The day has finally come. It’s been six long months since we’ve been able to say this, but a real NBA game is going to be played in Dallas tonight. The season has finally begun.

As is the case seemingly every fall, optimism and hopes are high. The Mavericks are about to embark on an 82-game marathon with the goal in mind to continue playing beyond that. In order to reach the playoffs, many things are going to have to go right. Luka Doncic will need to take a step forward. Kristaps Porzingis will have to play at the All-Star level he reached as a 22-year-old in New York. The Mavs’ supporting cast, made up of plenty of familiar faces but also some new ones too, must consistently perform at a high level.

Depending on the outcome of tonight’s game, fans might either start looking up hotel rates on the West Coast for late-April or plan a trip to Cancun on April 16. But it’s important to mention that, win or lose, this is just one game. There are 81 more of these bad boys ahead of the Mavericks.

All that said, here are some stats to keep an eye on as the season begins. These team-based numbers will, in my opinion, go a long way toward demonstrating just how improved this team could be in 2019-20.

Pace, and scoring quicker

Pace itself is a pretty simple stat: the number of possessions a team plays per game. Pace league-wide is climbing very quickly; last season, 17 teams averaged at least 100 possessions per contest, up from just five in 2017-18 and just two in 2015-16. But the Mavericks were not one of those 17 teams. Dallas finished 19th in pace last season, averaging 99.6 possessions per game. There’s really no correlation between winning and pace (as in teams that play faster do not necessarily win more often, or vice versa), but I believe the team should, and will, play a little faster this season.

The Mavericks’ average possession after an opponent’s missed field goal last season lasted 11.41 seconds, per PBP Stats, which was the third-slowest in the NBA, and Dallas finished 29th in points per possession after an opponent’s miss. This season, with the addition of players like Delon Wright and Seth Curry and a full season of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Justin Jackson, pace could skyrocket.

We saw a glimpse of it in the preseason, when the Mavericks frequently pushed the ball very quickly in the open floor to create early offense in wide-open spaces, and Wright has already demonstrated his open-floor prowess. It was only preseason, so take it for what it’s worth, but the Mavericks ranked seventh in transition points per possession and ranked 15th among NBA teams in pace. Pushing the ball off misses and turnovers is an easy way to create points, so long as you have the players capable of doing it. This season, the Mavericks have those players.

Defensive rebound percentage

In order to push the ball, though, you have to secure the rebound first. There was a lot of discussion this summer about the Mavs’ potential rebounding issues relying on a relatively small frontcourt of guys like Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber, and because Porzingis has never been a double-digit rebounder per game. But the Mavericks ranked 15th in defensive rebound percentage last season after trading away DeAndre Jordan, grabbing 73.2 percent of available defensive rebounds, finishing just 0.3 points behind 11th place during that time. For the season, the team finished 10th, its third season in a row ending up in the top-10.

It would take a lot of film study (and asking people way smarter than me) to really understand the relationship between rebounding and transition, but it seems to be that transition offense receives a boost when a guard grabs the rebound, because the offense can take off immediately without taking precious seconds to find an outlet pass. Wright’s addition should certainly help in that regard, as he finished 19th among qualified guards last season in defensive rebound rate, and 29th the year before. He and Doncic will likely combine to collect somewhere around 8-10 defensive rebounds per game, if not more, which should create some fast break opportunities. Don’t forget how often last season Rick Carlisle brought up the need for his guards to mix it up on the boards. He did that for a reason. It helps the big guys out, sure, but it also in theory helps out the offense.

The addition of Porzingis should certainly help, too. Players like Steven Adams and Andre Drummond are going to cause some problems, but they do against every other team in the league too. It should also be noted that the Mavs’ defensive rebound rate last season with Dwight Powell on the floor (73.0 percent) was virtually identical to the rate when he was off the floor (73.7 percent). He figures to be in the mix for the starting center conversation. He’s been a big rebound guy as a starter throughout his career, especially so last season, averaging 7.6 per game in 22 starts.

