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The Mavericks could turn their season around if they just played their best players more

Dallas is off to a disappointing start, but there are still ways to change things without a major trade

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Milwaukee Bucks Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

No need to sugar coat it: the Mavericks are in a dark place right now. In the midst of a four game losing streak, there’s unfortunately not a lot to like about this Mavericks team. It’s the longest losing streak since Feb. 2021 and the first time Dallas has lost at least four in a row since Jason Kidd was hired as head coach.

Our editor in chief Kirk Henderson was correct when he wrote his column about how there is no help on the way for this team, despite the recent acquisition of former All-Star guard Kemba Walker. Walker will certainly help, but he by no means should have any expectations of being a savior. If Walker can just come off the bench and hit some threes, that’ll be a boost to the current squad. But while the Mavericks might not make a roster-altering trade this season, there are still some pieces on this roster that can be rearranged and additional steps taken to turn things around. Here’s the major key:

Play their most productive players more often together

This is fairly obvious, right? Just play the guys that are doing positive things more, and play them more often together at the same time. Oddly enough this hasn’t been so easy for the Mavericks.

It’s not hard to deduce the four most productive players for the Mavericks so far this season: Luka Doncic is leading the league in scoring, Spencer Dinwiddie is shooting a career-high from three, Christian Wood is scoring 17 points per game at a ridiculously efficient rate, and Josh Green, while not shooting a lot, is making a lot, along with solid defense.

Of those four, two of those players, Doncic and Dinwiddie, are first and third in minutes played (duh). But the other two, Green and Wood, are just fifth (Wood) and eighth (Green). That doesn’t make a ton of sense. Wood is the second-leading scorer on the team, but the fifth most in minutes played. That’s the first, most obvious switch: start Wood.

Kidd has been playing around this issue all season, citing multiple reasons for Wood’s irregular minutes, whether it’s his trust in his defensive ability or what he feels is the Mavericks depth of quality big men squeezing him out. No matter what the case, with the Mavericks at 9-10, it’s time to just stop pretending that Wood isn’t the second most talented player on this roster and just roll him out there.

In the 267 minutes Wood and Doncic have played together, the Mavericks are plus-50, according to Per 100 possession data is awfully noisy at this time of the season, but in the 236 possessions Doncic and Wood shared the floor so far this season, the Mavericks score 138.1 points per 100 possessions, while allowing 102.1 points, according to Cleaning the Glass. When Doncic is on the floor without Wood, the Mavericks are barely breaking even on net-rating while scoring 113.3 points per 100 possessions.

Wood is the only Mavericks big on the roster that can capably do both diving toward the rim and spreading the floor in the pick and roll. He showcased that in the Bucks loss Sunday, and one play in particular that was mighty impressive was when he blew by Brook Lopez for a two handed jam in the third quarter.

Dwight Powell can rim run, Maxi Kleber can pick and pop — but neither can really do both. Wood can, and it’s imperative the Mavericks maximize Wood’s time on the floor with Doncic, by far the best playmaker Wood has ever shared the floor with. The idea that Wood could stabilize the Mavericks bench had merit before the season started, since Dinwiddie was going to move into the starting lineup with Jalen Brunson’s departure. Wood has enough individual offensive talent to generate buckets by himself, so you can squint and see the logic in having him carry the bench load, while Doncic does his thing with the starters.

What is actually happening is the Mavericks are just sort of treading water throughout the game. Doncic and the starters play well enough, but with Doncic having to do the heavy lifting. Wood comes in with the bench unit that doesn’t feature any real passing and sometimes goes wasted, then Doncic comes back with Wood and the team gets something cooking, only for the regular starters to come back in and the wheel starts spinning all over again. Wood and Dinwiddie have played more non-garbage time possessions together than Doncic and Wood, and when Wood and Dinwiddie share the floor without Doncic, the Mavericks offense struggles to do much of anything, scoring 105.9 points per 100 possessions according to Cleaning the Glass. The way the Mavericks are using Wood is like trying to win a game with one armed tied behind their back.

