The Dallas Mavericks have had a surprising start to their season, winning nine of their first 12 games. Their offense has been firing from all cylinders, leading to a stellar 120.5 offensive rating, second in the NBA. Despite the Mavericks’ hot start to the season, there is still a lingering issue that needs to be addressed: paint defense.
The Mavericks are 27th in the NBA in opponent points in the paint at 57 per game.
Last week against the Toronto Raptors highlighted the Mavericks’ rim-protection issues, with the Raptors scoring 72 of their 127 total points in the paint. Granted, rookie Dereck Lively was out that game with an illness. Still, it’s difficult for a rookie center to anchor a defense in the paint, especially with the poor whistle Lively has been given by referees up to this point.
After the game against the Raptors where the Mavericks lost 127-116, Mavericks coach Jason Kidd quickly called out his team’s lack of effort in defending the paint. According to Kyrie Irving, Kidd told the team in the locker room that they were “soft” in the paint.
The Mavericks responded to Kidd’s comments during their next matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers by going on a 33-4 run in the first half. They scored 47 points in the second quarter compared to the Clippers’ 18. They ultimately defeated L.A. 144-126, proving to many that they aren’t just “soft”.
The Mavericks are currently once again at the bottom of the NBA in team defensive rating at 116.2, 25th in the NBA.
The beautiful thing about this team is that what they lack in defense, they make up for with their lights-out offense. Although it has been frustrating at times to see teams score effortlessly in the paint against Dallas, the Mavericks’ offense has been electric, and that is why they are currently at 9-3 on the season. It’s been hard to envision how teams will defend the Mavericks with the amount of offensive firepower they have.
The Mavericks struggling to defend at the rim isn’t a new issue this year. They have struggled in seasons past to bring in a big that can anchor the defense down low, holding high and unfair expectations on centers that don’t have the proper physical tools to protect the rim, such as JaVale McGee and Dwight Powell, essentially setting them up for failure.
How can the Mavericks improve their paint defense this year? Now having a more flexible roster, the Mavericks are a couple of moves away from being a dangerous team for title contention. With the right move that brings in more defense, this team could be closer in retooling the roster than most of us had expected.
If the Mavericks decide to bring in more depth at the five this year to help Lively, perhaps trade discussions from earlier this summer with Atlanta can be rekindled. Dallas was reportedly involved in trade talks with Atlanta before the draft for veteran Clint Capela, who has a career average of 1.5 blocks per game. No deal ever came to fruition, as the Hawks wanted the Mavericks to take on John Collins’ contract and the Mavericks had no desire to give up Josh Green or Jaden Hardy in a deal.
The Mavericks have looked great 12 games into the season, but it’s evident that they still need more help defending. This is why they brought in guys like Derrick Jones Jr., Grant Williams, and Dante Exum and drafted defensive-minded rookies in Lively and Olivier-Maxence Prosper.
Re-signing 31-year-old Irving in the offseason to a three-year, $120 million deal signifies that the Mavericks are trying to bring another championship back to Dallas within the next few years. If they want to have a fighting chance, they need to improve their defense, especially in the paint.
The Mavericks have been a joy to watch through these first 12 games. After the embarrassment known as the 2022-2023 Mavericks, it’s been delightful to see them change certain facets of their game that plagued them last year.
This first set of games this year has given fans hope that things aren’t as bad as they seemed after the Mavericks missed the playoffs. That’s the beauty of an 82-game regular season, the Mavericks still have time to work on the things that have plagued them as a franchise in previous years.