It’s no secret: The Mavericks were not a good defensive team last year. After finishing the year 18th in defensive rating, allowing 112.5 points per 100 possessions. The Mavs stated repeatedly that they would make an effort to upgrade their defensive prowess in the offseason by getting tougher.
They came through on that promise, acquiring Josh Richardson from Philadelphia and James Johnson from Minnesota. While the Mavs were “Galactically successful,” on offense as head coach Rick Carlisle stated (it’s true, the Mavericks were the most efficient offense in NBA history for the 2019-20 season), they were a subpar defensive team.
“That’s not a recipe that’s going to win you an NBA title,” Carlisle said.
In the acquisition of Richardson, the Mavs gave up a guy in Seth Curry who isone of the best shooters in NBA history. However, the Mavs get a guy in Richardson who brings much more upside on the defensive side of the ball and is able to guard multiple positions at a high level and is still really solid on offense. Richardson shot 34 percent from 3 last season on a 76ers team with poor spacing while also dealing with a lot of bad injury luck. Give him Luka Doncic and the Mavs’ offense, Richardson should see a big uptick in open looks this year.
In James Johnson, the Mavericks get a player who is primarily a power forward but has the ability to spin down to SF or up to C (as he did in his stint in Minnesota last year) given the matchups. His offensive game gives the Mavs a point-forward type player to come off the bench and take some of the ball-handling pressure off of the guards, and can guard three positions on the defensive end.
Both Richardson and Johnson are also known for their toughness throughout the league, something the Mavericks knew they needed after their playoff series with the Los Angeles Clippers where Doncic was constantly targeted by the Clippers’ enforcers.
In today’s NBA where positionless basketball is everything, the additions of Johnson and Richardson via free agency - and the drafting of Josh Green (and who knows, maybe even Tyler Bey at some point), the Mavericks instantly got better on the defensive side of the ball. Enough to be a legitimate contender in the Western Conference? That remains to be seen, but they did it without sacrificing a whole lot of firepower on the offensive end.