Jason Kidd is a basketball genius. Rick Carlisle has routinely stated that Kidd was the smartest player he ever coached. Thus far, that genius as a player has not transferred to his coaching career. His record as a head coach is 183 and 190 in the regular season and nine and 15 in the playoffs.
Shockingly, that nine and 15 record in the playoffs means that he has won playoff series more recently than the Dallas Mavericks have. The best point guard Kidd ever coached was a semi-washed Deron Williams. Williams experienced a large decline during Kidd’s first season, going from 18.9 points and 7.7 assists per game in his final season before Kidd to 14.3 points and 6.1 assists per game with Kidd as coach.
This doesn’t show that Kidd’s coaching hurt Williams, as his production also took another marked decline the following season with his field goal percentage dropping from 45.0 with Kidd to 38.7 without Kidd. And the Nets were 11.7 points per 100 possessions better with Williams on the court than off that season.
Why does any of this matter? The last, best hope for Kidd’s success as a coach is an elite point guard who understands the game as well as he did. Luka Doncic provides that.
Will Kidd improve the Mavericks defense? All of the rhetoric from Kidd this offseason has focused on the Mavericks’ defense improving. Any offense with Luka surrounded by as much shooting as this team projects to have will be great. The level of defense this team plays will determine its ceiling.
Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith are both good but not great defenders. Porzingis was somewhere between good and great defensively until last season when he was horrendous. Luka has been below average but has flashed the ability to defend in spurts. This team does not have the personnel to be the second coming of the Bad Boys Pistons, but they also don’t have to be the 2021 Kings, the worst defensive team in NBA history.
The team needs a better scheme, and that will fall on Kidd. Porzingis was bad defensively last year, but the perimeter defenders also left him in terrible positions. Everyone must get better at getting over screens and challenging jumpers from behind. In order for that to be tenable, Porzingis and Maxi Kleber must return to their prior rim protecting ways.
Best Case Scenario
Luka understands Kidd’s vision in a way that none of Kidd’s prior point guards have. The pair bond and have the offense humming. Kidd also prioritizes Porzingis in a manner that makes Porzingis feel important without gumming up the offense with too many long twos or inefficient post ups.
This reinvigorated Porzingis carries over to defense, and the Mavericks end up being a top 10 defense as he returns to being an elite rim protector. Kleber also gets fully over Covid and the condensed schedule to return to full physical health. Kleber is incredibly important to the Mavericks defense, and he has physically worn down each of the last two seasons. This season the Mavericks should be able to rest him, allowing him to be fresh for the playoffs.
Worst Case Scenario
Kidd follows his own coaching history and runs an archaic offense that greatly devalues shooting. The team falls from elite to average offensively and despite the offseason rhetoric, the defense struggles. Kidd becomes frustrated and lashes out at his players, as he has done at other stops.
Luka tunes Kidd out after too many tantrums. Mark Cuban is forced to pull the rip cord and fire Kidd during his first season. Igor Kokoskov takes over, and Luka gains a reputation as a head case and coach killer.
This is likely Kidd’s last chance to be an NBA head coach. If he cannot make it work in the city where he began his career and won his lone NBA title, he can’t make it anywhere. But Kidd knows this and will likely be on his best behavior.
The team should be incredible offensively in the regular season. This will give Kidd some runway to make it through the season. Upon reaching the playoffs, the Mavericks will not play the Kawhi Leonard Clippers in the first round, which should result in the Mavericks first playoff series victory of the Luka Doncic era. That would make this season a resounding success.