Over the past week, Rick Carlisle and seemingly every other smart basketball person who cares has taken the TNT crew to task for their insistence that Kristaps Porzingis needs to post-up more instead of playing beyond the 3-point line.
While I’m not here for more Porzingis post-ups, I do believe there was something to what Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Chris Webber were saying.
One Man Bands
Recent games against the Lakers, Thunder, Spurs, and Raptors have given the Dallas Mavericks a blueprint for how teams will defend them come playoff time. They will take Luka out of the offense, knowing that the other players will struggle to score without him.
Just as James Harden’s Rockets struggled to get anywhere in the playoffs pre-Chris Paul, or Chris Paul’s Clippers and Hornets struggled to get anywhere at all, or Steve Nash’s Suns never had the same type of success in the postseason that they had in the regular season...you get the idea.
The Mavericks’ offense relies almost entirely on Luka Doncic when it slows down. Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. are both good offensive players, but neither have shown an ability to create their own shot this year. Dwight Powell, Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber have never shown that ability. None of these players are particularly good at creating shots for others, either.
By running full-court press and doubling Luka well beyond his shooting range, opposing defenses can take the ball out of Doncic’s hands. Once that happens, the Mavericks have really struggled. For all the talk of their historically good offense, they can seemingly be stopped by good teams in crunch time:
The good news is that teams are not going to playing full-court press for more than a few minutes, and they’ll likely save the trap for when they need it most, so the Mavericks should still continue to collect blowout wins against bad teams when KP and Hardaway return to the court.
The bad news is that, once again, the Mavericks might need to add something for the playoffs.
Avoiding the Rondo disaster (the no-trade option)
You know the story of the Rondo trade and you don’t need me to re-tell it, but the similarities between that year and this year are jarring. The Mavericks’ offense is really, really good right now. If they choose to ride it out as is, knowing that they face some real challenges in the slower-paced playoff games, I certainly won’t criticize them.
However, it’s hard to look at the team right now and not see that they have one glaring need: another shot-creator that can make defenses pay for doubling Luka so far away from the basket. It seems like the coaching staff was hoping Jalen Brunson could be that person, but it has not worked out that way so far and might not ever.
Perhaps part of the strategy of resting J.J. Barea as much as they have is to keep him ready for those late-season and playoff games. He’s not a perfect solution for the problem in front of Dallas, but he’s about as good as they’re probably going to find this season.
If, instead, the team believes that Barea can’t play more than once ever few games, they might need to at least look for an external option. After a start against the Brooklyn Nets, it will be interesting to see the next time J.J. gets on the floor.
Avoiding the Rondo disaster (trade options)
Would it be possible for the Mavericks to find another shot-creator without leveraging anything that is currently working for the team? I think so!
They could go the free agent route, which means picking through a lot of has-beens and project players (Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton, Shaun Livingston, Jimmer Fredette etc.) and hoping one of them clicks.
Or, they could try their hand at the trade market. The one player that seems to make a bit of sense for the Mavericks is Goran Dragic, who was seemingly traded to Dallas for about five minutes during the 2019 NBA Draft before being pulled back. It sounds like the Heat are going to use his expiring deal, along with Justise Winslow and maybe a pick, to try and land another two-way guard to help them compete in the playoffs.
If the Heat were looking to target Jrue Holiday, the Mavs could make themselves a valuable third party to that deal. Like this:
Dallas can’t trade Courtney Lee and a 2nd round pick to Miami for Dragic, since his salary is necessary to net Miami their big fish, but there’s reason to believe that New Orleans would do this deal because they’re in sellers mode and more interested in the pick than they are in the last few months of Dragic’s contract.
Dragic would become one of the top 3-4 scorers on the Mavericks, but more importantly, he would be able to set up the other pieces of the offense when the defense takes Luka out of the equation.