This NBA season, like everything else faced the last 12 months, is unpredictable and unprecedented. Never more true for the Dallas Mavericks entering a season with large, and yes perhaps oversized, expectations.
While Kristaps Porzingis starting the season rehabbing another injury was a known quantity, the depleted Mavericks core brought early season challenges this team was not equipped to handle — the case for all teams given similar circumstances.
Even so the Mavericks entered February with a fully stocked roster. While many find their footing, we’re seeing the silhouette of what this team can be offensively (dear god, please tell me this isn’t the silhouette of their defense).
A hiccup to start
The combination of new players, health setbacks, and the absence of Seth Curry left a giant questions mark on the Mavericks spacing and perimeter shooting. There was an understanding that replacing one of the league’s best shooters with a defensive-minded-hopefully-average-shooter is a risk worth taking.
But how to account for that when everyone else is absent or cold?
Seeing four of the most important players on the team collectively shoot under 30-percent from three should tell you all you need to know about early success. Starting a season in this sort of slump will naturally effect a team’s confidence, which translated into fewer attempts, with the Mavericks attempting just 36 three-pointers per game during December and January.
Maybe it’s smart to adjust strategy in such a drought, but it’s also hard to change course when a team is built in such a specific way. Hitting a wall from deep not only meant less attempts, it challenged the spacing for Luka Doncic to be as impactful in the lane as he can be.
Starting the season 8-12 wasn’t part of the plan, but it’s also reasonable to say it could have been worse all things considered.
Winning in the NBA isn’t fully dependent on injury or health luck, but continuity can do wonders. So there are no surprises that the Mavericks have found new life in February as the roster has stayed in tact. Offensively the team has been nearly unstoppable, averaging over 124 points per game in the eight-game stretch. The spacing is fresh, the ball movement sound, the confidence rising.
The volume hasn’t fluctuated much from the core players, but there is without a doubt a better rhythm. Is it sustainable to have five of your top six players should above 40-percent from three? No it is not. But there is a tide turning among the rotation.
This shift has also refocused the way the Mavericks attack opponents. Increasing three-point attempts to nearly 41 per game (close to matching last season’s average) has found them at fifth in the league in February, a stark difference to the start of the season.
But echoing before, this year is still unprecedented. With the Mavericks shooting a red-hot 40-percent as a team from three this month, it still only ranks them at 11th in the league. And their 5-3 record is a reality check that even putting up these sort of numbers don’t solve everything.
If there is anything obvious that could use improving along the perimeter offensively that could help the Mavericks return to the form that brought on those large expectations it is with Josh Richardson.
The shooting guard, acquired in the Seth Curry trade was brought in to be a defensive stopper, a taller second ball-handler, and an energetic perimeter presence for the Mavericks as they shifted gears in the offseason. To his credit, Richardson has largely done those things.
The hope though was that his career 36-percent shooting mark would follow him to Dallas as well, and for the most part it has not. Maybe it wasn’t fair that Richardson shot over 70-percent from three in the shortened preseason, skyrocketing all expectations for him and this Mavericks team. But still, his inability to find consistency from three has been disappointing.
What is nice is how sure he is off the dribble, comfortable with a midrange jumper that can be uncovered in the Mavericks regained spacing. This will become increasingly more valuable for Richardson until he can find his shot.
There is no question this team has major defensive questions in order to lock in a playoff spot. But it’s nice to see a return to form offensively after such a challenging start to the season.