The Mavericks are ¼ through this season and there have been some surprising storylines to follow over this stretch.
Let’s look at the biggest ones.
The Dallas Mavericks have had a great start to the season after having gotten off to horrible ones the past 3 years that all but doomed their season by this point. This year, however, each game seems to provide more hope and assurance that this team can make real noise by the time the playoffs arrive. Even Daryl Morey, rival Rockets GM acknowledged what Mavs fans were saying when he tweeted about the Mavs play so far.
— MFFL (15-6) (@Mavs_FFL) December 3, 2019
This success is a series of confluences going right for the team. And simultaneously, as things go right for some, other things haven’t gone as planned. Success as a TEAM comes down to preparation by the front office and execution by the coaching staff to maximize the player’s potential. To start the season Rick tinkered and toyed with the lineups to mixed results, leading to a 6-5 record.
As the rotations have settled in and players have gotten deeper into the groove, the Mavs have torn off a 9-1 record since then, beating playoff contenders like the Rockets, Suns, and Lakers in commanding fashion. These changes have gone well for some and less so for others.
Here are 5 players’ stories that have been surprising through the first quarter of the season.
1) JJ Barea’s Role
JJ Barea came into the year rehabbing an Achilles injury. No one expected him to be the 6th man of last year that put the team on his back, but it was expected to see him with some regularity. To date, JJ has only played in 4 total games (tied with Ryan Broekhoff for last on the team in games played) and only 13.8 min/game when he checks in.
This surprising lack of playing time was thought to be due to his ongoing rehab, but he played in most of the preseason and claimed to be fully healthy. His role has essentially been a “break in case of emergency” role where he goes in and rights the ship if the team is failing and needs to get back on track.
With Carlisle’s penchant for playing vets, relegating JJ to this role is a surprise, especially when you see he’s scoring 10.8 pts on 50% shooting from the floor and 69.2% (!!!) from 3 in 13ish minutes. One would think this would get him all the time he needs, but it seems as though he and Rick are encouraging the young second unit to find its way on their own. JJ seems to be serving as more of a player/coach role on this team that is firing on all cylinders without him playing heavy minutes in his 13th year in the league.
2) KP’s Struggles
It’s safe to say KP has not immediately been what fans thought he would be. Not all in a bad way, but he did not step in and IMMEDIATELY look like the All-Star MFFLs were hoping to get. He’s second in scoring behind Luka with 16.8 ppg, but he has the lowest field goal percentage of the entire team by shooting 29% from the floor. He is posting a career-high in rebounds at 8.9 RBs/game and is 5th in blocks for the entire NBA with 2.2 BLKs/game. It’s almost as if he’s the opposite of what fans were expecting: subpar on offense and a real interior presence on defense.
Here at Mavs Nation, we’ve discussed some of why this appears to be the case, whether it’s being away from game action for over 20 months and needing to get the feel back or whether is fitting into a whole new offensive system. Jeff “Skin” Wade on Numbers on the Board said that KP mentioned that basketball has changed while he was away, but in truth, it’s more than the Knicks were playing outdated basketball and he’s stepped into a modern offense for the first time in his NBA career.
It will take him more time to adjust because it’s not just a new town with new teammates, he’s essentially relearning basketball. Also, when you are as unique of a player as Porzingis, finding an EXACT role in a modern offense might not be the easiest thing in the world. He is clearly staying engaged on defense, which shows he’s committed to playing as well as he can, but he’s such a cerebral, rhythm-based player that we may not see him round into his true form for a major chunk of the season rather than the expected “plug and play” with Luka.
