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Some fun stats from the Mavericks undefeated start

It’s small sample size season, but that doesn’t mean we can’t peak at some of the factors contributing to Dallas opening 3-0

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

We’re barely over a week into the NBA season, so it’s foolish to think anything has settled. Teams are still rounding into form, while injuries have already derailed some things. Still, it’s fun to take a peak behind the curtain, especially now, with the Mavericks completing their first 3-0 start since 2005 after beating the Grizzlies on Monday.

Here are a few stats and trends that have piqued my interest so far.

The Mavericks stay hot from three

It’s no surprise the Mavericks are once again lighting it up from behind the arc. Despite last season’s disappointment, they were one of the leaders in both made and attempted threes. All Dallas did this offseason was throw more fuel to that three point fire and the results speak for themselves so far.

The Mavericks are leading the league with 17.7 made threes per game, including 23 made Monday against the Grizzlies. Dallas made 15 of those 23 in the first half, which is wild — the Mavericks made more threes in the first half than 24 other teams currently average per game. If the Mavericks sustain this rate, they’ll break the records for three pointers made per game and for an entire season.

How the Mavericks are making those threes is interesting. Dallas led the league last season in corner three rate, with 13 percent of their total field goal attempts being corner threes. So far through three games, that corner three rate has dropped to 8.6 percent, while the above the break three rate has risen to 35.6 percent, which is a number that would have led the league last season.

The reasons for this are twofold:

  • The Mavericks have more quality three point shooters
  • Luka Doncic has turned into god

For most of the Doncic-era, Dallas has prioritized low-cost perimeter players that can make corner threes, think Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith. Those two lived in the corners, and struggled on above the break threes. Last season, Bullock was at 31.6 percent on above the break threes, while Finney-Smith was 31.7 before eventually being traded. Those minutes have basically been replaced by Grant Williams, a fantastic three point shooter regardless of where he is on the floor. Williams is shooting 5-of-11 so far on above the break threes, which is in line with what he did last season from that spot (38 percent). Seth Curry and Jaden Hardy, both also excellent shooters, haven’t even been major parts of the rotation yet. A likely outlier, however: Derrick Jones Jr. is 4-of-5 on above the break threes, making all four against the Grizzlies. Expect that number to cool down.

The other reason, of course, is Doncic’s molten hot lava start from deep. Doncic has made 18 above the break threes in these three games, which is double the amount of makes he’s made at the rim. Doncic made a career-high nine three pointers in the win against the Nets, and followed that up with six against the Grizzlies. As always with Doncic, almost all of these looks are self-created, so it would be improbable for Doncic to continue to be this hot for the rest of the season, but if he’s improved as a three point shooter, look out. The Mavericks are basically unbeatable when Doncic is canning threes at an above-average rate.

Picking up the pace

There’s a famous quote from legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” It feels like the Mavericks mantra for this season, as the team has increased its pace exceptionally so far, but still remaining in control.

Last season Dallas averaged 97.2 possessions per game according to NBA.com, ranked 28th. In three games this season, they’re up to 103.7 possessions per game, ranked sixth. Most teams talk in the preseason about wanting to run more, get better in transition, but it’s usually coach-speak and empty platitudes. For the Mavericks, so far, they’re backing up the talk.

Funny enough despite the jump in pace, the Mavericks are still near the bottom of the league in terms of transition possessions per game, according to NBA.com. Dallas is 25th in transition possessions per game, and there are a few reasons why that might be.

  • Increasing the pace doesn’t always translate to more fastbreak opportunities. A team can get up and down the floor more, but to get into their secondary break or half court sets quicker, not just scoring immediately. Dallas is clearly moving the ball faster, and scoring well in transition, but the main goal seems to be to avoid stagnation in the half court, where Doncic’s ball dominance can cause issues with a limited roster.
  • Transition tracking data isn’t 100 percent reliable, so keep that in mind

Even if the Mavericks keep that transition possession number in-line, that would still be an improvement over last season, where the Mavericks averaged right around 16 transition possessions per game.

Dallas’ ability to make the most of those transition opportunities is an exciting development — currently Dallas leads the league in points per possession in transition, scoring 1.37 points per possession, a huge jump from the 1.11 mark of last season. Dallas acquired more talented, athletic players this offseason (Grant Williams, Dereck Lively, Derrick Jones Jr.) and that has unlocked Doncic’s sometimes dormant fastbreak playmaking. My belief has always been that Doncic likes playing up-tempo, but the Mavericks never gave him a roster to take advantage, so he calculated (wisely) that grinding out games in the half-court was the best chance at winning games. Now Dallas has some transition horses and it’s showing off quite nicely.

Despite all of this, the Mavericks haven’t played any more careless or wild — they’re second in fewest turnovers per game, tied with the Kings at 12, while being third in lowest turnover rate. Dallas is increasing its easy scoring opportunities without sacrificing their halfcourt dominance. The Mavericks are currently second in points per play in the halfcourt, according to stats site Cleaning the Glass.

Consider all of the above has been done without Kyrie Irving really making a mark on the season, as he’s shot poorly in the two games he’s played and missed the Monday game against Memphis. That’s not to say he’s been a non-factor, as he’s contributed during clutch time in the Nets and Spurs wins, but he hasn’t played up to his standard so far. It’s wild to say but the Mavericks have left some meat on the bone during this 3-0 start, and if Irving can get healthy and regain his form quickly, the Mavericks might be knocking down the door on some offensive records this season.