I hated the Mavs’ hiring of noted wife-beater and all-around jackass Jason Kidd this past offseason. I’ve never understood the team’s utter devotion to lifelong role players like Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, and Dwight Powell. They’re all nice players, but I’m not sure any of them would have survived this long on another roster. I winced at the return the front office collected for Kristaps Porzingis, even though I understood they had to shed that contract.
To me and many other roundball diehards, Dallas looked like a permanently middling team wasting the prime years of a bona fide star. I was wrong on all of those accounts. At least for now. I don’t know if this team is championship caliber, but I’m done doubting them.
After winning three notable games in row (including two against Golden State!), the Mavs are showing that “it” factor that sports nerds like me hate to discuss. I can’t quantify it. There’s no stat outside of Luka’s amazing play of late that I can point toward and say, “See? This is what the team is doing differently or better.”
I’ve made a list of the many ways I was wrong about this team.
- The Mavs are capable of playing long stretches of suffocating defense. The fact that they do so without a real defensive stud — like the 2011 championship squad boasted in Tyson Chandler and Deshawn Stevenson — is all the more impressive. Kidd has made the difference. This team scrambles, dives all over the floor, irritates opponents, and generally out-hustles other professional basketball players on a nightly basis. The boys in blue rarely showed this kind of consistent effort under Rick Carlisle.
- Finney-Smith is a legit starting-level 3-and-D guy. If you watched him as a rookie, when his playing style was that of a scared puppy trapped in a busy intersection, you’d be forgiven for doubting he’d ever become a decent rotational guy, let alone a really good starter. And yet, here we are. He keeps being awesome on both ends of the floor. The front office has desperately searched for a stud wing, acquiring guys like Reggie Bullock, Joshes Green, and Richardson. Like the romantic turn of a John Hughes movie, the honchos were so busy chasing a wing, they almost overlooked the one who was here all along.
- Maxi Kleber has always had value on the defensive end of the floor, and his 3-point shot has steadily improved over time — with the notable exception of last season while he was coming back from injury and COVID. The big German isn’t as consistent as we’d like, but his effort is. I think most MFFLs assumed he’d be packaged in a trade for some pie-in-the-sky all-star. I’m happy sticking with a high-motor player who takes on the opposing team’s best player, drains 3s at a reasonable clip, and doesn’t eat up a significant amount of cap space. Guys like that are valuable, and I don’t know why people like me are so anxious to ship him off in a trade.
- If this team had a mascot — a real one, not the cartoon horse I find myself wishing they’d melt down for cartoon glue — it would have to be Dwight Mother-Fucking Powell. He’s a basketball kamikaze who lives above the rim. Just look at the giant knot on his head from Thursday evening. That amount of blunt force would have taken down a charging rhino. Powell didn’t even come out of the game. In addition to throwing his body around like he’s in a Warped Tour mosh pit, Powell is consistently good for a few hustle rebounds, at least one highlight-reel dunk, and a whole lot of high fives from the bench. Even during his best-ever year as a pro, dude doesn’t complain about minutes. I wish his cap hit was smaller, but what’s the going rate for a human shield who can levitate toward the rim, anyway?
- After a period of numbness in the wake of the KP trade, I’ve gone from kind-of-sad-but-grudgingly-accepting of Spencer Dinwiddie to downright sports-horny about what he can add to the roster. He brings more #swag to the floor than anyone not named Luka. Since he joined the team — and escaped the NBA purgatory of D.C. — the Mavericks have won five of six games (as of this writing), including victories over the Heat, Lakers, and twice over Golden State. He’s been efficient and unselfish. At least over a very small sample size, he’s proven to be a player who knows when to lead and follow.
Dinwiddie has been the perfect complement to Luka — as has Kidd and the team’s other suddenly awesome role players. Crow never tasted so sweet.