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The Mavericks will keep shooting three pointers because they have to

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The Dallas offense has looked shaky in the bubble, thanks to some bad three point shooting. They have no choice but to keep firing away.

Dallas Mavericks v Sacramento Kings Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images

During the third quarter of the Mavericks loss to the Suns on Sunday night, the Mavericks went cold. Well, cold doesn’t really begin to describe it.

Dallas shot nine 3-pointers in the frame and missed all of them. Phoenix outscored the Mavericks 36-19, which basically decided the game. It got so bad during the third quarter drought that even the Mavericks TV announcers were questioning the shot selection. It echoed I’m sure most of the fans huddled around their TV. It makes sense, right? If something isn’t working, do something else. That adjustment is key to winning basketball games, since things like shooting can come and go, even for the best shooters.

There’s just one problem with all that — this is who the Dallas Mavericks are. They just have to keep firing and hope for better results. There is really no Plan B for this team on the offensive end and that’s not a knock, so to speak, it’s just the way this specific team was designed.

Dallas is second in the league in three point attempts per game and eighth in percentage. It’s a huge reason why the team has gone from 33 wins a season ago to securely in the playoffs this season. Luka Doncic has been incredible and part of that includes generating tons of quality looks from three per game. The Mavericks front office knew this was one of his best skills, so they decided to surround him with as many spot up shooters as they could and develop ones that weren’t. We’ve seen the fruits of that plan this season — Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Seth Curry are all putting up great numbers from deep. Delon Wright doesn’t shoot a lot, but he’s putting up some of the best three point shooting numbers of his career. Even Kristaps Porzingis’ inconsistent shooting this season hasn’t hampered the offense too much, since the spacing he provides as a 7’3 shooter almost matters just as much as actually hitting the shots. When this works, the Mavericks look amazing. Hell, look at the Kings game, where Kleber nailed a clutch three in overtime to seal the game. The thing is, sometimes it doesn’t work. Which is what we’re seeing in the bubble.

The Mavericks are 1-3 and were shooting 29.8 percent from three, 21st out of the 22 bubble teams before the loss against the Clippers game. Thanks to a rebound performance from deep, they’re now at 31.4 percent and 18th in the bubble. That’s still a steep drop from the 36.9 mark they shot before the season was suspended. Just about every major cog in the Mavericks rotation, from Kleber to Hardaway to even Curry are all slumping. Combine that with Doncic’s already poor three point shooting carrying over to the bubble, it’s made for some ugly games. Even in the win against the Kings, the Mavericks still just shot 9-for-41 (22 percent) from three.

So, naturally, when a team is doing something bad, something should change. Here’s the question: change to what? As stated earlier, the Mavericks specifically structured this roster around Doncic finding spot up guys. Of the Mavericks main rotation in the bubble, only Doncic, Porzinigs, Wright, Boban Marjanovic, and J.J. Barea are taking more twos than threes (Justin Jackson is basically even). Of that group, only Doncic and Porzingis are the ones getting major minutes. Prime rotation guys like Kleber, Finney-Smith, Hardaway and Curry all take more threes per game. This is who the Mavericks are. They shoot a lot of threes because that’s what most of the players are best at.

When you go to NBA.com’s stat page and look at how the Mavericks main role players perform in play types where they can create offense for themselves, the numbers don’t look good. Save for a few bright spots from Curry and Hardaway, most of the Mavericks players are either bad on these plays or just don’t do them nearly enough for you to expect them to do it more than they have.

Mavericks Role Players Creating Offense

Player + Play Type Fequency Points Per Possession Effective Field Goal Percentage Percentile
Player + Play Type Fequency Points Per Possession Effective Field Goal Percentage Percentile
Seth Curry PnR Ball Handler 22.7% 1.03 52.8 90.6
Seth Curry Isolation 4.4% 1.00 52 78.2
Tim Hardaway Jr. PnR Ball Handler 18.7% 0.93 50 70.4
Delon Wright PnR Ball Handler 30.2% 0.92 56.3 67.9
Delon Wright Isolation 6.3% 0.94 40.4 64.1
Tim Hardaway Jr. Isolation 6.6% 0.86 41.4 48.9
Dorian Finney-Smith PnR Ball Handler 3.7% 0.82 47.1 45.1
Dorian Finney-Smith Isolation N/A N/A N/A N/A
Dorian Finney-Smith Post Up N/A N/A N/A N/A
Maxi Kleber Isolation N/A N/A N/A N/A
Maxi Kleber Post Up N/A N/A N/A N/A
Maxi Kleber PnR Ball Handler N/A N/A N/A N/A
Tim Hardaway Jr. Post Up N/A N/A N/A N/A
Seth Curry Post Up N/A N/A N/A N/A
Delon Wright Post Up N/A N/A N/A N/A

Looking at the drive numbers isn’t much better. Only three Mavericks average seven-plus drives per game: Doncic, Wright and Jalen Brunson. Brunson is out and Wright’s minutes aren’t super consistent off the bench. Everyone that’s in the rotation after those three all average 4.2 drives per game or less. The Mavericks just don’t have guys that can create, which is fine, but it causes issues.

When the threes aren’t falling, you’re not going to ask Finney-Smith to run a pick and roll. You’re not going to want Kleber to post up or Hardaway to isolate. The Mavericks built a roster of mostly stand-still spot up guys to space the floor, make the extra pass and hit threes around Doncic and Porzingis. You can’t ask players to suddenly do things they’re not equipped to, especially in the middle of a contested game.

That’s not to say the Mavericks are helpless when they can’t hit threes — Doncic has gotten to the rim more since the Houston game and while his post up game is still rough, Porzingis has been solid when facing up out of a post up and shooting over mismatched defenders and drawing fouls. Plus, Curry is an exceptional scorer in the pick and roll and steady in isolation. Perhaps more possessions for him in those situations could work when the Mavericks offense dries up and Curry returns to the lineup. Even then, the Mavericks should keep shooting the open threes that result from these plays because that’s what the roster dictates. It’s not like most of the threes Dallas has shot in the bubble have been terrible, end-of-shot click heaves. They’ve been decent looks, mostly, they just have to hit them. The Mavericks shouldn’t shoot this poorly for the rest of the bubble and if they do, that means there’s an off-season of questions the front office has to answer. Dallas got to this point by riding the career high shooting marks of their role players around an MVP-level Doncic. Hopefully, the threes just start falling. They don’t have much of a choice.