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The Good and the Bad: Open threes, energy and finding chances for rookies

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The Mavericks are starting to put the pieces together, with plenty to still improve.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After a hiatus that extended well past the All-Star Break, we’re back with another edition of The Good and the Bad, dissecting the big and the small from a week in Dallas Mavericks basketball.

Just before the break the Mavericks found their way into the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings. Since then they’ve accumulated a few thrilling wins, a head-scratching loss, and left fans with plenty to chew on as we near the trade deadline. Here’s what jumped out!

GOOD: Becoming a father

Congratulations to starting forward Dorian Finney-Smith, who welcomed his son Aysen to the world on Wednesday morning.

Also a huge congrats to Luka Doncic, for becoming Paul George’s father Wednesday night at the AAC.

Special time for you both.

BAD: Being unprepared for magic

I do not envy Mavericks role players, who have to share the floor with Luka Doncic on a nightly basis. If I were in their spot, I too would be caught watching Doncic create magic weaving through the lane.

But enough of that. The combination of spacing designed by Carlisle, and Doncic possessing perhaps the best vision in the league in the half court means every player must stay engaged for the full 24 seconds. It is not uncommon for Luka to pull three defenders to him at a time. And as likely as he is to dump it to the cutter near him, he’s just as likely to fling it 45-feet across the floor to the player (often Finney-Smith) standing in the corner with no defender in the same zip code.

Doncic is currently fifth in the league in potential assists, averaging 17.2 per game. This number largely falls on big men missing layups and dunks, and everyone missing wide open threes. This is what has largely been the difference between this season’s offense to last.

The Mavericks were getting a high volume of these open looks, attempting 27.3 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts per game last season, the second most in the league. They also came in ninth in efficiency, connecting on 38.1-percent, a career year for many role players. This season has the Mavericks taking one fewer per game (seventh in such attempts), but dropping to 36.4-percent so far (22nd). While it isn’t a plummet, the combination of fewer attempts and more misses can add up in close games.

Most troubling among the top seven in the rotation is with Dorian Finney-Smith, Kristaps Porzingis and Josh Richardson. For two of these players, a wide-open three is their most common attempt. Yet, combined they are shooting nine per game and hitting just 33.1-percent.

This quote from Finney-Smith was no doubt a tribute to the dynamic and magical passing of Luka Doncic. But it also led me to wonder if some of the missed open looks and indecisiveness with the ball might have to do with never expecting the ball in the first place. They all have to be ready.

GOOD: Energy

It was not an easy task for Richardson to join a new team then immediately be sidelined due to COVID-19, missing nine games in the process. But recently the defensive-minded guard has been a nice reminder of why the Mavericks traded for him in the first place.

It’s undeniable that he brings a fiery edge along the perimeter, and you can see it infuse the bench and teammates on the floor with energy. It’s a small sample, but in the five games since the break, Richardson has totaled eight steals and five blocks. And don’t look now, but he has also shot 50-percent from three on 4.5 attempts per game in that stretch.

GOOD: Having a sense of humor

The two games against the length of the Los Angeles Clippers were not terribly kind to Jalen Brunson, who is having a career year all around. He managed just 13 points and five assists, while coughing up six turnovers in the two games.

But good on Brunson for having a sense of humor (it’s a little easier to be funny when you’ve won). He picked up some love from Draymond Green, and showed the not-so-quiet secret that he might be the funniest Maverick not named Boban.

Bood? Gad?: Rest with no rookie run

In the Mavericks second game back from a week off they opted to sit both Doncic and Porzingis, something that had been allegedly long-planned. It was a move met with understandable ire from the Mavericks fan base.

Yes it was the second night of a back-to-back, and yes the schedule ahead was daunting. But the Mavericks simply aren’t in a comfortable spot in the standings, so sitting starters feels risky.

Even if the long game is most important — and it is, even though it’s hard to rationalize as a fan — you’d think Carlisle and the staff would use the opportunity to give rookies and fringe players some run. Because while watching the Mavericks play tug of war with the Oklahoma City Thunder without their two most important players so that they could have fresh legs, I couldn’t help but think about the extra strain it put on key role players like Richardson, Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr. It’s one thing to sit your stars and steal a win. But instead they risked tiring the rest of the rotation while one rookie had an “opportunity” (Josh Green played two minutes).

This isn’t the first and won’t be the last time this topic comes up this season. One thing is certain, if that risk leads to performances like Luka had against the Clippers on Wednesday night, I’m fine keeping my mouth shut.