What’s happening right now in Dallas is the story of how a group of selfless guys and a long international trip helped the Dallas Mavericks take their game to another level. It’s the story of why this team is greater than the sum of its parts.
Though this team’s parts are better than they have been in a long time, they’re still performing on a much higher level than pretty much everyone expected.
And if you know me, you know I’m all about how chemistry makes good teams better, good players great and mediocre players thrive.
To my delight, that’s exactly what we’re seeing from these Mavericks right now. They’re now 9-3, winning in clutch, winning by a lot, playing exciting basketball, pushing the pace, playing more connected on defense, playing off of each other. They’re clearly enjoying being around each other, and that makes all the difference.
You can have a team of superstars, but if they don’t have that connection, they won’t succeed. That used to be a controversial statement, but it’s been proven to be true on multiple occasions the last few years. And the Denver Nuggets dominating like they are, with their team basketball, connection and no superstar line-up, is definite proof. Super teams don’t work, chemistry matters.
A long international trip seems to have done this group a lot of good. Despite the general fear of these trips preventing a good start to the season, the Mavericks did the opposite. Visiting Madrid and playing a Real Madrid team, which showed up to honor and pay homage to their lost son, Europe’s golden boy, may just have put things in perspective for them. If any basketball team and culture is about the group over the individual, it’s European basketball and Real Madrid.
Last year, Luka Dončić lost the joy of the game, but in this season there’s been a marked difference in his demeanor.
When asked about what the biggest differences between the beginning of the season this year and last year have been, Luka gave a blunt answer:
“We are having fun out there.”
“I think we’re playing unselfish basketball. We’re just sharing the ball,” he said the same night, after the Mavericks beat the Pelicans.
Kyrie Irving has stepped up as a leader on this team too. He has spoken about how he wants to be a person the team can look towards down the stretch mentally and emotionally for reassurance that they are okay.
“We have a special group and I can trust these guys.”
And Kyrie Irving has been clear about how this team is about the group, not the two superstars.
“Individually, we have talent, but as a team, collectively, we’re hitting on all cylinders like tonight,” he said after the Pelicans win.
And Kyrie Irving’s leadership and support seem to have helped free Luka Dončić to play some of the best basketball we’ve ever seen from him, and move into new areas we’ve rarely seen before.
To start the season, Luka has shown a willingness to take catch-and-shoot threes on a much bigger scale than ever before. He is also moving without the ball much more and pushing the pace. Here, he’s cutting to the basket in a play I would never have dreamed possible last year:
Luka's step backs are beautiful to watch, but these are the type of buckets I really like to see... easy layups as a result of good ball and player movement. These are the type of plays we just didn't see before. pic.twitter.com/N3kYPUfySl— Matej Sportinfo (@MatejSportinfo) November 13, 2023
There even seems to be a change in coach Jason Kidd. His rotations are more fluid, and ATO’s and clutch plays seem more organized. Some of that may be attributed to new people on the coaching staff, like Alex Jensen, but Kidd has shown this year that he’s willing to change things up, when they don’t work. Maybe especially when he likes the team he coaches.
Some of these games have shown a unity on this team that’s rare in a professional environment, where players are moved around a lot and money, minutes and hierarchy rule.
When the Mavericks are able to play a team like the Pels out of the court in their first matchup, leading by almost 30 at some points, despite not everyone playing up to their best, it’s a really good sign.
It’s a sign of connectedness and unity, coming together and stepping up when others don’t have it. It’s also a sign that this group trusts each other and the process, they trust that there’s someone to cover for them if they fail. When you’re in it together and not for your own glory, it opens up opportunities that wouldn’t have seemed possible earlier.
That’s what we’re seeing from this team right now. Kyrie Irving is taking a lead connecting them, but I think the long international trip and an homage to Luka Dončić in Madrid really put things in perspective for this group and got them focused on what matters: the greater good for this team.
As Maxi Kleber said in his interview during the second Pels game Tuesday (the blowout loss) on what’s been key to this great start to the season:
“Team chemistry. Buying into the game plan and sticking with the routine. Trusting the coaching staff.”
Chemistry on a team is an intangible aspect of the game. It doesn’t show up on the stat sheet and you can’t measure it. But you can feel it. And that’s exactly what we’re all experiencing, from the bench to the arena, through the screen and across the world. Hold on to that feeling, because it doesn’t show up all that often.