The Dallas Mavericks likely, hopefully, will not play a game on offense as bad as they played in their 113-87 season opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night. It’s only one game, and just through random shot-making variance alone, Dallas will look better and score more points than they did Wednesday night in Atlanta.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t some concerns in Game 1. The loss against the Hawks didn’t feel like a team trying to figure out and adapt to a new scheme — it looked like a scheme that is doomed to fail, regardless of how well the Mavericks learn it.
First things first: The Hawks are a good team. This was the first time the Mavericks played the Hawks with DeAndre Hunter, and they learned first hand how potent defensively the duo of Hunter and Clint Capela can be. Hunter gave Luka Doncic absolutely nothing and the few times he was able to scoot past him, Capela was there. Even if the Mavericks were doing things different on the offensive end, it still would have been a tough night to score.
Having said all that — good grief, Mavericks.
The most bizarre trend to come from the end of the Mavericks’ last season was how much talk there was about the offense. A lot of noise, from both the team itself and the media that covers it, talked a lot about how Doncic needed to make his teammates better, how the Mavericks needed to stop being so reliant on the three-point shot. These comments were about a team that had the best offense in league history two seasons ago and the eighth best offense last season, despite the fact that every single thing that could have gone wrong (COVID-19 outbreak, injuries, condensed schedule, poor play from Josh Richardson) did go wrong. The Mavericks offense didn’t need fixing; it was never broken. What the Mavericks offense needed was better players, not a different style.
So against the Hawks on Wednesday, it felt like a sum of all fears scenario. The biggest concern about a Jason Kidd-coached Mavericks squad was what would happen to the offense. Kidd’s teams in Milwaukee were extremely backward in their offensive scheme, and the concern was how much Kidd had learned with his time away from the head coaching seat. What was displayed on Wednesday wasn’t encouraging to buck those concerns.
The Mavericks scored 87 points, yes, which is very bad, but the process was horrendous — the Mavericks shot 17 midrange shots. Last season, the team averaged 11.8 midrange shots per game. The season before, the record breaking one? They shot 10 midrange shots per game. Dallas only had two more shots at the rim than it did from midrange and that is not a recipe for success.
Spacing was awful throughout the game. There were too many instances where a Mavericks player would pass or shot, and there would be two or sometimes three fellow Mavericks inside the three-point line.
In the example above, Dorian Finney-Smith steps inside the three-point line to set a backscreen for Jalen Brunson, who is curling at the absolute worst moment as Doncic and Powell attempt a pick and roll. There are four Hawks defenders within an arm’s length of the play, and it goes no where. In the example below, Doncic loses the ball before things can fully develop, but the play was going nowhere fast as Powell was rolling down the lane and for whatever reason Kristaps Porzingis is cutting to the rim at the exact same time.
A common theme in most of the Mavericks’ poor spacing? Two bigs on the floor at the same time. Porzingis and Powell as a starting duo raised the eyebrows of much of the fanbase when it was announced during training camp, but the hope was the encouraging data the two provided before Powell suffered his Achilles injury would lead to go more good results now that both Powell and Porzingis are as healthy as they’ve been in months. Turns out there’s one problem with that theory: the good data with Porzingis and Powell came when Rick Carlisle was the head coach and Carlisle’s offense necessitated a vertical spacing rim runner — Kidd’s, so far, doesn’t seem to. Powell and Porzingis awkwardly stood inside the three-point line for numerous possessions, while Mavericks ball handlers had to contest with the crowded lane. If Kidd isn’t going to use Powell like Carlisle did, the two simply cannot share the floor together, full stop.
This example above is perhaps the most egregious of the Mavericks’ spacing woes. Look at the weakside of the floor — no one is there! Amazingly, the Mavericks ran a pick and roll with Doncic and Finney-Smith with zero weakside shooting to support it. Instead, both Maxi Kleper and Tim Hardaway Jr. are standing too close together outside the three-point line and the Hawks defense has every single Mavericks player in front of him. You know how your old high school basketball coach would preach head on a swivel? Well, imagine if you never had to swivel because the man you’re guarding is always in front of you. Extremely poor spacing that ends with Finney-Smith taking a somewhat deep above-the-break three the Hawks are more than willing to concede. Too many times tonight the Mavericks shot a three pointer that came off zero dribble penetration.
To make matters worse, the Mavericks did some horrible things that are just objectively not good. Poor Finney-Smith was the poster child for these decisions, as the Mavericks felt like they needed to involve him more heavily in the offensive game plan. Finney-Smith finishing with five points on 12 shots is coaching malfeasance, when you consider the type of shots he was getting.
There is no universe where Finney-Smith should be passing up an open corner three for a long two. Last season, Finney-Smith shot 37 percent from the corner and 40.3 percent specifically from the right corner. He shot 2-of-13 from midrange for the entirety of last season. This is not what he needs to do.
Speaking of things Finney-Smith doesn’t need to do, how about posting up? Finney-Smith posted up a total of two times last season and finished zero of those possessions with a shot, turnover or getting fouled. Against the Hawks on Wednesday, I counted at least three said possessions and, well, it did not look good.
Seemingly the thought was to punish Hawks superstar Trae Young, who guarded Finney-Smith exclusively whenever the two were on the floor. Instead of posting up a player who has zero post up skills, why the Mavericks didn’t just involve Young in more screens with Doncic is beyond comprehension. Porzingis isn’t off the hook either — he shot only four three pointers and finished 4-of-13 from the floor with four turnovers. Despite his increased mobility, he still looked stiff and robotic on every post up attempt he had, save for a very smooth fallaway jumper in the first half. Porzingis seems to lock into a move before the play develops and it never ends well, the feel just isn’t there for these types of possessions. Of course, the Mavericks’ scheme didn’t help either, with another defender easily able to dig down on Porzingis due to the Mavericks’ wonky spacing.
What about all those wonderful dribble hand-offs that Doncic got so good at with Porzingis, Powell, Kleber and even Hardaway himself? Remember all those beautiful plays where Hardaway would screen for Doncic and cause a defense to go into panic as a guard would have to cover a screen and roll in a way he wasn’t used to? None of that was on display against the Hawks. Don’t let the Mavericks 43 three-point attempts fool you — 34 of them were above-the-break, mostly bailout type shots that came off little movement or dribble penetration.
Hopefully this truly is just one game with a new coach and a new scheme. But considering the history of Kidd-coached teams, it was a very bleak start to the season after a very positive and drama-free preseason. “I thought guys got great looks. They just didn’t go in for us tonight,” Kidd told reporters after the game. The Mavericks have plenty of time to turn it around, we just have to see if they want to do it without tying one arm behind their backs.
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