October 15, 2018

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After a few seasons spent failing to lure a top flight free agent following the immediate disassembly of the 2011 NBA championship team, cycling through a myriad of mid-priced role players, the Dallas Mavericks took a calculated risk and sacrificed some of its assets to acquire Rajon Rondo.

At the time of the trade, the Dallas Mavericks were on pace to put up the most efficient offense in NBA history, per ESPN’s Stats & Info:

The thought process was, while Rondo might hamper the team’s overall spacing, any boost to one of the NBA’s most porous defenses and Rondo’s penchant for individual brilliance in big moments would hopefully offset it. Perhaps because the Mavericks’ offense seemed so diverse and thrived amid so many lineup combinations, the fragility of the ecosystem established by Rick Carlisle’s flow offense and Dirk Nowitzki went overlooked.

Prior to the trade, Bobby Karalla described the Maverick’s offense thusly:

“That’s the beauty of Carlisle’s flow offense. There’s no rule stating “you must pass here, then run there, set a screen, run to the corner, and wait for the pass.” Everything that happens depends first on the defense, and next on the five-man group’s own tendencies. And, lucky for him, he has the depth and quality to execute such a system. As the numbers suggest, that decision-making process seems almost impossibly random across an individual game, too random to prepare for…

…The individual styles of each unit make the task of preparing for Dallas a mighty challenge. The Mavericks offense has already solved defenses so many different ways this season, and one would have to imagine that as time goes on that list will only grow longer. And while we know that, sooner or later, an elite defensive team could very well prove this Mavericks team to be mortal, we already know that Dallas is not a machine to begin with. It’s the unpredictability, uniqueness, and quirkiness in general that make the Mavs so watchable.”

At its peak, the Maverick’s offense works to play a defense like an accordion; expanding and contracting as it chases the ball all over the court. Rondo is very much a station-to-station point guard that likes to operate like a coach on the floor, controlling the action and looking for advantages that might spring a quick-hitting assist.

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Because the roster was bereft of individual scoring talent outside of Nowitzki, moving away from the decentralized power structures crashed the team’s efficiency and Rondo was ultimately banished mid-playoffs and exiled to Sacramento this summer.

Recently, Coach Nick caught up with Mavericks assistant coach Kaleb Canales, discussing the Mavericks’ offense and what the team will need to do to make another playoff push:

 “We’re a team that, we trust the pass and we play out of our flow offense,” Canales said. “We want guys making quick decisions with quick reads, having an attacking mindset at all times.”

The whirling, frenetic bundle of moving parts that is the Mavericks’ offense can seem complicated looking on from the outside. In truth, the strengths of offense lie in a simple, unified mindset rather than complex actions.

“What we really emphasize every day is getting into the paint. We want to share the ball, we want to move the ball,” Canales said. “Our biggest point of emphasis is sharing the basketball and trusting the pass and trusting each other.”

The Mavericks play through the pass, and after another summer failing to land a marquee free agent once the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan infamously reneged on a verbal agreement, a depleted Mavericks roster will rely heavily on generating shots through Carlisle’s mad chemist lineup combinations and adherence to the system.

Though aging, Dirk Nowtizki still commands enough attention from entire defenses to provide any point guard coming off his screens access to the middle of the floor as Nowitzki’s pops out:

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The questions facing the Mavericks this year are whether Deron Williams has enough burst left to leverage that advantage in the same manner Monta Ellis so successfully did, and whether the departure of Tyson Chandler to the Phoenix Suns leaves a gaping hole in the Mavericks’ secondary pick and rolls, where Chandler’s ability to dive hard to the rim collapsed defense and opened up the weak side of the floor for quick ball reversals, distorting defenses.

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Dallas is in a precarious position in the Western Conference, having—on paper—downgraded its roster while other teams continue to rise up to challenge for the eighth and seventh seeds. But there’s still Nowitzki and a brilliant coaching staff, and the interview with Canales is worth your time if only to be reminded of the tenets of the NBA’s best offense over the first half of last season. You in?

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