Consider the Dallas Mavericks as the NBA moves towards the restart of the 2019-20 season. They’re fascinating. Outside of their two stars, it’s hard to imagine that the team would find success, let alone be an offensive juggernaut. Yet, that’s exactly what the Mavericks are.
Currently, they are seventh in the Western conference with a 40-27 record, a data point which indicates a team on the outside looking in on the league’s elite teams. That notion belies the fact that they also boast the league’s sixth best point differential at +6.1—point differential is historically an indicator of a quality team.
So, what are the Mavericks? Are they pretenders or the real deal? While the four-month hiatus marks a reset for all teams, Dallas’ strengths were on full display before the break. Regaining them will be key for the Mavericks inside the bubble.
Here’s what they have going for them:
An MVP candidate
Luka Doncic is the engine for the Dallas Mavericks. The second year player is posting absolutely insane numbers. Per contest, Doncic averaged 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 8.7 assists while shooting 46% from the floor, 32% from three, and 75% at the charity stripe.
He thrust himself into the MVP discussion early in the year and while he wasn’t able to keep up the triple double he averaged in November to start the year, Doncic has a clear case for All-NBA and perhaps a look as the Most Improved Player as well, despite being Rookie of the Year in 2018-19.
Though the team played pretty well without Doncic, they’ll only go as far as he carries them this season.
Offense, offense, offense
The Dallas Mavericks boast a historic offense. As in, the best all-time. This seems to grate some fans because of the win-loss record, but it’s also the only reason the team’s been as successful as it is. Per Basketball-Reference, the Mavericks boast an offensive rating of 116.7. This is better than the 2018-19 Warriors, 1986-87 Lakers, the 2016-17 Warriors, and the 1991-92 Chicago Bulls, historically great offensive teams.
In fact, the difference between the Mavericks and the Houston Rockets, who are number two this season in offensive rating, is larger than the gap between the Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder who are 14th.
It’s hard to contextualize this, because it feels so surreal. Yet, when the Mavericks get to scoring, they’ve re-written their own history books. Seven of the highest scoring Mavericks games ever have come this season.
Think about that. In nearly 3,200 games in the franchise’s history, seven of the 50 highest scoring games ever for the Mavericks have come in this short 67-game season.
Rick Carlisle is a warlock. The adaptability of the 60- (really!) year-old coach is a key to the sharp increase in success this season for the Dallas Mavericks.
The previous three seasons have caused some consternation among a fan base used to almost two decades of success, but Carlisle is the right man for the job—as he has been all along. His willingness to adapt his coaching philosophy to what analytics point toward is vastly under-appreciated. Pair this with his instincts with good players (see Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis) and its not shocking that the Mavericks are a strong team.
Over the years, many of the criticisms aimed at Carlisle revolve around his development of younger players or how he works with journeymen-type veterans—Darren Collison and Rajon Rondo, for example. However, his past three seasons, working first with Dennis Smith, Jr., who had his best year under Carlisle, then with Luka Doncic, Jalen Brunson, and Kristaps Porzingis, it’s clear Carlisle and the Dallas coaching staff know what they are doing. And this didn’t mention their years-long work with Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith.
The element of surprise
Carlisle (maybe?) joked about this the other day in a media session, but the Mavericks have an element of surprise on their side.
The most used Dallas Maverick line up featuring healthy players has 122 minutes under the collective belt. That’s just 3.8% of 67 game’s worth of minutes! Other teams know the Mavericks are good and know the Mavericks can score points, but the chart for how they score all these points has got to be alarmingly unclear for opposing coaches.
It’s one thing to know that Doncic is a bucket and that Porzingis is now rolling to the basket more. It’s something else to have game film on exactly how they run plays, how often they run them and when they like to run them. Opposing teams have some broad strokes on Dallas, but the lack of specifics could be huge for the Mavericks in the playoffs.
The social media posts make all it obvious, but this group of Mavericks really seem to like each other. The group cohesion they describe matters more with each day in the bubble when the players have no where else to go and no one else to see.
Getting along with coworkers makes work a more tolerable, even enjoyable thing. So, pairing all this with a sport they have to play together and the level of trust the Mavericks have in one another should pay off on the court.
They’re healthy, finally
Dallas boasted a 17-7 record the night they hosted the Miami Heat. Luka Doncic sprained his ankle mere moments into the game and things were never quite right for the Mavericks the rest of the season.
Though Doncic would return after Christmas, Porzingis would go down for nearly three weeks to start 2020. The night he returned to action, Dwight Powell tore his Achilles. Jalen Brunson tore his should up on a drive against the Hawks in the opening moments of a meaningless game. Luka busted his non-shooting hand thumb which was still injured when the season ended. Things got tricky for Dallas, is the point.
Though Brunson and Powell remain sidelined, Doncic and Porzingis appear to be in great shape. That should be of concern for opposing teams. The last time Doncic and Porzingis looked at the top of the games was on December 12th against the Pistons in Mexico City and they ran Detroit off the floor
Things look pretty good for the Dallas Mavericks in Orlando. Despite their record and some of the issues the team has, there’s as much reason to be optimistic for the Mavericks and the playoffs as any team they’ve put together since the 2010-11 title season.