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Grading the Mavericks: Dallas buckled down in the clutch and took care of business

The Mavericks have been the best team in the final five minutes of games

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Orlando Magic Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

The Mavericks now sit at 6-1, their best seven-game start since 2004-05. Their sole loss came in Denver, while their four wins this past week-and-a-half came against Memphis, Chicago, Charlotte, and Orlando. Maxi Kleber has been injured the past two games with a toe injury, while Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic both played each game on the team’s first back-to-back.

Grade: A-

The win in Orlando on the second night of a back-to-back was impressive. Outside of that game, there haven’t been any breathtaking victories from the Mavericks. Charlotte, Chicago, and Memphis were all games Dallas was supposed to win and to their credit, they did. Any win is a good win this early in the year, but it’s probably best to be cautious about their success because they were exposed in the loss to the Nuggets.

Denver overpowered Dallas. They scored 68 points in the paint, had 21 fastbreak points to Dallas’ eight, and 20 second-chance points while the Mavericks had just eight. The game highlighted Dallas’ biggest issues this year: fast break points and points in the paint. They are allowing the fourth-most points in the paint (55.7) and sixth-most fast break points (17.0) and Denver took advantage of both areas.

The wins showed some important signs, however. Dallas has been excellent in the clutch, as they are now 6-0 with an offensive rating of 142.9 and a defensive rating of 85.7. The Mavericks have scored 60 points in 19 clutch minutes while only giving up 30. That is an absurd efficiency and watching the games you can see a concerted effort by every single player on the floor to close it out.

Straight A’s: Tim Hardaway Jr.

Hardaway Jr. has quietly been the best bench player in the league this year. Averaging over 18 points a game, he is third among players with at least three games off the bench in scoring. He has not missed a free throw, has been shooting almost 39 percent from three, and is third on the team in scoring. The Mavericks will go as he goes this season. Hardaway Jr. is an elite shot-maker and leads the team in first quarter scoring (6.3 points per game). He has kept Dallas afloat in some of their slow starts and helped propel the Mavericks to third-quarter comebacks. With Kyrie Irving’s offensive production down, Tim Hardaway Jr. is Dallas’ second most important offensive player. If he’s on, Dallas is very tough to beat.

Currently Failing: First quarter defense

Speaking of slow starts, Dallas has had trouble with first quarters this season. They are third worst in defensive rating in the opening frame and have the fourth lowest net rating. They have lost five of the seven first quarters they have played and are a minus-30. They are shooting themselves in the foot because they are sixth in the league in second-half defensive rating and first in net rating by a sizeable margin. If they can eliminate the sluggish defensive starts, they could start stringing together some convincing victories.

Extra Credit: Derrick Jones Jr.

As a veteran minimum signing this off-season, Jones Jr. was seen as a low-risk bench guy who could occasionally give you fun moments. Jason Kidd has elected to put all of his flowers into the Jones Jr. garden, as he has started every game and been surprisingly effective. Jones Jr. has scored eight points a game on around 35 percent from three in a little over 20 minutes a game. It’s hard to expect anything from the last guy signed in the summer, but with the role Kidd has assigned to him, he has not disappointed.