Luka Leads Exciting Youth Movement In Dallas
By Ian Levy
Nylon Calculus, brought to you by The Step Back
Dallas built its team with a mixture of both veterans and youth, which led to intrigue around how this blend would work. However, Luka Doncic has been absolutely as good as advertised and, as they prepare to play the Suns tonight on TNT, the Mavericks find themselves at 15-11 and in the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. Strong play from veterans like Wes Matthews, Harrison Barnes, J.J. Barea and DeAndre Jordan has helped support their surprising surge.
The Mavericks’ youth movement is about more than just Doncic’s breakout rookie season. Several other key young players are showing that they can be a key part of both the present and the future in Dallas.
Doncic has been sensational, immediately stepping into the role of primary ball-handler and shot-creator for the Mavericks, averaging 18.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, shooting 42.5 percent from the field and 36.9 percent on 3-pointers. Any concern about Doncic’s ability to create offense against NBA-caliber athletes has been put to rest. He’s still developing his timing and finishing but Doncic is among the league-leaders in drives per game and has kept defenses on their toes by hitting 37.4 percent of his 3-pointers off the dribble.
You can see from his hot spots, how much of his effectiveness has been focused on the middle of the floor where he’s able to exploit defenses in the pick-and-roll.
As impressive as his offense has been in general, Doncic has been nearly untouchable in clutch situations. The Mavericks have an 8-5 record in games where the margin was five points or less at any time in the final five minutes. Doncic has played 33 clutch minutes in those games, essentially a single game’s worth of court time. In those minutes, he’s put up 40 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, shooting 63.6 percent from the field and hitting 3-of-7 3-pointers. Most incredibly, given the offensive load he’s shouldered in these situations, he has just a pair of turnovers.
Doncic has already proven he can lead this team’s offense from the beginning of a game all the way to its biggest moments. As the rest of the young cast develops around him, this team is just going to keep getting better and better.
With Doncic established as the team’s primary creator, surrounding him with shooters and versatile defenders is essential. Perhaps no Maverick has fit that mold better than Dorian Finney-Smith this season. Although the second-year wing has primarily defended shooting guards this season, his defensive matchup data classifies him as one of the few NBA players who has spent at least 10 percent of his defensive possessions matched up with every position from point guards through centers. His size, wingspan and athleticism have made him successful in a variety of matchups and unlock all sorts of lineup combinations.
Finney-Smith is also hitting 43.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this season and finishing nearly 60 percent of his shots inside of 10 feet. There may not be much room for him to grow as a shot creator but as a low-usage role player, he has the potential to be incredibly effective.
Dennis Smith Jr.
Smith Jr. is still figuring out how to work in tandem with Doncic, functioning as an off-ball threat and secondary creator is largely new territory for him. However, he’s shown some encouraging signs of growth. The second-year guard is hitting 35.9 percent of his 3s this year, up from 31.3 percent last year. He’s been respectable on catch-and-shoot opportunities (36.6 percent) but also improving on the all-important pull-ups shots as well (34.3 percent).
It’s going to take some time for Smith Jr. to fully weaponize his skill set and athleticism to find and create space off the ball, but considering how new this all is, the Mavericks have to feel encouraged by his steady improvement.
Kleber is another ideal role player for the roster the Mavericks are building. The second-year forward has great size -- listed at 6-foot-11 -- and the mobility to slide down and defend smaller players as well. Matchup data estimates he’s spent nearly 40 percent of his defensive possessions matched up with shooting guards or small forwards. Kleber has also been exceptional using his size to help protect the rim and his 46.9 defensive field goal percentage inside of six feet of the basket is the third-best in the league among the 140 players who defend at least three shots per game in that area.
Kleber looks the part of floor-spacer but so far his catch-and-shoot numbers are hovering around 30 percent. That number could come up but even if it doesn’t, his defensive versatility allows the Mavericks to build all sorts of interesting lineups, especially when they look to play small without a traditional center.
Brunson, a second-round pick, is still growing into a role and his outside shooting, a crucial piece of his long-term potential as a backup point guard, has yet to come around. Still, he looks the part of a heady veteran, as you would expect from a three-year college starter and winner of two national titles.
He’s been very effective in picking his spots off the dribble and creating shots for himself, and his turnover ratio is a minuscule 8.2 percent. When his 3-point shot starts falling he’s going to be an even more important piece for the Mavericks in a potential playoff run.
Nylon Calculus covers basketball analytics for The Step Back, a premium NBA vertical at FanSided.com