The Dallas Mavericks will be without superstar Luka Doncic for at least Game one against the Utah Jazz. There’s a good chance he misses more than one game, too. The Mavericks will struggle to replace Luka’s production, because almost no one in the league controls a game like him.
But there is some hope to be found on the bench. Spencer Dinwiddie will likely slide into Luka’s role as starting point guard. He’s played well coming off the bench for the Mavericks, and even slots in well beside Luka when they share the floor. But beyond his overall good play, there’s even more reason to be optimistic about Dinwiddie running the offense while Luka recovers.
The Jazz play drop coverage often on defense. This means on a pick-and-roll, the screener’s defender drops into the paint to contain the ball handler and the roll man for the offense. This defensive strategy protects the rim, and with the ball handler’s defender going over the screen, usually forces a long midrange jumpshot, which is typically a less efficient shot.
Utah has Rudy Gobert, who’s suited to play this type of defense and does it especially well. Here’s an example from the Mavericks’ matchup with the Jazz in early February, a game they lost 114-109.
You can see that Luka solves the defense in this example, but it’s a tough basket. Luka is able to hit a floater over Gobert when the Utah center has a moment of indecision due to Dwight Powell rolling to the basket. But overall, the Jazz did pretty well on forcing Luka into hitting difficult shots like this. He went 5-15 on 2-point field goals, including 0-2 at the rim. Here’s his shot chart from the game:
Luka was again average in the midrange when the Mavericks got a win against the Jazz in late March, but he did figure out a way to get to the rim, going 3-4 in the restricted area. That was the real difference, along with his 3-point shooting (4-7 from deep in the win, as opposed to 3-9 in the loss).
Which brings us to Dinwiddie. As we’ve seen, the Jazz would love to force the Mavericks into taking less efficient shots in the midrange instead of quality 3-pointers or shots at the rim. But Dinwiddie can pick that strategy apart.
Dinwiddie has a chance to be effective in this series because he is an underrated midrange shooter. Since joining the Mavericks, he’s shot 52% on midrange jumpers. It’s a small sample size, just 21 attempts, and Dinwiddie has struggled on midrange shots for his career.
But he’s been on a shooting streak since he came to Dallas, shooting 41% from behind the arc since the All-Star break, and the Mavericks are going to have to hope that hot shooting continues, from deep and in the midrange. Here’s Dinwiddie hitting one of those midrange shots he’ll need to make in order to punish the Jazz drop coverage:
If Dinwiddie can make those shots at an above average rate, it’ll force the Jazz into some other coverage, which will then open up the rim for rollers and drives from the perimeter. The Mavericks used to run a lot of drop coverage when Rick Carlisle was the coach, and while it’s effective over the course of a season, the scheme can fall apart quickly if a team hits the midrange jumpers it concedes. The Mavericks found out the hard way against the Los Angeles Clippers last year. The Jazz recently collapsed against the Golden State Warriors and sticking to drop coverage was a huge reason why.
The Mavericks are definitely at a disadvantage without Luka in the lineup. But there will be room for players like Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson (a 47% midrange shooter on the year) to make a huge impact on the series in Luka’s absence. If they can shoot well in the midrange, Dallas will have a chance.