“The Dallas Mavericks are terrible in the clutch.”
This has been stated as a fact during the Luka Doncic era, despite Luka’s high profile heroics. It appears to be true as the Mavericks have a -16.8 net rating in the clutch this season. Yet, they have managed an 17-16 record in clutch games despite the bad rating.
That net rating undersells the Mavericks because it incorporates horrendous numbers while Luka was out. During the five games the Mavericks played while Doncic was out with an ankle injury and Covid-19, the Mavericks went 0-5 with a -51.9 net rating. On December 4th, the Mavericks played one clutch minute with a -100 net rating and obviously lost.
During Luka’s previous missed games between November 17 and November 21 the Mavericks went 0-2 with a -62.5 net rating. All told, during games Luka missed the Mavericks went 0-8 with a net rating of roughly -55 in 32 clutch minutes. That, in simple terms, is very, very bad. But also understandable.
Since Doncic returned on January 1st, the Mavericks are 11-5 in clutch games with a net rating of +4.3. The Mavericks are 12th in both offensive and defensive rating during that time. The numbers have only improved since the addition of Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans. The Mavericks are 5-1 in clutch games since the new additions began playing with a net rating of +72.7.
All of these net ratings are of extremely limited value, as it can fluctuate heavily based on a few plays with so few possessions. The record matters more than the numbers. But even without the extreme net rating there are some clear takeaways from the Mavericks’ updated closing lineups.
One of the major benefits the Mavericks mentioned of the Kristaps Porzingis trade is additional flexibility. They primarily meant this from a salary standpoint, but it also applies to the roster. The Mavericks had to play Porzingis in the closing lineup if he was healthy, even if the matchup dictated that they shouldn’t.
No one remaining on the Mavericks outside of Doncic needs to be placated. The Mavericks have closed with multiple lineups depending on the matchups. Luka, Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock have formed the core of the Mavericks closing lineup. Finney-Smith and Bullock are both shooters who are long, versatile defenders. The Mavericks have also closed with at least one of Jalen Brunson or Dinwiddie to provide secondary ball handling and with the exception of the February 27th Warriors game, one big.
Dinwiddie is fast approaching being a mandatory part of the closing lineup. He closed over Brunson in this most recent Warrior game; his size and athleticism makes for an intriguing option. Brunson has often struggled when covered with a long athletic defender. Dinwiddie does not have that issue as he is long and athletic himself. Dinwiddie was 6’6” with shoes on with a wingspan just over 6’8” at the combine. Brunson was 6’2” with shoes with a wingspan of 6’4”.
Lebron James and recently Luka have popularized “bum hunting” in the playoffs by running repeated pick and rolls until they force the worst defender on the opposing team to guard them. Dinwiddie’s added size and length improves the defensive ceiling of the Mavericks as there is no “bum” to hunt. Dinwiddie is certainly not a lock down defender, but he isn’t a liability either.
Dinwiddie and Luka seamlessly switch an off-ball action. Dinwiddie then utilizes his length to bother Curry and prevent him from getting a shot off. Andrew Wiggins then attempts to isolate Finney-Smith which has predictably poor results (It is still a travesty that he started the all star game). Bullock maintains alertness and steals Wiggins’ attempt to save the ball from the back court.
Dinwiddie has made a number of big shots so far with the Mavericks. He also provides the ability to get to the rim offensively if the opponent stifles Luka. The 45.5 percent three point shooting will not continue, but he is enough of a threat that he cannot be left alone. If unguarded, he can use the head start to get to the rim even when he is not making his jumpers. But for right now, he is both taking and making his jumpers as seen below.
Next, there is this Luka/Finney-Smith pick and roll. The Mavericks used their new found flexibility to close with Finney-Smith at center in this play. All of the Warriors’ eyes are on Luka, but look how much real estate Doncic has to work with in the still frame of the initial pick. No one is attempting to post up or hanging out in the dunker’s spot.
Steph Curry attempts to hedge the pick and roll but Wiggins gets beat anyway. Damion Lee fakes as though he is going to help but cannot leave Brunson in the short corner due to how often Luka makes that pass. Otto Porter completely abandons Bullock in the weakside corner, but is not big enough to make any difference on Luka’s layup. Finney-Smith makes an incredibly heady play as he turns his roll into another screen at the rim. All in all this is just a beautiful display of pick and roll basketball.
Dinwiddie is becoming an integral part of the Mavericks closing lineup and arguably the second best player on the team, but he also understands that he is simply a part of the team rather than a super star. That is important as it allows the team to utilize as the coaching staff thinks is best, rather than how he thinks is best.
The trade was the Mavericks going all in on Luka Doncic, and putting him in the best position to succeed rather than forcing him to try to fit with another star. All of this has combined to make the Mavericks better throughout the game, but especially in the clutch.
Here’s our latest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.