Since Kyrie Irving made his debut after being traded to the Dallas Mavericks in early February, the Mavericks are 7-10. They’ve fallen from what looked like a somewhat secure spot in the top-five to barely hanging on to their play-in seed. The Mavericks could just as easily climb to sixth as they could drop out of the playoffs entirely.
Somehow, things could be worse. Thank goodness the Mavericks are molten-lava hot at three point shooting.
Yes, despite the losing — including Monday night’s disappointing loss in Memphis — the Mavericks are absolutely shooting the hell out of the ball, so much as you can shoot hell out of a basketball. Irving made his Mavericks debut on Feb. 8 in a win against the Los Angeles Clippers. Since then the Mavericks as a team are averaging 16.6 made three pointers per game at a 40.1 percent clip. That made threes per game mark, if it held for the course of the season, would be just below the all-time record set by the Utah Jazz in 2021, where they made 16.7 threes per game. Dallas is second in the league in made threes per game since Feb. 8, right behind the scorching Boston Celtics.
Dallas has had four games of 20 or more made three pointers since Feb. 8 — last season the team had three such games total. The team’s blistering pace from deep is almost papering over just about every other flaw the Mavericks have. That’s a good thing, because the Mavericks have a lot of flaws.
In fact, aside from three point shooting, it’s hard to discern what the Mavericks do particularly well since Irving debuted. The team is 25th in defense, 23rd in opponent free throw rate, 26th in forcing turnovers, and dead last in offensive rebound rate, all according to stats site Cleaning the Glass. Offensively, the team is fairly one-dimensional: the Mavericks are 26th in rim-rate, 26th in mid-range rate. While being low in mid-range isn’t a bad thing, it does make the Mavericks offense fairly predictable — although that hasn’t seemed to matter. Despite the fact that all the Mavericks do is take and make threes, they’re eighth in scoring per 100 possessions since Irving debuted. The Mavericks are 17th in location effective field goal percentage, a stat from Cleaning the Glass that helps determine shot quality. If Dallas shot league average from every spot on the floor, they’d have an effective field goal percentage of 55.2 since Feb. 8 — their actual effective field goal percentage during this time is 58.6, third in the league. Dallas is first in shares of corner threes by a wide margin during this period, fourth in share of above-the-break threes, and third in threes overall.
Besides three point shooting, the only other areas the Mavericks are holding up since Irving debuted are turnover rate (13th) and free throw rate (12th). Dallas controls the ball, gets to the line, and generate a ton of three pointers. If they don’t make those threes, they lose.
Remember that 16.6 made threes per game stat earlier? In that same timespan, Mavericks opponents are making a staggeringly little 10.6 three pointers per game (on 33.6 percent three point shooting), the smallest number in the league. Dallas, on average, is making about six more three pointers per game than its opponent since Feb. 8. That’s an 18 point advantage the Mavericks have had on average for the past 17 games and the team is still somehow just 7-10. You take it glass half full or half empty: Imagine if the Mavericks weren’t making threes at an historic clip? Or imagine if they could be just slightly better at literally any other facet of the game, like rebounding or paint defense?
When you pull back and look at the discrepancies in the seven Mavericks wins, it’s truly remarkable:
- Feb. 8: Mavericks 17 made threes, Clippers 12
- Feb. 10: Mavericks 18 made threes, Kings nine
- Feb. 23: Mavericks 22 made threes, Spurs 10
- March 2: Mavericks 25 made threes, 76ers 12
- March 7: Mavericks 19 made threes, Jazz 15
- March 15: Mavericks 17 made threes, Spurs 15
- March 17: Mavericks 16 made threes, Lakers five
The Mavericks average margin of victory in those wins is 8.7 points, and that’s including the 26 point win against the Spurs, and the overtime Spurs win that led to a larger nine point margin. What if the Mavericks made two or three less threes in any of the wins above? The three point shooting has basically acted like life support for these Mavericks.
This point is never more evident than Maxi Kleber’s game-winning three against the Lakers on Friday. If Kleber misses this buzzer-beater, the Mavericks would currently be 11th in the West and outside of the play-in. Instead he drilled it, and the Mavericks still cling to seventh.
Almost every loss in this stretch has the Mavericks as a team shooting under 40 percent from three. You can likely blame some of this on the absence of Luka Doncic, the only true source of consistent paint points the Mavericks have. Doncic has been on shelf with a thigh injury since March 8, missing the last five games. But even with Doncic’s return, the Mavericks as a team have always relied on him generating three pointers for his teammates. Irving’s infusion has certainly helped, but for the most part the majority of this roster is the same as it was four years ago — mostly spot-up, standstill shooters that need their shots created for them. It’s not their fault, it’s just the path Dallas decided to go down to try and maximize Doncic’s efficiency. It honestly would work, if the Mavericks had an average defense.
Unfortunately they don’t. In fact they don’t have much of an average anything right now. Dallas is a bad defending, bad rebounding, small team. All it can do is shoot threes. That’s keeping them afloat for now, but if the Mavericks hit a cold spell in the final 10 games, it might mean no playoffs at all.