Somehow, some way, the Dallas Mavericks headed into the All-Star break with a winning record. This despite Kristaps Porzingis only playing in 20 games this season, and five players missing time due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The Mavericks faced significant adversity in the first half, and while it definitely pushed them to the breaking point, they didn’t let the season slip away.
At the break, the Mavericks are the eighth seed in the Western conference. They’re only two games out of the sixth seed, which would allow them to avoid the play-in tournament. Incredibly, they sit only four games back of the fourth seed and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Thinking back to where this team was at the end of January, that’s remarkable.
How did they get here? Below are some stats that paint a picture of what the Mavericks have done well, and where they’ve struggled.
11.6: Number of turnovers per game
As usual, the Mavericks are great at taking care of the basketball. They’re currently third in the NBA in team turnovers. This has been a constant under Rick Carlisle. He simply won’t tolerate players being sloppy with the ball. It might help if they could cause some turnovers for their opponents, however. Dallas is 29th in the league in steals with just 6.5 per game.
.533%: The Mavericks’ winning percentage in clutch games
The Mavericks were awful in clutch games last year, which are defined as a game with a five point or less differential in the last five minutes. Their offense would get bogged down in the last five minutes, and not even Luka Doncic’s magic could fix things. Things are better this year. Dallas is 8-7 in clutch games, which isn’t great, but is a vast improvement over last season, when they went 17-24. With the way the Mavericks are playing lately, they might end the year with an even better record in clutch games.
25th: Mavericks rank in three point percentage
If you were to pick one statistic that explains the Mavericks’ struggles this year, this would probably be it. They’re a team built to shoot 3-pointers, and so far this season, they’re doing a poor job of making them. Dallas is only shooting 35% from behind the arc, but they’re ninth in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted, hoisting 37 every game. The way they’ve shot in February is reason for optimism: they hit 39% of their 3-pointers for the month.
30th: Mavericks rank in wide-open three point percentage
The NBA defines being wide-open as any shot where a defender is more than six feet away from the shooter. The Mavericks are shooting the 13th most wide-open 3-pointers in the league. It should probably be more than that with the amount of attention Doncic gets, but the Mavericks’ lack of a roll-man allows defenders to stay on shooters longer than they would otherwise. However, it might not matter, because Dallas is only shooting 35.8% on those wide-open shots from deep, worst in the NBA. The Mavericks’ role players need to hit those easy shots, or Donnie Nelson needs to find guys who will.
44.8: Opponents’ points in the paint against the Mavericks.
The Mavericks deploy a drop coverage scheme that emphasizes keeping opponents away from easy shots at the rim. So far it’s working. They’re sixth in the NBA at defending the paint, despite having a less than stellar big man rotation. The drop coverage gets exposed against certain opponents, but over the course of a season it works.