It should come as no surprise that a rebuilt roster of youthful Dallas Mavericks has been up-and-down. What has been baffling is the degree of inconsistency between the highs and lows; the same Mavericks that handed the Knicks one of their few losses this season were also bested by more than 20 points by the lowly Toronto Raptors. Unfortunately, results like the one against Toronto are more common: Dallas has dropped 7 of their last 11 and look less and less like a playoff-bound team.
The watchword of the season has been “rebounding,” and loyal Mavericks fans are surely familiar with these woes. While certainly part of the problem, rebounding is only one factor among many. Two other variables provide equally compelling explanations of the Mavericks’ recent slide and potential bellwethers of their revival:
- Until Dirk Nowitzki returns, the Mavericks will continue to go as boom-or-bust scoring leader O.J. Mayo goes.
- More broadly, turnovers have doomed Dallas in many reversible losses and will continue to forestall the return of winning basketball if not corrected.
Exempting overtime games against Boston and Minnesota, Mayo has shot below 40% in each of the Mavericks recent losses for an average of less than 10 points per game. Unlike many other top-scorers, Mayo doesn’t have many effective alternatives when he can’t find the basket. He rarely gets to the line and isn’t a strong enough passer to facilitate the offense without finding his own touch. While he should be commended for willingly embracing the role of distributor, the results are sometimes disastrous. Among the seven recent losses, Mayo has posted 6 or more turnovers in almost half of them.
Aside from youthful inexperience and surprise attacks from DeMarcus Cousins, Mayo’s struggles are attributable to exhaustion and the reduced role of Darren Collison. Our own Bryan Gutierrez, citing play-by-play announcer Mark Followill, noted that Dallas traveled almost 7,000 miles in less than two weeks. Mayo is almost always the team’s largest recipient of minutes and put in a season-high of 52 in the overtime loss to Boston. Playing at lightning speed leaves little time to switch gears and Mayo’s legs often wear down on long road trips, particularly now that he isn’t consistently flanked by Collison. Early in the season, Collison willingly took the keys to the offense and created many of his own shots, allowing Mayo opportunities to spot up and wait for the action to find him. With Collison on the bench, Mayo often has to exert far more energy racing off of screens, pushing the break, and playing contain defense when Fisher’s man gets past him.
Exhaustion also provides a partial (though incomplete) explanation for the mental errors inspiring the other major problem that haunts Dallas: turnovers. Collison’s loss of his starting role was widely viewed as an attempt by Carlisle to cut down on turnovers. Carlisle first appeared sage, as Derek Fisher guided the Mavericks to several strong finishes. Recently, however, the turnover bug has returned with a vengeance. In the last seven losses Dallas has averaged 18.4 turnovers per game, a mark that would make Don Nelson blush. In the four wins sprinkled amongst those losses the Mavericks averaged only 12.3 turnovers.
Dallas’ golden number for turnovers is 13. When the Mavericks record 13 or fewer turnovers they’re 8-2: when they record 14 or more they are 3-11. Outliers, such as the 22-turnover win over Charlotte and the 8-turnover loss to Minnesota, do exist but they are exceedingly rare. A visual demonstration of this effect becomes obvious when one views the chart below detailing Dallas’ turnovers, modified from the game logs provided by Basketball Reference.
Mayo’s inconsistency and turnovers certainly aren’t the only explanations for what ails Dallas. Injuries to emotional team leader Shawn Marion, roster inconsistency, poor bench play on the road and the oft-cited rebounding deficiencies all play their part. In spite of those factors, the Mavericks could do much to reverse their slide if Mayo manages to play more consistently and the team controls the ball. On these measures Dallas fans should retain some optimism: Mayo’s play will likely even out as the roster gels and the young guards will learn to control the ball or die at Carlisle’s hands trying.
Brian Rubaie is a high school teacher, debate coach, and full-time Mavericks fan. Follow him on Twitter: @DirksRevenge.