On Wednesday I wrote a piece which really irritated most readers, if not all. I wrote about why I feel that Jason Kidd isn’t good enough for a roster that’s mostly the same from the last two seasons. At best, I think he can help replicate what the team accomplished the last two years, but I’ve not seen enough to indicate that the Mavericks will take a significant step forward. That is the black cloud for me, because I want to see this team make it further in the playoffs. I want them to win a championship.
The overtime win against the Clippers Tuesday improved the Mavericks record to 10-7. Many of the people that disagreed with my thoughts have pointed to the record as evidence that this team is not only as good as last years’ team but better. At the end of the day the NBA is about wins and losses and, in a vacuum, a 10-7 record is on par for a team expected to win around 47-48 games. That aligns with our preseason expectations so, why, exactly, was my opinion so negative in nature?
Eight of the Mavericks’ 10 wins wins have come against Toronto, Houston, San Antonio (three times), Boston at the height of their dysfunction, and New Orleans. Those teams have a combined winning percentage of .312. They’ve also beat Denver on the second night of a back-to-back, and most recently the Clippers.
The only impressive win was the most recent one against the Clippers and no one expects the Clippers to do anything other than compete for a spot in the play-in tournament. Playoff contenders such as the Nuggets, Hawks, Heat, Bulls, and Suns all resoundingly beat the Mavericks. Those of us (myself included) who wagered on the Mavericks to exceed their win total will take a win however we can get them. This Mavericks team has won 58.5% of their games but have an expected win percentage of 44.9%. If this team were 7-10 or 8-9, as the numbers indicate they should be, I suspect everyone would be a little less bullish on the team. As a fan, however, it’s important to focus on the process and much as the results.
Here are some team facts to consider:
- The Mavericks are playing at almost an identical pace to last year.
- Dallas ranks 21st in net rating (-1.2). They finished 10th last year (2.3)
- They rank 17th in offensive Rating this year. They finished eighth in the 2020-21 season and first in the 2019-2020 season.
- Currently they rank 23rd at 104.1 points per game. They finished 17th last year at 112.4 points per game.
- The team is shooting worse from three point range (33.1% vs 36.2% last year)
I think we all hoped the team would run more, but as Josh noted in the pre-season, all of Kidd’s previous stops had slower paced teams. So far Dallas plays very slowly. In fact, the Mavericks are currently 27th in pace according to NBA.com. Let me be clear, that is not a negative on its own, but when paired with all the other negative offensive numbers, it plays a part.
The number that stands out the most is the Mavericks’ net rating. Net rating measures how many points you score or allow per 100 possessions. In simple terms, Dallas allows more points per 100 possessions than they score. That is not the mark of a good team. That, more so than the record, speaks about how good the team is or isn’t. 17 games isn’t a large sample size but if our net rating continues at its current pace, we wont be over .500 for very long.
And while I recognize that the Mavericks are 7-2 when Luka Doncic plays (and thus have a much better net rating), Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis have played just 106 out of 177 games together since Porzingis was able to play starting in the 2019-20 season. History tells us they’ll play around 50 games together this season. According to cleaningtheglass.com, the Mavericks have a minus-2 net rating when Porzingis is on the floor and Doncic is off, so the Mavericks are losing the minutes when trying to give Luka a rest and allowing Porzingis to carry the load. However, to be fair, most of the lineup data involving Doncic and Porzingis looks bad — the Mavericks are a minus-5.1 per 100 possessions with Doncic on the floor and Porzingis off and the team is a staggering minus-7.6 per 100 possessions when both Doncic and Porzingis share the floor. Thank goodness for Jalen Brunson.
Then there’s the fact that Dallas has the 18th best offense. Doncic alone should be good enough for a top ten offense. Even if you remove the three games he recently missed due to his ankle and knee injuries, the numbers are practically the same. That is a problem. Dallas’ offensive rating and points scored per game should be concerning for everyone. There will be a positive regression to the mean in terms of shooting percentage but that may not be enough to return this team to the top of the league in terms of offensive efficiency.
Changes to the line ups could help; we saw a revision to the starting group against the Clippers, finally, after more than enough time. Going from Dwight Powell to Willie Cauley-Stein felt a bit mean to us, but a change is a change. Early line up data with Doncic and key off-season acquisition Reggie Bullock is not great (minus-10.2 net rating in two main lineups), but that’s something the Mavericks must figure out.
On the other end of the floor, many point to Kidd as the reason the Mavericks have held up surprisingly well on defense. Our roster was never built to be a defensive juggernaut. Jason Kidd’s teams have been bottom third of the league in defensive rating with the one exception of his first season with the Bucks. The combination of his aggressive schemes and a roster that doesn't possess the depth talent to execute them had/has the potential to be a disaster. Maxi Kleber is good, but he can’t be the skeleton key which unlocks the entire defense. If Dallas relies on him that much, then that is a cause for concern. The team has played better than expected but one can point to the level of competition faced as the driving factor more so than anything Kidd has drawn up. Despite the on court play looking better, the Mavericks are still 17th in defensive rating, just slightly below average. That’s mostly due to the defense looking great against lottery teams and looking overmatched against the better teams, like Denver and Miami.
The hope that Jason Kidd’s acumen as a Hall of Fame player would allow him to connect with Luka in a way that former coach Rick Carlisle never could. That a rapport and bond would help elevate the roster and take it to new heights. My opinion was and continues to be that we’ve seen nothing early in the season to indicate that is the case. I hoped that Kidd would eliminate the need for luck and good fortune and we could cement ourselves amongst the best in the league. Thus far, the best teams in the league have wiped the floor with us.
All these things leave me very uneasy. While the optimist take is that these areas are simply ones for improvement, but I’m not that kind of fan. These concerns are real and while perhaps pinning everything on Kidd isn’t fair, he’s been the main change to the roster this off-season. We’re approaching the 20 game mark and historically that figure is pretty predictive both for playoff chances and sample sizes for data normalizing. Let’s hope things turn a corner and the Mavericks come out ahead.