The Mavericks are currently 13-8, in third place in the Western Conference. They are 8-6 in the conference, and 4-2 in the division. They have won two in a row and sit four games behind Minnesota for first place. Currently Maxi Kleber, Josh Green, and Grant Williams are out due to injury and Kyrie Irving suffered a foot contusion against Portland on Friday, so his status remains in the air.
If you had the Mavericks in third place 21 games into the year, you should buy a lottery ticket. Some of this has to do with the mediocrity of the West, but much of it can be credited to just how well this team has played. They are fourth in offensive rating, 12th in net rating, and are scoring nearly 120 points per game. Luka Doncic is second in the league in per-game scoring (31.9), fifth in assists per game (8.7), and second in MVP odds, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Offensively, Dallas has been fantastic. The defense is where Dallas has lost the majority of their eight games this year. They are 23rd in defensive rating, giving up 53.5 points in the paint each game, and are bottom-10 in second-chance points and fastbreak points given up. Their point-of-attack defense drives these trends and their lack of a backup big man hammers them home. For most of the season, this has not mattered because of how good their offense has been. However, when they shot a hair over 37 percent against the Clippers on November 25th, they got blown out by 19.
In a few aspects, this team is similar to years past. A heavy dose of threes and a lot of Luka Doncic remain firm in the fabric of the offense. In other ways, this team is very different from past iterations. They finally have a rim-rolling center that can hold his own and even dominate on the defensive end. They have a third creator who can guard one through three. This team has multiple pieces they have not had in years past and has closed the gap between them and upper-tier contenders.
Straight A’s: Derek Lively II
There is no 13-8 start without Derek Lively. Last week, we discussed the impact of not having Lively on the floor against the Clippers and the Thunder. He has had that same impact all season, as Dallas has outscored opponents by 80 points with him on the floor.
Coming into the year, he was seen as a project. He did not put up eye-popping numbers at Duke, averaging only 5.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in his time there. The athleticism and defensive instinct were there, but Lively was not expected to play the 25 minutes per game that he has seen thus far.
His accelerated growth can be attributed to a couple of things. Firstly, playing with one of the elite pick-and-roll ball-handlers in Luka Doncic makes the game easy. According to PBP Stats, Doncic has served up 39 assists to Lively this year, which is 10th in the league for any duo. Doncic’s ability to find guys in the right spot has led to Lively becoming an elite rim-roller and perhaps more interestingly, a great short-roll playmaker.
The other factor in Lively being better than anticipated is the work he put in with Tyson Chandler in the off-season. Chandler was a great defender and screener, and the comparison to Lively was even made by Chandler himself. Lively has been placed into a perfect situation in Dallas, and both he and the Mavericks have benefited greatly from it.
Currently Failing: Josh Green
The Josh Green experience has been less than ideal, now three-and-a-quarter years into his career. His preview for this season described the immense pressure there was on him going into this year. This season was make or break, and so far, Green is broken, both literally and figuratively.
Green has been putting up under seven points, three rebounds, and three assists per game. His field goal percentage is at a career-low (42.2) and his free throw percentage is the lowest it’s ever been as well (52.9). Green has not looked good and has been outplayed by guys on minimum contracts like Dante Exum and Derrick Jones Jr. In fairness to Green, there are moments where he looks like a good role player. Unfortunately, careers in the NBA are built on consistency, and Green has not found that yet.
To add salt to the wound, Green is now sidelined for a few weeks with a wrist injury. This is the second time in as many years that he has had a similar injury, which is concerning for his future. Maybe the time off will help him recalibrate, but thus far he has been the biggest disappointment of the season.
Extra Credit: Dante Exum
Exum has been fantastic. In the pre-season, Exum looked like Dallas’ fourth-best player and recently he has played like it. After Kyrie Irving exited early with his injury on Friday, Exum put up 11 points in the third quarter and 23 points total to help Dallas take down the Blazers. That was the second-most points Exum has scored in his entire NBA career and suggests that the 28-year-old is not just trying to salvage a bench spot, but believes he can be a valuable role player on a championship team. His play backs up this claim, and his defensive prowess and creation ability fill a much-needed role in Dallas. The Mavericks need to find more time for Exum as the season treads on.