The 2010-2011 Mavericks scored 114 or more points only eight times in the regular season while en route to an NBA Championship. The 2012-2013 Mavericks achieved this feat twice in their first four games. Dallas is playing putting up some impressive scoring totals and doing it without the franchise’s greatest offensive player; the Mavs have raced to an early offensive rating of 107.2, still good for fifth in the league after a three-game slump and not far off from the 2010-11 group’s rating of 109.7.
Some of this is attributable to a favorable early schedule. One of the two teams to yield an output of 114 or more, the generous Bobcats, gave up 126 points in a terrible defensive display. However, the Mavs put up 114 on a Portland team that yielded eight fewer points when it matched up against the conference heavyweight Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers and fewer still to the Los Angeles Clippers. Dallas stared down three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard with a frontcourt led by Brandan Wright and Eddy Curry. A roster of spare parts and journeymen is quietly playing some of the league’s most surprising offensive basketball.
The Mavericks offense isn’t complicated and neither is the explanation for its early outburst. Dallas is using its best tool —speed — to get to the basket quickly on the break. But Dallas is also managing well in its half-court offense, anchored by unselfish play and quality three-point shooting. Dallas displays great discipline in its shot selection and has a keen talent for finding high-percentage looks.
Dallas moves up and down the floor at an astounding speed. After watching Kidd and Terry move with great deliberation, Mavericks fans are quickly adjusting to the lightning pace established by young guns Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo. The Mavericks pace of 94.3 possessions per game is blistering for a Carlisle-led group and ranks among the top ten in the NBA. More importantly, they Mavs are moving intelligently, as displayed by the young backcourt’s instinct to move straight to the basket. Phil Jackson, a popular character of late, coached players to follow the Direct Line Principle, a notion suggesting that any player follow a straight line between themselves and the basket. Collison and Mayo have been flying faster than the speed of light when they see an open lane.
Their wisdom in finding good shots has been contagious, and the Mavericks frontcourt members have also become excellent decision-makers. Coming into Week 2 of NBA basketball, Chris Kaman and Brandan Wright ranked 1st and 2nd among all players in the league in effective field goal percentage and both players still rank among the top five. They have done an excellent job of collecting the ball quickly, seeking a good look and passing if a scoring opportunity doesn’t reveal itself. They don’t have to look too hard to find great perimeter shooters: five different Mavericks average above 50% from three in the early going (Collison, Mayo, Cunningham, Beaubois and Crowder in order of field goal percentage.)
These statistics are more remarkable when one considers the number of things the Mavericks struggle with on offense, irrelevant of Nowitzki’s absence. The Mavs’ offensive rebounding still ranks 28th in the league by percentage, and is sometimes enough to make one long for the return of Brendan Haywood (Well, almost.). Additionally, the Mavericks often get careless with the basketball; their turnover percentage of 14.1% isn’t awful (it places them near the middle of the pack at 12th in the NBA) but their margin for error is slim without Dirk or Marion in the lineup. These problems have been even more pronounced on a recent three-game losing streak which saw the Mavs post a season-low tally at home against Minnesota. Whether this represents a temporary setback or the new normal remains to be seen.
Despite their flaws, the Mavericks have put together a remarkable offensive start. The statistics do reflect some degree of opponent weakness but are more revealing of Maverick strengths. This Dallas team gets off to the races quickly and runs a beautiful fast break. Their big men convert good shots when they’re available and distribute well to great shooters when they’re not. Sure, the offensive rebounding needs improvement, but shooting a high percentage by definition leaves fewer boards to grab. The free-throw rate is disheartening but it also reflects the fact that the Mavericks can sometimes find shots where no defensive player is within an arm’s length. The turnover percentage isn’t as bad when you consider the breakneck pace of play. The Mavericks are imperfect, and their recent struggles are a clear reminder of this. However, they possess clear offensive strengths and know how to utilize them. When the offense is clicking the Mavericks make simple, smart basketball a beautiful thing to behold.
Brian Rubaie is a high school teacher, debate coach, and full-time Mavericks fan. Follow him on Twitter: @DirksRevenge.