After a tumultuous start to the season, and months hovering in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference, the Dallas Mavericks have climbed the standings into a battle for the third seed. There’s no doubt new coach Jason Kidd has been a huge part of that. Despite a roster in flux due to COVID-19 and the Kristaps Porzingis trade, the Mavericks have kept on winning in 2022.
How has he been so effective guiding the Mavericks this season? ESPN’s Tim MacMahon might have dropped a clue on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast this week.
“[Kidd] knew what went wrong under Rick Carlisle. He had played for Rick Carlisle. There’s a lot of people who are still with the Mavericks from the Carlisle administration that Kidd knows very well. He knew exactly what he was stepping into, and frankly, he knew exactly how rocky things had gotten, how toxic things had gotten in terms of the locker room-head coach relationship. And he was going to err on the side of overcommunication. Not just with Luka, but on down the roster.”
That focus on communication has been key, and players have hinted at it recently. “[Kidd] is making us talk a lot more, letting us figure it out, asking questions and letting guys speak up,” Dorian Finney-Smith said recently. “We’re playing great basketball, and even when things aren’t going together, we’re talking to each other and staying together.”
Luka Doncic agrees, telling The Dallas Morning News, “I think we’re a way better team now. … He’s been great for us. He communicates with the players. He’s just been great, helping not just me but everybody, just to see a better picture.”
There’s been plenty of attention on the Mavericks’ defensive schemes, but maybe the bigger key to their success has been the focus on communication MacMahon mentioned on the Woj podcast. This is a far cry from his time with the Milwaukee Bucks. The stories from his tenure there are well known. Instead of the glowing quotes like those from Doncic and Finney-Smith, you got ones like this, from an excerpt of Mirin Fader’s excellent book Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP: “He’d just brutalize people,” says another ex-player. “There’s plenty of teammates that I had that didn’t like him, not even as a coach, like as a person. He’d pit people against each other.”
Playing under Carlisle for four and a half seasons, Kidd probably knew exactly where communication had failed between Carlisle and Doncic, as well as the rest of the lineup. Carlisle was known to be hard on point guards, and there was an adjustment period between he and Kidd when the Mavericks first acquired the superstar point-man from the New Jersey Nets. It’s easy to imagine Kidd knowing the exact frustrations Doncic might have with Carlisle. It’s great insight from MacMahon, and a subtle suggestion that there had been a major breakdown in communication between Carlisle and Doncic.
With the Mavericks poised to enter the playoffs with their highest seed since the 2011 season, there’s no doubt this roster is buying into what Kidd is saying. If he continues saying the right things, Dallas might experience some postseason success for the first time in over a decade.