It’s far too early to push the panic button. But the Dallas Mavericks should be slamming the “very concerned” button following their latest loss.
Friday night, the Mavs fell 106-75 to the Denver Nuggets. The game was an embarrassing beatdown at the hands of a fellow playoff contender, revealing Dallas’ major shortcomings as a team. However, it also forces franchise cornerstone Luka Doncic to ruminate on his happiness in the Lone Star State.
The Dallas Mavericks fell flat against the Denver Nuggets
The Mavericks were feeling good heading into Friday’s nationally-televised bout with the Nuggets. They were winners of three in a row, perched atop a downtrodden Southwest Division. But in Halloween tradition, Dallas wound up on the wrong end of a 48-minute horror show at Ball Arena.
Dallas was already down by double digits at halftime before being outscored 33-12 in the third quarter. The Mavericks hit three shots the entire third as the Nuggets went 13-for-21. Even with Denver resting all five of their starters for the fourth quarter, the Mavs mustered up just 19 more points to bring their paltry total from 56 to 75.
Doncic led the Mavericks with 16 points but did so on inefficient 5-for-18 shooting. As a team, Dallas shot 29.5% from the field and 21.6% from three. Meanwhile, the Nuggets shot 51.8% as a team with five players hitting double figures. One of whom, reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, was playing through a bruised knee.
“When you have games like this, no matter how you look at it, it’s just bad,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said to the AP after the game. “We should have been better.”
The Mavericks have major cause for concern
Everyone in the NBA is capable of having an off-night. Even if that night is really off. But there are some disturbing signs pointing to the Mavericks being in far more trouble than their 3-2 record indicates.
Dallas has had to come from behind in not one, not two, but all five of their contests in 2021-22. Kidd’s team has trailed by an average of 6.2 points after the first quarter. Winning the opening frame is hardly the be-all-end-all for success in the NBA, but starting off in a hole every game is a bit of a concern.
A glance at the schedule reveals a disappointing truth for Mavericks fans: Doncic and company can beat the bad teams, but are far away from competing against the good ones. Dallas’ three wins have come against the Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs, a trio that boasts a combined 5-11 record. Their two losses, however? The 106-75 drubbing against Denver and a season-opening 113-87 thrashing by the Atlanta Hawks, two 3-2 clubs who have advanced to the conference finals in one of the last two seasons.
But the most worrisome trend comes down to offense, or lack thereof. Simply put, the Mavericks have been a brutal offensive team to open up the 2021-22 season. Their 98.1 offensive rating is the second-worst in the NBA to only the winless Detroit Pistons. Their true shooting percentage, which factors in twos, threes, and free throws, is at 49.9%, second-worst again to Detroit. A big reason for their offensive failures boils down to threes, as the Mavs take the fifth-most threes per game but shoot 31.0% from deep.
A disappointing Mavericks team could force Luka Doncic to want out
Right off the bat, Doncic’s rookie supermax extension keeps him under contract through the 2026-27 season. So this isn’t a situation where Luka turns around and signs with a contender next summer. That being said, Anthony Davis, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving are just a few of the superstars who were in their prime and under contract, yet successfully demanded a trade to a new club.
We already heard rumblings over the summer regarding Doncic’s unhappiness. First, the team fired longtime president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson. The Athletic also dropped a bombshell report about Doncic’s strained relationship with team executive Haralabos Voulgaris, which forced Dallas to part ways with the latter. Now, after back-to-back first-round exits, the Mavs are showing how far behind they are from contending despite a concerned Doncic suiting up for his fourth season.
Dallas’ attempts to improve the roster around the 22-year-old have fallen flat. Kristaps Porzingis, acquired from the New York Knicks in 2019, hasn’t been the All-Star sidekick Doncic needs. Instead, the Unicorn has missed 47 games the past two seasons and is already dealing with a back injury this year. Behind him, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, and Jalen Brunson are three decent players with limited ceilings.
Doncic isn’t entirely blameless in all of this. The two-time All-NBA honoree is averaging just 22.4 points on a career-low 41.7% from the field. He’s also shooting an abysmal 25.7% from three and averaging a disappointing 4.6 turnovers per game. Cool Hand Luka needs to get better for the Mavericks to get better. But he can only take them so far given the limited talent around him.
The season is still incredibly young, and Kidd is still getting acclimated to his new team. But improvement, especially on the offensive end, is desperately needed if the Mavericks are going to contend. Otherwise, Doncic could join the ranks of players like AD and Harden and force his way out of Dallas.