With only a few weeks of data, the safest bet at this juncture of the NBA season is to cite “small sample size theater” when evaluating teams. Still, there are a few squads around the association that might be readying the panic button and the Dallas Mavericks aren’t exactly playing the level they hoped they would right now.
The Mavericks sit with a 2-7 record on the young season and Dallas has dropped six straight. Most of those defeats were against quality competition — including the Jazz, Raptors and Spurs — but Rick Carlisle’s team recently lost to the Knicks at home, sending smoke signals into the atmosphere that something may be amiss.
The early-season play of top pick Luka Doncic has been encouraging, as the Slovenian wunderkind has shown flashes of the wildly intriguing skill set that made him a big-time catch back in June. However, Harrison Barnes is still getting his feet wet after an injury-plagued start and, as a team, there are a few statistics that paint an ugly picture.
For starters, the Mavericks are just 24th in the NBA in defensive rating (per Cleaning The Glass) and even if their overall performance is slightly better than the team’s 2-7 record suggests, that is a problem. This isn’t the most dynamic defensive roster, especially with both Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. on the floor, but that kind of play requires the presence of a strong offense and the Mavericks just aren’t there yet.
Dallas is 27th in the NBA in turnover rate offensively and, more importantly, the early returns from the Doncic-Smith pairing aren’t great. Doncic’s individual net rating is less than stellar but also in line with the overall team performance. When inserting Smith into the mix, though, things crater to the tune of a -13.0 net rating and the kind of “your turn, my turn” offense that simply doesn’t work.
It is too early to write Smith off completely but, in short, the team has been solidly worse with him on the floor for the second straight season. More data is needed across the board, of course, but the Mavericks owe a top-five protected first round pick to the Atlanta Hawks as part of the deal involving Doncic and Trae Young, creating more incentive than you may think for Dallas to dive into the tank.
Preseason expectations and organizational messaging dictate that the Mavericks aren’t going to tank, at least right now, but Dallas needs to pull out of this in a hurry in order to avoid whispers about a full-blown attempt to keep the pick. For now, it will be interesting to see how a team with very little in the way of quality depth responds and, in the coming days, the Doncic-Smith pairing will be under the national microscope.
Where are the Mavericks in this week’s Dime power rankings? Let’s take a look.