The Dallas Mavericks might be 7-4 to start the season, but that record is somewhat deceiving if you're not watching their games. Here are the seven wins Dallas has this season, and the record of each team they beat:
Of those seven wins, only one came against a team that figures to be in playoff contention this season (Boston), and even that called for some heroics from Luka Doncic to escape with the W. If you peel back the curtain on their four losses, you'll see that all of them have come against strong teams, with Dallas losing by an average of 20.5 points.
So basically the Mavericks are beating bad teams and getting blown out by the good ones. But even in its wins something just seems off about Dallas through 11 games, specifically on offense. This goes beyond just players taking time to mesh together because Dallas has had more or less the same roster for the past three seasons, so lack of chemistry isn't the issue. This is the same group of guys who put together the most efficient offense in league history during the 2019-20 season.
What we've seen so far from this team is a far cry from that ultra-efficient squad from two years ago. The issues the Mavericks are having stem from a mix of poor shooting and offensive scheming, so let's break down three early trends that need to be fixed if Dallas wants to do anything interesting this season.
1. Poor 3-point shooting
We'll start with the trend that I think is the least concerning of the three, but is still an issue that Dallas needs to get sorted out. Through 11 games, the Mavericks rank 26th in the league in 3-point shooting (32.1 percent), despite taking the sixth-most shots from deep per game (39.1). Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are both shooting sub-.300 from 3-point territory, and outside of Tim Hardaway Jr., no one on Dallas' roster has managed to find their touch from long range.
For a team whose identity has in part been taking a significant amount of 3s since Doncic entered the league (Dallas hasn't ranked lower than sixth in 3-point attempts per game since 2018), shooting this poorly will certainly impact them in terms of wins and losses.
But it's not as if the Mavericks aren't getting good looks at the basket from deep. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Over 21 percent of Dallas' 3-point attempts happen without a defender within six feet of them, which isn't surprising given Doncic's playmaking abilities.
|Closest defender||Shot frequency||3PA/G||3P%|
Very tight (0-2 feet)
Tight (2-4 feet)
Open (4-6 feet)
Very open (6 feet+)
The other reason most of Dallas' 3s are mostly unguarded, is because opponents don't respect the ability of guys like Dorian Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell to sink those shots. Just look at how far away DeMar DeRozan is from Finney-Smith as Doncic tries to make something happen on this possession:
Finney-Smith's shooting hasn't reached panic mode yet, considering his efficiency has improved every year he's been in the league, and he shot a career-high 39.4 percent last season on five attempts per game. But for a player that provides no playmaking ability or scoring, it's imperative that he starts knocking down those shots soon. For guys like Doncic and Porzingis, there also shouldn't be too much concern as Doncic typically starts the season slow with his shooting, and K.P. hasn't shot below 35 percent from deep since being traded to Dallas.
As for Powell, he's a career 29.2 percent shooter from deep and has never averaged more than one 3-pointer. But it's clear that his shooting from long range is more out of necessity for Dallas' offense than anything else. The Mavericks can't have Powell clogging the paint all of the time, because that limits Doncic's playmaking abilities when he's attacking. So the only other option is to stick him out on the 3-point line and have him do his best Maxi Kleber impression until the versatile forward returns to the rotation.
Compared to the other two problems with the offense, the 3-point shooting is an easy fix. All it takes is for Doncic, Porzingis, Finney-Smith and others to start connecting on 3s. If that happens, defenders can't sag off of Finney-Smith, which will make it easier for Doncic and Jalen Brunson to create. As the season wears on we'll likely see some positive regression for Dallas' 3-point shooting woes, so it could easily be resolved a month down the line.
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2. Terrible spacing
There are some really funky things happening with Dallas' floor spacing this season, which is pretty concerning when you have an elite playmaker like Doncic. Like this pick-and-roll between Doncic and Powell that was going absolutely nowhere:
This is just bad spacing all around. Why is there only one player on the weak side of the floor, and why is it Hardaway Jr. instead of Finney-Smith? Why is Porzingis looking to post-up with Doncic coming around a screen with two defenders on him? Why is Powell rolling to the rim instead of staying out on the 3-point line? The Mavericks ran that play a couple of minutes earlier and had similar results, and it resulted in another errant pass from Doncic and a Porzingis turnover.
