The Dallas Mavericks have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA over the past month. Led by Luka Doncic, the Mavs are looking more like a team that can be a serious threat in the West. As it stands, the Mavericks hold the no. 5 seed in the conference.
After falling to a 16-18 record following a last-second loss to the Sacramento Kings, Dallas won 10 of its last 12 games. These include some signature blowout wins over some of the best teams in the league such as the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, and Memphis Grizzlies.
Like many teams, the Mavericks went through a rough patch due to COVID-19 issues and injuries. Despite that, Dallas has responded admirably to climb back up in the West standings. Here are three reasons behind the Mavs' stunning midseason turnaround.
Three reasons for Mavs' midseason turnaround
Over the last couple of seasons, offense has been the Mavericks' bread and butter for success. At the time, Dallas posted the best offensive rating in NBA history during the 2019-20 campaign, per StatMuse. They finished in the top 8 in 2020-21, per NBA.com.
As good as they've been offensively over last couple of seasons, that hasn't been the case this year. Despite having an offensive savant in Luka Doncic running the show, Dallas is in the bottom 10 in offensive rating this season. Their scoring has also dropped from 117.0 two years ago, to 112.4 last season, to just 105.3 per game in 2021-22.
Surprisingly, however, it has been Dallas' defense that is fueling its strong surge over the past month. Even though Jason Kidd's arrival received a ton of scrutiny in the offseason, this team has completely bought in on the defensive side of the floor under him. They're playing with more energy and intensity and look more connected, especially with their defensive rotations.
Since the turn of the calendar year, the Mavericks boast the best defensive rating in the NBA. Dallas is also the only team that has allowed less than 100 points per game over this stretch. In addition, they are also first in opponent's 3-point percentage at 28.0 percent and third in opponent's field goal percentage at 43.0 percent.
This is a remarkable development because defense hasn't been Dallas' strong suit over the last couple of seasons. They finished 18th and 21st in defensive rating in 2019-20 and 2020-21, respectively.
The Mavericks may be struggling on offense right now, but that shouldn't be much of a concern moving forward. Luka Doncic alone should elevate them. And if their shooters start knocking down their shots, they should be fine on that end of the floor.
This is why Dallas' emergence on the defensive end is worth noting. If this holds up the rest of the year and into the postseason, they could etch themselves as serious contenders in the West.
2. Kristaps Porzingis is playing like an All-Star again
Remember the time when Kristaps Porzingis looked like he was on his way out of Dallas? That seems to be a distant memory now. The one-time All-Star wasn't shy in expressing his frustration with his role over the last couple of years.
But this season, Porzingis looks like a rejuvenated man with his increased involvement in the Dallas offense. Rather than just waiting in the corner as a stand-still shooter, there is more variety in the kind of shots he is getting. The Slovenian is getting more touches in the post and more opportunities in the pick-and-roll.
On the season, Porzingis is averaging 20.1 points, 8.0 assists, and 1.7 blocks, while shooting 45.5 percent from the field. His numbers and production may be similar to last year. but it's evident that the former New York Knick is happier with his role under new coach Jason Kidd.
Health is also one of the reasons for Porzingis' resurgent campaign. Though he's already missed 16 games this season, he looks more spry and is able to use his athleticism on both ends of the court. He's finishing alley-oops, throwing down thunderous dunks, and as such, is also getting to the line more. On defense, Porzingis' feet look lighter on the perimeter this season. This is a welcome sight for Mavs fans because he was seen as a liability on that side of the floor due to his inability to keep in step with quicker players last year.
Luka Doncic is obviously the main engine that drives this Dallas squad. But Kristaps Porzingis will be key in how far the Mavericks will go in the playoffs.
3. Jalen Brunson's breakout season
Another reason for Dallas' turnaround is the emergence of Jalen Brunson. The Mavericks have long been searching for a secondary playmaker they can pair with Luka Doncic in the backcourt. They may have found that guy in the stocky 6-foot-1 guard.
COVID-19 derailed the Mavericks throughout December, with the likes of Doncic, Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Reggie Bullock, and Maxi Kleber entering protocols. Despite being incredibly short-handed, Dallas stayed afloat in the Western Conference. Brunson was one of the guys who stepped up and helped steady the ship.
Doncic missed 10 games from December 12 to 31 due to protocols. During that stretch, Brunson produced All-Star type numbers of 21.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 7.4 assists while shooting 51.3 percent from the field. His play forced Jason Kidd's hand to make the 25-year old the full-time starter alongside Doncic.
Brunson's breakout has given the Mavs another dynamic offensively. Despite being just 6-foot-1, he has a knack of getting inside the shaded area. He's developed a nice stop and turn mid-range jumper in the lane. Likewise, his ability to break the paint gives more space for the Mavericks' shooters to launch from the perimeter.
Jalen Brunson may not be a household name for most NBA fans. But he's definitely taking the right steps in making himself one for the Mavericks this season.