Before the season, if you told someone that nearing the postseason the Mavericks would have the best offense in the NBA, there’s a strong chance they would’ve laughed. But here we are, near the playoffs (hopefully), with Dallas having the league’s best offense thus far. They currently are first in the NBA in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions), leading offensive powerhouses such as the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks.
Despite being bottom half in the league in their pace, they still happen to be 3rd in the NBA in points per game as well, an astounding feat, all coming one year after being 20th in the NBA in offensive rating and 21st in points per game. This begs one essential question: what has made the Dallas offense so unstoppable this season?
The Rise of a Superstar
The ascension of the Mavericks offense has perfectly lined up with that of superstar (yes, superstar) PG/SG Luka Doncic, and believe me, this is no correlation without causation case, as Doncic has been a leading proponent of this offense’s climb. Doncic is currently averaging:
28.7 PPG – 9.3 RPG – 8.7 APG – 1.1 SPG – 0.2 BPG – 46.1 FG% – 53.1 EFG%
He’s having an All-NBA First Team caliber season, and he’s only 21 years old in his sophomore season. Just, wow. Nonetheless, his greatness and impact for the Mavs organization is not to be oversimplified in basic stats. A deeper dive must be taken in order to truly get a grasp of his value for Dallas. For starters, Luka is taking more shots this year, on much higher efficiency. His EFG% has elevated over 3%, a monumental increase.
With the three point shot playing a significant role in the modern NBA offense, Luka has taken full advantage of this. He is currently shooting a higher volume of threes per game, boosting his overall efficiency and effectiveness this season. A large part of the overall rise in his efficiency has been his large-scale improvement in his ability to create for himself. The young superstar now plays a larger role in the team’s offense, with his ability to ball-handle and get shots off being a large factor in the Mavericks increasing reliance on Luka to set up the offense and score the basketball. Just look at this play:
Luka Doncic’s ability to get open against one of the best defenders in the NBA (Draymond Green) in this play is a large result of other parts of Doncic’s game. Because of his aforementioned knockdown shooting as well as the volume in which he takes his three point shots, when Luka steps out as if he’s about to do one of his signature stepbacks threes, Green goes forward in order to stop this, allowing Luka to shift his body left, only to use his leverage to drive towards the right for an easy finish.
However, Luka isn’t just outstanding at creating for himself, he also happens to have transformed into one of the best playmakers in the NBA. Luka Doncic is currently averaging 8.7 APG, good for fourth in the NBA. He is also second in the NBA in AST% (Percent of teammates field goals the player assisted while on the court). Just look at some of these spectacular passes the Slovenian is able to make:
Take notice of Luka’s awareness and ability to read the defense in both of these plays. Especially on the second play, he pump fakes the ball to the right, causing the defender (Brandon Ingram here) to jump. He then throws a rapid-fire pass down low for an easy basket.
While his turnovers are a bit high (4.2 per game), this is to be expected for a player that leads the NBA in USG% (How much of a team’s offense a player used by shooting. Inclusive of free throws, turning the ball over, or assisting – Per CleaningTheGlass). In fact, here’s a chart showing correlation between turnovers and USG% among the top five USG% leaders.
As you can see, for being tops in the league in usage, Luka is fairly careful with the ball. As a matter of fact, another large reason for Dallas’s offensive success has been the care they’ve had with the basketball in their hands…
An Exceptional Basketball IQ
To begin with, the Dallas Mavericks turnover the basketball at an extremely low rate. They are currently 3rd in the league in having the lowest turnovers per game, and second in the league in lowest TOV% (Turnovers Per 100 Plays), all just one year after being 20th in lowest amount of turnovers per game, and 21st in terms of lowest TOV%..
This spike highlights both increased accuracy and just a higher overall basketball IQ. Sticking with efficiency, the Mavs are surrounded by three point shooters, a necessity in today’s modern NBA. They’re shooting roughly 4% more threes per 100 possessions than last year (CleaningTheGlass), and have also shot these threes at a much higher clip (from 27th in the NBA in 3P accuracy to 8th). Everything thus accumulates into them having the 2nd most made threes in the NBA per game so far this year.
Coach Rick Carlisle has been very smart in using this strength by allowing the team to play off-ball a lot, jumping from 14th in catch and shoot PPG last year to topping the league this year. One key player involved in this transformation has been PF/C Kristaps Porzingis, a 7’3 giant shooter. His expertise beyond the arc allows for a lot more opportunity to create within the Mavs offense with defenses being stretched out.
First of all, what other 7’3 player can just casually step back like this? Second of all, notice how wide open the middle of the floor is. These are the kinds of opportunities Porzingis has been able to generate. What’s more, almost every single player on the Mavericks can shoot the three ball. I mean seriously, just look at this spacing:
The large scale ability to hit three-point shots has made this Dallas offense both extremely dynamic and unpredictable, which leads to the final key…
Versatile Offensive System
The Mavericks can annihilate you in almost any way possible, with almost any player on the team. With key additions in Kristaps Porzingis, Seth Curry, Delon Wright, and Boban Marjanovic, Dallas’s depth has skyrocketed this year. The team has an abundance of players that can create on their own, and with this abundance also comes a multitude of different play-styles that allow the team to be flexible in all situations.
For instance, they can hit you in the catch and shoot, in an isolation, or even in transition situations at a high clip. They become almost impossible to defend with the sheer gravity Luka Doncic has driving to the rim, attracting defenders off of shooters, allowing for an open three. Even when Luka is off the floor, players such as Kristaps and Curry are good enough in isolation to create shots for others and themselves.
As a matter of fact, the Mavericks have a hodgepodge of players able to flip the switch within the blink of an eye. Here is a look at season high points in a game of a few Mavericks players.
Luka Doncic – 42 PTS
Kristaps Porzingis – 38 PTS
Seth Curry – 37 PTS
Tim Hardaway Jr. – 33 PTS
Boban Marjanovic – 31 PTS
That’s five players who have dropped at least 30 points this season, not to mention the ten in total who have had 20 point games. This reinforces the idea that this is more than a one man show. You can stop Luka, but more often than not there’s going to be another player who steps up, and in the rare circumstance another player does not, you can almost certainly count on a team effort.
In fact, perhaps that’s their biggest strength. Their chemistry. Every player knows their role, and fulfills it selflessly, a huge victory for coach Rick Carlisle.
The Mavericks have it all offensively. The superstar, the chemistry, the depth, the coach, and the flexibility. Whether or not they are able to perform in the postseason remains in question, but let’s just say it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen Carlisle and a European lead the team to an unexpected run. While the defense could use some repair, expect this historic offense to make a splash come playoff time.