Jason Kidd has been hired as the coach of the Dallas Mavericks. This has led to much consternation throughout Mavericks fandom. In general I share much of that angst. However, on a purely basketball level(other concerns should not be ignored, they have simply been discussed at length elsewhere) this hire absolutely could work.
Jason Kidd has an incredible basketball IQ. Rick Carlisle is not too popular in Dallas at the moment, but he famously called Kidd a “savant on the basketball floor” during an episode of Open Court on TNT. (approximately 16:50 into this video is the quote in question)
In his first coaching stint, Kidd inherited a 25 year old Brook Lopez who was limited to 17 games due to injuries. With Lopez injured, the team became much more mobile and played a hybrid lineup with a small front court of Paul Pierce at power forward and Kevin Garnett at center with a large backcourt of some combination of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Shaun Livingston manning the back court.
This mobile front line and large back court allowed the Nets to go from 19th in the league in steals the previous season all the way up to 4th. They fell back to 23rd in steals the following season once Kidd was replaced by Lionel Hollins.
It took Kidd a while to get started as the team went 4 and 15 in their first 19 games. Once Kidd figured out the hybrid lineup combinations mentioned above, they went 40 and 21 in their next 61 games before finishing with 2 losses to end the season.
The Nets played the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. In that series the Nets were able to maintain their advantage in steals with the Nets collecting 59 steals to the Raptors 39. They also held the Raptors star backcourt to a combined 39.3% shooting percentage from the field. All of this led to the Nets winning a first round series, which the Mavericks have not done in a decade.
The Nets then ran into the legend that is Lebron James. Building a strategy around overwhelming opponents perimeter players with superior size isn’t an effective strategy against the king. The Nets lost in 5 games and Kidd never coached another game in Brooklyn due to a front office power struggle.
When he lost the power struggle, Kidd worked his way to Milwaukee and took over a team with a nascent Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks had gone 15 and 67 the season prior to Kidd’s arrival and were dead last in the league in defensive rating. They were next to last in net rating. While it easy to see what an incredible talent Giannis is now, he only averaged 6.8 points 4.4 rebounds and shot 41.4 percent from the floor. Strangely Giannis’ future appeared to possibly be as a stretch big as he shot 34.7 percent from three as a rookie.
In Kidd’s first season the Bucks moved all the way up to 4th in defensive rating and 15th in net rating. They led the league in steals after being 28th in steals the previous season. Once again, Kidd employed a large back court with Giannis, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams all getting a large amount of back court minutes.
They lost to the Jimmy Butler/Derrick Rose Bulls in the first round in 6 games. However, the long, athletic, young team appeared to be on the road to an incredibly bright future. Kidd had the team trapping all pick and rolls and punishing anything but the most expert of ball handlers.
The NBA punishes teams that fail to adjust. Kidd and the Bucks learned this lesson the following season when they continued to trap all pick and rolls and teams picked them apart. They fell to 33 and 49 and did not make the playoffs. They ranked 23rd in defensive rating and 26th in net rating. They did not make the playoffs. They fell to 13th in steals.
The Bucks rebounded to 42 and 40 in 2016-2017. Jabari Parker, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker provided an influx of young talent while Matthew Dellavedova and Tony Snell were stabilizing young veterans. The team was still not anything special as they were 16th in net rating and could not get out of the first round, losing to the Derozan/Lowry Raptors that Kidd had previously beaten with the Bucks. Kidd was fired 45 games into the next season.
What are the takeaways from Kidd’s previous stops and how can they be applied to the Mavericks? Kidd loves using large back courts. This fits Dallas because any team with Luka Doncic is inherently going to play a large back court. The 2020 Mavericks were next to last in steals. In 2021, they were dead last in the league in steals. They will not be in 2022. They were also 26th in blocks. That number will also increase.
The Mavericks have relied on basic principles of staying between their men and the rim, ceding mildly contested mid and long range jumpers for years. Over the long haul of a season that strategy can work. Unfortunately, hoping the other team misses is not a viable plan in the playoffs. Kidd will empower his defenders to make plays. Josh Richardson is incredibly unlikely to be back next season but there will be a point of attack defender, and that person will not have the handcuffs Richardson had this year.
Kidd will play young guys. Josh Green may be a useful NBA player. He may not. We will know this year and either way that is important to Dallas. Thon Maker started 34 games as a rookie and averaged 10 minutes a game over 57 games. Kidd developed Giannis by allowing him to stretch his game even at the cost of mistakes. Kidd will likely ask several non Luka Mavericks to handle larger shares of playmaking than they have done previously. This will hopefully help Green who is probably the second best passer on the Mavericks.
All in all, from a basketball perspective this move has a chance to work. Kidd is one of the few players who has ever understood the game as well as Luka. He will help the team in one of its biggest weaknesses, developing young players. He will likely lighten the playmaking load on Luka.
He should not have the professional arrogance that Carlisle has earned. Many have pointed out that the teams the Mavericks have lost to in the playoffs have gone on to be highly successful later in the playoffs. This is because the Mavericks do not value regular season records and have thus been under seeded.
Some people have guessed that the transition to Kidd as coach would lead to the team running more because of the terror he was in transition as a player. But Kidd’s teams have historically not run much. They do run selectively on the high number of steals they cause by trapping, but a Kidd coached Mavericks with Luka running the show is unlikely to be much faster paced than in previous seasons.
It seems incredibly obvious, but playing worse teams early makes it easier to advance. A less established coach should be less content to throw away games. Hopefully the lightened playmaking load on Luka, along with the development of young players and a higher seed, will lead the Mavericks out of the first round for the first time since 2011.