As with most things in life right now, there’s a tendency to want finality with everything. Things move so fast, we have to make judgments calls on what just flew by before we get obsessed with whatever shiny thing is in front of us now. This is the creed of basketball discourse online and it can suck.
This is particularly hurtful to the Dallas Mavericks, sitting at 7-7, likely well below the start most people anticipated for this team. Dallas crammed a ton of rollercoaster moments into 14 games — a 2-4 start, followed immediately by a back-to-back four-game winning and three-game losing streaks. Smarter basketball people than me typically say you should give it 20 or so games before you start reading into potential season-long trends. The Mavericks will hit the 20-game mark on Jan. 30. Anyone confident in making any calls on the season by then?
The reason for this sort of mystery box Mavericks team is of course the very same reason a number of teams are struggling — COVID-19 spreading, forcing games to be postponed and players to miss time due to quarantine protocols. Seemingly the worst type of luck hit the Mavericks in this regard, having a handful of positive tests spread among the players, but contained just enough so the team only had to postpone one game. The NBA requires that teams suit up at least eight players to have a game start during this time and the Mavericks met that requirement in the most bare-minimum of ways this season. Dallas last had a relatively full-strength roster on Jan. 7, a win against the Nuggets. It’s been two weeks since then and the Mavericks have played six games missing anywhere from four to six key rotation players. Not just end of the bench roster flotsam, but meaningful players, including at times missing up to three or four starters like Dorian Finney-Smith, Josh Richardson and Maxi Kleber. Oh, plus Kristaps Porzingis working his way back from offseason knee surgery. That’s a lot!
Honestly, it’s remarkable the Mavericks are .500 through 14 games in the first place. They’re 3-3 during this quarantine stretch, thanks to Luka Doncic’s brilliance, Rick Carlisle’s scheming and the Mavericks preparing their roster to handle such hits, which is why this site talked about this so much when there was debate over keeping J.J. Barea. It’s a slight luxury that Dallas can throw out their 13th man, Wes Iwundu, and squeeze winning, or at least competing, production out of him during a time of roster crisis.
This is why it’s impossible to properly judge the Mavericks or be truly disappointed in their start. There has been much bloodshed in debating the Mavericks online over the last month and it takes a ton of willpower to not just reply to every observation, criticism or remark with “COVID-19” and then disappear into the wilderness. In the last week, this team has started both Iwundu and rookie Josh Green, a lineup that will likely never see the light of day again when the roster returns to normal.
Think about this: the most played five-man lineup in the NBA so far this season has been from the New York Knicks. In the least surprising news of all time, the Tom Thibodeau-coached starting lineup leads the league with 223 minutes played. At number two is a lineup from the Sacramento Kings that has played 202. All of the top 25 most played five man lineups have played at least 65 minutes.
The Dallas Mavericks most played five-man lineup has played 54 minutes. The second most has played 27.
We really don’t know what this team is. We can observe their defensive improvement, lament their offensive struggles, but at the end of the day, we really don’t know all that much. Well, that’s not totally wrong. We know Luka Doncic is a bad ass, we know Kristaps Porzingis is a big help and we know Carlisle is going to scheme his way to acceptable basketball no matter what. Hopefully in a few weeks, we’ll know even more.