After a little more than halfway through the regular season, the Dallas Mavericks reside in the middle of the Western Conference. They rank 17th in Net Rating, 10th in Net eFG%, and 15th in Adjusted ShotQuality. Given the brutal competition though, that feat is more impressive than it sounds.
At 26-24, the Mavericks currently hold the 6th seed; however, their position is extremely precarious. Dallas is 2.5 games back from the 3rd seed but only 2.5 games ahead of the 13th seed. Fortunately, they own the 8th easiest remaining schedule while the majority of their standings neighbors must navigate a difficult remaining schedule.
With the trade deadline arriving soon, what can they do to upgrade the roster? Is it worth sacrificing draft capital when Luka Doncic is about to turn only 24-years-old and in the first year of an extension? Mavericks management must answer these questions and balance the short and long-term, but here is an assessment of the roster and possible routes they could take.
Roster Strengths & Needs
Dallas already accomplished the hardest task: finding a superstar. Luka Doncic (33.3 PPG, 8.4 APG) is an otherworldly scorer who ranks 1st in Overall Shot Creation and 2nd in Overall Shot Making per BBall Index. His eagle-esque court vision and physics-warping passes also crown him as arguably the most impactful teammate shot quality booster in the NBA (although Jokic would raise an eyebrow). With Luka at the helm, the Mavericks will always employ a three-level scoring threat that commands an enormous amount of defensive attention.
Because of his brilliance, Luka justifiably controls possessions and ranks 2nd in Usage Percentage across the NBA. This domination has led to loud criticisms about the lack of self shot creators on the roster, but the problem is overblown. The metrics below via BBall Index capture a player’s ability to create their own shot in certain areas of the court as well as their playmaking and one on one talent.
Luka unsurprisingly received an A+ for category except for the sole off-ball one, but Spencer Dinwiddie may have caused a double take. He’s been exceptional at creating his own shot at every level, playmaking and operating as a catch and shoot three-point threat. Meanwhile, Christian Wood has solid marks across the board along with a fantastic catch and shoot grade. Considering he’s a power forward/center hybrid, the all-around talent is impressive.
Now, shot creators are always welcome, and Dallas would benefit from another one. He doesn’t have to be an All-Star level player like the critics suggest though; a solid starter or bench scorer would alleviate most of the offensive problems because it’s already excellent. They rank 7th in Offensive Rating, 7th in Adjusted ShotQuality, and 3rd in ShotQuality half-court offense. Dallas leads the league at 38.5 open/wide open 3PA per 100 possessions.
The Luka pick and roll already works wonders, so they don’t need to branch off too far from it. The following screening network via NBA CourtOptix displays just how efficient it is. For context, the Brooklyn Nets lead the NBA at 1.068 points per possession (PPP).
All of this is to say that the offensive foundation of Doncic-Dinwiddie-Wood remains firmly cemented. Adding a couple pieces is assuredly wise, but nothing radical needs to be done.
The defense? That’s a different story. Dallas ranks 25th in Defensive Rating, 20th in Adjusted Defensive ShotQuality, and 19th in ShotQuality half-court defense. Opponents are getting dribble penetration too easily which requires a tsunami of rotations that must be timed perfectly. This level of precision is difficult to replicate every possession, so defensive miscues often plague teams that don’t defend the point of attack well.
While it’s essential the Mavericks find defensive upgrades, it’s not all bad. Christian Wood’s rim protection is evolving, Dorian Finney-Smith can adequately take the toughest assignment, Maxi Kleber is an all-around defender, and Josh Green’s growth cannot be ignored. However, perimeter defense and another bigger forward are absolute needs at the deadline and beyond.
Salary Cap & Assets
Every team has wants, but not every team has the means. Dallas’ salary cap situation is messy, and that’s before considering the fact that Christian Wood’s new deal is a priority this off-season. Their core isn’t the main problem though; they have a ton of money tied up with role players. Tim Hardaway Jr, Davis Bertans, and JaVale McGee will earn a combined $40,632,008 next season, or 30.3% of the projected 2023-24 salary cap. Factor in Maxi Kleber and Reggie Bullock and that jumps to 46.3%.
Dallas won’t be able to sign any significant free agents as a result, so a trade or the draft is the only way to acquire talent. Fortunately, the only first rounder they don’t have is their 2023. Given that they will be out of the lottery every year Luka’s on the roster, it won’t be easy to consistently find premium players though. Picks always hold inherent value as a bargaining chip, so Dallas may gain more from trading them rather than waiting to use them. Because of the Stepien and Seven Year Rule, the Mavericks could at most trade three first rounders at the deadline: their 2025, 2027, and 2029.
As for players, Josh Green and rookie Jaden Hardy are tantalizing young assets. Beyond them, the cupboard is bare. Dallas has assets to utilize, but they don’t have the capability to go after an All-NBA caliber player at their leisure like Oklahoma City or Orlando.
