent from the field, 29 percent from three and averaging 15.6 points per game. Not stellar numbers.
All the negative aspects of Hardaway’s game from his time between New York and Atlanta are still here — he takes a lot of bad threes for never being an especially adept three point shooter, his defense comes and goes and he doesn’t bring much to the table offensively besides taking jumpers.
That being said, Hardaway does some things that Barnes and Matthews didn’t. Primarily, despite his penchant for taking bad transition threes, Hardaway does a decent enough job of keeping the ball moving. He also does a pretty good job keeping himself moving, as he showed in the win against Portland last week.
Who knows what the Mavericks can get out of him, but there’s enough talent and smarts there that maybe Rick Carlisle can work his magic like he did with other wayward young players like Brandan Wright, Al-Farouq Aminu and Seth Curry. At least Hardaway has good size, athleticism and a genuine sense of effort — his dunk coming off a missed three pointer felt like something neither Barnes nor Matthews could ever do. That’s not to say Barnes isn’t athletic, he is, but Hardaway is definitely more fluid.
His defense will be an issue and if the Mavericks can find a way to get a better starter and move him to the bench as a super-scoring sixth man, I think they’ll be better off.
The Mavericks traded away two of their young players and somehow got younger, sort of
Before the flurry of trades, the Mavericks had three players on their roster that were drafted in the first round of the NBA draft from this decade: Smith, Doncic and Barnes. It was a large indictment of the talent gap the Mavs were facing every night during this rebuild.
In typical Mavericks fashion, they traded away two of those three players. Yet, they did the un-Mavericks thing and managed to get better and younger at the same time! By bringing in Hardaway, Porzingis and Trey Burke, the Mavericks actually increased the amount of players on the roster that were drafted this decade in the first round. Progress!
Speaking of Burke, he’s looked pretty good so far. With Brunson and the eventual return of J.J. Barea next season, I doubt the Mavericks will save money this summer for another backup point guard, but it’d be cool to see Burke come back. He has his issues as a defender and a pick and roll decision maker, but he’s much longer than I remembered and plays with a nice pace for what the Mavs need for their bench guards. He’s also hitting threes and the Mavericks desperately need as much shooting around Luka at all times. There’s a decent chance Devin Harris retires this summer, so the path for keeping Burke on the roster is there, it just depends on his fit with the Mavs’ big shopping plans.
I think I like Justin Jackson?
When the Mavericks traded Harrison Barnes last week, it was mostly a salary dump. Justin Jackson, the 15th overall pick in the 2017 draft, was brought back in the deal, but the Mavs main goal of the deal was getting off of Barnes and clearing space this summer.
A lot of that was due to Jackson’s mostly underwhelming start to his NBA career so far. Coming into the NBA after three-years of college meant Jackson should have been slightly more seasoned compared to other young players, but he mostly struggled with his shot and place in the league over the last two years. Most Kings observers seemed relieved to see Jackson gone, so this wasn’t the most exciting of moves.
So far though, Jackson is showing a little something. I don’t know how much, but it’s something! Against the Rockets, Jackson was part of the fourth quarter lineup that got the Mavericks back into the game. He finished with nine points on 3-of-5 shooting, one assist and one steal. I said this on Twitter, but Jackson is reminding me of Jae Crowder when he was with the Mavericks. Crowder had lousy shooting percentages, grabbed no rebounds, had no steals or assists or scored many points, yet he was part of the Mavericks best 5-man lineup, thanks to him being really good at moving the ball, playing team defense and doing the little things like boxing out.
Jackson reminds me of that version of Crowder. The kind of player you that never jumps out at you, never really does anything meaningful in the box score, but seems to do some things every now and then that help a team win some games they shouldn’t during a long season. I don’t know if that’s truly Jackson’s place on the roster, but watching him in the small amount of time since the trade, he doesn’t seem as much as a lost project as his Kings tenure felt. Maybe that’s because the Mavericks didn’t draft him 15 overall or maybe I’m still basking in the glow of the Barnes trade. Who knows. Jackson seems alright though.
The more I think about the “longer Jae Crowder” comp, the more I buy into it. Jackson is a smart player who will likely never pile up impressive counting stats but he moves the ball and can play a little defense. You could do much worse for your second or third wing off the bench.
More time for Kleber and Finney-Smith has been great
Even if the Mavericks are losing games, at least they’re doing it by getting a better look at two of the younger players they hope to keep around for the foreseeable future.
Finney-Smith and Kleber still have their quirks, to be sure — Finney-Smith’s shooting isn’t consistent and Kleber can get swallowed up on the glass — but they’re active, springy and helluva pair defensively. These are both guys that can get stops, play within a team concept and cause havoc. Dallas will especially need them as they build around Luka, who might never be considered a great defender.
As mentioned earlier, their limited offensive games means the Mavericks might need to make sure they’re bench players after their summer shopping, but they’ll still be crucial pieces to the rotation.