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Five Mavericks things I like and don’t like from preseason

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Including James Johnson amazing passes and Josh Green struggling on the drive

Dallas Mavericks v Milwaukee Bucks

The preseason is over and although it was really short, there were some interesting things that happened. Maybe it’s just me, being a basketball addict and overexcited after three months of no Dallas basketball, but here we are.

1. Like - Offense picked up where it left off

One of the things I was curious to see coming into the season is how the offense will look. The off-season focus was defense. That showed as the Mavericks added wing depth and traded offense for Josh Richardson. Kristaps Porzingis will also be out at least until sometime in January and he was a big part of the best NBA offense last season.

However, the offense looked great with starters on the floor. Even though the main cog Luka Dončić struggled with his shooting (39.2% FG%, 31.6% 3P%, 73.7% FT%), he still generated tons of open looks for the rest of the team. And boy did they hit them; Dallas as a team hit 44.4% from beyond the three-point line in three preseason games.

In total, the Dallas offense generated 115.2 points per 100 possessions per Cleaning the Glass data (which filters out garbage time). This is not a big drop off compared to their league-leading 116.9 last season. Dallas also ranked third in the NBA in offensive efficiency over the preseason.

Not bad! Especially considering Dallas had to play Milwaukee, one of the league’s best defensive teams, twice.

Another indicator that the offense worked well is that 45% of their total field goals were three-point shots. Dallas was second in the NBA last season in three-point frequency at 42.4%. To put it in simple terms for all who don’t like stats: Dallas shot a lot of threes and hit a lot of threes, which is a good recipe for offensive success in modern NBA.

2. Didn’t like – The rookie dribbling and driving without a plan

After being drafted 18th overall, Josh Green is the rookie with the most realistic possibility to play any significant role for the Mavericks this season. This season will be really hard for all rookies as there was no summer league and the preseason was condensed. Green should have a clear and simplified role in his first season: to defend and hit open shots.

The scouting report for Green coming into NBA was that he is a good athlete, defender, and a solid shooter when set. However, he is limited offensively and not a good finisher around the basket.

I was intrigued with Coach Carlisle talking about Green’s playmaking as a potential strength and he certainly let him showcase some of it in the preseason. I didn’t expect Green to handle the ball with the second unit as much as he did in the preseason. Carlisle even featured him as a ball-handler in some pick-and-roll situations. Carlisle will likely not use Green as a ball-handler in real games and was probably just experimenting with Green’s playmaking ability. The results were not good, as per Synergy data, Dallas generated only 0.545 points per possession in the 11 possessions with Green involved in pick and roll.

Green often drives to the basket without a good plan, and lengthy NBA defenders like Khris Middleton bothered him. Here is an example of Green turning the ball over in a side pick and roll situation:

Green shot only 36.8% from the field in preseason, most of his misses being floaters or contested mid-range jump shots.

His offensive repertoire is currently very raw, and he reverts to tough floaters almost exclusively on his drives to the basket. Here is an example of Green driving to the basket that ended on a contested floater against Giannis Antetokounmpo:

Even in transition, Green shot a contested floater. It just seems like he currently lacks a secondary counter move when driving to the basket:

Green did, however, prove that he can compete on defense and he proved to be a good cutter. He also hit 3 out of 6 of his catch and shoot shots in the preseason, and many of his shots in his first NBA season to be in catch and shoot situations. His role will be simplified early on, however, the key question with him long-term is how he develops his game on offense.

3. Like - Maxi Kleber on fire

Maxi Kleber was probably the best Maverick in the three preseason games. It’s not like there was no competition for this title, as Josh Richardson (ridiculous 73.3% 3P% on five three-point attempts per game), Tim Hardaway Jr. (44.4% 3P%), and Dorian Finney-Smith (50% 3P%) all shot the ball extremely well.

However, Kleber averaged 12.0 points in 17 minutes and looked extremely confident.

Kleber shot 66.7% from beyond the three-point line on five three-point field goal attempts per game. Even more, he proved to be the most versatile defender on the roster, averaging 1.3. blocks.

Many Mavericks’ fans want to see Maxi in the starting lineup instead of Dwight Powell and Kleber definitely seems ready. Regardless if he is starting or not, Maxi will have an important role, so it was encouraging to see him rebound from his shooting struggles in the playoffs on a very high note.

4. Don’t like – Jalen Brunson’s playmaking

Dallas missed Jalen Brunson in the bubble and in the playoffs last season, so him returning back from his shoulder injury and being ready to go in the preseason was a welcome sight.

Coach Carlisle's system depends a lot on guard play, and a lot of emphasis in the preseason was on the second unit guard combo of Brunson and Trey Burke. They are both score first guards and the offense looked a bit stagnant at times in the preseason games.

The two guards averaged a combined 15 field goals per game in the preseason, while the rest of the second unit (Kleber, Johnson, and Green) took 14.3 shots per game.

Especially Brunson should look to create shots for others on the second unit. However, he often fails to make the pass to the wide-open teammates while driving to the basket. You can see Brunson driving against three Timberwolves defenders in the paint, while Josh Green is waiting wide open in the corner:

Here is another example of Brunson divining in the paint against three Timberwolves defenders while Johnson is waiting for the pass in the opposite corner:

It will be interesting to see if Brunson can improve his playmaking ability in his third season. If not, coach Carlisle will have to look at other alternatives for the second unit.

5. Like – James Johnson passing on the fly

It was interesting to see James Johnson getting the nod as the second big in the second unit over Willie Cauley-Stein. While Johnson didn’t impress in preseason games, he showed some flashes of his overall game. Johnson is a good screener, ballhandler, and creative passer for a big. Maybe coach Carlisle sees him as a player who can help with the lack of playmaking in the second unit.

Johnson is a veteran player with good court awareness and is really good at moving the ball:

Johnson also showed some other really interesting things, like this touch pass on the move after a good cut:

Making the right pass on the move is not something many NBA big men are capable of, but it seems that Johnson is making these passes and reads almost instinctively:

It will be interesting to see going forward if coach Carlisle will use Johnson even more as a playmaker and a passer with his second unit to complement the Brunson and Burke guard combo.

Personally, I would love to see Johnson getting some minutes with starters and Luka. Last season, Minnesota run some pick and roll action with Johnson and D’Angelo Russell, which could work well with Doncić in Dallas.