Last year the Dallas Mavericks had the most efficient offensive season in the history of the NBA. This season they wouldn’t mind setting some out-of-this-world records on the defensive end of the floor.
Thus, while the Mavs have been creating tons of excitement while ripping up and down the hardwood with the greatest of ease, the plan this season is to shift into overdrive and add some much-needed defensive flavor to their arsenal. A defensive mindset, coach Rick Carlisle believes, is a better recipe conducive to winning a championship than a team just hanging its hat on being an offensive juggernaut.
“When you establish that you’re a galactically successful offensive team, but below average defensively, that’s not going to win you a championship,” Carlisle said on Tuesday. “I don’t believe there’s ever been a team that’s won a title in the NBA that hasn’t been a good defensive team.
“We’ve got to be very competitive, we’ve got to be tough-minded, unselfish. I don’t know what the exact pace of our game is going to be, but we’ve got to be able to win games by getting stops as well as by scoring. That’s the basic gist.”
They started by adding some defensive players to their roster: they drafted forward Josh Green (Arizona) and guard Tyrell Terry (Stanford), traded for guard Josh Richardson and forward James Johnson, traded for the draft rights to rookie guard Tyler Bey (Colorado) and also added undrafted rookie forward Nate Hinton along with free agent forward Wes Iwundu.
“A big emphasis we’ve looked at this coming season is to get better defensively,” Carlisle said. “It’s great to be the very best at something as we were last year when we were the best offensive team in the history of the game on a points-per-possession basis. That is a substantial accomplishment.
“But we’ve got to raise the level of our defense. We feel with some of the changes that we made and also with the way we’re going to approach things, we’re just going to put a great emphasis on the defensive end of the floor.”
Last year the Mavs’ offensive rating of 115.9 points per 100 possessions broke the NBA record of 115 points per 100 possessions set in 2018-19 season by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. But the Mavs were 16th in the league in points allowed (112.1), and opponents also shot a healthy 45.8 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from 3-point range against Dallas.
“I want us to be an edgier team defensively,” Carlisle said on the first day of Media Week. “And I think we’ve added pieces that will help us do that.”
Carlisle believes the return of center Dwight Powell and guard Jalen Brunson also will be added bonuses on defense for the Mavs. Powell missed the remainder of last season after undergoing torn right Achilles tendon surgery on Jan. 28.
Brunson also sat out the rest of the season after having surgery on March 13 to address an injury to the labrum of his right shoulder.
Both of those players are healthy and ready for training camp, which starts Friday. However, forward/center Kristaps Porzingis won’t be ready to play until sometimes in January after he had surgery on Oct. 9 to address a lateral meniscus injury of his right knee.
“KP is doing well,’ Carlisle said. “His rehab is going on without issue. He’s on schedule. If anything, we’re having to hold him back right now.
“He will not, however, play until at least January. And when we get to January we can give you a better update on where things are. I think he’s 12 weeks from surgery this coming Friday, and again things have gone well and without issue.”
Meanwhile, point guard Luka Doncic is coming off a banner season where he led the NBA in triple-doubles with 17, and also averaged 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists. Additionally, Doncic started in the All-Star game, finished fourth in the voting for the league’s Most Valuable Player award, and helped the Mavs to a 43-32 record and a berth in the playoffs where they lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round in six games.
“He’s 21 and he’s getting better all the time,” Carlisle said of Doncic. “As a young developing team that’s going through one stage of development, of getting out of the lottery and into the playoffs — but experienced a loss in the playoffs — we’ve got to look at this as a situation where our collective toughness will increase anyway regardless of who’s on the team.
“But you can never have enough toughness on an NBA team, particularly in the Western Conference with the way things are shaping up. The identity of this team is largely going to be a reflection of Luka, because the best player is always a big part of the identity of the team. But Luka in the playoffs last year showed that he can sit down and defend people, too.”
Doncic, certainly, is more than prepared to continue being mentioned in the MVP conversation.
“Every year I want to be better,” Doncic said. “That’s the goal for me. Like I always say, I want to win the championship, and that’s the goal we entered last year and that’s the goal we’re going to enter this year as a whole group.
“It’s going to be a different season. Some players might get corona(virus) and might get sick and might not be able to be with the team for 10 days, so I think that’s going to be a big part on which team is not going to have positive people.”
With NBA teams having to play the upcoming season through an ongoing pandemic due to the coronavirus, Carlisle admittedly may be juggling and managing players’ minutes more than ever. Especially because the offseason was very short, since the Mavs didn’t end last season until Aug. 30.
“It’s best if we can try to consistently play 10 guys and keep our starters’ minutes somewhere in the low 30s,” Carlisle said. “It’s not always doable. We don’t know what the schedule’s going to look like yet, either. I’m certain that there will be back-to-backs, although it sounds like there may be not as much travel in between games when you’re on the road.
“But I think any time you’re talking about superstar players like Luka Doncic and LeBron and guys like that, and Kawhi Leonard, you want to create an optimal situation for those guys to play at the highest level and not get burned out, and so that will be the goal. A lot of that comes down to communication, talking to Luka about it, talking to KP about it when he’s back, because these guys are competitors. They want to be in there the whole game, but it’s a lot of communication, it’s a lot of analyzing the situation.”
The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out summer league play in Las Vegas, which has universally been the place for rookies to showcase their wares. But now, those teachings will be compressed into a much shorter time frame, since the first preseason game is Dec. 12 at Milwaukee.
“We’re clocking everything with an egg timer now with these draft picks,” Carlisle said. “This is going to be the quickest turnaround ever. Look, they’re going to get thrown right into the fire. When you go play in the summer league in Vegas, that’s a great experience, but now you’re going right into training camp with NBA veterans, and there are some other rookies.
“But those guys are going to find out right away what it means to be thrown into the deep end of the pool, so we’ll see. I like their chances to hold their own.”
Carlisle also likes his team’s chances of holding their own on the defensive end of the floor. He saw the Lakers lose Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against Portland, then “put the clamps down defensively” and win the ensuing four games and the series.
And Carlisle saw the Lakers lose Game 1 of the second-round playoff series against Houston, then “tighten the screws” on defense and grab the next four games and the series.
“They won those series with defense and ultimately they won the title with defense, and a lot of their offense came off their defense,” Carlisle said of the Lakers. “They’re a great transition team, and with LeBron and Davis, they were a great execution team.”
Also, from a personal standpoint, Carlisle saw the Mavs put their defensive feet on the throats of Portland, the Lakers, Oklahoma City and Miami in the playoffs when the Mavs captured the 2011 NBA title.
“People forget how good that (2011) team was defensively with Tyson Chandler and (Shawn) Marion and (Jason) Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson,” Carlisle said. “It was eye-opening to look at those games.
“To be a great defensive team and to aspire and realistically have a chance to be a better defensive team, you’ve got to get better defensive players. I think we’ve added some really good elements there through the draft, through trades, and so we’re looking forward to getting this thing going.”
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