Although the Mavericks’ season has largely been forgettable, several recent wins might help the rebuilding club turn a corner.
In what could very well be the final season for Dirk Nowitzki, the face of the Dallas Mavericks’ franchise, little was expected of the team. And for the first few weeks of the season, that was exactly what happened: they were the worst team in the NBA, starting the season to the tune of a 2-14 record.
Recently, however, Dallas has begun to turn its season around. The team has gone 11-12 since, with a league-best four-game win streak (tied with the LA Clippers) that was snapped in a narrow 125-122 loss to the Golden State Warriors. More impressively, the Mavs closed 2017 with the sweep of a three-game road trip at Indiana, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City. So what has helped Dallas to bring their forgotten season back toward respectability?
Since December 1st, the Dallas Mavericks have a top 10 net rating. +2.5 is good enough for 9th, between Denver (8th) and Washington (10th). Wow.— Josh Eberley 🇨🇦 (@JoshEberley) January 3, 2018
One of the biggest keys to Dallas’ recent revival is the encouraging play from rookie Dennis Smith Jr., who has helped lead the Mavs to a 5-3 record since missing six games with a hip injury. During their surprising three-game trip, Smith averaged 16.3 points, six rebounds, and 5.7 assists. Against the Pelicans, he put up a 21-10-10 triple-double. Another factor is Smith’s competent play in the final minutes of these Mavs’ victories, as he has shown veteran poise in guiding the team during tense fourth quarter minutes.
Despite the excellent individual numbers, there are questions about whether or not Smith’s success can translate into team success. Though the Mavs did go 5-2 in his latest return, he posted uninspiring +/- numbers of -6, -15, -7, -8, +2, -4, and 0, respectively. These trends are further emphasized in his on/off stats; Dallas actually holds a better offensive rating when he’s off the court (107.0 to 105.2), and opponents are much better offensively when Smith plays (114.8 to 104.4). His volume scoring can be quite effective and valuable for a Dallas team needing scoring punch, but his brand of basketball can sometimes detract from the team effort.
Along with Smith’s scoring, the Mavericks as a whole were incredibly efficient in their offensive sets in their last three games. For the season, the Mavs score an average of 101.0 points per game on 44.9% shooting, but their road trip saw the squad score an average of 114.0 points on 52.8% shooting.
In the modern NBA, especially in the Western Conference, success is often predicated on effectiveness from behind the arc, and that thesis can be proven during Dallas’ successful road spurt. While they usually only shoot the three-ball at a 36.7% clip, they have shot 44.1% from deep in the last three, which would put them in the upper echelons of the league percentage-wise.
Another offensive stat that jumps off the page for the Mavs’ trip: bench scoring was 148-51 in favor of Dallas. The tandem of J.J. Barea and Devin Harris, who have delivered energy off the bench for the Mavs all year, has proven especially catalytic recently. In the Pelicans game, Barea and Harris combined for 31 points off the bench in Dallas’ narrow victory.
Though still technically a starter, Dirk has played several minutes with the bench unit to great effect as well, and he is still chipping in with nearly 20 a game in his 20th season with the Mavericks. While Dennis Smith Jr.’s explosive scoring has jumpstarted this Dallas offense, the solid bench play has been key to their recent success.
Mavericks bench is a big strength and did a lot of damage in 1Q, scoring 15 pts on perfect 5/5 FGs. Dal 36-21— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) December 30, 2017
Looking forward, the month of January should be considerably friendlier to the Mavericks than their schedule has been thus far. They will play nine of their 14 January games within the confines of American Airlines Center, where the Mavs outscore their opponents by a margin of +1.3, compared to their -5.9 mark on the road. Surprisingly, Dallas actually shoots worse at home (37.2% at home compared to 38.3%), so they’ll hope to bring the hot shooting they’ve discovered on the road back to the tempo they set in Texas.
While the Dallas Mavericks have already all but given up on playoff hopes for the 2017-18 season, their hot play of late has brought them closer to a respectable record. Their atrocious start to the year has relegated this season to a “let’s see” campaign; the remainder of 2018 will serve to prove who can be solid contributors moving forward.
While they have leap-frogged several bottom-feeding teams in the West, their current hot streak should be observed with an eye to the future. They are in the midst of the most painful phase of any rebuild: sustaining losses while fielding the fourth-oldest roster in the league. As they anticipate a nice selection in the upcoming draft, Dallas should evaluate their roster and play their youngsters in the coming months (as they are with minutes for rookies DSJ and Maxi Kleber), but right now, their delayed rebuild is trending in the right direction.
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