The start of every season brings absolute agony and absolute ecstasy, sometimes nearly side by side in brief flickering moments from game to game. Each play holds all the potential and all the futility of the season ahead. As fans it is a real test of how full or empty you see the glass in front of you.
This is the return of The Good and the Bad, a series looking at the little (and sometimes big) things that make up a Mavericks season. The shape of this Dallas Mavericks team, and what they will be this season, is still undetermined. While we wait for their final form this is what has jumped out so far.
GOOD: Luka in the lane
There have been stretches in almost every game this season where Angry Luka has emerged, remembering that basically no one in the league can stop him getting to the rim, and has put on a layup clinic for four or five straight possessions. Whether it’s fitness or better driving lanes it appears Doncic has made a concerted effort to trade in a few stepback threes for attempts in the restricted area.
Through seven games, on 82 attempts, Luka is a blistering 69.5-percent from inside 10 feet of the basket. There are only three other players — Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, and Giannis Antetokounmpo — that have attempted more, and Giannis is the only one of that group shooting better. Is this sustainable production Luka the deeper we get into this season, given his usage? Maybe not. But with defenses having a increased awareness of the Mavericks shooters, perhaps opening up just a little more space for Doncic to operate through the lane, he should be able to combine some of that with his own savviness to get to his spots as the year moves on.
BAD: Rim protection
The Mavericks aren’t just ushering opponents to the rim every game. Thanks to playing slower than anyone else in the league, the team is actually 23rd in the league at 26.6 opponent attempts inside the restricted area per game. Unfortunately they’re also allowing teams to shoot a stomach-churning 68.3-percent once they get there — 25th in the league. The Mavericks are also allowing opponents to connect on nearly 49-percent of all attempts in the paint, good for 28th in the league.
After their win over the Utah Jazz head coach Jason Kidd said of their use of a zone defense for stretches, “Since we can’t guard man-to-man right now, we’ll try everything.”
He’s not lying. He was also asked about the prospect of inserting Dwight Powell into the starting lineup after his recent positive play. His answer? “If I can start six, yeah.” Kidd continues to dance around and tease at the larger question of why JaVale McGee remains as starting center while posting a minus-30 in his 68 minutes. The Mavericks playing poor defense is not all on McGee, to be clear. But he also isn’t bolstering the starting unit with rebounding and rim protection as was advertised by the front office when he signed with the team over the summer.
Kidd’s calling card as a coach has been defensive identity, something the team hung their hat on all last season. There is much to be improved across the floor, but for now, it starts at the rim.
GOOD: Josh Green trending up
More...Josh...Green? More Josh Green, can I say that? Maybe not more minutes, but more opportunity in the minutes he does get. Look, MFFLs love a good debate and short of Christian Wood’s playing time Josh Green’s development, the team’s 8th man, might be the most talked about. Some of it might be fixation, some of it might be the team hurting for young developmental depth over the years. But early signs this season point to Green making strides, something hugely important to the Mavericks’ long term legitimacy.
This is his shot chart so far this season. He has started confident, which is vital for a player like Green. Yes, he’s only playing 16 minutes per game so he can only get so many attempts up in the flow of the offense. But I’d like to see him firing more. He’s passed up threes and layups, and most of the time when he does it ends in a turnover or a lower percentage shot from someone else. But one thing that jumps out from this chart is how he has so far eliminated attempts from bad spots on the floor.
Take a look his chart from last season:
The majority of his shots still came from the corners and at the rim, and he was respectable from both. But gone are the long twos and midrange floaters, the baseline jumpers in no-man’s land. And more than him removing shot attempts from bad places, it tells me that Green is panicking less. He is a high energy player that sometimes can’t slow the game down enough to make impactful decisions with the ball. His brain is ahead of his hands or vice versa, and it’s led to costly turnovers or bad shots. Seeing those plays go away is an important marker. His chart will be worth revisiting a month or two from now.
BAD: Doncic-Wood minutes
That is not to say the minutes with Luka Doncic and Christian Wood on the floor together are bad. There are not enough. Jason Kidd is not finding enough time for them to play together. That duo is averaging just 15.3 minutes per game together. It can’t be a good idea to play your two most dynamic offensive players together just over a quarter of the game together.
For reference there is currently only one other big man Doncic is averaging more time with: Maxi Kleber at 18.2 minutes per game. There is a challenge in hiding two players on defense at all times. But there are creative ways to mitigate that. Kidd likes to take his time in making any drastic changes to his lineups. Reggie Bullock was not a full-time starter until February of last season. But Kidd’s hand will need to be forced here sooner or later.