The Dallas Mavericks need to have a complete makeover in the offseason. This year’s awful end proved that the glaring holes in this roster needs to be fixed ASAP. They needed to address these issues before the start of the year, but let’s just say that their ways of fixing the problems… didn’t work out.
Making these fixes will have two results that are directly tied to each one. The first one is quite obvious: the Mavs need to fix these issues to make it back to the NBA playoffs. The second result is a corollary of the first: making the playoffs will keep Luka Doncic happy (or, if what the Mavs star’s saying is true, make him happier) and make him stay in Dallas.
Without further ado, let’s take a look.
You’re probably already tired about how the Mavs’ defense absolutely sucks, but that cannot be stated enough. The 2021 Dallas team made it all the way to the West Finals partly because of their defense. They ranked 7th in the league in defensive rating, and they were one of the toughest teams to face. It seemed like Kidd finally found a team that could execute his schemes.
And then… it suddenly collapsed. The next year, the Mavs were suddenly worse on defense. From being the 7th-best defense, they became the 6th-worst. It was a catastrophic collapse, fueled partly by regression from one of their key defenders in Dorian Finney-Smith. Said key defender was eventually traded for Kyrie Irving (who isn’t known for his defense), leaving only Reggie Bullock as their serviceable defender.
Looking at the numbers, the most glaring issue for the Mavs on defense is their rim protection. They do an excellent job defending the three-ball (ranking among the best in opponent 3pt%). However, they have one of the highest allowed field goal percentage at the rim (65.6%). Fixing their awful rim protection is needed for them to be able to cover for any defensive miscues on the perimeter.
Speaking of which…
Rebounding and defense are strongly correlated to each other. A team can play picture-perfect defense, but if they can’t secure the rebound, then it’s all for naught. That is a big reason as to why the Mavs failed to make the playoffs this year: they just couldn’t rebound to save their lives.
In 2022, the Mavs ranked dead last in total rebounds per game, at 38.8 per game. The gap between them and the 29th team is nearly the same as the gap between 29 and 22. Their defensive rebounding isn’t bad (17th in the league), but the sheer lack of offensive rebounds completely did them in.
The easy solution to fix the Mavs’ rebounding and defensive woes is to get big men who can protect the rim properly. It’s safe to say at this point that Dwight Powell has reached the end of the line in terms of being a serviceable defensive big. Maxi Kleber has value as a three-point shooter, but he’s essentially a wing in a big man’s body. JaVale McGee seems to have lost a step this year. And Christian Wood… we don’t talk about him.
There’s also room for more rebounding wings for the Mavs. Finney-Smith’s defense and rebounding was sorely missed by the Mavs down the stretch, and they don’t really have a lot of bodies to crash the boards from the perimeter.
A secondary playmaker (that can work off the ball and cover for Doncic)
If the 2021 Mavs proved anything, it’s that a team with Luka Doncic and another creator can work. Jalen Brunson blossomed into a star when Luka Doncic was out, perfectly leading Dallas in the first round of the playoffs. Even with Doncic’s return, though, the Mavs still hummed like a bird, with him and Brunson sharing lead handling duties.
Dallas hoped to replicate that with Kyrie Irving. And to an extent, that experiment did work. However, there were two issues. One was that Irving was not used to playing off the ball, at least with Doncic. The Mavs offense eventually devolved to Luka and Kyrie taking turns playing isolation basketball.
The second was that Irving was not a plus-defender, or even an average defender. Brunson was smaller than Kyrie, but he performed much better on defense under Jason Kidd. As a result, Dallas suddenly had a glass cannon backcourt: brimming with offensive firepower, but lacking the defense to protect any lead. Doncic’s poor defense was even more exposed without someone to take the “hard” matchups.
Keeping Kyrie around is not a completely bad idea: the locker room seems to like him for now, at least. However, if Irving does leave, then one of the priorities of the Mavs should be to find someone to help out Luka Doncic for their playoff run.
All stats taken from nba.com/stats.
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