The Dallas Mavericks have secured, at the very least, a spot in a play-in series for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Assuming the NBA can make it all the way to that moment — and that’s still a very precarious IF — means the Mavericks are back in the postseason for the first time in four seasons.
While there is plenty else to focus on surrounding games, that fact is momentous. Not only for the novelty of being a playoff team with young stars, but because for the first time in a long time the Dallas Mavericks look a little dangerous.
It hardly needs mentioning, the well tread territory, that since their march all the way to the title in 2011, the Mavericks have made just four postseason appearances in those eight seasons. Worse than that they’ve notched just five wins. Worse than *that*, three of those wins came in one series (a thrilling first round exit to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs).
You get the picture.
But now we’re here, and yes, the Mavericks are a team to be taken seriously. And because of a few key factors, they may be a dangerous first round matchup.
Let the numbers speak
The Mavericks announced themselves early in the season as a team to surprise and give trouble, even when starting spots and rotations weren’t settled. Prior to real injury snags in the first half of the season, they looked evenly matched with nearly any team they faced. It’s why they still find themselves just 2.5 games away from “home-court advantage”. And some key numbers hint they should be up there.
Going into Orlando the Mavericks’ +6.1 point differential is good for third in the West, sixth in the entire league. That places them alongside the likes of the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics — that is to say, the teams considered true contenders.
They’ve managed that by producing the best offense in the league, sticking to their pace, and nearly never turning the ball over. Their 11.3-percent turnover percentage, per basketball-reference.com, is second best in the league.
They’ve also made a jump, from last season, in two key areas: rebounding and second chance points. The Dallas Mavericks have never been dominant on the glass, rarely even finishing in the top half of the league in rebounds per game. Heck, three seasons ago they were last in the league. And this wasn’t just a product of the “bad years”. Now, the Mavericks are fourth in the league with 47 rebounds per game — a jump from sixteenth last season.
A product of better rebounding is an emphasis on hustle plays, like second chance points. The Mavs were 19th last season with just 12.9 points per game. A combination of savvy hustle and timing from the likes of Luka Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith and Delon Wright around the rim has bumped the Mavericks to fourth in the league with over 14 second chance points per game.
Going into the season there were major question marks as what kind of production the Mavericks would get from the starters not named Luka and Kristaps. After a settling period — maybe more for Rick Carlisle than the players — it became the Mavericks would be getting a career year from Tim Hardaway Jr.
More than just his ability to shoot the ball better than he has in seven seasons, Hardaway Jr. has developed chemistry across the lineup. Among pairings that have played at least 1000 minutes together, the Mavericks shooting guard ranks in the top nine twice for net rating: with Doncic (+10.8, eighth) and, perhaps surprising enough, Finney-Smith (+10.6, ninth). Being that the first six pairings are all on the Milwaukee Bucks, that Hardaway Jr. finds himself ranked so high is impressive. He is also featured at 20th with Porzingis, the only Maverick to be featured three times in the top 25 pairings.
The Mavericks didn’t need a third star to get to where they are now, but they needed a third starter to consistently perform. The Mavericks getting this level of play from Hardaway Jr. made all the difference.
The Mavericks will ultimately be dangerous in the playoffs if they get production from their two young stars. It took time for Doncic and Porzingis to find footing, especially as Kristaps eased back in. The turning point really came from injury trouble.
Porzingis began to find himself during Doncic’s ankle trouble, where he became a greater focal point in the offense and was able to find better rhythm with his jump shot. He then took his game to the next level after Dwight Powell’s season ending injury, moving to center permanently in the starting lineup.
The playoffs are built for stars that can thrive in isolation. What makes the Mavericks so dangerous is Doncic’s ability to take over a quarter and sparking solo-runs. The Mavericks will have a tall task to advance — and really must avoid the Los Angeles Clippers to have a shot — but they are capable. Their talent and depth combined with Rick Carlisle’s postseason wizardry should leave Mavericks fans awfully excited.