Above-the-break 3-point percentage

We all know what a corner 3 is, but some might not have heard of “above the break.” The “break” is the point in the 3-point arc when it begins to bend. Basically, it’s all the 3s that aren’t corner 3s. (Justin Jackson is shooting one in the photo above.) Last season the Mavericks connected on 33.3 percent of their above-the-break 3s, which ranked 28th in the league. Meanwhile, they attempted 28.8 of them per game, which ranked third in the NBA.

With the addition of players like Porzingis and Curry, the Mavericks could stand to get a whole lot better in that regard. Curry shot an absurd 43.9 percent on above-the-break 3s in 2018-19, while Porzingis hit 39.2 percent of them in 2017-18, his last season. The top of the key is where the 7-foot-3 big man figures to receive the bulk of his long-range looks, as I suspect the Doncic/Porzingis pick-and-roll will quickly become this offense’s bread and butter. If he and Curry can hit anywhere near 40 percent of them on five or six (or more) attempts per game combined, that’s going to provide a significant boost to the offense.

Likewise, Wright’s addition and Jalen Brunson’s emergence could take quite a load off Doncic’s shoulders. That’s where an overwhelming majority of his long-range attempts came last season, with many of them coming off the dribble and often late in the shot clock, when it’s generally tougher to create a clean look. Doncic shot 32.2 percent above the break last season, but there was a chasm between his catch-and-shoot accuracy (37.4 percent — good, especially for a rookie) and his percentages off the bounce (31.3 percent). If he can benefit more off the extra space allowed to him by shooters, and if he has shots created for him more often by his teammates, then that could produce an uptick in efficiency.

It’s important to mention that the team is returning a few strong players from above the break last season. Maxi Kleber (37.4 percent), Brunson (37.1), and Ryan Broekhoff (35.5) were all strong in that area, and Jackson (38.2 percent) had the best mark on the team, although it was on a small sample of just 55 attempts in 29 games.

Opponent 3-point percentage

To this point, we’ve talked about areas in which the Mavericks could improve. Opponent 3-point percentage is an area where, if you ask me, it would be great to see a repeat performance. Dallas allowed opponents to hit just 34.4 percent of their 3s last season, which tied for sixth-best in the league. And, from Nov. 2 through the end of the year, the Mavs actually led the league in 3-point defense.

No one is going to hang a banner for that, of course, but it was definitely an achievement, especially given the significant roster turnover midway through the season. Porzingis should help defend the rim a little better, but it’s the addition of someone like Wright that could bolster the long-distance defense. He and Seth Curry have quick hands in passing lanes, and Wright, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Jackson are all quality close-out defenders who should be able to run shooters off the line. Kleber is no slouch either when switched off on smaller players, often forcing them into difficult shots instead of conceding easy ones, as is so often the case when big men try defending guards in space.

I don’t know what the exact recipe behind a good 3-point defense calls for, but I’m sure it’s more science than pure luck. We often hear the old adage, “it’s a make or miss league,” but somewhere out there is the cheat code to unlock forcing more difficult shots than easy ones. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of getting just a foot closer to your man as they rise to shoot.

With teams shooting as many 3s as they do these days, you’ve got to do your best to hold them at bay. The Mavs found a way to do that last season. Now it’s time to see if they can repeat it.

Turnover rate

You can find a much longer look at this on from a few weeks ago, but here’s a quick refresher.

Last season, Dallas finished outside the top-10 in turnover percentage for the first time since the 2010-11 season, finishing 21st overall. In essence, the Mavs turned it over more often last year than in any season since the year they won the title. Handing the point guard reins to a rookie possibly contributed, as did losing Harrison Barnes to trade and the early season absence of Dirk Nowitzki, two players historically good at taking care of the ball. Doncic and Brunson entering Year 2 with more comfort at the helm of an NBA offense should help, as should adding such a versatile, dangerous offensive talent like Porzingis who will command all sorts of attention even when he doesn’t have the ball, in theory creating more space for everyone else.

It’s possible that playing faster could lead to more turnovers overall, but what’s more important than turnovers per game is turnovers per 100 possessions. For example, turning it over 16 times in 80 possessions is just as efficient (or inefficient, really) as turning it over 20 times in 100 possessions.

Turnovers in general are bad, though. Better off just avoiding them.

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