Week 1 of the Mavs’ season saw them play .500 ball for the first time in a while. Let’s talk about some good and bad things that made their 2-2 start possible.
The Mavs have played 4 games since Wednesday of last week and it has been a wild ride so far. Against the Suns, we get blown out and embarrassed on a national stage. Then we shoot a franchise record 50 3-point attempts on our way to scoring 140 versus the Timberwolves. The Bulls started hot, but we stayed strong for another good victory on our home floor. And last night saw the Mavs blow a second quarter lead of 26 points (tied for 3rd biggest blown lead in franchise history) versus the Hawks.
So as you can see, week one was very up and down. And 3 of the 4 teams were in the lottery last year, so it all needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Obviously, week one is far too early to make any grand conclusions, but there are areas that need to be applauded and areas that have already been problems across each game. So let’s look at 3 things on the way up and 3 things on the way down.
#1 Up: Pace & Passing
The Mavs are playing much faster and a much more fun, youthful brand of basketball. They are pushing the ball up the court and moving the ball like crazy. Sometimes, they are making one too many passes or trying to play hero before any other teammates are around to help, but that’s how you end up at .500. This is also what you get watching a youth movement grow up before your eyes. But what do the numbers say so far?
Pace-wise, the Mavs are ranked 11st in pace as opposed to last year, where they were last in the league. More pointedly, they now rank 13th in fast break points where they were near the bottom at 24 last year. They are pushing and the points are reflecting that. As far as passing goes, with team emphasizing ball movement and limiting dribbles per touch, the Mavs have drastically changed their numbers from last year. They have successfully cut the dribbles per touch in HALF (from 26 to 13) and more than halved the time each person possesses the ball (from 25 seconds to 9). This plan is working well.
#2 Up: Luka Doncic
Guys, Luka is real. We’ve been asking for so long to see him both on the court AND in front of real NBA talent. And now that we’ve seen both, our “cautious optimism” is getting far less “cautious”. The questions we had about his adjustment to the NBA game from Europe are disappearing game by game. True, he still makes the odd error that would be legal in Europe, but he only does it once and fixes it going forward. He’s your second leading scorer with 19.0 ppg, your second leading rebounder with 6.5 rpg, and your third highest assist leader (number 1 in hockey assists though). He’s basically filling up the stat sheet right off the bat and it feels so good. The turnovers need to be cleaned up, whether it’s a miscommunicated pass or a Euro-style travel, but those should be much better in short order. It’s still week one.
#3 Up: DeAndre’s Free Throw Shooting
Who is this free throw shooter??? This is a guy who was being hacked so much for his free throw shooting that the league changed the rules to help guys like him and Andre Drummond stay on the floor. But so far this year, DeAndre is shooting .824 from the charity stripe, making 14 of 17 attempts. That’s…unbelievable. And it’s good enough for the 2nd best free throw percentage ON THE TEAM. Dorian Finney-Smith holds the top spot under 1% higher than Jordan at .833, but he’s only shot 6 total free throws. Jordan’s free throws look effortless and consistent. Maybe a change of scenery did him some good? Maybe the coaching staff figured something out? I don’t really care, I’m just thrilled to see it and I hope it continues.
#1 Down: Perimeter Defense
Perimeter Defense was a concern for most MFFLs coming into this season, but nobody really thought it would be THIS bad. We currently rank DEAD LAST in opponent field goal percentage from deep. Opponents are shooting .500 from 3-point land. Every night, the opposing best players are putting on a show. Devin Booker went for 35, Karl-Anthony Townes went for 31, Zach Lavine went for 34, and Kent Bazemore went for 32. All of them were having their way from 3-point range and there was almost nothing this team could do about it. This does not bode well considering the strength of opponent we’ve played thus far and how much better the teams coming up will be. We’ve got to figure out how to play good outside defense for the entire shot clock. We know we have good interior defense, but our shallow wing depth on defense is showing badly as teams now have 4-5 players on the floor who can shoot the long ball. This has to get better.
#2 Down: Playing on the Road
This is one many will attribute to youth leading our team, but the Mavs win-loss split is split by home and away games. So far at home, the team is electric and has put on shows. On the road, this team got blown out by the worst team from last year and blew a 26 point lead to the third worst team from last year. Admittedly, both teams are improved, but it’s never easy to play on the road and there are *checking notes* 39 more road games this year. So we need to fix it. The returns of vets like Barnes, Dirk, and Harris should help steady the ship on the road, but they won’t all be back soon, so we need to figure out a way to keep our energy up and not let the home team crowds get into our heads.
#3 Down: Holding a Lead
The first quarter of last night’s game showed how truly fun and exciting these Mavs can be. We scored 42 points in the first frame and held Atlanta to only shooting 22. That’s where we want these Mavs to get. Through the remaining 3 frames, the Mavs went ice cold and only managed another 62 points while letting Atlanta score 89. We know defense leads to offense and we know that you can’t get sucked into only shooting 3s to “save” the game when it gets close down the stretch. This is a team still going through growing pains to learn each other and how best they can succeed, but the runs we go on are so extreme that we are showing how much we need some veteran consistency. This game against the Hawks needs to be the outlier as we head to Toronto to play the #1 team in the East.
Week 2 Preview
Let me remind MFFLs that it’s just week one and all things can improve and change. According to all reports, Harrison Barnes should be back in the lineup tomorrow against the Raptors. We’ll finally get to see the starting lineup as originally designed. Dorian Finney-Smith has stepped in admirably and deserves much respect for his work, but Barnes will bring a totally different scoring threat and hopefully just as good of defense. Now having said that, will he step in seamlessly tonight? Will he be on a minutes limit as he works his way back up to NBA shape?
We will need all the help we can get tomorrow going up against Kawhi Leonard who is on pace for a career year. He’s scoring 28 ppg, shooting .474 from 3, .895 on free throws and grabbing 7.8 rebounds a game. These are all currently career highs for him. It will be all hands on deck going into week 2 of this season. We play at the Raptors (#1 in the East & undefeated), Utah (who just beat the Rockets) at home, at San Antonio (who’ve had the Mavs’ number the past few years), and in LA against the Lakers (who have this guy named Lebron). If the trend of home and away wins-losses holds another week, we’ll be 3-5 by this time next week. But if we improve on other fronts, there are potentially winnable games here where we COULD stay at .500. We’ll check back in next week see where we are.
Buckle in, because it’s going to be a wild ride.