Fresh off a season where the Mavericks finished 38-44 and an offseason where the team were the subject of countless hot takes ranging from “The Mavericks won’t make the playoffs” to “Luka and Kyrie can’t play together”, it was hard to predict how the season would begin.
One week in and the Mavericks are 4-0. So, about as good as it could have started for the Mavericks.
Dallas has been one of the most exciting teams to watch this season. Rookie Dereck Lively II’s instant impact has been thrilling. Luka Dončić‘s video game-like stretch makes defenders look like children on a nightly basis.
The team faces its first real test Friday with a road game against the defending champion Denver Nuggets, who sit at 4-1. Before that matchup, let’s look at four takeaways from the Mavericks’ impressive start.
The Mavericks are getting it done in crunch time
Last season, the Mavericks played in more clutch games (55) than any other team. Yet, Dallas lost 29 of those games, which tied for the most clutch game losses in the NBA.
This year, every Mavericks game has been a clutch game — and Dallas is 4-0.
Dončić’s three-point shooting (5-of-6 in clutch situations through the team’s first three games) has been next level. The team’s defense has improved drastically, posting a 100 defensive rating in close game situations after that number was 107.1 a year ago.
As part of a larger trend, Dallas is also running more as a team and that has shown in close games. With 24.2% of the team’s points in these scenarios coming off turnovers, the Mavericks rank seventh in the league.
Obviously, sample sizes are small. No one expects the Mavericks to go undefeated in clutch games this season, but after the team’s struggles in the clutch a year ago, it’s nice to see the team stepping up when the game is on the line.
Luka’s doing more while doing less
Dončić’s stats through the team’s first three games were borderline cartoonish. 39.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 9.7 assists a game on 55.6% shooting, including 48.6% from downtown.
Yet, despite his stats, Dončić‘s usage rate is the lowest it’s been since his rookie campaign. He’s playing more minutes but doing so productively. His per-100 possession numbers this year are by far the best in his young career.
Dončić isn’t playing the entire first and third quarters anymore, but he’s showing up in the second and fourth quarters earlier and in better shape because of that. Dončić currently leads the league in second-quarter points, per Statmuse.
The season’s still young. A lot can happen in the next 78 (or maybe 79, thanks NBA in-season tournament) games, but Dončić is having the type of start that one needs to win the Most Valuable Player award.
Role players are stepping up
Behind every great team is its depth. If Dončić scores 49 points and knocks down nine threes, like he did against Brooklyn, but Tim Hardaway Jr. doesn’t score 19, Dallas probably loses that game.
Dwight Powell’s impact was also noteworthy in that game, with 11 points and two rebounds off the bench. The Mavericks are 21-5 when Powell comes off the bench since the 2021-2022 season. He’s found his role and is playing it well, giving the team needed effort and, at times, defense. He blocked Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. four times in the team’s win over the Grizzlies.
Derrick Jones Jr. struggled in his first two games but exploded for 22 points in Monday’s win. Grant Williams has been solid, averaging over 14 points a game.
With Irving missing time, it’s more important now than ever that role players step up and fill in the gaps. So far, so good for the Mavericks.
Dallas is beating the teams they should be beating
Some fans may look at the team’s 4-0 start and say, “Well, they’re beating teams that aren’t very good.” San Antonio was a lottery team last year; Memphis is missing Ja Morant.
The strength of schedule isn’t jumping off the page, but this is a Dallas team that lost to a 27-55 Charlotte Hornets team twice last season with its season on the line. This is a Mavericks team who was 3-11 in clutch games when Dončić and Irving both played last season.
So, beating these teams shows growth and whether the Mavericks win by 50 or five, it all counts the same towards the record. If anything, closer games may help because it allows the teams to build clutch chemistry, which as previously mentioned, was not there last season.
Enjoy the ride. The Mavericks look like they’ll be good this season and the team’s future is the brightest it’s looked in a while. Cheer at the Lively dunks. Grown at the Hardaway three-point chucks (except when they go in, love you Timmy).
It’s a long season and there will be ups and downs. For now, Dallas sits alone atop the Western Conference standings and has a matchup with the defending champions set for Friday. That game should show us what kind of team Dallas can be.