“During this pandemic, all this stuff is going to be different. Some players might get corona, get sick, not be able to be with the team for 10 days. I think that’s going to be a big part: Which team is not going to have positive people.”
Luka Doncic figured the pulse of the NBA season before opening night.
In a world where a virus disrupts everyday living, not even millionaire basketball players can escape the proverbial wingspan of COVID19. Def Pen previously documented the chunk of games Mavericks players missed due to COVID19 safety protocols.
Thankfully, every player mentioned has since returned and is mostly back into playing shape. Consequently, while players recovered from the lasting effects of COVID19, Dallas suffered on the court.
Despite the harsh reality of COVID19, life moves on, as did the league’s calendar. Dallas went a miserable 2-8 leading into February. Since the horrible stretch of losses, Dallas recovered with an 8-4 record, priming the Mavericks to position for a playoff seed.
Reimaging the Landscape
The Dallas Mavericks sit 8th in the Western Conference, not out of reach for the play-in tournament scenario. However, despite the excitement which stems from such a scenario, there is a reality where Dallas escapes March Madness level stress.
Dallas is only two losses separated from the 5-seed Portland Trail Blazers. Meanwhile, Portland, again, deals with multiple injuries as Damian Lillard attempts an MVP-level campaign.
Unless CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic return to form, Portland’s fall in the standings remains inevitable. Whereas in Dallas, Rick Carlisle continues his successful pacing of banged up Kristaps Porzingis.
After an 8-day layoff, following Valentine’s Day’s nail-biting loss to the Trail Blazers, Porzingis missed three games with back stiffness. The Dallas Mavericks survived with a 2-1 record in that span, beating two significant opponents in the Memphis Grizzlies and the Boston Celtics.
Down the line, the victory over the Grizzlies has massive playoff implications. Only one game behind the Ja Morant-led team, the Dallas Mavericks provided fans hope as Texans recovered from a devastating winter storm.
As the Mavericks claw their way back into the playoff picture, the Golden State Warriors depend on Stephen Curry’s best statistical performance since 2017. The Mavericks split the series 1-1 so far, with the deciding series game on April 27.
While Dallas sacrificed a Kelly Oubre career-high 40 points in the first matchup, don’t expect a mirror performance from the super athletic role player.
However, despite lacking multiple stars, role players on the Warriors roster provide defensive support for the two-time MVP. Besides the defensive improvement from Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green counters the argument saying the defensively versatile big is without offense prowess.
Like the good old days, Green empowers Curry to scorch defense by utilizing his deceptive play-making abilities. According to NBA.com tracking data, Green and Curry connect on 38.9 percent of the offense.
The Mavericks-Warriors regular-season series will go down as a critical factor in the playoff race.
Nudging the Nuggets
While the Denver Nuggets surprisingly sit seventh in the small-room-for-error Western Conference, a rise in the standings feels imminent. The first-half performance of the underdog San Antonio Spurs warrants Coach of the Year talk for legendary coach Greg Popovich.
However, the defier of athletic aesthetics, Nikola Jokic, won’t allow the Nuggets to sit at such a disadvantaged position for long. While the Spurs harbor some feel-good stories in DeMar DeRozan and young-and-upcoming Dejounte Murray, San Antonio lacks the sheer dominance of an MVP candidate.
MVP talks without Jokic don’t deserve the light of day. Despite Denver’s mediocre defense and lack of a dependable third option, Jokic wills his team every night, averaging 27-11-8 on a .655 true shooting percentage.
Banking on the Nuggets to improve
It’s hard to imagine this rendition of the Mavericks overtaking such a team in the standings. Firstly, the lack of a counter for Jokic in the post, perimeter, and anywhere else he wishes to exist on the basketball court is a painfully obvious obstacle. Also, the two-man game of Jokic and Jamal Murray doesn’t bode well with Dallas’ defense.
Even with the disappointing start to the season, the Nuggets find a way to launch themselves in top statistical categories. Ranking fifth in margin of victory with 5.17 points and registering a 117.5 offensive rating for fourth-highest in the league.
