Mavericks Midseason Roundtable
As we draw nearer to All-Star Weekend and past the halfway mark of the season, the Dallas Mavericks have surprised many NBA fans. The Mavs are currently 5th in a crowded Western Conference.
Dallas is well ahead of pace to finish this campaign as the highest rated offense in NBA history (A mark previously held by the Golden State Warriors last season). Much of the club’s success can be attributed to the continued emergence of Luka Doncic as an MVP candidate.
There’s overwhelming enthusiasm and high spirits for fans and players clad in Maverick’s royal blue.
To analyze this exciting moment in Mavs basketball, we reached out to some very important people in the know. Dallas owner Mark Cuban and the Athletic’s Tim Cato headline a list of incredibly talented people who weighed in this exhilarating season for the Mavericks. Many thanks to all who participated.
Halfway through the season, which win has been the most impressive for the team?
Mark Cuban: I don’t think we have had a signature win yet. Hopefully it's out there in the playoffs :)
Tim Cato: You could make an emotional case for some of those big wins over Eastern Conference teams while Luka was out, but I think the Lakers win stands out most to me. With a full squad, the Mavericks can compete in the playoffs. That’s what it told me.
Erica: Tie between the Bucks and the Lakers game just off the top of my head.
Nick Angstadt: After the first loss to the Lakers on the Dwight Howard foul-that-should-have-been on Seth Curry, the Lakers win was huge. It was a redemption/revenge game for a young team, it was on the road, and it was Luka coming up big against his hero. Plus, it was a win over the #1 team in the West.
Grant: The win against the Bucks was huge for sure. Beat them while they were coming off an 18-game win-streak.
Luka’s first thirty-point triple double was insane.
Ruben: I loved the Milwaukee win. Without Luka. That was insane even if we almost left with a loss. I think our win against the Lakers is also up there. It’s extremely hard to win against LeBron, but we did it!
Abby Trusler: All 27 of them.
What is your favorite thing about this year’s Mavs team?
Cuban: The chemistry. It's an amazing group of guys.
Cato: Dude, watching Luka, no question. I’m not quite a “fan” of the team like I was growing up in Dallas, per se, or at least don’t have the same emotional highs and lows, but the basketball fan in me can’t wait to watch him every night.
Erica: How many good shooters we have. Luka can pass the ball and the players (for the most part) will actually make it.
Angstadt: My favorite thing about this Mavericks team (besides the Luka Magic) is anticipating Dorian Finney-Smith’s three-point shots to go in. Every year we do Preseason Player Profiles on the podcast and every year we’ve said, “if only Dodo could start knocking down 3s, he’d be a special player.” Now here we are and it’s awesome.
Grant: *insert unicorn emoji*
Ruben: How darn likable this team is. Everyone’s having fun and I think that’s the most important thing when you’re playing a kid’s game.
Abby: I love the way our team plays together.
Why is Maxi Kleber so underrated, and why do teams fail to recognize and respect his shooting ability?
Cuban: I think teams recognize and respect his shooting ability. Nothing goes unnoticed. I think it’s more the media that ignores him. Maybe they get him and Luka confused.
Cato: I’d say Maxi is rated as about as well as any high-performing role player can be; his best attributes are not totally visible to the casual fan, so it is no wonder people don’t talk him up like they should. Only nerds like me care that he has “switchy qualities” and obviously I can’t blame them. You don’t need to know that some of Kleber’s value comes from his ability to switch a pick-and-roll and stay in front of a wing player to enjoy the Mavericks and the way they play basketball.
Dallas has a historically great offense, so I do think other teams recognize the shooter he has turned into. Sometimes, leaving him open is still the best option. Let’s take a pick-and-roll with Luka and Dwight Powell. If you don’t help, then either Luka will get a layup or Powell will dunk. If Tim Hardaway Jr. or Seth Curry’s spotting up, then you don’t want to leave them open, either. So, you must help off Kleber and sometimes you don’t get back to him before he can shoot. It can really all be credited to Luka and how dangerous this offense is.
Erica: I think teams just might be too hyper-focused on stopping Porzingis and Luka to notice how good he really is.
Angstadt: As an undrafted player, Maxi came into the NBA as a real unknown and he only shot 31 percent from three his rookie year. Maxi has been on a team most people haven’t thought about much the last two years, but now people are really seeing what Maxi can be at his best- a rare 3-and-D big man.
Grant: I think teams respect his shooting ability, it’s just that everyone else on the team can shoot. Holger and Dirk showed him the way.
Ruben: I think it’s a combination of things. Teams focus their gameplans around Luka (and KP when healthy) and don’t spend nearly enough on the other players, save Tim (Hardaway). I am perfectly happy with them still unable to recognize what Maxi does for us.
