It’s not NBA free agency without the Dallas Mavericks whiffing on a star signing. Every season, post-2011, features Mark Cuban blowing smoke up the fanbase about the prospects of Dallas securing a star-level player in free agency. Although this year was no different in regards to missing on first-on-the-list free agents, the typical stubbornness of the past front didn’t leak over into the new regime.
This time around, the front office moved to plan-b rather quickly. The two acquisitions, however starless they are, fit as ideal role players for the Mavericks.
It’s important to reassess the roster in light of consecutive playoff series losses to the Los Angeles Clippers. Although the two players don’t come with All-Star experience, there’s more to team-building than spending money for potential stars. The Mavericks’ failure to convert on open shots from Luka Doncic’s drive-and-kick plays exposed Dallas as a faux shooting team.
Dallas Mavericks add two 3-and-D players.
Now, of course, the Mavericks shooting numbers don’t suggest the likes of Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber can’t shoot. In the same breath, Reggie Bullock registered an outstanding 40 percent on 3-point shots without a stellar playmaker in Doncic. Sterling Brown, on a lottery team, hit the 42 percent mark from deep. Imagine what the latter mentioned players can do with Doncic as the creator.
Shooting aside, the defensive capabilities of Brown and Bullock allow more in-game adjustments for new Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd. For years, Dorian Finney-Smith was forced to lock in on faster, elusive guards. Unfortunately for Dallas, Finney-Smith didn’t stand a chance guarding such players.
With Rick Carlisle back in Indiana and Jason Kidd looking to make a mark as a head coach for the Mavericks, perhaps Finney-Smith’s role on defense shifts to guarding wings. Kidd, however, hasn’t touched on potential defensive strategy. At this point, it’s all speculation.
Both Bullock and Brown deserve a chance to showcase their specialties. I used InStat to delve into game scenarios in which the two new signees excelled.
Despite Sterling Brown’s place on the lowly 2020-21 lottery-destined Houston Rockets, the 25-year-old shooting guard exhibited promising defensive sequences. Considering the Rockets’ starting point guard John Wall missed 32 games, it’s a wonder Brown finished with a 42 percent mark from distance.
According to the NBA.com stats database, Brown shot a remarkable 45.8 percent on above-the-break 3-point field goals. Most of which came on the wing, as seen in this clip:
Sterling Brown with the big 3! ? pic.twitter.com/T9I8vfEihX
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) January 23, 2021
Spending the last season for the Rockets didn’t provide Brown many favors regarding his public perception. Houston finished 27th in defensive rating and 28th in 3-point percentage, with the latter stat definitely a far cry from the James Harden era.
However, in fairness to Brown the individual, there are spots of his game that translate well to the Doncic-led Mavericks unit. Theoretically, Brown’s numbers shouldn’t slide, or at least not significantly so, with a roster boasting superstar Doncic. However, as previously alluded to, contingent on rotation placement, Brown’s minutes coinciding with No.77 is imperative to his success as an elite 3-point shooter.
Defense still matters
The success of 3-point shooting remains a more significant aspect of the Mavericks than the franchise previously thought, as seen in the aftermath of the Seth Curry trade on the day of the 2020 NBA Draft. However, the need for a defensive threat on the perimeter remains a significant void. Moreover, the lack of a formidable perimeter defender exposed Kristaps Porzingis to various help-defense sequences, notably in the Los Angeles Clippers playoff series.
Yes, Porzingis struggled to move on defense, but when his backcourt teammates failed to keep their assignment in front of them, naturally, the odds collapsed on Mavericks’ frontcourt star. Look for Brown to help in such scenarios.
Realistically, you can’t expect to find many positive defensive numbers from last season’s Rockets. However, the manner in which Brown carried himself on defense, despite playing for a tire-fire Houston Rockets team, warrants commendation. In sequences where he guarded the pick-and-roll ball-handler, Brown’s opponent scored .095 per possession.
Without going full advanced stats, you can see the effort in Brown’s closeouts. Considering the Rockets spent most defensive possessions out of sync, the former Milwaukee Buck did a fine job finding the shooter on the outside. Per NBA’s stats database, Brown allowed his guard counterparts to shoot 37.7 percent from the perimeter. Not shabby for a player surrounded by net-negative defenders.
Outlook on the Dallas Mavericks depth chart
As stated earlier, Kidd’s coaching approach leaves everyone in a state of questioning. Three years removed from his last head coaching position, the Mavericks roster is drastically different from his Milwaukee tenure. The only common factor comes from one of the signings. Notably, Brown played for Kidd. On that note, it’s hard to predict exactly how the player-coach reunion translates to the rotation.
