Every sports team wants an identity. The Mavericks are no different. Sure, they’d like to be known as a winning team. A playoff team.
But how do they get there? What kind of style will best fit them? So many unknowns that it’s impossible to accurately forecast what they will look like.
So far, if they were a television series, they would be Dr. Who.
If they were a rock anthem, they would be Who Are You.
They don’t really know exactly what their calling card will be this season as they aim to regain a spot higher on the NBA’s relevancy meter.
Oh, sure. They’ll be a 3-point shooting team. But so will every other team in the league. That’s the new normal. And it doesn’t really qualify as a name tag on a team’s lapel. Through Tuesday’s preseason games, nearly 42 percent of all shots in the NBA were from 3-point range.
Coach Rick Carlisle would like to see the Mavericks be a sticky defensive team that creates easy points by making life miserable for opponents at their offensive end. It remains to be seen if that happens.
Right now, going into the final preseason game Thursday night in Vancouver, Canada, against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Mavericks know they aren’t close to a finished product in terms of identity or their efficiency on the court.
“Working on staying focused and staying aggressive,” said veteran swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. on the priorities going into the exhibition finale. “And mostly just trying to build that team identity. That’s something coach Carlisle talks about each and every day and (we) just have to keep on building.”
Before we can figure out what the Mavericks will be this season, it’s probably easier to identify what they are not.
First and foremost, they will not be Dirk Nowitzki’s team. That actually ended last season. But the team still played a lot of the time like it was built around Nowitzki. That won’t be the case now. With Luka Doncic being joined by Kristaps Porzingis, this is going to look different and the Mavericks will have to find success in ways that fans might not recognize.
What they won’t be?
They are not likely to be a physical team. While Luka Doncic and Dwight Powell can bump and grind with anybody, that’s not the style of a lot of their players. It’s more finesse and less brute force.
And that’s OK. Golden State has won its share of NBA titles this decade without being physically imposing.
They also are unlikely to be known as a dynamic rebounding team because, well, they’ve never been one in recent years, with the exception of when DeAndre Jordan breezed through for half a season.
They will be a rebound-by-committee team and that’s OK. They can prosper that way, as long everybody pitches in on the boards.
What might serve the Mavericks best is this: becoming a ball-protection, ball-sharing and ball-in-basket kind of team.
And they all go hand-in-hand for a team that wants to execute better than it has in the past few years.
Last season, the Mavericks were in the bottom third of the league in shooting (27th in FG percentage) and assists (22nd at 23.4 per game). They also saw their turnovers rise by nearly two per game from the previous season.
That’s about all you need to know about why the Mavericks were 33-49.
There were reasons why the “ball” numbers were bad. The Mavericks played a slower pace and they had more isolation play. They put the ball in a rookie point guard’s hands and turnovers rose – even though that player, Doncic, would turn out to be rookie of the year.
This season should be – actually, it must be – different if the Mavericks are going to make the sort of leap they expect to and challenge for a playoff spot.
Ask Carlisle or any player on the roster and the words they hope to use to describe the Mavericks are similar. Gritty. Resourceful. Detail-oriented, if you’re OK with a hyphenated description.
Those are the things that will lead to better execution offensively, which was a major problem last season. If the Mavericks can move up the ranks in being able to put the ball in the hole, it’ll be because they pass it better to each other, trust each other better and don’t give away possessions.
And, yes, they also will need to be better at the defensive end. But all those things are tied together.
What fans can watch for starting next Wednesday in the regular-season opener against Washington are clues about how the Mavericks will play.
It’s a different era. And the style will be, too.