Things are not going well for Dallas Mavericks. After a fantastic seven-game win streak, the Mavericks have gone just 6-9 in January. The injury bug has returned, the defense has struggled, and the team has continually botched late-game situations.
One theme seems to underpin the Mavericks’ season-long struggles: trust. This lack of trust has manifested itself in the players and fans, but it originates with the coaching staff, as too often they have said one thing and done another.
In November, Kidd bemoaned that Dončić would be exhausted “within 25 games.” Yet, despite this public declaration of concern for Dončić’s endurance, he is averaging nearly the same amount of playing time now (36.7 minutes per game) as he was before the 25-game mark (36.8 minutes per game).
Dončić is still second in the league in usage rate, and while many might note the lack of talent surrounding him, Spencer Dinwiddie and Christian Wood have shown they can take on bigger roles in the offense, and even Josh Green should see an expanded offensive role.
The coaching staff has publicly emphasized the need to become less Dončić-centric, yet seemingly no changes to achieve this goal have been implemented.
After last week’s 130-122 loss to the Hawks, Kidd seemed to take a jab at his players’ defensive talent, saying, “if it’s with this personnel, then you’ve got to keep asking or demanding for those guys to play defense.” Yet, it was this same personnel that earned Dallas the seventh-best defensive rating last season.
While “effort” is oftentimes the coaching staff’s biggest culprit for the defensive regression, lack of effort alone is unlikely the reason Dallas has slipped to 23rd in defensive rating.
Dončić is often the focal point of the “effort” criticism, but when he plays 36 minutes and is the main engine of the Mavericks’ offense, it is hard to blame him for conserving energy on defense. This problem would be somewhat alleviated if the coaching staff were to reduce his offensive workload, but that is also a promise the staff has failed to fulfill.
The team’s effort is certainly an issue, but there are schematic defensive issues at play as well. Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock have regressed as point-of-attack defenders, and the failure of the JaVale McGee signing has left the interior defense in the hands of Christian Wood and Dwight Powell. Yet, even if it were the case that effort was solely the issue, it falls on the coaching staff to improve this team’s interest in playing defense – a task they have failed to accomplish.
Dallas has been injury-riddled this entire season, which has often forced Kidd and his staff to rely heavily on an eight-man rotation. Dallas has six players averaging at least 29 minutes per game. Dončić is second in the league in minutes per game and 15th in total minutes. Dinwiddie is fifth in the league in total minutes.
The staff seems particularly steadfast in its rotational structure, despite clear shortcomings. Tim Hardaway Jr. continues to log 30 minutes per game despite having the worst shooting percentage in the NBA with a minimum of 300 field goals missed. Frank Ntlikina continues to receive minutes despite shooting 22.2% from three-point range and posting the worst defensive rating of his career. While the coaching staff has alluded to changes in the rotation multiple times, none of these changes have materialized.
Hardy is the example of these allusions. After Jaden Hardy dropped 10 points in two minutes against Phoenix back in December, Kidd stated that Hardy “deserved more minutes.” Thus, it makes perfect sense that Hardy failed to log a minute in three of the following four games.
In January, Hardy scored a career-high 25 points in a loss to Portland. Kidd, after this performance, opined that Hardy “definitely needs minutes out there.” Thus, it makes perfect sense that Hardy has averaged just five minutes per game in the seven games since that point, and has been a healthy scratch in two of those outings, even with Dončić missing games against the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz.
When the opportunity to play Hardy in significant situations has arisen, the coaching staff has repeatedly shied away and instead given those minutes to the starters, compounding the already prominent injury problem.
This is not meant to champion Hardy, as Hardy is a rookie who is raw offensively and a poor defender. This is instead meant to highlight the hypocrisy and the unsustainability of the overall strategy.
“Look, the guys played to exhaustion,” Kidd said after the 108-100 loss to the Utah Jazz.
This is true, but it was Kidd who decided to play Dinwiddie for 42 minutes, to play Dorian Finney-Smith for 41 minutes and Josh Green for 38 minutes.
The team has already endured long-lasting injuries to many of its key players due to overuse – doubling down on that strategy is not wise, especially when previous statements indicated a reversal of that plan.
Ultimately, the coaching staff needs to take some accountability. It is true that the roster is not optimally constructed to detach from Dončić’s brilliance, that the defensive intensity has been lacking and that the rotation is thinner than it should be for reasons beyond the coaches’ control.
Yet, what is concerning is the fact that nobody is making the staff say these things. They make declarations and promises, fail to fill them and then make a hullabaloo about fans on Twitter.
“When you talk about Luka at 40 [minutes], somebody is only going to be able to play 8,” Kidd said in December. “Hardy has to wait, ask Josh. Twitter isn’t the coach or the player.”
If the staff sought to continue leaning on Dončić’s offensive greatness, they never should have broadcasted public concern over his endurance. Joel Embiid, the 76ers superstar center, has led the league in usage rate for the last three seasons, yet rarely do the 76ers make public issues about his fitness.
If the staff sought to maintain the current rotation, they should never have made public declarations to the contrary. Players, like Hardy, routinely have great performances without seeing expanded roles.
To regain trust, the coaching staff must simply follow the old Dr. Seuss adage: say what you mean and mean what you say.
Categories: 2022-23 Season, Mavs Fans For Life
Leave a Reply Cancel reply