Now that the Mavs’ defense has begun to regress to the expected mean (though the case is hardly closed; Dallas is still a top-five defensive outfit, and that ranking will either be affirmed or negated in the coming weeks), we turn our attention to something even more distressing: turnover rate. Dallas has long been among the best teams in the league in protecting the ball, but a single off-season has dismissed their discretion. A team that once passed and drove carefully is now playing a bit too loose, and while the Mavs have been getting better looks on offense as a result, the Mavs’ O isn’t prolific enough to overcome such a substantial setback in the turnover column.
This is where the Mavs’ defense becomes more relevant than ever. Even when we try to look though to Dallas’ other weaknesses, the defense inevitably rears its moderately-and-hopefully-not-deceptively-attractive head. The D influences everything, and in this case, the Mavs’ possible saving grace — their ability to force turnovers to balance their own — turned out to be a dud. Overall, the Mavs have gone from fifth in the league in turnover rate differential last season to having the fourth worst differential this season. The Mavs have, for the most part, been forcing their opponents into tough looks, but the lack of an aggressive defense has made the turnover battle a futile affair.
With no defense to hedge the Mavs’ sudden turnover woes, the increases in turnover rate up and down the roster have been rather damning. Last season, Erick Dampier was the only Maverick with a turnover rate higher than 14.0. This season, there are four Mavs who exceed that mark: Tyson Chandler (26.44), Brendan Haywood (26.65), Dominique Jones (19.04), and the most troublesome, J.J. Barea (19.75). The impact of Chandler, Haywood, and Jones’ turnover rates are limited by low usage rates and/or minutes played, but Barea is playing almost 18 minutes a night and using 22.32% of Dallas’ possessions when on the court. Both Barea’s usage and turnover rates are substantially higher than last season, and the result has been a dreadfully inefficient second-team offense. Jason Kidd has been excellent this year, but his value to the Mavs peaks when Barea is turning the ball over so frequently.
The Mavs’ turnover problems don’t all rest with J.J., though. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Caron Butler are all turning the ball over at a notably higher rate this season. Brendan Haywood is committing turnovers more than twice as often as he did last year. Tyson Chandler is (and has always been) far less careful with the ball than Erick Dampier was. Shawn Marion is the lone Maverick contributor that isn’t turning the ball over more often, which suggests something that can’t all be lumped in Barea’s lap.
There could be something systemic to blame for all of this, to which I have a simple and direct response: be patient.
Dallas obviously has added some new elements to their offense, and I’m sure they are partially to blame. The Mavs are also a tad rusty, and while that hasn’t made a huge impact on their shooting numbers, it’s bound to show in other areas. The season is young and the numbers available are current trends rather than predictive tools. Dallas has turned the ball over plenty in the past two weeks. It’s lost them some games and only hindered their winning efforts in others. But without strong anecdotal evidence — and as far as I’m concerned, all we’ve seen is a team struggling with fixable errors, and ones they’ve proven able to fix in the past, at that — the numbers aren’t indicative of something we should worry about; they simply point us in the direction of a potential area of concern. If Dallas is this turnover-prone throughout the season, that struggle is worthy of a more detailed causal analysis. For now, it just is.
This year’s Mavericks are turning the ball over at an inexplicably high rate. Here’s to hoping that problem solves itself, if not for the team’s sake, then only to ease the burden on our neurotic, overly analytical minds.