The Dallas Mavericks signed Reggie Bullock as a continuation of a years long attempt to pair Luka Doncic with a big off guard who could both shoot threes at a high rate and defend opponents’ best perimeter players. Luka has not been available thus far in the playoffs but Bullock is still proving his value.
Bullock is averaging 13 points, 5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He is doing so on an absurd 72.7 true shooting percentage. He is defending at a high level without requiring help. And most importantly he is doing all of these things while handling an absolutely mammoth minutes load. He has sat out a total of 6 minutes and 33 seconds in two games.
Dorian Finney-Smith has been one of the great development stories in recent history for the Mavericks. He came in as a player who knew the right shots to take but could not make them and who gave defensive effort but could not stop anyone. Now he can make those shots and he can bother just about everyone.
Finney-Smith has averaged 11.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. He has played 86 minutes and been a defensive dynamo. The Jazz are a total of 11 of 37 on shots that Finney-Smith has defended in the series so far per NBA.com.
The Mavericks are not a deep team when everyone is healthy. That depth becomes severely strained when Luka is unavailable. It is not fun to write something negative following a game that was as much fun as game 2, but Josh Green cannot play in a playoff series. It is hard to explain how truly awful he has been in these two games and how destructive he has been to his own team’s success in extremely limited minutes. In a perfect world, Green would be able to provide a poor man’s version of Bullock or Dorian Finney-Smith as an athletic “three and D” wing.
This is not a perfect world and in this one, Green has been truly unplayable. He has played 16 minutes and is one for nine from the floor. The nine shots in 16 minutes represents a huge uptick in shot volume for Green, but that is because the Jazz literally are not guarding him which is why he cannot play. Rudy Gobert is the best player in the league at taking away shots at the rim. The Utah Jazz are at their best when he can free lance and erase any of his teammates mistakes. The Los Angeles Clippers showed the world the blueprint for punishing Gobert and the Jazz last season. Maxi Kleber and the Mavericks replicated that formula in game 2.
Kleber’s shooting may very well be the key to this series but his shooting doesn’t matter nearly as much if the Jazz can simply assign Gobert to Green or another non shooter. The Mavericks have solved this issue of Finney-Smith and Bullock being the only wings on the roster who can both shoot and defend by essentially playing them the whole game.
Both players have also been essential to the Mavericks defensive philosophy. The Jazz were 9/11 on shots defended by Bullock per NBA.com in game two and that appears terrible. However, only allowing 11 shots while defending 86.2 partial possessions is an impressive feat in and of itself. The Mavericks have made it a point to not allow the Jazz to shoot the threes they thrive on. Bullock and Finney-Smith’s ability to handle the Jazz’ best players individually while also helping their teammates has been a sight to behold.
Jalen Brunson and Kleber deserve a ton of credit. They were absolutely amazing in game two and Brunson in particular likely made himself a good deal of money with that performance. But while handing out kudos for the game, do not forget to save some for the Mavericks two “three and D” wings who have done so much of the dirty work to keep the Mavericks in the game. The Mavericks ultimate ceiling depends on the healthy return of Luka, but until then Bullock and Finney-Smith will have to do a little bit of everything. So far that is exactly what they have done and it has resulted in a series that is tied.