There are some concerns, to be fair, but at this point I’m not sure they outweigh the positives. Wood isn’t a good defender. His rotations are slow, he can’t reliably switch, and when he does make it to the right spot, his contests are sometimes weak. Opponents are shooting 64.6 percent at the rim against Wood, which is a fairly mediocre numbers. For context, that same number for regular punching bag Dwight Powell last season was 62.7 percent. While the Mavericks won the third quarter against the Bucks with Wood starting the half, it’s no coincidence that the Bucks also scored 31 points of their own. Here’s the rub though — this season, opponents are shooting a staggering 73.7 percent against Powell. The Bucks scored 41 points in a first quarter Wood didn’t start. So is Wood playing really that detrimental to the overall defense, when the offense can get so stagnant?

The next piece of the puzzle is Josh Green, the third year forward that is the apple of Mavericks fans’ eye. Green has been staggeringly efficient in his limited attempts — he’s shooting 21-of-29 (72.4 percent) on two pointers and 19-of-39 (48.7 percent) on three pointers. Of course, he’s only averaging about 3.6 shots in his 19 minutes per game, a really microscopic number that could be a reason for his playing time not being expanded. Simply put, if Green does play more, he has to shoot at a far greater rate than he currently is. But considering the players above him in the pecking order (Reggie Bullock, Dorain Finney-Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr.) can’t make much of anything right now, Green’s sometimes shy trigger finger shouldn’t hold him that far back.

By far the biggest issue with the Mavericks offense is how one-dimensional it is — Doncic has to create something next to an army of stand-still, spot-up guys that can’t dribble. Some critics of this line of thought argue that not a lot of teams have four or five playmakers and while that’s true, the Mavericks don’t need five playmakers, they need five dribblers. The Mavericks, outside of Doncic and Dinwiddie, are embarrassingly low at drives per game according to data. Only three players (Doncic, Dinwiddie, Wood) average four or more drives per game. Add Finney-Smith if we drop the baseline to three. After that? No one else gets to three or more on the roster. That’s bad! The Mavericks don’t need a bunch of playmakers but they do need players that can attack the space that Doncic creates for them. You don’t need to be a playmaker to aggressively attack a closeout and try to score or pass the ball out. This is where Green comes in, because he is almost making a mockery of his teammates in terms of dynamism.

Green has played 363 total minutes this season. Finney-Smith has played 637, Bullock 518, and Hardaway 427. Despite that huge gap, Green has made more shots at the rim (19) than Bullock (three) and Hardaway (10) combined, while not lagging that far behind Finney-Smith (28).

In terms of drives per game, it’s also a laugher. Despite playing significantly less minutes than all three of his teammates, Green has more drives than Bullock, Hardaway, and almost as much as Finney-Smith.

Mavericks wings attacking the basket

Player Minutes Shooting at the rim Total drives
Player Minutes Shooting at the rim Total drives
Josh Green 363 19-of-22 46
Reggie Bullock 518 3-of-10 7
Tim Hardaway Jr. 427 10-of-27 41
Dorian Finney-Smith 637 28-of-39 58

Green’s ability to attack and finish at the basket has been a huge development for Green, who struggled finishing in college. Perhaps it’s still a case of small sample size due to Green’s lack of attempts, but simply put no other role playing wing on the Mavericks roster can make the plays Green makes at the rim.

We haven’t even gotten to Green’s defense, which has been solid so far. Green still finds himself in trouble at times in 1-on-1 scenarios, but his ability to cause havoc in the halfcourt as a help defender is tremendous. When Green is on the floor, the Mavericks as a team give up 105.5 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Here’s the kicker — in 120 minutes that Wood, Doncic, and Green have played together, the Mavericks have outscored teams by 80 points. Yes, that’s right, plus-80, according to By 100 possessions? Well, Cleaning the Glass has the Mavericks net-rating at 36 points per 100 possessions — the Mavericks score 138.1, give up 102.1 when those three are on the floor, which has been for 236 possessions so far. Again, we’re in small sample size theater, but as Bullock, Hardaway, and even Finney-Smith struggle at times, why not just get the players that are playing well on the floor together more. There’s a possibility Wood’s defensive limitations shine brighter with an increased role or that Green’s offensive game cools off with more minutes, but the Mavericks are currently in a spot where they don’t have much more to lose. The team is already off to a disappointing start, 9-10 through 19 games despite an extremely favorable schedule that included 11 home games and multiple games against teams missing their best players. The Mavericks have to give this a try, before the season slips away anymore.