Seemingly every game the Dallas Mavericks play comes with some sort of statistical marvel. There are two main varieties. More often than not, Luka Doncic is hitting some new historic benchmark. He opened the season with the since Wilt Chamberlain. His usage rate will challenge records set by James Harden and Russell Westbrook. By averaging 33.3 points per game thus far, there is a good chance he’ll win the scoring title. If the Mavericks are going to win anything this season, he’ll probably have to.
The other sort of statistical news Dallas frequently makes involves the rest of their roster. On Nov. 7, three Dallas starters (Reggie Bullock, JaVale McGee and Spencer Dinwiddie) combined for only two points in a victory. The Mavericks weren’t as lucky against Orlando two nights later, when Bullock, Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith gave Dallas only 10 combined points in a loss to the Magic. Entering Wednesday’s game, the Mavericks were scoring over 114 points per 100 possessions with Doncic and below 104 without him. Simply put: Doncic has been their only reliable scorer this season.
If there were any lingering doubts, that notion was confirmed on Wednesday when the Mavericks, resting Doncic on the second night of a back-to-back, hosted the Houston Rockets, owners of the NBA‘s worst record (2-12 before the game) and the No. 28-ranked defense (allowing 115.3 points per 100 possessions). If ever there were a game for the Dallas role players to step up, it would be this one.
Instead, Dallas lost at home to Houston, 101-92, in a game that represented a new low for the Mavericks offensively. Dallas shot 12-of-55 from deep in the game for a conversion rate of just 21.8 percent. That is an NBA record for lowest percentage on 50 or more attempts in a game, according to Stathead.
“We just didn’t shoot straight,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said after the game.
Not a single Maverick starter reached double figures in scoring, and the five of them combined for just 27 points, the lowest total from a starting five this season by 10 points, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Those five players were Finney-Smith, Dinwiddie, Powell, Bullock and Josh Green. Together, they made just eight of their 40 field goal attempts. It is almost impossible to keep a game close when your starters shoot 20 percent from the field, and were it not for the 54 combined bench points from Christian Wood and Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas wouldn’t have.
Dallas has survived plenty of games without Doncic in the past. When Jalen Brunson was a Maverick, Dallas could rely on him to carry the ball-handling and scoring load. But Brunson is now on the Knicks, and from a long-term perspective, it simply doesn’t make sense for the Mavericks to add a similarly-skilled replacement this season.
Players like Brunson don’t come cheap, and that extends beyond the hefty contract he signed in New York. Trading for a Brunson replacement would cost draft picks. At this moment, Dallas still owes one first-round pick to the New York Knicks in the Kristaps Porzingis trade. The goal for the Mavericks appears to be conveying that pick at the end of the season so that their draft picks will be unencumbered afterward. At that point, Dallas will be able to offer as many as four first-round picks and three first-round swaps in a trade for a proper co-star for Doncic.
Zoom out and that’s absolutely the proper approach to building a roster around Doncic. Even with Brunson, secondary scoring has been a major problem for Dallas in the past three postseasons. Adding another star fixes that flaw. But it won’t make this season any easier. What is becoming painfully clear for Dallas is that for this season to go anywhere, Doncic simply needs to be on the floor as often as possible. That’s going to mean limiting injuries, limiting time on the bench and limiting rest nights. If the Mavericks can’t beat Houston without Doncic, they’re probably not going to beat anyone else without their best player on the court.