Plan powder is dead. Long live plan powder. The Dallas Mavericks signed Reggie Bullock before many of the larger names had officially made decisions. The modus operandi for the Mavericks over the past years has been to wait on big name free agents to make decisions while useful veterans signed with other contenders.
The signing of Bullock signals a change, but Bullock is an actual player rather than just an archetype or a symbol for the front office. Bullock is a very good shooter and a good defender. The term “3 and D” player, referring to players who provide three point shooting and defense, is thrown around often. The Mavericks especially covet “3 and D” players due to Luka Doncic’s abilities as a shot creator and limitations defensively.
The problem for the Mavericks is that most of the role players they have acquired are actually “3 or D” players meaning that they can either defend or shoot but not both. James Johnson, Wes Iwundu and even Josh Richardson were all though to fit in this player type but none were able to shoot well enough to stay on the court. Josh Green shows potential as a defender and playmaker but he shot about as well as a storm trooper last season. That will not be a problem for Bullock.
Newly resigned Maverick Tim Hardaway Jr. provides plenty of shooting, but is not exactly peak Tony Allen defensively. Though he ended up not playing enough to matter, JJ Redick also would have classified as a great shooter with subpar defense.
The Mavericks were the 6th worst team in the league at defending pick and roll ball handlers last season which put them in the 17th percentile. Bullock was in the 71st percentile of pick and roll ball handler defenders over the same period of time. The Mavericks allowed .91 points per play defensively, while Bullock allowed .81 points per play.
Defending pick and rolls is a team responsibility so it should be expected that his numbers get worse with worse personnel around him in Dallas. However, he is a solid start to improving the team in this area. Part of the reason Kristaps Porzingis looked so awful in drop coverage is that none of the teams guards could get around a screen. Porzingis has to improve, but this move should help him defensively.
This move should also help Maxi Kleber defensively. There should never be another series against an apex predator wing where the Mavericks ask Kleber to be the primary defender. Kleber is a good basketball player but the Mavericks have put him in positions to fail each of the last two playoffs. This should allow him to return to playing as a second unit big man rather than a starting big wing. Or at the very least get a better distribution of minutes for guarding these types of players.
Offensively Bullock’s shooting should not be understated. The Mavericks have had a tendency to obtain average shooters and hope that the quality of shots that Luka generates will make them look better than average as shooters. Bullock is a career 39.2 percent 3 point shooter who shot 41.0 percent last year while making 163 threes.
Bullock was in the 77th percentile in catch and shoot situations last year. Julius Randle was fantastic, but he isn’t Luka. Dorian Finney-Smith shot 40.9 percent on shots classified as wide open by NBA.com last season. Bullock shot 46.9 percent on such shots.
Perhaps more importantly, he takes a large volume of shots. Bullock’s 6.1 three point attempts per game would have ranked third on the Mavericks just ahead of Porzingis’ 6.0 last season. The value of shooting is not just in the direct points made from jumpers, but in the spacing provided for others. Defenses respond to volume nearly as much as they respond to accuracy.
Dallas signed to 3&D wing players on Day 1 of free agency. Here is how Bullock and Brown compare to some other spot-up shooters on Playoff teams— Iztok Franko (@iztok_franko) August 3, 2021
Comparison of 3P volume, 3P%, and difficulty (share of assisted 3P shots).
Bullock great shooting on nice volume (>6 3PA) pic.twitter.com/fUig0qn3hu
Adding another shooter who combines volume and accuracy should help Luka get to the rim.
Some players are more comfortable dribbling before shooting in order to create rhythm. This has led to struggles for Delon Wright and Richardson over the last couple of season. Bullock is extremely comfortable firing off the catch and should be utilized as a weapon in that regard.
The main downside to the Bullock signing is that he does nothing to ease the shot creation burden on Luka. Imagining potential lineups with the new Mavericks, it is easy to picture Luka and Porzingis playing with 3 of Hardaway Jr, Bullock, Finney-Smith and Kleber. Hardaway led the non-Luka players mentioned in that group in assists with 1.8 per game last season. That means one of them will have to pick up an increased passing load in order for those lineups to be viable.
I believe Porzingis has upside in this category, especially if surrounded by the amount of shooting this team should possess but he has never consistently shown. The Mavericks were much better in the games where Porzingis passed more. He had 6 games with at least 4 assists last season. The Mavericks were 6-0 with an average margin of victory of 18 points per game in those contests. Surrounding him with another shooter like Bullock, and one who does not need the ball should lead to more passing by the unicorn.
There are many Mavericks fans who are upset because of the limited improvement the team has made over the last few seasons, but this is absolutely a step in the right direction. He will help the team on both ends, while providing a useful contract for salary matching should the Mavericks find a trade they like.
The Bullock signing is not a home run but it is a solid single. He is going to help the Mavericks, especially if the team can add one more ball handler/shot creator(Goran Dragic?). Welcome to Dallas, Reggie Bullock. We are thrilled to have you.
Here’s our Monday evening free agency podcast. We recorded around 10:30 pm CST so if more happened, we’ll talk about that tomorrow. Here’s the direct link again. Search Mavs Moneyball Podcast on your favorite app.