The Dallas Mavericks had a rough start to their season. The 1-3 record they posted in December wasn’t the most encouraging start, but it also shouldn’t have warranted a full-blown panic. January would’ve been an opportune time to set that straight, but the team quickly fell victim to a COVID-19 outbreak. The Mavericks finished the first month of the year with a record of 7-9, pushing their overall record on the season down to 8-12.
Dallas was underperforming. In February, it became winning time. A Mavericks team that was patching together lineups the previous month had quickly tightened up its rotation. Wes Iwundu and James Johnson, who were high-end rotation players and even starters at points, saw their minutes vanish. Josh Green — who started five games in January — isn’t even on the active roster anymore, getting his reps with the G-League’s Salt Lake City Stars.
A lot of these drastic changes are due to the fact that the Mavericks are now, thankfully, healthy. Variance in the data can be expected now that the team is finally back to “normal”. But even when we remove ourselves from the changes, we can see just how different this rotation looks compared to what we’re normally used to.
The Mavericks rotation, which had 11 players averaging at least 17 minutes per game in January, now only has seven. Rick Carlisle has flipped a switch, cutting his rotation to essentially only these players this month. Here are the players you know you’ll see every night, given that they are healthy and active:
Doncic, Finney-Smith, Richardson, Porzingis, Hardaway Jr., Kleber, Brunson
It’s a strong group of players on paper, a few playing especially good basketball as of late. Every single one of those players averaged at least 25 minutes per game over the last month. The only problem with this is that these are the only guys you know you’ll see every night.
The next group includes filler players. Some nights they’ll play big minutes, some nights you’ll never see them:
Cauley-Stein, Powell, Johnson, Burke
Each one of these players had a really strange month. For Cauley-Stein, he had three games where he played 20 or more minutes and had two DNPs. Powell had five games where he played at least 10 minutes and five where he played less than five minutes (or not at all). Johnson had six straight DNPs, then started against Boston. Burke’s month may have been the most consistent, but he’s only averaging 6.8 minutes per game.
It’s obvious what Carlisle is trying to do: win. Simply stated, the Mavericks are currently running a playoff rotation. It hasn’t worked to perfection, but it’s at least gotten Dallas to a place where they aren’t one of those five worst teams in the West.
Perhaps some off-season acquisitions, re-signings, and draft selections have not met expectations. Their hand has been forced; Dallas feels they have to play these seven guys as much as possible in order to win. But as this season holds more volume than in years past, it’s going to be interesting how the Mavericks handle it.
Dallas will play 10 back-to-backs in the second half of their schedule, the second-most in the league. That’s a lot of volume for any team, but especially one that’s 11-22 on the second-night of B2Bs since 2018-19. The Mavericks will also have to account for the health of Porzingis and his newfound back issue. How healthy will he be? Can the Mavericks really afford to cut the rotation down to six?
Some of these questions may be answered in unsavory ways. For now, all we can do is hope that the Mavericks stay fresh and healthy. The season ahead is lengthy, tough, and requires endurance.