The Dallas Mavericks hit their first rough patch of the season, going 5-5 in their last ten games after squeaking by the Houston Rockets at home earlier in the week. Still they find themselves tied for third in the West behind the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets.
They’ve kept the pace by maintaining an elite offense, outshooting all their opponents from three. It has also been made abundantly clear how valuable rookie center Dereck Lively II is to the team. The Mavericks dropped their game against the Los Angeles Clippers over the weekend while Lively recovered from injury. His impact was made evident in his return in their win against the Rockets.
This week’s rankings watch see the Mavericks slipping a little, but they should have plenty of chances to regain some momentum early in December.
Last week: 7
Rookie center Dereck Lively II has quickly established himself as one of the Mavs’ most impactful players. Dallas, owner of the league’s No. 3 offense and No. 24 defense, had a plus-5.2 net rating with the 19-year-old on the court — the best of any Mavs starter — and minus-2.8 without Lively entering Tuesday night. “Being a rookie is hard, obviously, but he has amazing potential and you can see it,” Luka Doncic said after the Mavs lost to the Clippers when Lively was sidelined by a lower back contusion. “Even in his first season, he’s made a big, big impact for us.” Lively was questionable for Tuesday’s game but had eight points and five rebounds in the win over Houston. — MacMahon
Last week: 9
The Mavs split their two rest-advantage games in L.A. last week, edging the Lakers (after blowing a 20-point, fourth-quarter lead) with a 3-pointer from Kyrie Irving and getting blown out by the Clippers. They enter Week 6 as one of five Western Conference teams with six losses.
The Mavs shot just 9-for-38 (24%) from 3-point range on Saturday, but still made more 3s than the Clippers (8-for-29). They rank second in 3-point differential, having outscored their opponents by 10.9 points per game from beyond the arc. That’s mostly because they rank second in 3-point rate (47.3%), but they also have the league’s ninth lowest opponent rate (37.8%).
But the Mavs have been outscored by more points in the paint (12.9 per game, the league’s worst discrepancy) than they’ve outscored their opponents by from 3-point range. Their loss to the Clippers (32-54) was the sixth time they’ve been outscored by at least 20 points in the paint.
The Mavs have been slightly more efficient offensively with Luka Doncic off the floor (117.0 points scored per 100 possessions) than they’ve been with him on the floor (116.2). They’ve scored 123.8 per 100 in 143 total minutes with Irving on the floor without Doncic.
The loss on Saturday was the first time this season that the Mavs have scored less than a point per possession. They’ve got two more games against top-10 defenses (those of the Rockets and Thunder) this week. Their Friday-Saturday back-to-back (vs. Memphis and Oklahoma City) is the only of their 13 back-to-backs in which they don’t have to travel.
The main reason the Mavericks rank so high here is Luka Doncic. Any time you have a player this special, you have a chance to make a run. But the Mavericks defense is so bad that it’s fair to wonder whether they have a legitimate shot. The supporting cast is better than it’s been before. But this team has so many weak links. If rookie center Dereck Lively isn’t in the game, things get particularly ugly. Luka competes on defense, and Grant Williams and Derrick Jones are both solid, but none of them are stoppers. Kyrie Irving can be attacked, and he often falls out of position. Coming off the bench, Dwight Powell and Tim Hardaway Jr. are total revolving doors; lineups with both of them on the floor are allowing 124.3 points per 100 possessions, which ranks worse than 96.4 percent of all 860 other two-man lineup combinations to play at least 100 minutes. It’s easy to point to rotations or schemes as the reason for these defensive troubles, but it’s a personnel problem that’s on the front office to resolve.
Rank: 9 (Tier 3: Playoff Teams)
Last week: 9
New face in a new place: Dereck Lively II
The rookie big man is still someone this good Mavericks team needs to bring along slower than other rookie big men are being thrown out there this season. But that’s not a bad thing. Lively has been excellent as a defender (especially for a rookie), and he’s been a good finisher when the ball comes his way. He’s fouling a lot, but that’s to be expected. He keeps plenty of possessions alive with offensive rebounds, which is death for opposing defenses. Great start to his career.
Performance Rating (1-10): 8