Mavericks Start Slow Once Again

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For the second time in many years, the Dallas Mavericks have gotten off to a slow start in the regular season. Coupled with some cringe-worthy losses, the Mavericks have encountered poor play from some of their role players and questionable coaching decisions from Jason Kidd.

New free agent acquisition JaVale McGee has essentially been benched, Facu Campazzo was waived for Kemba Walker and Jaden Hardy has torn up the G League but can’t seem to get any minutes on the NBA roster. While the Mavericks did recover from their slow start last year to eventually make the Western Conference Finals, the question becomes whether this year’s team can pull off the same turnaround as last year’s version.

The 2021-2022 season saw the Mavericks faced with adversity right off the bat. Much like this year, the Mavericks sat at .500 in early December, their early season mired in two and three game losing streaks and continued unavailability and questionable fit of Kristaps Porziņģis. In Jason Kidd’s first season as head coach with the Mavericks, Dallas also suffered from defensive breakdowns, numerous lineup changes and a sluggish early season start from Luka Dončić. As the calendar shifted from December to January, however, the Mavericks soon found their identity as a gritty defensive team that knocked down shots at opportune time while Dončić took games over when necessary. GM Nico Harrison also shook up the roster, bringing in Spencer Dinwiddie and Dāvis Bertāns in exchange for Porziņģis, giving Dallas more depth. In turn, the Mavericks ended up winning 34 of their final 46 games, shocked the NBA by beating the Phoenix Suns in the semi-finals and making the Western Conference Finals.

The sharp turnaround for Dallas was based on a few factors. Clearly, the Mavericks improvement on defense cannot go unnoticed. Jason Kidd’s coaching staff and their demand for excellence on the defensive end showed as the season progressed. Jalen Brunson came into his own as well. Brunson played a much more prominent role on this team after the injury to Tim Hardaway, Jr., and he showed great improvement from his first few years in the NBA alongside Dončić. Even with the injury to Hardaway, Jr., the Mavericks arguably had another star alongside Dončić that allowed for Dallas to play two ball handlers at once and have another (Dinwiddie) off the bench. Opposing defenses couldn’t key in on Dončić as either Brunson or Dinwiddie could create offense as well. Other key players such as Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock improved as the season went on. Bullock worked his way into the starting lineup after a slow start and the trade of Porziņģis.

The slow starts are relatively based on the same factors. Dallas has lost leads late in games or has had to play from behind early on. November has not been kind to the Mavericks the last two years either. Last year, the Mavericks went 6-7 in the month of November. This year, the Mavericks played one extra game in November…and finished 7-7. Dallas has incurred lineup changes as well, with Dwight Powell now in the starting lineup as opposed to JaVale McGee while Hardaway Jr. has replaced Reggie Bullock.

The biggest difference between the two starts, however, should provide concern for Mavericks fans. The loss of Brunson has been talked about ad nauseum, but his success in New York should prove to even the staunchest of doubters that the Mavericks should’ve kept the young guard. The secondary ball handling, and more so, the depth that he provided this team has been a key factor in this year’s sluggish start. Dallas chose not to sign Goran Dragić this offseason and instead brough in Facu Campazzo, who, in eight games, shot 23% from the field and was promptly waived for Kemba Walker. The bizarre coaching decisions also are a concern.

Christian Wood, Dallas’ key off-season addition, has started zero games for this team while being arguable their second best player. Wood has been shifted in and out of key situations in games, from being on the floor with Dončić in crunch time to being benched for the final minutes in certain games. Josh Green has started one game this year while being the Mavericks’ most improved player and showing flashes of a potential key rotational piece. Hardy, Dallas’ second round pick who is averaging 29 PPG in the G League, has been called up numerous times to the NBA roster and has logged a mere 3.3 minutes per game in the three games he’s played. All the while, Reggie Bullock is off to his usual slow start, shooting only 29% from the field and 27% from three-point range. Tim Hardaway, Jr., returning from the leg injury he suffered in late January, is shooting 33% from the field and 30% from three-point range. Bullock averages more minutes per game than both Wood and Green, while Hardaway, Jr. averages only a minute less than Wood but nearly five minutes more than Green.

Most importantly, however, is that Luka Dončić is playing arguably the best basketball of his career, and the Mavericks are still struggling. By all measure, Luka is either first or second (depending on who you ask) in early season MVP voting. While his three-point shooting is still down, Dončić is dominating opponents to the tune of 33.5 PPG, 8.8 RPG and 8.6 APG. Dallas’ slow start last year could somewhat have been attributed to Dončić’s coming into the season out of shape and sluggish. With him playing at a MVP level this early in the year, he is essentially the only thing keep Dallas afloat currently.

There is still plenty of time left in the season, and the Western Conference standings are relatively muddled in the middle. We’ve seen the Mavericks turn things around before, but many of those factors that helped the Mavericks turn things around last year are not at their disposal any longer. Jason Kidd will need to figure out the best rotation for this team, the role players will need to start shooting better, or GM Nico Harrison may want to start looking for ways to improve a roster that needs all the help they can get. If none of those come to fruition, the Mavericks may be in for a painful rest of the season.



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