Following the lead of its superstar, the Nuggets gingerly pace themselves. NBA teams of yesteryear look at the 28th ranked in pace as a rebellious prodigal son. For as much as the Nuggets’ offense seems like a boisterous product, it’s more like an unofficial tribute to old-school basketball.
The big anchors the offense, yet in a rebellious act to anything pre-2000s basketball, the center starts his offense from the perimeter.
However, as I envision the Nuggets climb a bit in the playoff picture, perhaps the season series won’t matter compared to the Warriors or the Trail Blazers.
Dallas has found its groove, despite “the sky is falling” narratives following the six-game losing streak. Regardless of Dallas’s recent boost in the win column, the Mavericks aren’t finished fine-tuning this roster. While fans and certain media members speculated about Porzingis’ trade talks, Mark Cuban immediately shot it down.
Whether or not the max-money Maverick’s name was in trade talks doesn’t solve the on-court issues. While the constant games missed don’t help the regular-season standings, the postseason is where Porzingis’ value belongs.
Perhaps Porzingis does leave Dallas via trade. I guarantee it won’t come this season. This roster was constructed with Doncic and Porzingis in mind. However, other smaller trades would tighten up the Mavericks’ rotation.
Lately, some notable names have been mentioned by NBA writers linked with the Dallas Mavericks. This player has a reputation, and for his career, stats of an all-time great three-point shooter. To be specific, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor stated that the Dallas Mavericks were interested in J.J. Redick’s services.
Why Trading for J.J. Redick Makes Sense
In today’s NBA, the idea of having too much shooting sounds like a tired halftime argument from out-of-touch NBA talking heads. Why wouldn’t the Mavericks inquire about the services of a career 41 percent cent 3-point shooter? Not only is J.J. Redick a great shooter, but he’s also one of the best off-ball movers of all time.
Redick makes absolute sense in the Mavericks’ offense, mainly due to Doncic’s high on-ball usage. The opportunities will only grow for a player who is shooting 39.8 percent on pullup 3s.
Plugging in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Redick allows Carlisle more chances to play with rotations. Imagine the option to have two excellent shooters at your disposal to either bench or start or utilize them both off the pine to save rest for the starters. Also, clutch scenarios receive an added dimension of looks for Doncic.
Aside from the obvious on-court reasons for Dallas to push the trade button, Redick provides cap relief for the 2021 free agency with his $13 million coming off the books this offseason. The microwaveable 2020 free agency alluded to Dallas’s free agency expectations the following offseason.
Why Trading for Redick Doesn’t Work
Remember when Seth Curry was forced to guard Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the playoffs? Picture an older, and although not a terrible defender, a less-than-optimal player to stick on the array of Western Conference wings.
Redick, in addition to the net-negative defense, is experiencing a slump in his career. Considering 36 percent from deep as a slump is akin to billionaires peeved over having to make their beds because the maid didn’t show up to work.
Most players can’t relate to such a luxury. However, for Redick’s gold standard of 3-point shooting, .364 percent is a career-low.
Giving the veteran guard the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the services of Doncic vastly improves his shooting numbers. However, Lonzo Ball isn’t necessarily the corporate greed of point guards. Claiming Redick has no point guard to share the wealth doesn’t register.
Giving up another pick for a past-his-prime, less-than-stellar defender stifles player development for a team struggling to find young talent other than Doncic.
Leaning into Larry Nance
Dwight Powell is one of the most Rick Carlisle bigs of all time. Between his rim-running and ultra effort, it’s hard not to respect the career of the once afterthought of the Rajon Rondo trade.
Unfortunately, the Achilles injury he suffered in January 2020 plagues Powell to this day. Occasionally, flashes of the efficient rim-crashing 4/5 appear, but nowhere near his .682 true shooting percentage of the 2018-2019 season.
Amazingly, a Dwight Powell deluxe exists on a lottery-bound team, somehow with a better contract. Although the franchise has potential with Collin Sexton, many a player find themselves in trade rumors.
