“The post up is just not a good play anymore. It’s just not a good play. It’s not a good play for a 7’3 guy. It’s a low value situation.” Rick Carlisle spoke these words in response to criticism regarding Kristaps Porzingis’ usage. Carlisle valued pristine spacing more than maybe any coach in the history of the league. In the pursuit of that elite spacing, Carlisle routinely employed shooting big men, most notably, Porzingis.
Those offenses produced incredible results, culminating in the 2019-20 Dallas Mavericks producing the highest offensive rating in the history of the sport to that point. That team rode math and Luka Doncic to such lofty offensive heights. They averaged the second fewest turnovers and the second most three point attempts in the league. Doncic showed the beginnings of the offensive monster he has become. Mixed together those results led to an elite offense.
The Mavericks finished that season 20th in points scored via post ups with 302 points. They were in the 27th percentile in post efficiency at 0.89 points per play in the post. The Mavericks ran 4.0 post plays per game as a team.
It is incredibly early in the season to be drawing too many conclusions based on results but process can be judged quickly. This season the Mavericks are averaging the fifth fewest turnovers in the league and the seventh most three point attempts. They are still an analytically friendly team, but they do not lean as hard into the analytics as they did under Carlisle.
The biggest differential is the usage of the post game. They have more than doubled their post ups from the Carlisle era to 9.0 per game. Only the New Orleans Pelicans post more at 10.0 per game. The Mavericks marry that high volume with incredible efficiency. They are averaging 1.24 points per post up which is leading the league. For reference, the Washington Wizards, at 1 point per post, are the only other team in the league that is averaging over .9 points per post up on over 6 post ups per game.
The Mavericks are on pace to score 913 points in the post this year, which is more than triple what the Mavericks scored in 19-20. This is led, as everything involving the Mavericks is by Doncic. Doncic is averaging 1.23 points per play on 5.6 post ups per game. That is the fourth best efficiency in the league, but Nikola Jokic is the only other player in the league who is averaging at least a point per play on at least 4 post ups per game.
Christian Wood is proving an able sidekick in this regard as he is averaging 1.25 points per post on 2.9 posts per game. That is the second best efficiency in the league, though the volume is more modest due to his usage.
Doncic has been becoming a menace in the post before. He is ridiculously strong for a guard/wing. He is also much taller and has a longer wingspan than just about any point guard. His work in the post is also a measure of his footwork and preternatural feel for basketball geometry. He is too strong for guards. His footwork is too good for big men and if all else fails, he can rely on a “Dirk” fade. Perhaps most importantly, he is mean. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson can attest to that after the Mavericks series versus the Phoenix Suns last season.
The Mavericks face switching defense much more frequently than they used to. The word is out that the rest of the Mavericks are too good as shooters, and Doncic is too good at finding them to rely on any other form of defense. One of the counters to switching is to punish the mismatch in the post. The Mavericks have become much more adept at doing so as both Wood and Doncic are too big and too good to be guarded by guards.
Both of the plays above involve Wood attacking a switch after a screen. Mavericks fans have been clamoring for diversity in an offense that can feature too much of Doncic dribbling from the top of the floor, but the Mavericks have quietly already diversified their offense.
This increased post usage does not alleviate the issue of Doncic using a ton of possessions because of how often Doncic is the one posting up. But it does provide diversity to the offense and make it much less likely to get slowed down by any one type of defense. The 2019-20 Mavericks were a historically great offense. This year’s team has a chance to be so as well, but in a much different fashion.