Most NBA teams have reached the 10-game mark, which means the season no longer is a puppy.
It’s still risky to make blanket statements about what we’ve seen in the first three weeks, but trends are becoming evident.
So what have we learned about the Mavericks?
No. 1, we were all correct about one thing: the schedule has been cushy so far. Eight of the first 11 opponents (including New York on Thursday, are under .500. The combined record of those teams is 44-58.
So there is no excuse not to be off to a solid start. And the Mavericks are. Monday’s dud against Boston notwithstanding, they are a respectable 6-4 and while it could have been better, if they continue to win six of every 10 games, that’s a 49-win pace.
Don’t think anybody – experts or casual fans – had them pushing close to 50 wins this season.
Not all the news is great, however. That warm-and-fuzzy early schedule is about to get gnarly. Of the last seven games in November, five are against teams with winning records.
The NBA season is a marathon and there will be peaks and valleys. We have yet to see how the Mavericks cope with a losing streak. And they have been fortunate to have good health in the early going.
So with optimism rightfully high, we’ll take a look at some of the conclusions we can draw from the season’s first 10 games.
Readjusting expectations: The Mavericks started this thing hoping to be playoff relevant, believing they can make a run at the No. 8 playoff spot.
That needs amending. The injury to Zion Williamson has put New Orleans in a tough spot. Same goes for Golden State without Steph Curry. These are teams that were expected to fight for a playoff spot and, given the unfortunate injuries, it seems unlikely either will do so.
Also, slow starts in Sacramento and Oklahoma City have further weakened the playoff-worthy contenders – at least for the moment.
The Mavericks have a grand opportunity if they can continue to put some space between themselves and the .500 mark. Climbing up the standings and giving themselves a chance to finish in the top five in the West would be a strong statement that the Mavericks are going to be a force for seasons to come, and maybe sooner than that.
It’s no longer: No. 8 or bust. It might be: Home-court advantage in the first round or bust.
Luka’s ceiling can be similarly raised: With four triple-doubles in the first eight games and seemingly threatening to pull off that feat in just about every game, Luka Doncic is proving he’s everything the Mavericks hoped he would be.
He will be a sure-fire all-star at the rate he’s going. He could be an MVP candidate if the numbers and the victories keep rolling up. His averages through 10 games: 28.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 9.1 assists. You can quibble about that the 4.5 turnovers per game, but for a 20-year-old that has the ball in his hands as much as Doncic does, that’s not an alarming number.
Coach Rick Carlisle isn’t just blowing smoke when he says Doncic is one of the best players on the planet.
It’s indisputable at this point.
About the offense: The Mavericks woke up Tuesday as the No. 1 team in the league in offensive efficiency. And they’ve been in the top three virtually all season.
They also are in the top 10 in free throws attempted at 25.5 per game, which is a good sign that the offense is putting pressure on defenders and that the refs are respecting the Mavericks’ offensive skills.
And, the Mavericks are averaging 115.3 points per game, seventh in the NBA. They have a point differential of plus 3.0.
That last stat may be the most critical. The last eight NBA champions all have had a point differential of at least plus 6.0. The last champion under that was the 2011 Mavericks at plus 4.2.
Don’t forget the D: If there has been a consistent problem area so far, the defensive end of the court is it.
The Mavericks are 22nd in defensive efficiency and are allowing opponents to make 46.4 percent of their shots. That needs to change for the better if the Mavericks hope to keep pace in the competitive Western Conference.
A skeptic might say that they’ve done it with smoke and mirrors so far – the combination of a soft early schedule and a percolating offense are helping to mask the problems defensively.
They are not forcing turnovers (13.3 per game, 26th in the league) and are next-to-last in steals at 5.5. Steals aren’t necessarily an indicator of great defense, but they are a sign that players are active on the defensive end.
The bottom line is that the Mavericks need to get more physical and more attentive at the defensive end.
All together now: If the Mavericks aren’t the deepest team in the NBA, they’re doing a heck of an impersonation.
They have 10 different players who have started at least one game. And those who don’t start have carried the load off the bench very well. The Mavericks are second in the NBA at 46 bench points per game.
It really is a strength-in-numbers operation so far. Yes, it’s nice to have that 50 points from Luka and Kristaps Porzingis that you can pencil in on most nights.
But getting contributions from everybody should pay nice dividends down the road. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Justin Jackson have played in all 10 games, starting none of them. They seem to be embracing the sixth-man role, to their credit.
The big picture: While rebounding has been improved and their 3-point shooting has perked up slightly since the woeful start they had in the first few games, the Mavericks still have a long way to go.
They are 6-4, which puts them tied for seventh in the West with Minnesota.
Their 2-3 home record needs fixing. They have been better on the road, but a home loss to New York, which appears to be in utter chaos at the moment, was inexcusable.
Basically, what the Mavericks have done so far is tread water and keep themselves in position to keep fighting the good fight. If they can get through their next 10 games with a record similar to what they’ve built so far, they’ll be in prime shape going into the meat of the season.