To get things out of the way, here are some qualifiers:
- The Mavericks have played 19 games. There are 63 games left this season
- Kristaps Porzingis has missed five of the 19 games. Luka Doncic has missed three of the 19 games. Jalen Brunson has missed one of the 19 games.
- The Mavericks have a brand new coaching staff and front office.
- The team is 10-9 and forth still in the Western Conference. The teams below them in the standings (Lakers, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies) all have major issues.
- Luka Doncic is 22-years-old and signed a 5-year extension this past summer. Rarely are NBA titles won when the best player of the team is under 25 years old.
OK phew, we can now continue with this column.
Watching the Mavericks get detonated in the third quarter against a scrappy but talented Cleveland Cavaliers team, I had one question run through my mind, over and over again.
“How long can the Mavericks do this?”
We’re in season three of this Mavericks core and to show for it is two decently fun regular seasons, two first round losses and a pretty mediocre start to the third season. We’ve watched this Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith core play a ton of games — those four have been pillars of the starting lineup since 2019.
I got to thinking, as Finney-Smith and Hardaway clanged open jumpers and Porzingis left the game with another injury, just how good that core is. Here’s what I came up with. Those four players have played 82 games together, in terms of 82 games where they’ve shared the floor. So that’s a full season across three years, a decent sample to judge from. Here’s how that four-man lineup has performed each season.
- 2019-2020, 41 games, 6.8 net rating
- 2020-2021, 30 games, minus-15.2 net rating
- 2021-2022, 11 games, minus-11.7 net rating.
To be fair I also went to cleaningtheglass.com to get lineup data, since Cleaning the Glass doesn’t include end of quarter heaves or garbage time in its lineup data. So it cuts out the noise a little bit. Here are those numbers.
- 2019-2020, 1209 possessions, 8.3 net rating
- 2020-2021, 389 possessions, minus-14.5 net rating
- 2021-2022, 323 possessions, minus-11.6 net rating.
It’s not getting any better. Keep in mind, the Mavericks are going to be paying the trio of Doncic, Porzingis, and Hardaway a combined $89 million next season and Finney-Smith will be either on a new team or on a new contract. If he returns to Dallas, you’d have to imagine it’ll be for more than the $4 million he’s making this season. Are the Mavericks going to commit over $90 million dollars, maybe over $100 million dollars, to a core that is getting worse year after year? For the results we’re seeing right now?
“How long can the Mavericks do this?”
When the Mavericks lost Game 6 in the first round to the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2020 playoffs, I wrote the recap of the game.
The Mavericks just need some more guys who can defend and hit shots next to their two stars. Delon Wright and Justin Jackson, two players the Mavericks were counting on to be starters last summer, were basically DNP-CDs in Game 6 (Wright didn’t play and Jackson played two garbage time minutes). Dallas just ran out of gas, with a roster full of players that had to play a peg or two above their expected slot in the rotation. It was a helluva fight, but it just wasn’t enough.
When the Mavericks lost Game 7 in the first round to the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2021 playoffs earlier this year, I wrote a lengthy column about how the team isn’t good enough.
At the end of the day only two players that were not on the Mavericks roster in March 2019 played Sunday in Game 7: 31 minutes for Marjanovic, who never played much at all until the Mavericks got desperate and made a big lineup change during the playoffs, and Josh Richardson, who played six minutes, further cementing his fate as being part of one of the worst trades the Mavericks have made in the last few years. This is basically the same roster that won less than 30 games in Doncic’s rookie season, except Doncic went from Rookie of the Year to All NBA First Team and Porzingis gave them, well, something for two seasons. Some good, some bad, but at least something.
This roster — what is the vision? Where is this Mavericks team going? Hardaway is 29, Maxi Kleber is 29, Reggie Bullock is 30, Dwight Powell is 30, Finney-Smith is 28. The team owes one more first round pick to the Knicks in 2023, the 2020 draft returned zero useful pieces and Jalen Brunson is the only young player that feels like he could fetch anything worthwhile in a trade, yet he’s also one of the most important players on the team and feels indispensable. The Mavericks have struck out on their last three major offseason acquisitions — what if they miss on dealing Brunson? It’s hard to think about where this Mavericks team would be without Brunson.
I feel like we’ve talked about these problems a thousand times because we have talked about these issues 100 times. Thankfully for the Mavericks, they play the Pelicans twice and a Ja Morant-less Grizzlies team in their next three games. Dallas might never dip below .500 this season, which likely makes this column hilarious in retrospect. But what’s the point in beating up on teams like the Pelicans when we have this loss against the Cavaliers, or the loss against the Heat, or any number of losses the Mavericks have to teams with competent rosters. What’s the endgame? You don’t hang banners for beating the teams you’re supposed to beat.
The Mavericks will likely be fine, in terms of wins and losses. Luka Doncic is too good. It’s also fine if they haven’t won a title by the end of this season, since Doncic is only 22. That doesn’t mean there aren’t deep issues with this Mavericks roster and I’m not sure when the time is up.
Here’s our latest 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.