Big Ed’s Mailbag: Should Mavs trust two 3-and-D starters?
We are approaching the time in an NBA season when fans begin to wonder what the team’s identity will be.
Some develop a brave, battle-scarred demeanor.
Others rely on their offense and subtleties.
Some simply fade into the background, never to be heard from again in the big picture.
Mavericks? They shape up as a defense-first team that tries not to rely solely on Luka Dončić, but often has to.
Nothing wrong with that. Franchises blessed with generational talent are meant to ride them. That’s what you do when you have a secretariat.
Jason Kidd likes to say that an NBA season doesn’t really start to take shape until Christmas.
But what if this is what Mavericks is? What if they are destined to win eight out of every 14 games (that would be a 46-win pace, by the way)? What if they come to entertain us and frustrate us with equal disregard for our emotional well-being?
The way this season looks so far, anything is possible. And to be honest, those are the funnest teams. Those who lose all the time or to some extent win all the time tend to be easily forgotten until the draft lottery or playoffs.
But think about it. The Mavericks are neither an old team nor a young team. Seven of their key rotation players are in their late 20s or early 30s. Only Dončić and Josh Green are under 25.
The bottom line is that watching these Mavericks take shape is going to be a story unto itself. We don’t know if Christian Wood is going to blossom into a sidekick for Luka, or if it’s going to be Spencer Dinwiddie or some combination of other players joining these two to make the Mavericks more diverse.
Anyway, I realize that you readers are meant to ask the questions, not me. But I’m just a little confused by this team so far. Maybe clarity will come.
For now, on with this week’s mailbag.
Question of the week: What are your thoughts on the Mavs having both Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock together so much? With their limited offensive lineup, I feel these two can’t both be 30- to 35-minute guys. Can Josh Green fill Bullock’s spot? Brad M.
Big Ed: Two thoughts, I have about this (slips into Yoda-speak). First, Luka Dončić is so good that other players around him become better offensively just because of his presence. In that regard, you want good defenders who may be limited in attack to play with him. Takes the pressure off him defensively and he helps get the most out of them, whatever that may be, offensively. Second, the Mavericks want to make sure their players know the value of defense. If you start putting all your best offensive players on the floor together, it sends a bad message to everyone that the only thing that matters is how you do on that end of the floor. It can create some bad habits among players who feel they need to get their points to get noticed. I admit I had reservations about playing them both together last year when Bullock arrived. But it worked out pretty well, especially since both are threats from the three-point line. Opponents can’t just ignore them. For now, I think you could do worse than having those two guys as starting wingers. And aside from Tim Hardaway Jr., the backups behind them aren’t exactly big offensive contributors. Green remains largely unproven, though his energy makes up for a lot of things that might not jibe with his game.
Questions: I have no idea what a flagrant-2 is these days. Seems like touching a guy’s head is an F-1. My question is: after what happened with Dwight Powell on Wednesday, when will the Mavericks stop letting their guys get punked without push-back? Abe H.
Big Ed: For those who missed it, Powell was kneed on the right cheek near the eye on a dunk by Houston’s Kenyon Martin Jr. It was called a foul, then upgraded to flagrant-1. Flagrant-2 calls are reserved for games when excessive and unnecessary force is used, especially when it involves hits to the head. If a defender on the fast break winds up and takes a hack on an opponent’s head, without making an honest effort for the ball, it’s flagrant-2. When it comes to Mavericks sticking up for each other, it’s something that has to grow naturally. It will require a player stepping up, maybe jumping off the bench and possibly even getting suspended. These things are hard to do because the media and sometimes coaches will jump on players for acting irrationally. That said, sometimes it has a very positive, bonding value for a team. (No, I’m not condoning that the Mavericks need to be the Bad Boys of this generation. That’s not how they’re built. But it wouldn’t be so bad to have someone take one for the team, as the saying goes).
Questions: What is Devin Harris doing for the Mavericks?
Big Ed: He makes some community appearances but mostly works the pre-match, half-time and post-match telecasts for Bally Sports. Devin has always had the potential for a TV job, and he’s learning the trade. He certainly has a wealth of experience to draw upon after his long playing career.
Questions: I don’t want to hear anyone else say that Luka doesn’t make his teammates better. Not after Wednesday. This team is a bunch of second- and third-tier players and a superstar. No superstar in the league has less to work with than Luka. This is on Mark Cuban and Nico (Harrison). Patriot.
Big Ed: OK, Patriot, settle down. First, I heard no complaints when the Dinwiddie trade went down last year. People were happy to move on from Kristaps Porzingis (a good player who just didn’t fit with Luka like everyone hoped). This is what happens when expectations rise. A trip to the West final last season has put the Mavericks in a tough spot. Anything less than that will be seen as failure. And that’s not a good way to look at this season. Can we see what’s in store for the next month before we kneel?
Questions: What’s the best thing you’ve seen from the Mavericks in this home stand? And the worst? Doug S.
Big Ed: Glad you asked. There has been one thing that has stood out to me as a big positive. When they fouled Nic Batum before he could get off a potential three-point shot on Tuesday, it was a clear sign that the Mavericks learned from their big screw-up earlier this month when they couldn’t foul when they had a three-point lead and Kevin Durant had a chance to tie the game with three free throws. Making sure you get such plays right will win ball games. As for the worst, it would be easy to say that losing all these big potential customers is something that should not happen. But this is the NBA. It happens with most teams. Maybe not as much as the Mavericks, but it’s happening. My bigger concern would be that they start shooting free throws much better than they are. The second night, Luka went 11v11 and everyone else 5v13. That won’t cut it. As Jason Kidd said, “Every point for us counts because of all the close games we’re playing right now. We’re working with them and we think the guys are going to knock them down. It’s something we have to take into account, just like rebounding and transition defense. It is a part of the game that can help you win or put you in a bad way. We just have to keep taking them with confidence. We’ll get there. That’s a good thing. We have to keep driving the ball.”