The Mavericks finish the week 1-3 with their lone win coming on the road in Washington. Losses to the Pelicans, Bucks, and Kings all came in high-scoring, low-defense affairs as Dallas gave up 131, 132, and 129 points to those teams, respectively. The Mavericks are now 9-5 and have lost two games in a row. They sit fourth in the Western Conference.
It’s hard to look at Dallas’ electric offense with pride when their defense is a parade to the rim. The four games they played this week resulted in 60, 56, 56, and 58 points in the paint given up. This opened up their opponents to hit 14, 12, 17, and 17 threes in those games as well. There is little to no resistance at the rim from Dallas right now, and they aren’t communicating or rotating to prevent threes.
The offense has produced at an elite clip. There is no shortage of points, even in losses; Dallas has scored 110 points in every game this year. That includes a game where Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving combined for 33. After the loss to Sacramento, coach Jason Kidd said: “Right now our best defense is our offense. If we aren’t scoring 130, it’s hard to win.” In wins, Dallas is scoring almost 127 a game. In losses, they’re still putting up nearly 116. The problem is when they have even six minutes where they aren’t hitting shots, they lose control of the game quickly like they did in the fourth quarter against Sacramento.
The Mavericks had two huge dud games this week against the Pelicans and Kings, but they played pretty well against Milwaukee and Washington. They still have gotten out to an incredible start, but their defensive woes are so egregious it is nearly impossible to give them any credit in their losses.
Straight A’s: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Once again, Hardaway Jr. earns straight A’s. Sometimes it feels like the basket is 10 feet wide when he shoots. He leads the league in bench scoring and threes made and has been Dallas’ second-most consistent player. He’s an elite shot-maker and is indispensable to this team. If they are going to make a trade for a wing or center this year, it cannot involve Hardaway Jr.
Currently Failing: Effort
The Mavericks have the sixth-worst defense by rating (118.2) and points per game (120.4). They are letting opponents shoot the second-highest percentage (59.9) and are allowing the second-most points per game in the paint (57). Some of this can be attributed to their top-four pace, but most of it can be attributed to a lack of effort.
The Mavericks are just not staying in front of their man. When they played Sacramento on the second night of a back-to-back, they were exposed. Their already porous defense combined with tired legs combined for some of the most horrendous efforts displayed in the modern NBA. Guys were watching the ball, no one wanted to rotate, and like so often this year, guys were getting beat off the dribble.
All of this comes down to effort. Cutting off the first step of a dribble-drive is effort. Rotating out to a three-point shooter on a kickout or skip is effort. Hell, even communicating with your teammate on defense requires effort. The Mavericks are doing none of that. The centers, and specifically Dwight Powell, will receive a lot of flack for the Mavericks’ paint protection but it is not their fault. You can’t expect Derek Lively or Powell to defer 100 layups a game. The perimeter has to be more rigid and the players have to take accountability and initiative to be better on that end. Scoring 130 points is great, but not when you give up 140.
Extra Credit: Luka Doncic’s three-point shooting
Fallen under the radar because of Dallas’ hot start and insane team offense has been the massive improvement Doncic has made beyond the arc. He is shooting over 42 percent from three this season, which would be an eight percent improvement from last year if he continues. Of players that take at least six threes a game, Doncic is ninth in percentage and second in makes per game. Becoming a legitimately good shooter is a hidden gem in his continuous improvement that he displays year in and year out.