This summer, the Dallas Mavericks made the curious decision to bring back their roster mostly intact. The only significant additions to the rotation were Reggie Bullock and Frank Ntilikina, both of whom fit right into what the Mavericks were already doing as a team.
They made this decision despite that roster losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs in consecutive years. But at least they were an offensive juggernaut, having ranked eighth and first in offensive rating the last two years.
So going into the 2021-22 season, all they had to do was keep humming along on offensive and get their 22nd ranked defense up to a respectable level, right? Right?
Instead, the Mavericks have stalled on offense and are what could safely be called “a chore to watch.” They’re currently the 22nd ranked offense this year, and there’s no sign it’s getting any better.
They don’t shoot 3-pointers well (32.7% from deep, 26th in the league). They don’t get to the rim (last in the NBA). They don’t get to the line with any frequency (19.1 attempts per game, 25th in the league). The only thing they do remotely well on offense is shoot midrange shots with decent efficiency (43%, 10th in the league).
Surely this drop-off in offense is being offset by better defense, right? After all, that’s what Jason Kidd preached early in the season.
“But the biggest thing is the defensive side of the ball. We’ve got to pay a little bit more attention to detail,” Kidd told Dwain Price of Mavs.com. “Understand we all have one goal, and that’s to win a championship. And we’ve got to get stops. The last time we won a championship here, we did get stops.”
Kidd’s focus on defense was refreshing. The Mavericks’ defense has been woeful for years, and the new coach turning that around would be great. Through 25 games, though, the defense hasn’t shown up. The Mavericks are 17th in defensive rating, only up from 21st the year before. They’re allowing the fifth highest opponent field goal percentage. Opponents shoot 64% against them at the rim, the sixth highest rate in the NBA.
They are more active on defense than previous seasons, which is a plus. They’re just not great defensively. Our own Iztok Franko detailed why here for D Magazine. The increased energy on defense is great, but it’s not yielding any spectacular results so far.
The Mavericks just aren’t very good at any one thing on either end of the court. If they were elite on one side of the ball, they could probably overcome the mediocrity on the other end. Instead, they’re left just muddling through games, not hitting shots, not getting to the rim, not locking down on defense.
The Mavericks as currently constructed are a base model Toyota Corolla—good enough to get you around town, but nothing special.
The front office and coaching staff can’t continue to wait for shots to start falling. Kidd and his staff have to come up with better schemes to score points. Nico Harrison and Michael Finley have to shuffle the roster, and if they have to get creative to do it, well, that’s their job. That’s what the money is for.
If the Mavericks can’t find a way to break out of this middling mediocrity, they’ll continue to have the identity they’ve failed to shake for more than a decade—a team that can’t get out of the first round.