Dallas Mavericks: Defense First?

Throughout the history of the Dallas Mavericks, it can arguably said they have been more an offense first team as opposed to a defensive team. Many would argue the Mavericks best defensive season was their championship year in 2010-2011, anchored by on ball defenders Shawn Marion and Deshawn Stevenson and led in the paint by Tyson Chandler. Since then, the Mavericks have generally relied on their offensive prowess to carry them through the season, while sprinkling in defensive performances that were worthy of praise. With the addition of Jason Kidd as head coach, he and his new coaching staff continuously mentioned a new defensive philosophy that would be a shift from previous regimes. The Mavericks struggled defensively the first part of the year, but have shown an impressive improvement the last 10 or so games that should be a sign of things to come.

The Mavericks offseason acquisition of Reggie Bullock and Sterling Brown were supposed to assist the team two fold – both are known as capable on ball defenders who can hit at a decent clip from three point range. However, both (like much of the NBA) struggled to shoot the ball and saw their production dip on both ends of the spectrum. The Mavericks hoped that the addition of Bullock and Brown would take the load off of Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber, both great defenders in their own right but sometimes asked to do too much on that end of the floor. Initially, the experiment was a failure. The Mavs spent the first part of the season as 25th in defensive rating, along the likes of teams such as the Kings, Blazers and Raptors. During that stretch of 15 games, the Mavericks were allowing the third most points in the paint and allowing opponents to shoot nearly 50% from the field, per NBA.com.

The last 19 games for the Mavericks have been a swift turnaround in their defensive struggles. While the team has been ravaged by COVID protocols and injuries, the Mavericks have improved drastically on the defensive end of the ball. In December, the Mavericks held the 5th best defensive rating in the NBA in 16 games to vault them up to a top 10 defensive team when looking at defensive rating. As the calendar turned to 2022, the Mavericks defense continues to impress. Dallas forced 26 turnovers (22 steals) against the Denver Nuggets on January 3rd. All of the focus on January 5th was on Dirk Nowitzki jersey retirement ceremony, especially with the formidable Golden Stat Warriors coming to town. The Mavericks defense once again showed their legitimacy, holding the Warriors to just 82 points. Dallas now boasts the 6th best defense in the NBA after their last two games.

Even though the Mavericks are not playing with their full compliment of weapons (Kristaps Porzingis entered health and safety protocols on Monday as well), it seems from the eye test that they have slowly been gaining confidence in their defensive ability. The defensive switching looks crisp, pick and roll defense no longer seems sluggish and the help defense has been arguably the greatest asset for this Mavericks team. Coach Jason Kidd’s schemes have come to life as of late, and the proof is in the Mavericks’ defensive rating improvement during the season – November (111.7, 25th), December (108.1, 5th), and January (90.5, 1st). This continued improvement clearly is no fluke, and the Mavericks seem to have found their defensive identity at a crucial part of the season.

If the Mavericks can consistently play defense the way they have been the last month of the season and their offense returns to it’s top 5 status, this team could become very dangerous down the stretch over the 2nd half of the season.

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