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NBA Power Rankings Watch: the Mavericks are treading murky water

A dizzying week of Mavericks basketball has left a lot of us shrugging.

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New Orleans Pelicans v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

The Dallas Mavericks are beat up. They are fighting through a rough patch of play, while also battling injuries up and down the roster — most recently and most troubling, both Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

It hasn’t all been bad. Last week the Mavericks played an historically efficient game against the New Orleans Pelicans, and showed flashes of potential for what this roster can produce. Unfortunately that was the lone win of the week after getting chase off their own floor twice, against the Cleveland Cavaliers and those same Pelicans, while also dropping another against the Memphis Grizzlies at home.

In essence, the Mavericks have been treading murky water, and that’s reflected in this week’s Power Rankings Watch. Here is what national analysts across the major outlets had to say:

ESPN

Rank: 14

Last week: 9

Dallas has dropped seven of nine games since Luka Doncic sprained his left knee and ankle. The Mavs are 2-3 in the games that Doncic has played in that span, including blowout home losses to the Cavaliers and Pelicans. His frustration has been problematic, as coach Jason Kidd noted that Doncic’s constant complaining to the referees often results in poor transition defense. Soreness in that ankle sidelined Doncic again Saturday night, and Kristaps Porzingis has missed the past two games because of a knee contusion. — MacMahon

NBA

Rank: 16

Last week: 9

On Wednesday in New Orleans, the Mavs registered the highest effective field goal percentage in a game in NBA history (79.5%), shooting 22-for-23 in the restricted area, 17-for-26 on other 2-point shots, and 18-for-34 from beyond the arc. But that game was the most anomalous of anomalies last week, which was the first time since Jan. 2019 (Luka Doncic’s rookie season) that the Mavs have been held under a point per possession in three out of four games. They scored 139 points on just 95 possessions (146.3 per 100) in the win in New Orleans, but just 94.5 per 100 in their three losses, with one of those coming two nights later against the same, 28th-ranked Pelicans’ defense.

Kristaps Porzingis (left knee contusion) missed the second game against the Pelicans, and both Doncic (ankle soreness) and Porzingis missed their loss to Memphis on Saturday. But the Mavs have now lost seven of their last nine games, with the league’s 22nd-ranked offense over that stretch (despite one of the most efficient games in NBA history!). They continue to take care of the ball pretty well, but they now rank in the bottom 10 in effective field goal percentage (21st), free throw rate (22nd), and offensive rebounding percentage (25th).

The Mavs had Sunday and Monday to heal, but they have another back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday, having a rest disadvantage against the Grizzlies for the second time in five days.

The Athletic

Rank: 16 (Tier 3: Playoff Hopeful)

Last week: 17

New face in this place: Reggie Bullock, free agent signing

Last season: 30.0 mpg, 10.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.5 apg, 44.2/41.0/90.9 shooting splits, 60.6 TS%, +2.5/+2.2 (on/off net rating)

This season: 23.1 mpg, 5.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 0.6 apg, 34.4/27.5/62.5 shooting splits, 45.1 TS%, -3.6/-0.4 (on/off)

Big takeaway so far: This has been a pretty brutal pairing with Reggie Bullock and the Dallas Mavericks. Bullock was so good with the New York Knicks last season, and Tom Thibodeau was not happy about the team letting him go in free agency. But Bullock has not exactly validated the confidence of Thibodeau and others in this signing. His defense hasn’t been good enough to make up for the fact that this might be the worst shooting stretch of his life. Bullock is supposed to be a dead-eye shooter from deep. He’s barely making a quarter of his attempts from downtown. Even when Luka Doncic is finding him for shots on the perimeter, that accuracy plummets to 14.1 percent. Did you know a 27.5 percent 3-point shooter could plummet further in a more specific scenario? I didn’t.

Sports Illustrated

Rank: 18

Last week: 11

Reggie Bullock, the team’s biggest offseason player acquisition, has been disappointing to say the least. A career 38.5% three-point shooter, the 30-year-old has hit just 27.5% of his tries this season—and just 18.8% over his last eight showings. Without him producing anywhere near his best, the Mavs still feel a key piece or two away from contending at the highest level.

Bleacher Report

Rank: 17 (as of 12/3/21)

Last week: 15

The Dallas Mavericks scored a 32-point win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday that helped their net rating and papered over a number of flaws that have plagued them all season.

Most importantly, Dallas simply isn’t defending when Luka Doncic is on the floor. They’re giving up 113.9 points per 100 possessions and being outscored by 4.9 when he’s in the game. When he’s out, that defensive rating drops to 104.7, and the net rating shoots up to plus-4.8.

It’s not fair to put all the blame on Luka for those numbers. Lineups include five players, and Luka is spending plenty of time against starters. But this is now a four-year trend (the Mavs have defended better without Doncic every year he’s been in the league). That’s more than enough of a sample for concern.

Another problem is shooting, which is a lot easier to wrap your head around. The Mavericks rank in the bottom half of the league in three-point percentage. Luka and Tim Hardaway Jr. are right at league average from deep, while Kristaps Porzingis is 97th among the 112 players with at least as many attempts in three-point percentage.