What Is Going on With the Dallas Mavericks?
In life, we come to expect and rely on a few truths. One of those truths is that the only thing constant in life is change. If you expect things to stay the same forever, you will be wildly disappointed.
For the Dallas Mavericks, they are learning this fact the hard way this season.
Ever since Mark Cuban revitalized the franchise by buying the team in 2000, the Mavs have been one of the successful teams in the Association. They have 16 straight seasons with a .500 or better record, winning 63 percent of their games. In all but one of those seasons, they have made they postseason. Dallas made an appearance in two NBA Finals and even won a championship in 2011.
That is a whole lot of winning.
This year, not so much.
The sudden decline of Dirk Nowitzki, compounded with some poor roster construction, has left the Mavericks with a 4-15 record and at the bottom of the Western Conference.
A real end of an era.
Before we can figure out the how the Mavericks should proceed, we first need to find out exactly why the team has been so bad this year -- especially on offense.
Offensive Disappearing Act
A mere surface glance at Dallas' team statistics, it becomes quickly apparent the lack of offense is the primary reason for their failure. In nearly every significant offensive statistical category, the Mavericks rank near the bottom of the NBA.
The Mavericks' offensive problems look pretty straightforward. When you don't make shots, you don't score. Seems like an easy fix, right? Just make more shots.
While it is evident the Mavs need to spend extra time practicing their jump shot, the problem lies not just with the rate of success but with shot selection.
It goes without saying that shots at or near the rim are easier to make. We consider them high-percentage shots because they are made at such a higher rate than shots around the perimeter.
Per Basketball-Reference, the NBA average from shots within three feet of the rim is 62.2 percent. That drops to 40.5 percent from 3 to 10 feet and 40.4 percent from 10 feet to 16 feet, for context.
So, naturally, it makes sense that more high percentage shots you take, the greater your field goal percentage and scoring output. An added benefit of taking shots closer to the rim is that you draw more contact, sending yourself to the free-throw line more often -- another high-percentage shot, especially for such a good free-throw shooting team like Dallas.
The Mavs rank dead last in the NBA in both number of shots taken five feet or closer from the rim and in free-throw attempts, making them a team way too reliant on perimeter shooting for their offensive output.
Having to settle for mid-range and three-point jumpers is where offense goes to die. And that is just what the Mavericks have done.
The finger immediately points to the backcourt as the reason Dallas has struggled to get easy baskets this season.
The Point Guard Problem
Injuries to veteran point guards Deron Williams, Jose Juan Barea, and Devin Harris have left an already thin backcourt, desperate for anyone able to run the point. Their absence has thrust unproven guard Seth Curry into handling more of the point guard duties.
Unlike his brother, Stephen Curry, the younger Curry is better suited as a two-guard playing off the ball. Just like every other Curry, his real talent lies around the perimeter and his ability to make long range bombs, not driving the lane.
His average shot attempt is 18 feet away from the rim, showing his inability and reluctance to get into the paint. On top of all that, he is also a poor facilitator, averaging only 2.6 assists per game.
With the way Dallas has constructed their roster, they need someone who can drive and create open lanes and looks. They need a point guard who can attack the basket because their best scoring options tend to hang around the perimeter looking for open jump shots.
Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, and Nowitzki are not beating a defender off the dribble. They need a playmaker who can drive and draw in help defenders, leaving the jump shooting trio open for a good look or a clear path to the rim. They can all be above-average scoring options, but they share the same lack of a killer first move.
However, even if Dallas were to have a visionary floor general appear on their roster magically, their problems would not end there.
Shoved Into the Spotlight
When Barnes was signed to his maximum contract this offseason, the expectation was for the former Golden State Warrior to take a year or two before being handed the reigns as the go-to scoring option in Dallas. It was understood the 24-year-old needed time to develop his game.
Because he was the fourth option at best in Golden State, Barnes never had a chance to work on a first move or how to attack the rim. All the Warriors needed him to do was be a spot-up shooter. However, with Nowitzki missing 14 games, and counting, with a sore Achilles, it was necessary for Barnes to learn on the fly and immediately become the primary scoring option for Rick Carlisle.
To everyone's surprise, he is doing just that by leading the team with over 20 points per game while shooting 46.4 percent from the field.
While so far Barnes has been a positive surprise, the rest of the roster is an aging mess.
The Mavs' roster is barren of game-changing talent, especially on the younger side. They own the fourth-oldest roster in the NBA. While the three teams older than them, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, and Cleveland Cavaliers, all have title aspirations, Dallas is heading straight for the lottery. An infusion of top level young talent is exactly what Dallas needs.
Matthews has been a bust, averaging only 13.0 points and 2.5 three-pointers per game on 38.3 percent shooting in his Mavericks tenure. The former Portland Trail Blazer has shown some signs of life recently, but at 30, he is already past his prime. Their point guards -- Williams, Barea, and Harris -- are all 32 or older.
The frontcourt with Nowitzki and Andrew Bogut are reaching the end of the line. While they do have five players in their rotation 26 or younger, Barnes is the only one who is starter worthy.
Anderson and Finney-Smith are great athletes but are both shooting under 39 percent. Curry flashes talent but looks best reserved to be a long-range shooter off the bench -- not a starting guard in the NBA.
Powell seems to have the athleticism to compete in the NBA, but he lacks the strength to be a force on defense and the range to stretch the floor offensively for someone whose is a liability on the defensive side. Just like Curry, his best role is off the bench.
So what does Dallas do? Be patient.
The Road to a Better Tomorrow
There is no quick fix for the Mavericks. They have shown time and time again the inability to woo big free agent talent to North Texas, leaving them grasping at the bargain bin every summer. To make matters worse, due to their consistent success, the Mavericks routinely traded away their first-round picks to save money and take huge swings in free agency.
So the solution to the roster problem is simple if not unexciting. Draft, draft, draft.
While Cuban has said he will not tank, Dallas needs to lose. It may be hard for Cuban to do and for the fan base to take, but grabbing a top pick in the highly-talented 2017 NBA Draft would go a long way to rebuilding the mess of a roster -- especially with the wealth of promising young point guards likely available in June.
In reality, the bad season may be a blessing in disguise. All the winning in Big D may have been nice, but sometimes all we need is a little change. And Dallas is no different.