Eight games into the season, a quick peek at the NBA standings might make one think the Dallas Mavericks are off to a good start. At 5-3 and 3rd in the Western Conference, they seem reasonably on track to contend for a ring—an intention repeated often this summer following Dallas’ second straight early exit from the postseason.
But a closer look tells a different story. Each of Dallas’ wins have come against teams in some form of rebuild (Toronto, Houston, Sacramento, and twice over San Antonio) and their average margin of victory in those contests was just +6.
Their losses, meanwhile—all three to teams with similar championship aspirations—have been far less competitive. They lost by 26 to Atlanta in the season opener, by 31 to the Nuggets, and then by 15 at home to Miami after gifting the Heat a 46-point second quarter.
Follow the Heavy on Mavericks Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content on the Mavs!
The statistical reasoning for this disparity is fairly simple: the Mavericks’ offensive rating (102.2) is 27th in the NBA, their defensive rating (107.5) is 17th, and they are currently posting an effective field goal percentage (which accounts for the added value of a 3-pointer) of 48.2%, better than just two other teams in the league (OKC and Detroit). In a nutshell, they’ve played average defense and shot very poorly—a combo that might not matter too much against mediocre to bad teams, but is almost certainly a recipe for disaster against the league’s elite.
Obviously, eight games are not even a tenth of the entire season, and head coach Jason Kidd himself told reporters after Dallas’ first win, “This is going to take some time to cook,” referring to team chemistry.
For TNT analyst and hall of famer Charles Barkley, however, it’s not about cooking time when it comes to the Mavs—it’s about ingredients. Barkley believes Dallas ultimately needs to make a trade to have a legitimate shot at contending.
Prior to Dallas’ matchup with Miami on November 3 (the one they lost by 15), Barkley, per Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News, told his co-hosts at NBA on TNT: “I’m curious to watch Dallas tonight. Because Dallas, the way they’re constructed, they need to make a trade, but I want to see if they get beat-down tonight to confirm that.”
A day earlier, Barkley was quoted by Twitter fan page Mavs Fans For Life as having said something similar but with a little more elaboration:
This Dallas team, they need to make a trade desperately. The way they play, just giving the ball to Luka and just let him go one-on-one with everyone standing around. That’s not going to win anything and I love Luka, but they got to change that.
Though some doubt Barkley is even watching the games closely, the big fear is that he’s right. While owner Mark Cuban certainly did some significant housecleaning this summer, hiring Kidd to succeed Rick Carlisle and replacing general manager Donnie Nelson with former Nike executive Nico Harrison, the moves to improve the roster (Reggie Bullock, Josh Green, Moses Brown) were minimal.
Instead, the team has pinned much of their expected improvement to the back of 7-foot-3 big man Kristaps Porzingis. Saying Porzingis is injury-prone is like saying candy is sugar-prone, but after a fully healthy offseason (his first in a while), the Mavs were hopeful that Porzingis would finally become the elite sidekick/second option that Doncic and the Mavericks have been searching for.
Things have not worked out that way, though. After just three games, Porzingis was sidelined with back tightness and hasn’t played in a week and a half. But it’s not like Porzingis was lighting the world on fire prior to the injury—averaging a paltry 12.7 points while shooting 30.2% from the field and 23.5% from three. Doncic has not shot well either, connecting on just 25.4% of his threes, but the sheer volume of his usage, which is second highest in the league, according to Basketball-Reference, has nonetheless produced big numbers: 23.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists.
With Porzingis not living up to expectations and the other early-season starters—Dorian Finney-Smith, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Dwight Powell struggling as well, the Mavericks have opted to start guard Jalen Brunson in the last two games. Brunson has played exceptional in those starts, averaging 28.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 63.3% from the floor and 50.0% from the three, but he’s not a player you can pin championship hopes on.
Pure and simple, the Mavericks need more guys not named Luka who can create their own space, and that’s what Barkley was talking about when he said a trade is needed.
Who to Trade For?
The trade deadline is not for several months (Feb 10) and it’s unlikely the Mavericks will have the patience to wait that long to make a move.
Toronto guard Goran Dragic, who played with Doncic on the Slovenian national team, has been mentioned as a target for months now, and his recent string of DNP-CDs has ignited speculation that the 13-year veteran could soon be on the move. But the Mavericks would prefer to acquire Dragic through a buyout, something Toronto is unlikely to indulge, and besides, Dragic may also have his sights set on returning to his former team, the Heat. Even if he does land in Dallas, there’s no guarantee he’ll be enough to put the Mavs over the top.
Cleveland’s Colin Sexton is another possibility. At just 6-foot-1, Sexton casts a much smaller shadow than Porzingis, but the third-year guard is an above-average on-ball defender and would immediately add terrific energy and one-on-one scoring potential to the Mavericks lineup. Sexton is currently averaging 16.8 points on 45.8% shooting. The offense would still run through Doncic, but Sexton would give the Mavs another player who can attack the rim and create open looks for his teammates.
Someone else who could be a nice compliment to Doncic is Indiana big man Domantas Sabonis. The two-time All-Star can score from the post and off the high pick-and-roll, and is an excellent passer for his size, registering 6.7 assists per game last season. The aggressive and powerful Sabonis would also improve Dallas’ interior presence on defense and on the boards. Sabonis averaged 12.0 rebounds last season and 12.4 the season prior and has quick enough feet to not be exploited on the perimeter.
Houston’s athletic big man Christian Wood has also been mentioned as a possible target and could develop into the kind of inside/outside scorer the Mavericks hoped Porzingis would be. But the Rockets love Wood’s game and would probably be reluctant to part ways with him short of receiving back a king’s ransom.
READ NEXT: Mavs Guard Setting Himself Up for Big-Time Payday