When an NBA season isn’t even 10 percent complete, it’s hard to look at a stat and make any type of declarative statement. In a completely unrelated note, here’s a stat about the Mavericks starting lineups this season:
The Mavericks have used two starting lineups this season. Those two lineups have played a combined 64 minutes in five games and have been outscored by 48 points.
Whoa boy, the Mavericks starting lineups stink.
Dallas has been outscored in every first quarter so far this season and hasn’t had one single halftime lead. Against the Nuggets on Friday night, this trend continued, with the Mavericks trailing 29-21 after one quarter and 54-44 at halftime, before everything fell apart in the third quarter.
The Mavericks have only used two different starting lineups because Kristaps Porzingis has missed two straight games with a back injury. Only the swap of Reggie Bullock for Porzingis has been the difference in the lineup — Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell have started every game.
Despite the fact that 64 minutes is a drop in the bucket for an NBA season, it’s clear things aren’t working. The Mavericks are 3-2, thankfully, because they’ve played three lotter-bound teams. It’s too difficult to win NBA games when you trail at the start of all of them. Combine that with the fact that we’ve seen these players play so often before and it feels foolish to expect players to change. Sure, there’s a new scheme and a new coach, but is that really going to change the skills of someone like Finney-Smith or Powell?
Taking the ball out of Doncic’s hands for shots like these is unwise on its own, then it gets doubled down by the poor spacing and shotmaking making things harder for Doncic when he does try to cook. Doncic went 2-of-7 in the first quarter against Denver and every single shot Doncic took had a defender right on top of him. Doncic attempted zero shots at the rim in the first quarter, because defenses have little respect for Powell or Finney-Smith. He only attempted two shots at the rim for the entire game. Only 13 of Doncic’s 103 total shot attempts have been in the restricted area this season. That is concerning.
Besides the rough play from the starters, the stellar play of the bench makes a changeup much more appealing. While Jalen Brunson and Maxi Kleber weren’t great against the Nuggets, those two have routinely saved the Mavericks from a winless start throughout the five games this season. Even against the Nuggets, Brunson and Kleber provided the only semblance of life in the first half and trimmed a 17 point lead to 10 at halftime.
With how things are going and the Mavericks still adjusting to a new coaching staff, perhaps playing the best players as much as you can together is the way to go until things are settled. Brunson and Kleber are unquestioned as two of the best five or six players on the Mavericks roster. That’s a bleak enough statement on the roster as a whole, but they don’t have much of a choice right now.
The Mavericks coaching staff must have thought the same thing against the Nuggets, because in that 7-0 run to close the second quarter, Jason Kidd played Brunson and Kleber with the rest of the starters. The lineup of Brunson, Doncic, Bullock, Kleber and Powell only played three minutes, but it outscored the Nuggets by four points in those three minutes. There was nothing earth-shattering about how that lineup played — Bullock got an open three in transition, Doncic scored on a drive and a step-back two pointer — but it at least gets more of the currently well-playing Mavericks on the floor and takes off the poorly playing ones.
Some of this is regression. Finney-Smith is 5-of-26 on threes and most of them are open. He missed two wide open ones in the first quarter with the starters. Some of it though, is worrisome. The Mavericks have played the same starting group of players a lot over the past three years and perhaps the league is catching up, whether you disagree with the coaching or not. Defenders know to leave Finney-Smith open and to stick to Hardaway, or to attack Powell’s suspect rim defense. The Mavericks are not sneaking up on anyone. There is plenty of film on their entire roster playing together. Mixing in another playmaker like Brunson and a better defender like Kleber can help alleviate some of the staleness. It won’t be the cure, but it’s clear after five games that whatever Dallas is doing with how it starts games isn’t working.
Here’s our lastest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.