Internal Development, Potential Trades, and Off-Season Moves
Before diving into possible trades, the internal development path needs to be explored. 22-year-old Josh Green (6’6”, 6’10” wingspan) is a hyper-athletic wing stopper who plays defense with energy and pride. Per BBall Index, he’s thriving at the key pillars of perimeter defense.
Green adds a much-needed defensive presence to the lineup, and his defense will only improve through more experience. He won’t sacrifice on the offensive end either. Green is a terror in transition, and he’s shooting 45.5% on 2.2 3PA per game. As for on-ball offense, the one-handed sling passes are becoming legendary, and his court vision is promising. Dallas is only giving him 21.6 MPG, but Green may force them to surrender more minutes due to his two-way skills. It’s likely the Mavericks have an all-around young weapon in Green to pair with Luka for years.
Their bench scoring solution may already be on the roster too. Rookie Jaden Hardy hasn’t had consistent minutes, but he’s flashed immense potential. Here’s a section from my scouting report on him before the draft:
- “Hardy is a 6’4” isolation scorer with a smooth jump shot. His tight handles allow him to create space quickly, and he can leverage this with a step-back jumper. Hardy can run the pick and roll, and opponents must go over the screen every time. He can hit three-pointers off the dribble, but he is also a catch and shoot threat off-ball. His passing is decent, so opponents must respect his playmaking. As a rookie, Hardy should come into the NBA as a microwave scorer and contribute immediately.”
If anything, I am now more convinced about his potential as a longtime scorer. He will need a couple of seasons to refine his game, but Dallas got an absolute steal at the draft.
While Green and Hardy show promise, they definitely fall under the long-term route and won’t fix Dallas’ issues this season. Green will certainly help, but they need another solid defender now. What are the available cheap options (no 1st, Hardy, Green involved in trade)? The Knicks are actively shopping Cam Reddish for a pair of second rounders. The Lakers are looking to move Patrick Beverley, and Grayson Allen is on the block for Milwaukee.
Of the three, Reddish is certainly the most intriguing. He’s a free agent after this season though, so Dallas may not want to deal with that headache. Plus, the Mavericks already traded their 2023, 2024, 2026, and 2028 2nd rounders. Reddish isn’t worth adding two more casualties to that list.
An ideal target would be Caleb Martin. The 6’6” forward owns a 38 3PT% and ranks 14th in NBA CourtOptix’s Average On-Ball Pressure Score. His positional versatility also complements Dallas well, and Miami is using him as bait in the trade waters. Tim Hardaway Jr has been linked to the Heat, but the Mavericks would probably have to acquire Duncan Robinson for salary matching purposes. Considering I graded him as the second worst contract in the NBA, the upgrade Martin provides wouldn’t be worth the salary hit.
One possible attempt is to trade Davis Bertans for Beverley. The Lakers desperately need three-point shooting, and Bertans is a career 39.8 3PT% shooter at 38.4 3PT% this season. Beverley brings solid defense, but the big win would be removing Bertans’ horrific remaining salary. It’s unlikely the Mavericks can hoodwink the Lakers to this degree, but desperation breeds unsound decisions.
As for a massive move, the Mavericks could pursue OG Anunoby, who is signed for about eighteen million next season before he assuredly declines his player option for the following year. Anunoby’s lockdown defense and defensive versatility fills Dallas’ needs, and he can give them 16-20 points every night on efficient shooting. Toronto reportedly wants three first round picks, but a framework could be Hardaway Jr, 2025 1st, and 2027 1st for Anunoby.
The Raptors acquire a much-needed shooting guard that allows them to trade Gary Trent Jr for even more assets along with two first rounders. Meanwhile, the Mavericks fix their biggest issue. A lineup of Doncic, Dinwiddie, Anunoby, Finney-Smith, Wood has the ability to match up with anybody. Another 1st rounder or Jaden Hardy added may be a sticking point for Toronto though, and trade talks would likely center on this addition.
“I think there’s a belief that Toronto could get as many as 3 first-round picks in a deal for O.G. Anunoby if they decided to move him.”
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) January 27, 2023
Overall, whether the Mavericks stand pat, make a marginal move, or trade multiple first rounders, they need to consider long-term ramifications. Again, Luka is about to turn 24-years-old and not even in his prime. The contract alarm sirens remain far away as he’s signed for three more seasons before his player option.
Therefore, the worst possible outcome right now is rushing contention and destroying any semblance of future assets. While standing pat or simply clearing salary isn’t the attractive option for fans, it is highly likely to be their best option this deadline. If I’m still writing that sentence in 2025, then that’s a problem. However, there is too much time to be irrationally hasty in 2023.