Abby: I don’t think Maxi is underrated to teams - I think they do recognize his shooting ability. I just don’t think Maxi is talked about a lot because people seem to talk more about players such as Luka and KP.
Why do you think Tim Hardaway Jr. flourishes more as a starter as opposed to being the first or second guy off the bench?
Cuban: Tim is one of the top-3 catch and shoot players in the NBA. Starting puts him in more of that role and plays to his strength.
Cato: To me, it looks like Hardaway defers to Luka when he’s in the starting lineup, something he wasn’t doing to start this season off the bench. Early this year, it did still look like he would hunt for quick shots, but when he’s playing with the starters, he knows those spot-up looks will be available and that they will come with some frequency due to Luka’s playing style. That turns him into a better, more restrained version of himself.
Erica: I think it has to do with how he's utilized and being a starter changes that.
Angstadt: We touched on this on the Locked On Mavericks Podcast the other day. When Tim Hardaway Jr. was put in the starting lineup it was like putting side-blinders on a horse. It seemed to help him focus on his role in the offense. Hardaway Jr. is a really talented player and if players like that don’t get honed into a role, they can be all over the place.
Grant: Tim eats best off Luka and KP who space the floor like no other.
A line up of:
Porzingis- only works because teams have to guard three players at the perimeter at all times. Makes guys like Finney-Smith and Maxi more open and hitting better shots, too. SG is a rather scarce position so when one can average 13.9 ppg on 39 3PT%, you take it!
Ruben: It’s because of Luka, in my opinion. When he’s been a 1a or 1b option on Atlanta and New York, he was putting up good numbers on decent or poor teams. But with a true facilitator he’s been able to flourish with better efficiency. As much as I love the other guards on the team, no one can facilitate like Luka.
Abby: He seems to thrive off the challenge of being the starter and setting the pace of play instead of sitting back and letting others get things moving.
Which team do you think the Mavs matchup with best when it comes to this season’s playoff race?
Cuban: Not going there.
Cato: Houston or Denver, I think, would be the two teams I’d hope for if I were the Mavericks. Anybody but the Clippers, to be honest, the worst possible matchup given their varied defensive looks. I’m also very curious to see how Utah does against the Dallas offense, since these two teams still haven’t played this year. I suspect they might be a very, very tough matchup as well.
Erica: Honestly, I'm not sure about best matchup, but I definitely think we could beat the Rockets.
Angstadt: Other than the Thunder and Grizzlies, Houston is struggling right now and if you catch them in the right mood, they could be an easier matchup than the others. Plus, Luka shows out against the Rockets. The Mavs might be a problem for the Jazz if Porzingis is pulling Gobert out of the paint but that’s not a team I’d want to test right now.
Grant: Honestly, we could beat anybody in the league in a seven-game series, but the games have to be played first. Just try and avoid AD.
Personally, I think a seven-game series between Dallas and Denver could be the best first round series of all-time. Two teams that play beautiful team basketball led by Euro princes and fantastic coaching. Denver is a bit better on the wing and with depth so it will be tough, but it would be entertaining as [expletive].
Ruben: I think we can run the Rockets out of Houston and into the Gulf of Mexico. We haven’t seen the Jazz at the time of me writing this (1/20), so I have no idea how we match up yet, so I’ll stick with the Rockets.
Is Kristaps Porzingis more important as an offensive player or a rim-protector?
Cuban: All the above. He spaces the floor, blocks shots and rebounds. Most importantly he is a gamer. When the game is on the line, he takes it to another level.
Cato: Hm. It’s a somewhat impossible question. I would say statistically, the defense has been about six points per 100 possessions worse in Porzingis’ absence, while the offense has been about three points better. That would obviously indicate he’s more important defensively. But that’s a small sample size, it depends on who and how Dallas has played during that time and might just imply random variation. I think I would say his defense, but his offense will still be crucial to this team succeeding in the playoffs against the higher level of opponents.
Erica: A bit of both but right now we're sorely missing his rim protection that's for sure.
Angstadt: Since Porzingis went out the Mavericks offensive rating has actually been 3.2 points per 100 possessions higher (118.6) than it was up until that point (115.4). The Mavs miss him on offense, for sure, but they can get by on that end without him. They really need a rim protector badly right now, and it shows in every game. Before he went out their Defensive Rating was 107.7 which ranked 15th in the League. Since he’s been out their defensive rating has dropped to 113.9 which ranks 25th in the NBA in that time.
Grant: Porzingis is a more efficient offensive threat for sure, he has the ability to shoot the 3 ball from 55 feet.
Ruben: Definitely as a rim protector. He’ll get his 17 a game easy with Luka, but his defensive presence is where he’s making his bread and butter this season.
Abby: Absolutely offense, and that’s not to say he’s a superb rim-protector.