The Mavericks’ vow to be better defensively this season was the driving force behind acquiring Josh Richardson and James Johnson in trades last month.
In the case of Richardson, it added to the crowded house at the small forward and shooting guard positions, which these days are largely interchangeable.
Richardson joins Tim Hardaway Jr., rookie Josh Green, Wes Iwundu and several others, including maybe Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith in that mass of talented players.
To which, Carlisle says, no worries.
“Great defenders and wing scorers are at a premium right now,” Carlisle said Sunday when asked how the wing spots will ultimately play out. “I know what you’re asking: who’s going to start? Who’s going to come off the bench?
“I don’t know that. At this point, I project Josh Richardson as a starter on this team. And as we move forward, we’ll do whatever’s best for this team.”
But Richardson has been a starter for most of his career and is only now entering his prime. He checks all the boxes that the Mavericks look for at the wing spots: defense, 3-point shooting and playmaking ability.
But mostly defense, which has been the top priority in the early days of training camp.
Speaking of which: The Mavericks are determined to improve on their defensive standing, which was middle-of-the-pack at best last season.
Their epic offense carried them. And that can’t be the case any longer, Carlisle said.
“We’re spending more time on it,” he said. “Philosophically, we’ve changed a couple of things in our approach which we think will help make us better. And on the personnel side, we do think we have some guys who will facilitate us being a better defensive team because they’re better defenders.
“But defense is a mindset. It’s an attitude. Offensively last year, we were historically great. But we were all offense all the time and below average (on defense). If you really want to be a contending team, the numbers I’ve seen over the years (say) you have to somehow get into the top 10 (on defense). In 2011 we were in this same position and I think we finished eighth that year in defense. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do that, but we have to do everything possible to move in the direction of becoming a better defensive team.”
Maxi Kleber, who has been a versatile defender in his first three seasons with the Mavericks, said it comes down to one thing.
“Communication is very important,” he said. “Most of the mistakes we had last year I think came out of bad communication and we got to improve in that area a lot.”
Johnson recovering: The Mavericks have had three full days of full-team workouts.
The first two days were mostly five-on-zero shell drills, technique days, conditioning and getting the newcomers up to speed.
Sunday did include a spirited scrimmage, Carlisle said, and things are heading in a positive direction.
Apart from Kristaps Porzingis, only one Maverick has been held out of workouts – new center James Johnson.
“James Johnson had a slight knee issue on something that happened back in October,” Carlisle said. “He had an MCL (medial collateral ligament) strain in his knee and so he’s not doing anything live yet but he’s gone through all the technique stuff and I think he’s on track to be involved in live activity come Tuesday or Wednesday. All in all, three positive days.”
Porzingis update: Carlisle, along with visual updates from Porzingis on Instagram, indicated that the 7-3 center is progressing well from his knee surgery.
“He’s continuing with his rehab in a very positive trajectory,” Carlisle said. “He’s doing some shooting out on the floor as everybody has seen on Instagram. He’s doing some light running on the treadmill. He’s progressing without issue to this point, which is great.”