The Mavericks went 2-3 over the last week. The two wins were consecutive in the last two games over the Spurs and Suns. The three losses came in Denver, in Houston, and at home against the Clippers. Kyrie Irving, Josh Green, and Maxi Kleber continue to be sidelined, but Dereck Lively made his return from injury on Christmas against Phoenix.
The previous grades suggested that two wins from this past five-game stretch would be admirable. Dallas got two wins, and that felt like just about all they could do. The Mavericks are now 17-7 when Dereck Lively plays, and just 1-5 when he doesn’t. That is the difference between a 14-win pace and a 58-win pace. Lively makes the Mavericks so much better, and his 20-point, 10-rebound performance against the Suns helped Dallas survive a back-and-forth battle.
The three losses against the Nuggets, Clippers, and Rockets have too many asterisks to analyze critically. The Nuggets and Rockets games were over before they started, with all of the injuries Dallas had and the road environments. The game against Los Angeles is one Dallas would like to have back, but ultimately they lost to the healthier and hotter team.
Dallas seems to have found something with Derrick Jones Jr. and Dante Exum. In the 217 minutes they have shared the floor, the team has an offensive rating of 121.1 and a defensive rating of 105.9. Those numbers would be good enough for second in the league in offense and first in defense, by almost two points. If you filter down to the time that they shared the floor with Lively (just 75 minutes), they have an offensive rating of 132.3 and a defensive rating of 88.9. It is a small sample size, but the Exum-Jones Jr. pairing seems to be Dallas’ best wing duo. Coach Jason Kidd has already committed to starting Exum when the team is healthy, which leaves us salivating for the chance to see Kyrie Irving play with this already-potent lineup.
Straight A’s: Luka Doncic
Doncic has been unreal. Over his last 12 games, he is averaging 37.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 11.4 assists. 2.3 stocks (steals plus blocks) and just 4.1 turnovers per game over that stretch have made him elite on both ends of the floor. His offensive efficiency has been unmatched, and he is guarding very well. Currently, he is second in the league in scoring, third in assists, second in three-pointers made, has shooting splits of 49/39/79, and the Mavericks are 18-12, which is fifth place in the West. Not only should Doncic be in the MVP conversation, he should be the main talking point.
The Mavericks have been missing three to four rotation pieces for around a month and have managed to stay afloat and even excel at times, due to Doncic’s greatness. Derrick Jones Jr. had this to say after Doncic had 50 points and surpassed 10,000 career points Monday night:
Derrick Jones Jr. on playing with Luka Doncic: "I have never been on a team where someone is scoring the ball like this at such a high rate and also getting his teammates involved and making sure that everybody feels comfortable on the floor. It's incredible. It's amazing. I have…— Grant Afseth (@GrantAfseth) December 26, 2023
Doncic is special, and it is times like these that you have to remember to step back and appreciate what you’re watching.
Currently Failing: Grant Williams
On the other side of the coin, Grant Williams has been less than stellar. Over his last 12 games, he has averaged just seven points and four rebounds, scoring in double figures just three times. Williams was signed to be a defensive stopper and a three-point specialist, so allowing opponents to shoot 51 percent on him (61 percent on shots under 10 feet), while only shooting 31 percent from three himself is hurting the Mavericks. It’s hard to over-analyze role players in a season where any success is good, but since the Mavericks committed to Williams for four years, they are going to need him to be better. Jason Kidd has relegated him to the bench, so hopefully he can find some of the magic he had in that role in Boston.
Extra Credit: Jason Kidd
The Mavericks are on pace for nearly 50 wins. They have been riddled with injuries and have a bunch of weird pieces to fit together. They are decidedly a good team, and Jason Kidd deserves credit for the job he has done. Getting the most out of Derrick Jones Jr. and Dante Exum is quite the feat, and developing Dereck Lively into what he has become is no easy task as well. Kidd still has his moments, like playing Jaden Hardy and Seth Curry at the same time in a close game on Christmas. But the record speaks for itself, and the Mavericks’ coach is making the most of a season he had to make the most out of.