Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 6, 2022

The Dallas Mavericks should try a new approach

By JOSH FELTON | November 16, 2022

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ERIK DROST / CC BY 2.0

It might be time for the Dallas Mavericks to play a different offensive style.

Ahead of last Friday’s game against the Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd expressed some concern about star player Luka Doncic's heavy workload to start the season. 

Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks have been spectacular to start this season. Doncic is averaging over 30 points, eight rebounds and eight assists to start the season. He is posting video-game numbers to start the year; however Kidd admitted there are legitimate areas of concern that should make us all wonder how sustainable Doncic’s style of play is and whether it can lead to a championship.

After last year’s Western Conference Finals appearance, the Dallas Mavericks added quality players to their roster, establishing them as legitimate championship contenders. However, there remain concerns from myself and others that this extreme style of heliocentrism is not sustainable long-term and is not a reliable championship offensive system.

Heliocentrism, besides being an astrology term, is an offense that is centered around one singular player. It takes a certain level of talent to be the engine of such an offense. In the modern National Basketball Association (NBA), James Harden, Trae Young and Doncic are the poster children for this system. Although it certainly is not abnormal to have a star player be such a big focal point of an offense, the time these players spend with the ball in their hands makes them anomalies compared to other heliocentric players.

Doncic is known for posting triple-doubles and having very inflated stats. It is easy to look at a box score and conclude that he is the best player in the game; however, his impact metrics are what create a lot of uncertainty for me. Since the Mavericks' offense is orchestrated entirely through him, he generates huge numbers that have outpaced his actual on-court impact.

This season, the Dallas Mavericks have been outscored by 1.60 points per 100 possessions without Doncic on the court. This certainly isn’t ideal, but this number is average for most championship contenders when their best player leaves the court. However with Doncic on the court, the Mavericks are only outscoring teams by three points per 100 possessions, according to PBP Stats

This four-point net swing pales in comparison to guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry, who are all raising their team's offenses to greater heights while their teams are struggling even worse than the Mavericks are without their best player.

Doncic’s regular season plus-minus numbers are fairly pedestrian, given how much he monopolizes the ball. Kobe Bryant repeated the same sentiment about Harden’s playstyle during the 2019 season, saying that it wasn’t a system that could win championships. It was during this year that Harden set a record for most consecutive 30-point games in the modern era with 32. Before the streak was snapped against the Orlando Magic last week, Doncic had posted a 30-point game in nine consecutive games.

Both of these guys have monopolized the ball at rates we have almost never seen before. According to BBall Index, Doncic has had three seasons that rank top 15 all-time in total offensive load since 2014. He has been in the NBA for only five years. Trae Young and James Harden also own a combined six of those 15 seasons. 

No player has ever won an NBA championship with an offensive load over 60. Doncic has multiple seasons over 60. No player in NBA history has ever won a championship with a ball dominance percentage greater than 45. Doncic has been over 50 the last three seasons.

The two historical anomalies to this have been Lebron James and Giannis Antetekuompo. There's a reason for that. For one, James is one of the best offensive engines in NBA history, providing both all-time scoring efficiency and playmaking for teammates. Antetekuompo is providing generational defensive impact, the likes of which we haven’t seen in almost 20 years. Unlike the other ball-dominant engines of this era, both James and Antetekuompo provided two-way value despite carrying such a heavy load. 

Given that this heavy style of heliocentrism is such an anomaly, Kidd knows that Doncic needs to play more off-ball for the Mavericks to be more effective. Doncic will likely never be the impact-level defender of James or Antetekuompo, which is okay because he doesn’t have to for this team to win.

Curry is another one of the greatest offensive engines in NBA history. What makes him unique is his portability, which is the ability to maintain his value in any and every offensive system. Curry can play a ball-dominant role, which he did in 2015 and 2021, or play off-ball like he did in 2016 and 2017. In all of these seasons, Curry produced historical offensive numbers, and the Warriors were able to finish near the top of the league in offensive efficiency in all of these seasons.

Doncic will likely have to play a role like this in the future. Not only is this safer on his body long-term, but it will make the Mavericks less predictable on offense. If proven effective, this change in offensive philosophy could raise their ceiling from championship contenders to championship favorites.

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