Although an ideal athletic big to pair with a spry guard such as Sexton, Nance doesn’t fit his guard’s development arc. However, in favor of Nance’s athleticism, Dallas needs a big to balance out the 3-point heavy offense of Porzingis.
Carlisle will give a 4/5 significant minutes if the player pushes to the rim and stays active in the pick-and-roll activity. See here, Nance not only gets the alley-oop dunk but also provides a subtle yet effective execution of the pick and roll for the Cavaliers.
Piling onto the positive factors in trading for Nance’s services, one must appreciate a front-loaded contract. Both Powell and Nance undergo unrestricted free agency in 2023. However, unlike Powell, Nance’s free-agent year comes in the twilight of the wonderous ’20s.
The Mavericks owe Powell $33 million for the next three seasons. Meanwhile, Nance has $32 million coming to him for the same amount of years. Despite Powell’s contract being the elephant in the room, at least Carlisle could plug in Nance.
Now, as many know, Rick Carlisle couldn’t care less about what media members think of his approach to basketball. Honestly, as a championship-level coach, I don’t blame him for such a stance for someone who dedicated the past 40 years of life to basketball.
However, at times, looking from the outside provides valid vantage points. For all the bright sides of the Dallas Mavericks in the already infamous 2020-2021 season, a few warts appear on an otherwise reasonable performance considering COVID19 issues.
The Mavericks continue its pursuit to lock a playoff spot without the lunacy of the play-in tournament. A few tweaks come to mind while projecting the second half of the season.
Trust Josh Richardson on Defense.
When Donnie Nelson traded the second-most efficient 3-point shooter in NBA history for Josh Richardson and a few second-round picks, the front office sold its fans on improvement on the defensive end.
Yet, Carlisle hasn’t stuck Richardson on formidable scorers consistently. For the past two seasons, Dorian Finney-Smith carries the “defensive stopper” label on the Mavericks roster. However, contrary to his reputation, the numbers don’t match the label.
Using the Cleaning the Glass database, which doesn’t account for garbage time, Richardson statistically wins the battle from an efficiency standpoint. Finney-Smith ranks in the bottom-11th percentile at his position in his opponent’s effective field goal percentage.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the argument, Richardson sits at the bottom-20th percentile. While that stat isn’t world-beating by any stretch, it provides some proof Richardson deserves more opportunities to guard the better scorers in the league.
While it’s possible the Mavericks coaching staff rather wait for the postseason to unleash Richardson, waiting too long could hinder Dallas’s playoff positioning. Again, the media doesn’t know the full story.
Perhaps Carlisle has other plans for Richardson down the line.
Second Half Season Projections
While the first half of the season began on rocky terms due to COVID19 and Porzingis’ injury recovery, the second half has a harmonious tone. It’s quite convenient the Dallas Mavericks seemingly found its sweet spot as a unit because, after the All-Star break, the schedule continues its relentlessness.
Six of the seven next opponents are playoff-worthy, with two games versus the Clippers. With everyone healthy, except maybe Porzingis, Dallas has the roster to make things interesting in the playoff race.
Dallas will continue to play it safe with their major investment in Porzingis, and I wouldn’t doubt if Carlisle splits his game appearances in every back-to-back scenario. Porzingis’ importance lies in the postseason.
Hardaway Jr. will warrant votes for the Sixth Man of the Year award. The team’s leader in three-point attempts and makes has a chance at truly finding his place in the league.
Meanwhile, Brunson’s trade stock skyrockets with such performances as his 16 points in the fourth quarter versus the Boston Celtics. Unless it’s for a star-level player, don’t expect Dallas to part ways with Doncic’s draftmate just yet.
I foresee Dallas avoiding the play-in tournament. Expect the Nuggets to move up in the standings, while the Trail Blazers’ constant injury issues will cause slippage in the seeding. Ultimately, the fight between the two teams will leave the Mavericks as the 6-seed.
All stats appear courtesy of Basketball-Reference, NBA.com, and Cleaning the Glass.