Looking at things from a distance, objectively, the Mavericks had a successful season. Consider the following:
- Better winning percentage than last season
- Higher seed from last season
- Six key players posted career-high true shooting percentages (Luka Doncic, Maxi Kleber, Jalen Brunson, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith and Kristaps Porzingis).
- The Mavericks are entering the playoffs in significantly better health than last season.
Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t worthy criticisms of this Mavericks roster and especially their direction toward the future, but when you think about all the things listed above happening during a season where the Mavericks were decimated by a COVID outbreak and Porzingis’ recovery from offseason knee surgery, it’s somewhat remarkable the Mavericks are in as good as a position as they are.
So why is everyone so pissed off?
I think I know why, but I wanted to ask. Following the Mavericks online this season has been an exercise in patience and making liberal use of the block and mute functions on Twitter. I don’t want to preach or tell anyone how to be a fan, but I just found it curious how it seemed so many people were losing their minds over a team that, in the end, turned things around in a major way.
When I asked this question a month ago, I got lots of responses. I sensed a trend in the responses, so I’m going to break it down the responses by themes they followed.
Reason 1: The Mavericks losing to bad teams
Taking unnecessary gambles while resting key/important players against inferior opponents (HOU/OKC etc.) and subsequently loosing those (must win) games. Team is not deep enough and can not afford to slack off against these teams, especially.— Bragi (@bragifk) April 10, 2021
Inconsistency and the effort sometimes, mainly. Sometimes I think that they think they're better than they really are. Like they tend to play down to their opponent, like Houston the other day. They're not good enough to play down to their opponent— Matt Steele (@TenaciousDong) April 10, 2021
Of all the reasons I received, the Mavericks dropping games to bad teams was by far the most prevalent. It’s fairly maddening too, when you consider how successful the Mavericks were against other playoff teams.
“100 percent my frustration is consistency,“ one user direct messaged me. “They can beat the best team and lose to the worst team. You never know if they will come out with a fire every night.”
They followed up with the real hard truth: “I can never bet on them because of it lol.”
A lot of these responses were combined with the fact that the Mavericks have rested Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis against these bad teams and then lose the game. Dallas has lost to Chicago (twice), Houston (twice), Toronto, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Sacramento (three times) and Minnesota. That’s 11 losses against non-playoff teams, not to mention the various sluggish wins against teams like the Pistons.
“Simply: feel they leave a lot on the table. Just not all in from coaches to front office,” user and former MMB writer Ry sent me. “We see it with the rest, lineups, and even strategy. This team is 4-6 games better than the record says.”
Following this line of thought, I received a lot of responses about the Mavericks simply not playing hard enough, which seems to be most of a problem during these games against bad teams. For whatever reason, whether its resting their stars, disinterest or not getting up to play games that aren’t marquee matchups, it was obviously a problem for the Mavericks.
One user sent me a DM that was slightly damning: “It drives me nuts that I genuinely think this team has a shot at the conference finals, at least. But they don’t believe it; and their own self consciousness will make them lose on the first round of the playoffs.”
Some of this comes from Luka’s own maturity as well — he is only 22-years-old, after all. While he’s probably the most accomplished 22-year-old basketball player of all time, it doesn’t change the fact that there is still room to grow. As your team’s star goes, so does the rest of the team. It’s likely not a coincidence that Luka has sluggish first quarters against these bad teams and the rest of the team follows through.
As J.J. Barea said earlier in the year, Luka is still a kid. As he matures, both with his mentality and offseason training, these problems should go away.
Reason 2: The Mavericks offseason failures are finally reaching a boiling point
because Brunson is their third best player, no knock on him but that's not good enough in the West. I'm also mad that they've made the upcoming offseason so vital because of failures in the last two.— Kenny Bybee (@KennyBybee) April 10, 2021
Mavs not going all in to get a 3rd guy while Luka is still on a rookie contract. If Cuban and Donnie think Luka is as great as they keep saying, why don’t didn’t they leverage the future get a second ball handler they can keep for a year or two? Keeping powder dry for what?— Karlos Elguea (@CElguea) April 11, 2021
It's more front office overrating their own role players and misses in FA and Draft. Way more roster construction than anything with to do the players.— Rafael Felizardo (@rafafelizardof) April 10, 2021
I don't trust them building around Luka going forward and it makes every DFS and JR missed open 3 a reminder of that.
10 years of losses have make me skeptical with the doses of success that we have had. Smiling when you think that we have Luka and KP, being irritated when we don’t put ourselves in a position to take the next step. This PO/off-season will be crucial for our team.— Diego Olivares (@dolivares41) April 10, 2021
Since the Mavericks won the NBA title in 2011, it’s no secret that they’ve stumbled in the ensuing offseasons — and that’s putting it lightly.
The strikeouts on major star free agents are getting harder to count on one hand: Deron Williams, Dwight Howard (and in turn, Chris Paul), Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, Mike Conley, Hassan Whiteside. Some of those misfires turned out to be positives, but when you look at the body of work the Mavericks have done since 2011, it’s clear there’s a concerning pattern in the free agency process.
