The Mavericks first five games were anything but predictable. They saw Dallas decimate the Los Angeles Clippers by 51, and then proceed to get run off their home floor by the Charlotte Hornets three days later. Outside of the season opener against the Phoenix Suns, the Mavs seemingly had two gears: play terrible or blow out their opponent. A rocky start has led Dallas to a 2-3 record on New Year’s Day. Here is the report card for games 1-5:
The Mavericks displayed a plethora of flaws over the course of their first five games. A clutch loss, poor shooting, and pitiful rebounding all defined this stretch. Luka played his worst game in recent memory against Charlotte when he scored 12 points in 24 minutes on 0-of-5 shooting from three. They were demolished by the Los Angeles Lakers on their first Christmas day game since 2011.
Despite all of the obvious bad, there is a reason the grade is a C+ and not any worse. Dallas showed flashes of the improved defense they allegedly acquired in the offseason when they held the Clippers and Heat to 73 and 83 points respectively. They are second in the league in turnovers per game, giving the ball away only 12 times an outing. And they are still playing without former All-Star Kristaps Porzingis. Their two wins came against a team that was in the NBA Finals last year and one that is believed to be a contender this year. In addition, both of the wins came in convincing fashion. Dallas wasn’t completely awful for this whole stretch, but the Mavericks have work to do if they want to be considered a serious title contender.
MVP: Luka Doncic
It was hard to pick an MVP for this stretch, purely because they lost three of the five games. I picked Luka for a couple reasons, one of them being that he was the catalyst for a run in the second quarter against Miami that helped Dallas break away from the Heat for good.
If you watched every game, like I did, it may have seemed like Luka has not been playing well. He has looked slow and lost at times, his shooting is a nightmare, and occasionally he shows little to no effort on defense. Despite all of this, he is averaging 24.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game. That’s just how good he is.
His awful shooting numbers overshadow what he is actually doing very well thus far. He is second in the league in drives per game (20.4), and leads the NBA in field goals made on those drives (5.4). He is shooting 77.8% on free throws with 9 attempts per contest. Doncic has been doing more often what he does the best: getting to the basket and either finishing or drawing contact.
His usage rate is up, at 35.6%, but although he has the ball more, his assist to turnover ratio is a career high 2.29. This should be all the more impressive considering Doncic has dished out 76 potential assists and only 32 of them have been converted. Luka He has played a big role in the Mavericks’ two wins, and if he, and his teammates for that matter, can get their three-point shooting on track, it will start showing in the win column.
Key Stat: 41.6 rebounds per game
It is no secret that the single biggest issue in the Mavs first five games has been rebounding. They are third worst in the league, not even averaging 42 boards a game. They gave up 35 second chance points to the Lakers, and scored zero themselves. As many players on Dallas have expressed, this is an issue regarding effort, or lack thereof. Dwight Powell, who has started every game this season and has taken the brunt of backlash from Mavs fans, is averaging only 4.2 rebounds per game, which is 127th in the league. Maxi Kleber, who comes off the bench for Powell, averages more boards with 4.6 per. Luka Doncic is the Mavericks leading rebounder at 7.6 per game.
Dallas collects the second fewest offensive rebounds in the NBA as well, at 7.4 per game. This sentiment is mirrored in second chance points, as their rank and average are exactly the same as offensive rebounding.
Hitting the glass harder is something that needs to be addressed right away if the Mavericks want to turn their season around.
One Big Question for the Next Five Games:
The Mavericks next five games are against Chicago, Houston, Denver, Orlando, and New Orleans. The biggest question for this upcoming slate is: can Dallas show a conscious effort to attack the glass and improve their rebounding?
They have only collected over 40 rebounds twice this year, but both of those occurrences have come in the last 3 games. Luka grabbed 15 rebounds against Miami, a performance he may want to duplicate in the next 2 weeks.
They will see players like Nikola Jokic, Christian Wood, Nikola Vucevic, and Steven Adams in the next 10 days, all of whom are inhaling at least 8 boards every time they step on the floor. Boxing these guys out is certainly key if Dallas wants to come out of this next stretch with a winning record.