The Mavericks are 9-7. In some parts of Mavericks fandom, this is par for the course. In other parts of the fandom, the sky is falling.
But all parts of the fandom are questioning Jason Kidd’s coaching this season.
Kidd was one of the league’s best coaches last season. He turned a poor defensive team into a top-10 defensive unit, unlocked new parts of Dončić’s game, and brought the Mavericks to their first Western Conference Finals since 2011. How has Kidd followed up that fantastic season?
Not very well.
Playing Down to the Competition
As mentioned in the Week Five Review, the Mavericks play down to their competition. The Mavericks have played the 17th-hardest schedule thus far, and are 9-7 despite most analytics pinning the Mavericks as a top-5 team.
Every Mavericks’ loss has come after losing a significant lead or to a team missing key players. They lost to the New Orleans Pelicans without Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, to the Wizards without Kristaps Porzingis and Bradley Beal, and to the Denver Nuggets without Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray, and Aaron Gordon. They blew a 22-point lead against the Phoenix Suns on opening night and a 16-point lead against the Oklahoma City Thunder in just four minutes.
You get the point.
This falls on the coaching staff.
The Woeful Third Quarter
Kidd has identifiably struggled in three separate areas this season.
First, the Mavericks are the worst third-quarter team in the league. They average a league-worst 24.5 points in the third quarter with the eighth-worst point-differential in the quarter. They are also the fifth-worst shooting team in the third quarter, shooting just 43.7% from the floor and 24.2% from three-point range.
This explains the Mavericks’ difficulties in holding halftime leads. Kidd and his staff have been unable to make impactful halftime adjustments to just maintain their first-half successes. This trend also tracks with Dončić’s second-half struggles, as while he is one of the top first-quarter scorers in the league, his scoring ability declines as the game progresses.
Questionable Clutch Decisions
The Mavericks have played the most “clutch” games in the NBA, with a respectable 7-6 record. The losses, however, have come with some questionable coaching decisions.
The recent loss to Denver is a good example. Down one with roughly four seconds left, Kidd calls a simple inbounds play. Dončić lines up in the right wing and drifts upward toward Dorian Finney-Smith (the inbounder), with Josh Green setting a pindown screen to create space between Dončić and his defender. The rest of the team is cleared out, with Bertans in the left wing and Finney-Smith, Green, and Bullock in the right wing. Dončić catches the ball at the logo and hoists up a double-teamed three-pointer.
Dončić never had a reasonable chance to make this shot. He received the ball 35 feet away from the basket and was moving backward. He did not have the time nor the space (due to the double team) to get within the three-point line. While he is called “Luka Magic” for a reason, relying on his incredible shot-making is not a good strategy.
Down by one, it would seem more reasonable to get Dončić moving downhill and toward the basket. Dončić is shooting just 28.8% from three this season but is shooting above 50% within 14 feet of the basket. If he is double-teamed on a drive, he can make a quick pass to a shooter for an open look. If he is single-covered, he will likely get a good look at the basket.
This isn’t the first time Kidd has drawn up such a play, and it makes little sense why he keeps doing so. Kidd needs to make smarter decisions down the stretch to give his team a chance to win.
The Christian Wood Conundrum
Christian Wood has been fantastic this season. Everyone but Jason Kidd seems to realize this.
In just 25 minutes per game, Wood is averaging 16.6 points and 7.5 rebounds on 57% shooting from the floor and 43% shooting from three-point range. He is one of the few players on this team who can score without Dončić setting him up, and he has not been a defensive liability. He has a higher offensive rating and lower defensive rating than Reggie Bullock, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Dorian Finney-Smith, all players who get more minutes than him.
He provides the shot-creation and rebounding skills that this team desperately lacks, and can be both effective as the primary and secondary scoring option. Plus, his teammates want to play with him.
“I really like the lineup when I’m in with [Wood],” center JaVale McGee said last Friday. “I feel a lot more comfortable with a scoring [power forward] on the floor with me.”
After scoring a season-high 28 points against the Nuggets last Friday, Wood only played 17 minutes and took three shots in Sunday’s defeat.
Here’s what Kidd had to say regarding Wood’s minutes:
Kidd’s first point was that he wants to play who is “going well.” Why, then, did Hardaway Jr. get 21 minutes when he scored two points on 0-for-9 shooting?
Kidd’s second point was that Wood has to “earn his minutes.” In Wood’s prior two games, he had averaged 27 points and eight rebounds. Bullock, who played 26 minutes, had been averaging just five points over that same stretch.
Kidd’s last point was that the Mavericks have “a lot of bigs.” At this point, Kidd is being disingenuous. Wood is clearly a better player than every other big on this team. While Maxi Kleber, Davis Bertans, Dwight Powell, and McGee all have their roles and are very skilled players, none of them are as talented as Wood. If they were, Dallas wouldn’t have given up a first-round pick to acquire him.
Wood has earned his minutes. Kidd, for whatever secret reason, just won’t play him. Wood is also an upcoming free agent. If he doesn’t like his role, he can just leave.
“I would love to play more,” Wood said after the loss to the Nuggets. “I’ve voiced that several times, but I just play my role.”
Luka Dončić: The Ultimate Band-Aid
To be very clear: this team is 9-7 because Luka Dončić is the MVP front-runner. Dončić is the ultimate band-aid that is covering up Kidd’s coaching errors.
The Mavericks are 9-3 when Dončić scores at least 30 points. In these games, Dončić has averaged a monstrous 36.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 8.4 assists. In those games, the team has a +85-point differential, with a seven-point average score margin. Removing the outlier victories against the Memphis Grizzlies (137-96) and Denver Nuggets (127-99) drops those numbers to a +16-point differential and a +1.6-point average score margin.
The Mavericks are 0-3 when Dončić plays and scores less than 30 points. In those games, Dončić has still averaged a respectable 22.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 6.7 assists. The team has a -16-point differential, with a five-point average margin of defeat. The Mavericks have also lost their only game without Dončić.
The Mavericks are barely winning games with Dončić playing at his peak, and are losing games by multiple possessions when he is not. Furthermore, these numbers do not consider the talent of the opposing team.
Dončić won’t be able to cover for Kidd’s coaching inadequacies much longer. As Kidd said himself, “When everyone is going to come at [Dončić] every night on the defensive end, and then we’re asking you to do everything offensive[ly], it’s going to show within 25 games.”
Sixteen games down, nine games to go.
Despite all of this, the Mavericks are 9-7. The season is very young, and the Mavericks have everything in front of them. The Mavericks overcame a 14-16 start last season to finish fourth in the conference, so anything is possible. For this team to improve, however, they need to shore up these issues.
It starts with Jason Kidd.