Nabbing Luka and Kristaps Porzingis was obviously huge, but in terms of their free agent strategy, there is a lot left to be desired. For example, if you did a poll of all Mavericks watchers (fans, media, etc.) and asked them to rank the four best Mavericks players this season, the likely top four would be some order of Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Jalen Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr. All of those players were on the roster as of Feb. 2019. Just about every offseason move they’ve made since drafting Doncic and trading for Porzingis has been a failure: the offseason of 2019 will go down in infamy, as the Mavericks failed to sign anyone of importance, before snagging Delon Wright, Seth Curry and Boban Marjanovic.
Wright was so bad, he was salary dumped for James Johnson, who in turn was traded for J.J. Redick and Nicolò Melli, one who is hurt and likely won’t play in the playoffs, the other a spare part counted on at times due to injuries but is shooting negative percent from three (don’t fact check that). Curry was traded for Josh Richardson and a high second round pick, which looked like an amazing move until Richardson experienced one of the worst seasons of his career and the draft pick (Tyler Bey) hasn’t seen much action. In 2020, Dallas didn’t have much room to work with in free agency and its two moves consisted of brining back Willie Cauley-Stein (a serviceable backup big) and Trey Burke (a backup guard who fell out of the rotation).
Point is, people are starting to get fed up.
Take a look at this long DM someone sent me and to be honest, it’s really hard to argue with any of it:
“This season was one of the first times I looked back at the past decade when it comes to (free agency) and the draft, and I was pretty shocked at how bad they’ve been,” he said. “(Chandler) Parsons and (Harrison) Barnes being the best (free agency) signings that other teams wanted is pretty mediocre for a team that has been looking for quick ways to become contenders again. Monta (Ellis) was actually the best signing, but nobody wanted him. Also, trying to save cap space in 2019 instead of signing players that could help the team makes it seem like they don’t have a plan, or just put all their apples into the Giannis basket. Either way, it looks bad, especially for a team that constantly acts like they’re the smartest ones in the room. With regards to the draft, having one first round pick (Luka) make it to a second contract since Dominique Jones is just really bad. I’d love to say that I have expectations for Josh Green or Tyrell Terry, but I don’t think they’ll be on the team passed next year because Mavs history tells us it’s very unlikely.”
For most of the other reasons in this piece, I can try to explain them away or provide reassurance that things will get better or the issue isn’t as big a deal as it seems. For this though, it’s hard to be optimistic. Until the Mavericks have a dynamite free agency, there will always be doubts.
One user summed it up quite well, in regards to how the organization treats free agency.
“In short, this team‘s hubris is out of control.”
Reason 3: The team’s lack of killer instinct or consistent engagement
this is evident in shot selection as well. some quarters, the ball moves well and guys make nice cuts, set screens, and work to get eachother open. other times, it seems like everyone is waiting for someone else to do something, which usually results in a bad shot or turnover.— Joseph (@josephbergdoll) April 10, 2021
Ignoring front office stuff:— Mario Judahs Priest (@simp_182) April 10, 2021
They always open games like they've just gotten out of bed. They have weird chemistry stuff this season.
and Josh Richardson.
I am frustrated because it feels like sometimes this team doesn’t do the little things that tip victories your way on rough nights (long and short rebounding, effort, making free throws, getting 50/50 balls).— Brian (@pdx_mavs) April 10, 2021
This wasn’t an answer I wasn’t expecting as much as the first two, but there was a significant amount of responses centered around this idea that the Mavericks aren’t engaged throughout a game or play a different style at times to their detriment.
While this can be traced back to playing poorly against bad teams, I think we’ve all seen stretches from this Mavericks team, even in games against good teams, where things just sorta get out of whack for up to a quarter or half at a time. This is backed-up by the really funny stat that Dallas is 27-0 when they lead after the first quarter — which means they’ve trailed after the first quarter in a majority of their games this season. Dallas routinely got out to slow or sloppy starts, needing a quarter or halftime break to get things into gear.
For the season, the Mavericks are 17th in the league in first quarter net rating — every team below the Mavericks in that ranking, except for one (Golden State), is below .500.
In a direct message, a user took this point and explained it even further.
“I know this is incredibly lame, but at times it feels like the Mavs just do not play that hard,” they said. “Especially early. I know five out is king, but sometimes they are perfectly okay with just watching Luka/Brunson work. There hasn’t been that classic Mavs ball movement until the last few weeks.”
This one will seemingly be solved, hopefully, by the playoffs — every game is do or die now and the Mavericks can’t afford to take their foot off the gas. We’ve seen what this team looks like when it doesn’t (solid wins against the Clippers, Jazz, Bucks, Nets and Lakers), and good teams seem to bring this out of the Mavericks more. They’ll be playing an excellent team in the playoffs, so effort shouldn’t be an issue.
Reason 4: Mavs fans are just weirdos
The fans responding to this tweet— Erick Holt (@EPHolt) April 11, 2021
That mixed with the paralyzing fear that we'll have to watch Luka in Lakers purple and gold in a few years. But the truth is we're doing pretty well, and I bet we're in a realistic position for a finals appearance within three years. But hey, panic is fun and addictive, so...— Justin Boyd (@tweetjustinboyd) April 10, 2021
Because our fanbase is mentally ill— Michael Hinojosa (@MichaelHinni) April 10, 2021
This is all completely accurate, and I’m including myself here. We’re all slowly turning into Jokers.