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Eight Game Report Card: The Mavericks have big problems

The Mavericks big men have been a major disappointment this season.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Rundown:

The Dallas Mavericks open the season 5-3 and are third in the Western Conference.

In one of the weirdest, most confusing starts to a season in recent memory, the Mavericks somehow managed to perch themselves in the top half of the West after roughly two weeks of play. After such a crazy off-season, and a lot of change that promised not only defensive improvement, but also offensive prosperity, the Mavericks hide an unstable frame behind a solid record.

If you have not gotten a chance to catch the new-look Mavericks in an extended capacity, you are not missing much. A word to describe them would be uninteresting. This is largely due to their stagnant offense and poor shot making thus far. They stand at 27th in three point percentage, making only 30.7 percent of their shots from distance. The offense just does not flow as well as it has in years past, and Jason Kidd has not optimized the lineups just yet. Due to this, Dallas has found themselves in some deep early holes, such as being down 16-2 in Toronto and 23-3 against San Antonio at home. Dallas is currently scoring 101.8 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-worst offensive rating in the league.

The defense has looked improved at times, and although the Mavericks still rank in the bottom half of the league in defensive rating, their 106.9 points allowed per 100 possessions is still a solid mark through eight games. They have held opponents under 100 points three times already this season, something they did just 14 times in 72 games last year.

They have had two really bad losses to Atlanta and Denver, scoring 87 and 75 points in each game respectively, and another tough loss to Miami at home. The five wins the Mavericks gathered have been against teams who have a combined 13-20 record, and that shrinks to 7-17 if you take out the 6-3 Toronto Raptors.

The one bright spot for Dallas throughout the toil and trouble has been Jalen Brunson. Brunson is averaging 15 points and four assists per game, and that includes his 28 points per game in two games as a starter. He led the Mavericks to victory over the Spurs in San Antonio, scoring 13 of the Mavericks final 15 points in the last five minutes of the game. When Kidd was asked about it, he emphasized the trust Luka Doncic has in his teammates:

Grade: C-

Luka Doncic once again has gotten off to a slow start, with his shooting numbers taking the brunt of the impact. 25 percent from three, 42 percent from the floor, and 69 percent from the free throw line are not very indicative of a two-time reigning pre-season MVP favorite. Doncic, at least for the first three or so games, looked very lax and did not assert himself offensively, despite looking quite good in the preseason (which means nothing). He has turned the aggression up in the latter half of the first eight games, but despite getting more shots up, he still hasn’t seen as many fall as he would like.

The Mavericks started the season off with a two-big lineup, beginning games with Dwight Powell and Kristaps Porzingis on the floor. In Rick Carlisle’s offense, this was actually really good offensively, and allowed Porzingis to space the floor while Powell remained a very real lob threat. In Jason Kidd’s offense, it led to spacing issues like these:

Speaking of Porzingis, he has now missed over a week with lower back tightness, and in the five games without him, the Mavericks have only started one big man. The offensive woes were not cured immediately, and it was only after Jalen Brunson entered the starting lineup that the offense did not completely stall to begin games.

The most glaring problem with the Mavericks right now is their lack of a reliable center. Maxi Kleber has been their best center this season, but he is currently out for a little over a week with a back injury. Dwight Powell has been awful, Willie Cauley-Stein is up and down, Boban is immobile, and Kristaps Porzingis is constantly in street clothes. Dallas cannot guard on the interior, and players like Bam Adebayo and Nikola Jokic had their way against the Mavericks. It is clear that this roster needs a shake up, whether that is finding the right lineups or making a move to reconstruct it altogether.

Key Stat: 34.5%

This is Luka Doncic’s usage rate eight games into the season.

The primary focus of the offseason was to get a secondary playmaker next to Doncic so that he wasn’t carrying the burden constantly on the offensive end. When these plans fell through, Jason Kidd said that they were going to scheme the ball out of Doncic’s hands to empower other guys and give the star point guard a rest. We quickly learned that this meant designed post-ups for Dorian Finney-Smith, which di not work, and the offense found itself in a Luka-centric universe once again.

Although Jalen Brunson has emerged recently as a potential suitor for the secondary playmaker role, Doncic is still being used almost an identical amount as last year (34.5% vs 35%). This is not an entirely bad thing, as Doncic is one of the best players in the world, but we have already seen the negative effects that this has. He has resorted to taking a lot of late clock, bail-out, step-back threes, most of which have not gone in, and has isolated a lot with minimal movement on the back side. This, once again, goes back to the lack of flow in the offense, and for the Mavericks to take it to the next level, they need to find a way to get the ball out of Doncic’s hands and into the hands of someone who can consistently make a play.

One Big Question:

Can the Mavericks put it all together and get an early statement win?

They’re going to have plenty of opportunities to do this with their upcoming schedule. They have the Celtics and Pelicans at home, then travel to Chicago and San Antonio. A one-game homestand against the Nuggets then precedes four road games against the Suns and Clippers. Outside of the Pelicans and Spurs, these teams are all expected to be playoff contenders, and the Mavericks have already gotten mopped by projected playoff teams this season. If they can get one game where the offense, defense, and lineups look good, the Mavericks could quickly put their early season woes behind them. Oh, and it would be nice to have Kristaps Porzingis make an appearance.