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The 4 biggest questions: Will the Mavericks break the offensive efficiency record again?

Dallas has the potential to score like the 2019-2020 team on steroids.

Los Angeles Clippers vs Dallas Mavericks, 2021 NBA Western Conference Playoffs First Round Set Number: X163650 TK1

It’s that time of year when we once again take stock of the Mavericks’ new-ish roster and see how the pieces all fit together. This is becoming something of an annual tradition for me. I love getting past the news, rumors and speculation and diving into the actual basketball. You can read my previous installments on the 2021, 2020 and 2017 rosters... boy, I really liked Josh Richardson and Delon Wright, huh?

Time to forget all that and focus on the current Mavericks, who thankfully will be playing a normal basketball schedule after last season’s cramped, pandemic outing zapped them harder than almost any other team in the league.

How will these Dallas Mavericks fit together? We’re asking and trying to answer the four biggest questions in a series of posts through training camp and preseason. Previously, we discussed Jason Kidd as Mavericks coach.

Will the Mavericks break the offensive efficiency record again?

In Luka Doncic’s second season, the Dallas offense was a tornado of Luka drives and open corner threes. The 2019-20 Mavericks set the all-time offensive efficiency record thanks to Doncic’s brilliance and some career shooting seasons from role players. It turns out “Luka plus four shooters” is a recipe for success. Kristaps Porzingis didn’t have a monster shooting season, but his mere presence opened things way up, and Doncic and the Mavericks role players took advantage.

After last seasons’ brief (and failed) experiment that had Luka making do with lesser offensive talent in exchange for better defense, the Mavericks are right back to that record-setting 2020 formula. Out is Josh Richardson, a middling shooter who struggled mightily, and in is Reggie Bullock, who was deadly as a high volume catch and shoot threat with the Knicks last season.

The Mavericks also added Sterling Brown, another deadly catch and shoot threat despite his lesser pedigree. Depending on how the Mavericks shake out their rotation, there’s a good chance Luka is once again playing with four above average shooters, or at the very least three above average shooters and one of the most elite pick and roll rim runners in the league in Dwight Powell. Don’t snicker too much at Powell — despite his awful start recovering from his Achilles tear, Powell finished the season scoring 1.38 points per possession as the roll man in the pick and roll, good for the 90.8th percentile. He’s another useful cog in the Mavericks offensive machine.

The funny part about all this is the offense, despite no Seth Curry and Richardson’s horrible season, was still eighth in the league last season. They were good! And now they’ve replaced Richardson with a much better shooter and added Brown, who will help solidify a bench that didn’t do much offensively past Jalen Brunson. The lineup combinations with Bullock, Brown, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber and Kristaps Porzingis are dizzying, and all of those players project to be above average (in Hardaway’s case, elite) shooters. This is like the 2020 team on steroids, especially since Finney-Smith and Kleber have improved their shooting since that breakout season. Brown scored 1.09 points per possession on spot ups in Houston’s rag-tag offense during a rebuilding season. On the 22nd ranked Knicks offense last season, Bullock still scored 1.14 points per possession on spot ups, good for 77.4th percentile, better than both Hardaway and Finney-Smith last season. What does that look like next to Luka and all of the Mavericks spacing? Bullock could be an even better shooter than we think and even if he isn’t, he’s plenty good enough now.

Far too often a Mavericks possession with Richardson on the floor would end like this:

This should change with Bullock. Another welcome change: 81 percent of Richardon’s three point attempts last season were above-the-break threes, and he shot 33.5 percent on them. Bullock shot many more corner threes with the Knicks and is more comfortable sliding into those easier shots, whether it’s half court or transition. That should help boost the Mavericks’ shot profile, and having more reliable corner three point shooters spreading the floor could open up more opportunities for Doncic.

While Bullock is primarily a spot-up guy, he has shown the ability for something more, primarily moving without the ball and side-dribbling to open threes. Faking a defender and dribbling into an open three with a quick, hard dribble isn’t something Richardson could do, and to be honest, it’s not something many of the Mavericks can do past Porzingis and Hardway. No one should confuse Bullock with Klay Thompson, but he at least offers something when a defender shows a hard close out.

Again, it should be emphasized that this is something Bullock can occasionally do. He only shot 29.2 percent on threes after taking one dribble last season and that number tumbled to 14.3 percent after two dribbles. So don’t get too starry-eyed — Bullock is still a catch and shoot guy. But given these occasional flashes, maybe the Mavericks can unlock a little more.

The Mavericks’ shot chart last season wasn’t bad, but it was a little out of whack — Dallas’ share of mid-range attempts increased with the addition of Richardson and Doncic’s newfound mid-range skill.

The Mavericks should get that back in order with the additions of Bullock and Brown.

Also, consider this: only three Mavericks last season attempted six or more three pointers per game: Luka, Hardaway and Porzingis. As great as Finney-Smith and Kleber are, they still don’t take enough threes to change the defense’s priority. Bullock shot 6.1 threes per game last season, so the Mavericks aren’t just adding a good shooter, but a high volume one. Again, so long as Kidd doesn’t interfere.

It helps that everyone on this roster knows their place, offensively. The parts fit. There are no questions about shots, who gets the ball, etc. Everything funnels through Luka, and Luka is brilliant enough to keep all the plates spinning. Every Mavericks role player seems to stick to their role quite well. That clear sense of identity and continuity helps, while many other teams are scrambling to figure theirs out in the early portions of the season. The Mavericks are returning five players who all averaged at least 25 minutes per game and shot 37 percent from three. Bullock makes six, with Brown hopefully playing decent bench minutes. It’s possible that Luka is always surrounded by at least three above average shooters in every lineup he plays in. That’s a luxury the team has never had.

So why shouldn’t Dallas set the record? The only hang ups will be Kidd’s potentially negative coaching influence and the fact that the league in general is just extremely talented on offense. After Dallas set the offensive record in 2020, seven teams beat that mark last season. The Brooklyn Nets are still a powerhouse, even with the whole Kyrie Irving situation. To set the record, the Mavericks will have to get great shooting seasons from all their role players — any slip ups or slumps and the chances dwindle. Plus, there are the usual caveats like what if Luka turns an ankle in January or what if Porzingis has a set back with his knee. Those concerns are real, but if the Mavericks can stay healthy and power through, this offense could be historic again.