The issues are more glaring in losses, but similar errors are happening in Dallas' wins where the spacing just doesn't make sense. Like in this win against the Pelicans where Hardaway Jr. and Powell are running a pick-and-roll, and Porzingis for some reason is posting up four feet from where Hardaway is trying to operate.
Hardaway nailed the jumper, but Porzingis should've slid to the corner and allowed Hardaway space to either attack the basket, or kick it out to someone for a 3-pointer. There's also this possession where Doncic is trying to take his man one-on-one, but at the same time Finney-Smith is cutting toward the basket, which brings his defender over, and suddenly Doncic is surrounded by three Pelicans players.
What's odd about the bad floor spacing we've seen from Dallas is that this wasn't as prevalent of an issue last year, and it's not like there was major roster turnover during the offseason. What's causing the court to shrink for the Mavericks on offense is a direct correlation from the next trend we're seeing from this team.
3. Trouble with the starting lineup
Ahead of Dallas' win over the Kings at the end of October, Kidd was asked if he's thought about tinkering with the starting lineup due to the Mavericks' slow starts in the first quarter this season.
"That's always something we can go to, but you want to give that group not just two games or five games, you want to give them enough games to work through the process of starting slow," Kidd said. "Once we get healthy, we'll go through that process to see if we can get off to better starts."
It's fair to give the current starters time to work out some kinks, especially since Porzingis already missed five games due to back tightness. But in the six games that the starters have played together, they're getting outscored by 19.4 points this season, per Cleaning the Glass. That ranks dead last in the league among lineups that have played at least 100 possessions together. Yikes.
Starting Powell over Kleber was one of the first major changes Kidd made entering this season, despite the great results Dallas got out of its starting lineup last year. The Mavericks outscored opponents by 11.2 points a season ago with Kleber starting, as his floor-spacing ability was integral to Dallas' offense. With Powell, you lose that floor-spacing and so far most opponents have ignored him and Finney-Smith when they're standing beyond the arc. That throws more defenders at Doncic when he's attacking the basket, which gives him less space to operate. When Powell, Finney-Smith and Doncic share the floor -- which is the second-most used trio by the Mavs -- Dallas is getting outscored by 14.3 points.
But this is less about Powell's inability to shoot 3s and more about how he's used, because he's beneficial when he's the only big on the floor. When Porzingis was sidelined for five games, that pushed Brunson into the starting lineup, and that group of Doncic, Brunson, Hardaway Jr., Finney-Smith and Powell outscored opponents by 15.8 points. That ranks fifth in the league among lineups that have played 100 or more possessions.
It's not difficult to see why that lineup's been successful for Dallas this season. Having Brunson on the floor with Doncic adds another playmaker in the lineup, which takes pressure off the All-NBA guard. Then there's the benefit of having only one big in the lineup, which means more space to operate in the paint for Doncic and Brunson. Interestingly enough, Dallas typically runs with lineups that feature one big man, except for the starters.
In fact, the floor spacing issue is mainly happening when Powell and Porzingis are in the lineup together, although Finney-Smith has been a culprit of it too. When there's only one big man out there, the offense just moves along easier. Like this:
The spacing on this possession is great, because as Porzingis pops out off the pick-and-roll with Brunson, it pulls Jaxson Hayes away from the basket, giving Brunson an open lane to the rim. Finney-Smith also provided a secondary option for Brunson by cutting at the right time, while Bullock also could've been an option for the corner 3-pointer.
Figuring out the rotations is going to be the most important aspect of Dallas' success this season. When Kleber returns, perhaps Kidd will put him in the starting lineup to mix things up. Or maybe Finney-Smith gets swapped out for someone like Reggie Bullock who is knocking down 3s at a higher clip right now. Kidd could also decide to keep the starting lineup as is. Those five players did have a plus-5.6 net rating last season, so it means a lineup featuring Porzingis and Powell can work...but in smaller doses.
The season's still incredibly young, so all of these things can be fixed and shooting slumps can change. But Dallas has to start putting the pieces together soon because they won't be playing the Spurs and Pelicans every night to help pad their record. At some point, the Mavericks are going to have to prove that they can beat quality teams, otherwise, the losses are going to start to pile up.