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Offense, not defense, might be Mavericks quickest path to the playoffs

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The Mavericks off-season shopping should probably focus on finding offensive guys, if recent playoff trends continue

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

With Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavericks have a young and talented offensive duo for hopefully years to come. Following that logic, you’d assume the Mavericks need to surround those guys with defensive-minded players that can make up for those players’ shortcomings as they carry the load on offense.

Porzingis is a great rim protector and Doncic’s size bails him out of tough match ups, but if those two are going to be picking and popping the Mavericks to greener pastures, conventional wisdom says you should probably get some defensive players to cover their tracks. the Mavericks have loads of cap space and spots to fill. If the NBA continues down the road it’s been on since the Warriors reshaped the league, maybe they don’t.

After watching these current playoffs, I thought to myself “huh, it sure seems like most of the teams winning series are the ones with better offense.” I decided to see if my hunch meant anything and discovered that yep: offense matters.

Top 10 Offenses in the Playoffs

Year Number of top 10 offenses to make playoffs Of those that won a series
Year Number of top 10 offenses to make playoffs Of those that won a series
2019 10 8
2018 7 4
2017 8 7
2016 10 6
2015 9 4

Top 10 Defenses in the Playoffs

Year Number of top 10 defenses to make playoffs Of those that won a series
Year Number of top 10 defenses to make playoffs Of those that won a series
2019 8 4
2018 9 5
2017 7 3
2016 9 5
2015 8 5

Over the past five years, offense has mattered more than defense. Well, having a really good offense has mattered more than having a really good defense. While you’re likely to make the playoffs with either one, it has skewed offense the last five years, just a bit. The real disparity comes when the playoffs start and the offensive teams are winning more series.

When you step back and look at it, it makes sense — elite shot-making typically always trumps elite defending. Never more has that been personified than Kawhi Leonard’s wild, bouncy game winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers. In a roundabout way, defenses have become so scouting and analytically oriented, that playing bad offensive players is a death sentence. Teams are more willing than ever to flat out ignore non-scoring threats, abandoning players to shade their defense toward more potent play makers. Just look at what’s happening to the Golden State Warriors, who boast two of the greatest shooters of all time and are struggling for points as the other three players on the floor with them can’t make a shot. The Raptors have been practically ignoring any Warrior not named Steph or Klay.

It eerily brings back memories to the post-trade deadline Dallas Mavericks, who clanked shot after shot from beautiful Doncic passes. The Mavericks were one of the worst shooting teams in the league this season (27th in three point shooting, 34 percent) and even with Porzingis stepping back on the court, the Mavericks roster is desperate for shooting. The Mavericks best shooters post All-Star break were Ryan Broekhoff, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, Justin Jackson and Jalen Brunson. Of those names, only Brunson figures to be the rotation guy that defenses might legitimately fear from outside the arc. Dallas needs shooting, badly.

The Mavericks were the 20th ranked offense this season. With two bright offensive stars already on their roster, they don’t have to do too much work to become a better offense, so long as they can grab some shooters. It’s why I fret less and less everyday about Dwight Powell’s defense in the starting lineup — Dallas needs his rim-running and offense more than what a theoretical acquisition could do on defense. After watching these playoffs, I don’t know where players like Jackson, Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith have a long-term future, in terms of being impact guys. If/when the Mavericks reach the playoffs with the Luka/Kristaps core, I can already imagine teams throwing their defenses at those two while Finney-Smith, Kleber and Jackson brick open jumpers. Maybe there’s growth from the Mavericks supporting cast in terms of shooting, but it’s hard to rely on.

This is why as I keep thinking about it, I’ve softened on some of my hard stances on who the Mavericks should peruse. I used to worry about Kemba Walker’s defense and size in the backcourt, but think about his shooting and shot creation next to Luka and Kristaps. I thought a potential Goran Dragic would slow down what could be an already slow team, but he makes shots and knows how to attack a closeout. I never even considered D’Angelo Russell a target for the Mavericks because of his complete lack of defense, but he’s 6’5, can pass and shoot threes. Looking at the recent trend, that doesn’t sound bad at all.

For what it’s worth, it doesn’t mean the Mavericks should ignore defense. Having a top-10 or top-five defense is still a common trait among Finals teams. Dallas shouldn’t just try to build a team that can get to the playoffs and win a series — they rightfully should be trying to build a legitimate championship contender. There are some attainable two-way players out there too, like Patrick Beverley. But teams have to crawl before they can walk and as the Mavericks look for the best ways to have success as quickly as possible with their two young stars, offense would be the way to go. They already have two brilliant offensive players, so they’re almost there. We all know Dallas doesn’t want to keep rebuilding, so the shortcut to getting back to the playoffs would be just go hog-wild on offense.