We are a quarter of the way through the NBA season, and the Dallas Mavericks, record-wise, look painfully average.
Yet, when it’s all said and done, the Mavericks may not be as mediocre as the record currently suggests. Due to a new coaching staff, injuries, and some bad luck, Dallas hasn’t scratched the surface of its potential.
As Dallas heads into Christmas week, with Luka Doncic’s return pending, the best version of Dallas appears ready to spring into action.
“We are tough,” Jason Kidd said of the mental makeup of this team. “We got a great group of young guys that will fight. We’ve been through a lot already early in the season. And so when you look at the injuries, next man up mentality, being patient to play, I think this group is tough-minded. We always find a way to bounce back.”
The new coaching staff
Everyone knew it would take time for Dallas to get right with a new head coach. Yet, a quarter of the way through the season, the panic button is looking more and more tantalizing.
The answer to that question is multifaceted. But, at this point in the season, it’s impossible to place the blame squarely on Kidd’s shoulders.
He’s attempted to put players in successful positions, but those players just haven’t made shots.
Is it Kidd’s fault that Reggie Bullock is shooting 27 percent from behind the 3-point line?
Is it Kidd’s fault that Tim Hardaway jr.’s shooting numbers are down from a season ago?
Sometimes, a new coaching staff can only do so much. The players are the ones that have to go out there and play.
Hiring Kidd and his coaching staff was a play shading towards the long game. Moreover, the limited moves this summer should have provided that indication.
In the immediacy of professional basketball, it sounds contrarian to preach patience. Yet here I am doing so. It’s impossible to holistically judge a coaching staff 28 games into an NBA season.
Kidd hasn’t been perfect, but he needs more time. Very rarely do coaching changes yield immediate results. Remember, it’s about the process, not just the results. And so far, along that process, players have only preached of Kidd instilling work ethic, accountability, and communication. Things that weren’t as present in seasons prior.
“He’s always positive trying to push us,” Maxi Kleber said of Kidd. “When he feels like we are not playing our hardest, he gets on our ass. He knows that everybody wants to win.”
Nagging injuries slow the finished product
Not helping the new coaching staff is the number of injuries to key players.
Doncic has missed 25 percent of the Mavericks’ 28 games played (seven). Kristaps Porzingis has also missed the same amount of time. When your two most important players have missed 14 games combined, it’s easy to explain away Dallas’ 14-14 record.
When asked a few weeks ago regarding the nagging injuries, Kidd said he didn’t want to make excuses for this team. But it does provide at least some explanation as to why Dallas has struggled against quality teams.
Continuity is a must for good regular-season basketball, and Dallas hasn’t had the privilege of enjoying such a luxury.
Outside of Doncic and Porzingis, Kleber, Jalen Brunson, Frank Ntilikina, Bullock, and Sterling Brown have all missed time. It’s hard to win consistently when players are in and out of the rotation like it’s a revolving door.
Lastly, Dallas, for stretches, has just felt unlucky.
What are the odds that Bullock struggles to shoot the ball for the first time in years?
Who could have thought that Austin Reaves would hit the biggest shot of his short career against Dallas?
No one could have imagined that Doncic wouldn’t look like an All-NBA first-team player to start the season. Sometimes, in basketball, you need luck. When luck isn’t on your side, the game feels a lot like Murphy’s Law: what can go wrong, will.
But that doesn’t mean things will continue to go wrong. All Dallas needs is one good month, and the team can climb up the jumbled Western Conference ladder quicker than many would expect.
It’s easy to forget that through 28 games last season, Dallas was 13-15. Objectively speaking, Dallas is better now than it was a season ago.
Last season, Dallas finished as the fifth seed — taking the Western Conference finalist LA Clippers to seven games.
So, who says Dallas can’t get it right this season?
Dallas is better than its record suggests. Give Kidd time, allow Doncic and company to get healthy, and have the 3-point shooters get some lucky bounces. If that happens, the season may just turn around before you know it.
“We’re trending in the right direction,” Kidd said. “We’ve just got to keep working. Keep working. Stay positive.”
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Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.