The Mavericks’ 3-2 record start to the season is acceptable on the surface, but any sort of dive below has any observer feeling queasy.
The latest chapter of the team’s troubling start to the season was their 106-75 blowout loss to the Denver Nuggets in the Mile High City on Friday night. It was the second night of a back-to-back for Dallas, they were again without Kristaps Porzingis and Sterling Brown, and they were going against a Denver team with NBA Finals aspirations; so there are those built-in excuses. However, the Mavs’ performance on Friday night, outside of a nice stretch in the second quarter to cut into Denver’s lead, was downright terrible.
The team continued its absolutely horrible shooting to start the season by shooting just 30% from the field and an even worse 22% from beyond the arc. There’s no doubt about it, these Mavericks supporting players have to start hitting their open shots. They’re getting a ton of them, but the team’s 31% three point shooting to start the year is not going to work. There’s always the built-in optimism that those shots are eventually going to fall, and they probably will at some sort of improved clip, but that better happen sooner rather than later because Dallas has an even bigger problem than its role players struggling to hit their shots.
Their MVP-hopeful superstar is nowhere to be found.
Luka Doncic has not been close to himself to start the season and it’s the Mavericks’ biggest problem. They’ve been an incredible offensive team the past couple of seasons because Doncic’s All-NBA worthy level of play boosts the play of the rest of the roster. So far, he has been an inefficient player who’s sleepwalking his way through large stretches of games. In reality, the 22-year-old is yet to play a complete game this season. There have only been brief flashes of his brilliance that are able to get his counting stats up to their current respectable state:
22.4 points (per game), 8.6 rebounds, 7.0 assists.
Down from his usual numbers, but hey it’s early and he’s still averaging close to a triple double, right? What about a 42% from the field and 26% from deep?
We have to be looking for more out of Doncic than just a flashy line that gives him a triple-double in year four of his NBA career. It’s officially all about winning now and the way Luka Doncic can help this team win the most games is by creating the most efficient and likely-to-succeed offense for himself and others on the Mavericks.
I will cut him a break on the assists being down because of the aforementioned shooting struggles up and down the entire Dallas roster. Luka has found open teammates and they’ve clanged open shots. However, he is absolutely struggling to create “easy” shots for himself with any sort of consistency.
The last two seasons have seen Doncic shoot 57% from the field on two point shot attempts. This year it is down to 50% through five games. Fans are accustomed to seeing Doncic confidently drive into the paint and do any one of three things: 1. creatively contort his body to get around defenders for a decent look at a shot that his skill level makes look easy. 2. Absorb some contact and likely draw a foul. 3. Draw the defense in and allow him to find a teammate open on the perimeter or cutting to the basket for a lob pass.
All of these things are still happening this season, but not at the rate you’d usually see out of Doncic. Everything looks difficult for him and the Mavericks’ offense thus far.
On the free throw front, that seems to be down across the league. Luka was certainly one of the high IQ players who’d bait defenders into fouls that simply aren’t being called as much this season. Maybe that will change a bit as the season progresses, but don’t count on his so far career-low 4.7 free throw attempts per game to jump up to double digits each night or anything.
Besides the actual statistics, Doncic is certainly failing the eyeball test to start the season. He looks tired for many stretches of games. He’s taking bad shots from ridiculous three-point attempts when the game clearly calls for a drive or one legged runners that you’d attempt in a game of HORSE on your driveway. He’s taking these bad shots whenever the Mavericks are in the midst of a bad stretch, which has unfortunately been often so far this season, and the team needs him to be more of a producer of easier shot opportunities.
Obviously, something isn’t quite right with the new offense that Jason Kidd and his coaching staff are implementing in their first season. The spacing is so often off and the rest of the team is struggling to produce easy shots with regularity, but ultimately this drink is stirred by the Luka Doncic straw. If he can’t be that for them at the level he’s shown he’s capable of, it’s not going to matter if the supporting players start hitting their jump shots. They’ll be just… okay. The only chance this team has to really make a statement is if Doncic is spectacular like he’s shown he can be.
A Mavericks team with an MVP Luka is able to contend for a top four seed in the West. We’ve seen it the last two seasons. A Mavericks team with an inefficient Doncic who seems tired all the time? You might not have to build your spring around watching any Mavs playoff basketball.
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