The Dallas Mavericks are a strange team that employs a collection of strange players. The team has been unable to advance past the first round either of the last 2 seasons. This season, Josh Richardson, Dwight Powell, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Burke, Josh Green, Nicollo Melli and Boban Marjanovic played a combined total of 332 minutes in the 7 games versus the Los Angeles Clippers. That is 47.4 minutes per game which means that those players combined to average essentially an entire game.
This group is depressing to look at. That depression is important. If someone looks at the 2021 Mavericks and sees a well constructed team around Luka, that person needs their vision checked. However, the overwhelming sadness of this group is also a cause for hope. The worse the players being replaced, the more improvement merely being average represents.
In addition to the motley crew listed above, Maxi Kleber and Jalen Brunson combined for 301 minutes or 43 minutes per game. They are much better than the players listed above, but due to a variety of factors, they did not play well in this match up. Brunson struggled with the Clippers length and athleticism. Kleber struggled with an injury and being asked to do too much.
Kleber and Brunson combined to average 13.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, .4 steals and 0 blocks in this series. Kleber, the Mavericks best defender, did not have a single block. It is unlikely that the Mavericks will play the Clippers again in the playoffs. A large part of the reason that the Mavericks struggled was peak Kawhi Leonard being a matchup nightmare.
Leonard averaged 32.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.0 blocks on absurd 61.2/42.5/89.8 shooting splits. Worse, he limited Porzingis and then Hardaway defensively. The Western Conference Champion Phoenix Suns did not have to deal with Leonard because he was injured.
Luka Doncic has been absurdly good in both playoff series. Bill Simmons once made the “42 club” referring to players who’s combined points, rebounds and assists averages totaled 42 during the playoffs. Luka’s career playoff stats would nearly place him in the “52 club” as his career playoff averages total 51.8.
Luka is one of the most incandescent talents the league has ever seen. While the nickname “unicorn” may no longer be appropriate for Kristaps Porzingis, he is still talented. Brunson is an incredibly successful second round pick.
Dorian Finney-Smith is a huge success for an undrafted player and will likely get paid a large sum of money next offseason because of it. Kleber is also a huge success as a free agent and has already been paid a large sum of money. Tim Hardaway Jr. has a flamethrower and will likely get paid MORE than he did in his last contract that was seen as an albatross after two plus successful seasons in Dallas.
I often find myself nixing potential free agent options for a variety of reasons but it is important to remember what those players would be replacing. Demar Derozan is not an ideal fit and I fail to see why so many people love him. But he is better than what Richardson and Burke offered this year.
It concerns me to tie up so much money in big men, but any of the big men the Mavericks are reportedly interested in would be improvements over Powell, Cauley-Stein, Boban and Melli. Those players totaled 217 of these minutes. Giving those minutes to a player as average as Kelly Olynyk could have been the difference in the series because it was so close.
The Mavericks likely cannot face a worse matchup in the playoffs next year. Porzingis, Brunson and Kleber should be freed in a better matchup. Hopefully they will have more help around them. It is easy to see this mess of a roster and think that there is no solution, but because of how dominant Luka is, the bar for the rest of the team is so low. The glass that is the Mavericks, may appear to be half empty but by definition, that means it is also half full.