3) Jalen Brunson’s 3PT Shooting
Coming into this year, Jalen looked poised to be a major factor in the second unit after his excellent rookie season. In year 1, Jalen played nearly 22 minutes a game and shot nearly 35% from 3 and the expectation from the staff was that he would be even better this year after a productive offseason. Well, his playing time has dropped with his minutes essentially being the inverse of Luka’s, but his efficiency has improved a bit. The only real concerning detail has been his 3pt shooting, which has dropped to 29.3% (the lowest percentage on the team). It does not bode well that Jalen is struggling to hit 3s on the team shooting the second-most 3s in the league. Clearly, this is part of the team’s game plan and could be a factor as to why he isn’t playing MORE, but it seems to be tied more to his style of play. He shoots the 3 best off catch and shoot 3s, but in the second unit, he’s the distributor, where’s he’s pulling up off the dribble.
He shoots nearly 15% worse off the dribble. And nearly counter to that fact is that he’s shooting nearly 40% from 3 after he dribbles anywhere from 3-6 times. Both of these stats seem to indicate that Jalen needs to be deeply in rhythm (his own and the offense’s) in order to get the 3 to go down. It appears that he’s yet to really find that rhythm consistently through the first quarter season.
4) Justin Jackson’s Playing Time
Justin Jackson seemed to be in the mix to be the 5th starter coming into the season. He showed last year that he could defend decently and shoot with some consistency and then added 20ish pounds of muscle in the offseason. Yet, when the season rolled around, he has yet to crack into a single starting unit. While this is surprising enough, especially how many different starting lineups Rick tried, he has shot 44.2% on 52 attempts…That’s the best of anyone who’s played steady minutes on the team. One would think that this stat alone would earn him more playing time, but he’s playing the 2nd fewest minutes a game ahead of Boban at 13.4 min/game. His role has been rather consistent, playing with the second unit and being a wing scorer with his set group of guys.
It appears that this player who many thought might be a consistent starter has fallen victim to the Mavs depth at his position. Dorian has improved his 3pt shooting somewhat to keep him on the court more and Tim Hardaway has revamped his role as a starter to take yet more of Jackson’s available minutes. It seems as though Justin might not get a bigger shot unless an injury forces him to step up.
5) Luka Doncic’s Historical Greatness
There are not enough words to describe Luka’s play this season. This week, he was named the NBA Western Conference Player of the Month. Not week, MONTH. And not Rookie of the month, either, PLAYER of the month. He’s put up historic averages that put him amongst the game’s all-time greats by nearly averaging a 30 pt triple-double on the season (30pts/10.1rbs/9.2asts).
While most MFFLs, thought he’d be good to great, this season he’s still managed to surprise even the most ardent supporters. Even the great Dirk Nowitzki was surprised by just how well the young Luka is doing in year 2.
Dirk on Luka: “I thought he was going to have a little tougher transition in Year 2 just because he was so phenomenal last year with all the triple-doubles. I thought people were just going to really hone in on him, but he’s even gotten better.” #Mavs @NBAhttp://t.co/W5xkrDsdzZ pic.twitter.com/I9PClT9rsv
— Dwain Price (@DwainPrice) December 2, 2019
Luka is being mentioned as a top 3 League MVP candidate with Giannis and Harden by numerous national NBA writers and analysts. It’s almost as if no MFFL should be surprised by this, but it is absolutely WILD how quickly Luka is developing in the grand scheme of things. He accelerated the rebuild in his rookie year and has put the team that won 33 games last year on pace to win 56 games this year. This is not normal, but what Luka is doing has BECOME the new normal. It’s virtually up to Mavs fans to keep some level of perspective on how truly special Luka is.
In 21 games, the Mavs have accomplished many things besides just winning 15 games. They’ve made basketball in Dallas very fun. They’ve given fans confidence that they can play with anyone in the league and win. They’ve brought the very real possibility of playoff basketball back to Dallas for the first time since 2016. They’ve shown MFFLs that this is just the start of a bigger process that will hopefully get them back in contention very, very soon.
All of this is to say that the season is far from over, but every Mavs fan should just be salivating for the other 3 quarters of the season.
Featured Image: Associated Press - Tony Gutierrez Twitter Content: MFFL (15-6) (@Mavs_FFL), Dwain Price (@DwainPrice)