The Dallas Mavericks clearly decided on a specific player archetype to pair with Luka Doncic in the backcourt. Prior to the 2019-2020 season, the team acquired Delon Wright. Wright is a 6’5 combo guard who the team believed could be a secondary playmaker while taking the tougher backcourt defensive assignment regardless of size.
Wright actually had a better statistical season than Mavericks fans likely remember. He absolutely did not meet the front office’s expectations though. After struggling in the first game, he was moved to the bench and only started a total of five games. He was extremely reluctant to shoot jumpers, which is a non-starter for a player playing next to Luka Doncic.
Wright averaged 3.9 three point attempts per 100 possessions in his season with Dallas while averaging between 4.8 and 5.3 three point attempts per 100 possessions in each other season since 2017-2108. Given the number and quality of shots that Luka creates for his teammates, the drop in attempts in Dallas is hard to understand. It’s even harder to understand considering Wright had one of the better three point shooting seasons of his career at 37 percent. He is a career 35 percent three point shooter.
The Mavericks acted quickly and moved on from Wright in a deal that sent him to the Detroit Pistons. Undeterred, the Mavericks moved on to Josh Richardson as the next combo guard after dealing Seth Curry for Richardson and a draft pick they used on Tyler Bey.
Richardson didn’t work either. Saddled with the same role as Wright, Richardson struggled to maintain enough effective aggression to be successful. Richardson spent the majority of the year mired in quicksand as he could not get untracked. His season numbers were raised by a late hot stretch as he shot 44.4 percent on three point attempts over his last eight games but he only shot 31.7 percent on three point attempts over his first 51 games.
Richardson’s time in Dallas is over, as he was traded to the Boston Celtics. That does not mean that Dallas should give up on the player archetype. It’s worth remembering the importance of the individual player instead of just the archetype. There is a reason the Mavericks identified this player type as a need though.
Reggie Bullock gets mentioned as a replacement for Richardson. He isn’t. Bullock has averaged 1.2 assists per game for his career, which is roughly 41 percent of Richardson’s 2.9 career average. Despite his lack of playmaking, Bullock is a good basketball player and an important addition to the Mavericks. He provides a level of shooting which the team will surely enjoy, but he does not fill the role of a secondary playmaker.
Luka is a fantastic player but he is an interesting fit. Offensively whether he is called a point forward or a point guard is not all that important. He is a ball handler who creates shots for his teammates and himself while also being a generational scorer. He has shown the ability to not be a defensive liability in spurts but given the offensive load he carries, he needs to be protected on defense.
Luka’s ability to handle ball handling duties at his size also puts other teams in a tough position. Most teams have to play a smaller player as a point guard. If the Mavericks play a small shooting guard such as Seth Curry, that allows the other team out of this problem by allowing the point guard to guard a like sized player.
Most importantly, in a playoff series playing the larger defensive combo guard with Luka allows the Mavericks to not have a small guard for apex predator big wings to “bum hunt.” Mavericks fans should understand the danger of playing any individual bad defender after seeing Luka carve large or small defenders apart on switches each of the last two playoffs. Bullock does solve this problem as he is certainly not a “bum” to be hunted on defense.
In the late 90’s, the Mavericks identified a different player archetype they wanted. In the 1997 draft, Dallas selected Chris Anstey in the first round after trading Kelvin Cato for the pick. Anstey was a multi-talented seven footer with a background as a tennis player. Don Nelson famously and foolishly called Anstey the “best running big man in the NBA.” Anstey averaged 4.6 points per game over two seasons with the Mavericks before being traded to the Chicago Bulls for a second round pick.
The following season, the Mavericks executed a draft day trade for Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki needs no further discussion for any Mavericks fan. It has been pointed out how much the Mavericks valued him after his performance at the Nike Hoops Summit which was in Texas. The Mavericks clearly thought highly of Nowitzki and deserve credit for selecting him, but he was also an example of the Mavericks sticking with an archetype after initial failure.
Before Dirk fully became the player we remember, the Mavericks even attempted other bites at the apple with the drafting of Wang Zhi-Zhi and the trade for Christian Laettner. The Mavericks essentially went one for four on swings at this type of player.
Because of the success of the one, no one remembers the other three. The Mavericks identified a player type they thought would be successful and were persistent in attempting to acquire the right individual player who fit into that player type despite multiple failures. Bullock’s addition does not block the need for another playmaker. The team should not give up on finding the right big combo guard to play with Luka. If the team is successful doing so, no one will remember the Wright and Richardson failures.