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The Mavericks’ lack of quality starter-level talent is finally starting to show

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Good depth can only get you so far on a team trying to make a playoff run.

Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images

The running assessment on these current Dallas Mavericks is pretty simple — they are more than the sum of their parts.

If you’re someone who isn’t a fan of the team or doesn’t cover them daily, taking a quick gander at the roster, it’s reasonable to question how the Mavericks have gone from 33 wins a season ago to firmly in the playoffs. They have two big stars in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis but after that? How?

That’s an easy answer for those of us who cover the team daily, but for national observers and others, it was a harder question. Is Tim Hardaway Jr. the third best player on a contender? What about Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith, Delon Wright or Maxi Kleber? No, of course not! What the Mavericks had wasn’t a starting group of super powered talent but a roster littered with “hey he’s pretty good” guys. All these role players Voltron together to form something quite nice around the star duo — when everything is clicking.

Here’s the thing about a team whose strength is that they’re more than the sum of their parts: sometimes those parts play like ass.

I don’t mean to be too harsh here, but it’s the truth! Star players are star players because they put up fantastic production on a consistent basis. Role players are role players because they do less and sometimes less consistently. If role players produced more, consistently, they wouldn’t be role players anymore. The Mavericks have two stars and a lot of role players. When those role players have an off night (which is expected), a team built on relying on a lot of those types of players will struggle. It’s what we’ve seen with the Mavericks all season, and it’s been especially highlighted in the last two games.

Against the Suns, Doncic and Porzingis combined for 70 points. The rest of the roster did mostly nothing, outside of Seth Curry’s 16 points. The Mavericks lost. By comparison, in the first week of the season against Denver, Doncic had one of the worst nights of his career. Despite that, eight non-Doncic Mavericks all scored in double-digits. The Mavericks won.

We bemoan the Mavericks shooting so many threes during the third quarter in the loss against the Suns, but that’s who the Mavericks are. They shoot the second most threes per game in the league and the roster they assembled are mostly stand-still, spot-up guys that need to hit just enough threes around Doncic and Porzingis action. When those threes don’t fall, the loss against the Suns is what you get. There’s no pivot to attacking the rim because that’s not what this roster is capable of, outside of Doncic. There is a lack of dynamism on the roster thanks to role players perhaps being up a peg or two more on the totem pole than they should be.

Ask yourself this question: would Seth Curry start on the Bucks or the Clippers? Would Dorian Finney-Smith start for the Lakers, Raptors, or Celtics? The rub for the Mavericks is that while these other title contenders might have more talent one through five, the Mavericks boast broader talent 1 through 10 (with that top two still being pretty damn spicy). When Dallas is at full strength, there’s no questioning the depth they have in terms of rolling out players that can be productive for them.

Since the Mavericks are 11 games over .500, it’s also safe to say they’ve been on the right side of those role players playing well enough together. Doncic is also just 21-years-old.

Here’s where I insert a giant “BUT” in neon blinking letters: in the playoffs and in big, must-win games, having 10 guys isn’t really that big of an advantage. Rotations shrink and minutes increase for your core. You aren’t playing nine to 10 players a game during a playoff series. Also, how much does having 10 quality guys matter when you can only play five of them in the last five minutes of a close game? The Mavericks depth is great for keeping up regular season success — it keeps guys fresh and it helps paper over larger weaknesses just by sheer attrition. Eventually though, talent wins. We might get an unfortunate example of this when the Mavericks face the Clippers in the playoffs.

This goes back to a question that has been brought up around the Mavericks most of this season: Is the team better off for not signing Kemba Walker? The loss Sunday night against the Suns was decidedly a point in favor of the people who wanted the Mavericks to sign Walker or another similar caliber third star. When your role players just don’t have it, it would be nice to just beat teams by sheer talent.

For me, the answer probably lands in the middle — I think they need another starting-level talent or two but don’t need to necessarily get a third star in the vein of a Walker or Bradley Beal. Dallas just needs to make sure when it’s closing games out in the final quarter, that the fourth and fifth best players on the court aren’t consistently worse than what the other side is throwing out. This is why last summer was so frustrating: the Mavericks had a lot of wiggle room to go over the cap while retaining Porzingis and their other restricted free agents but instead had a mostly quiet off-season where of the three new main additions (Delon Wright, Curry, Boban Marjanovic) only Curry has consistently added something to the team. I’m not sure how many off-seasons like that Dallas can afford in the future.

This is all a concern for down the road, to be fair. The two things the Mavericks need most — experience and roster upgrades — aren’t going to fall out of the sky during this NBA restart. They only happen with time and patience and, hopefully, good planning. Yell and scream as much as we want, nothing is going to change right now. The team is what it is. But if you’re smacking your head against the wall watching the Mavericks oscillate between a team that coughs up late leads and one that can blow out some squads by 30 points, this is why. The Mavericks aren’t a finished product despite the presence of Doncic and Porzingis, and that can be frustrating as hell.