Following NBA free agency and the Tokyo Olympic ceremonies, the latest Mavericks fan discourse surrounds the bronze medalist Josh Green. Under Carlisle, Green shot 16 percent from the 3-point line, and in typical rookie fashion, hasn’t found his footing on defense.
While Brown has Green beat on years played in the NBA, other factors come into effect when filling out the rotation. Most interestingly, the Kidd factor, as development is the buzzword of the Mavericks offseason.
During Brown’s tenure in Milwaukee, the Bucks reserve averaged 15.7 minutes per contest on an Eastern Conference contending roster. Last season, he averaged 24 minutes for the Rockets. Without breaking down each player on the Mavericks’ roster, Brown likely sees the court more than 15 minutes per game. The overall talent of the Mavericks pales in comparison to those Bucks teams.
Trae Young is a generational star. It’s unfair to condemn Reggie Bullock for such a breakout performance. In addition to Young’s emphatic punch-in to the playoffs, Tom Thibodeau’s defensive points of emphasis hindered the New York Knicks. Now with those disclaimers out of the way, it’s easier to digest the importance of the Mavericks signing the former Knick.
During the Carlisle era, Dallas had a tendency to play smaller guards, which holds an advantage but not to the extent of postseason action. Josh Richardson was supposed to be the answer to the franchise. We must learn to live with regrets; remarkably, Dallas managed to flip a disappointing Richardson campaign into cap space.
Bullock, coming from a team that prided itself on guarding its opponents, provides the necessary jolt in the Mavericks’ lackluster results on defense. Despite the respect Tim Hardaway Jr earned for leading the team in charges, such a stat isn’t a great indicator of an adequate defense. It’s apparent Dallas starved for someone who can do more than fall on their back.
Reggie Bullock has a type
Even with Kidd’s coaching experience on the best defensive-rated team in the league, player personnel makes or breaks a defensive system. Without the talent, defensive effort typically falls by the wayside. Bullock arrives as the improved defensive solution standing at a firm 6’6 frame, 205 pounds. Unlike your typical Mavericks defender, Bullock has the body and strength to fight through screens.
Closing out on 3-point shots is important, but perimeter defense means more than outside shooting. Bullock cracked 14 turnovers between Luka Doncic, James Harden, Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, and Devin Booker. With the highest amount at five turnovers on Simmons. Although that stat doesn’t certify Bullock as a top-tier defender, it’s apparent there is a certain archetype that plays into his wheelhouse.
In addition to Bullock fighting through screens, the 6-6 wing has the length to bother passing lanes or outright gobble up the ball. See here on the dish attempt from Evan Fournier:
Reggie Bullock with the clutch late defense to seal the Knicks win! ?
— USA TODAY NBA (@usatodaynba) March 19, 2021
Although the Mavericks probably won’t run into the Los Angeles Clippers for a third consecutive postseason, deploying Bullock in last season’s series would have morphed Dallas into a second-round playoff team. Moving forward, Dallas now has a defender who both fights through screens and matches opposing wings height.
Floor spacer and possession alleviator
Dallas finished the 2020-21 season 18th in 3-point efficiency. Not a terrible position, but also not ideal, especially considering the Mavericks attempted the sixth-most 3-point shots across the league.
Doncic is undoubtedly the skeleton key of the Mavericks’ offense. For better or for worse, the Slovenian hero bears the burden in Dallas. The Dallas Mavericks 3-point percentage correlates with the superstar’s shooting struggles. Aside from the 22 game stretch in February and March, Doncic failed to finish above 33 percent from deep in a monthly period.
Expect Bullock to alleviate Doncic’s stress on offense. Despite Finney-Smith’s 3-point percentage flirting with 40-mark, his numbers don’t tell the full story. Using NBA.com’s tracking data, 54 percent of the undrafted wing’s 3-point shots came on wide-open attempts. Historically Finney-Smith hasn’t produced elite 3-point shooting statistics. Although he excelled in the 2021 postseason, history proves Finney-Smith as a mediocre shooter.
Ironically, Bullock statistically categorizes as a catch-and-shoot player. However, unlike Finney-Smith, the 8-year veteran excels on open looks, evident by the 46 percent clip in such sequences. Also, defenders don’t respect Finney-Smith as a shooter, whereas the closeouts on Bullock seem to come more often.
Luka finds Dorian Finney-Smith in the corner for 3 on TNT. pic.twitter.com/XvcBWcoM05
— NBA (@NBA) January 8, 2021
Teams will hesitate to spam double teams on the Dallas superstar while he shares the court with Bullock. Furthermore, the potential for floor spacing unlocks easier scoring opportunities for the usage-heavy Doncic.
Without predicting regular season win-loss records, Bullock undoubtedly makes the Dallas Mavericks a better team, even if it’s just on the margins. The addition of Bullock provides a few more wrinkles to an at-times stale offense and a frustration-filled defense.