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Mavs Stat of the Week: Dallas Crumbling in Crunch Time?

As the Dallas Mavericks progress through the 2021-22 season, picks a weekly stat that tells the story of how the team is performing.

In year one of Jason Kidd as head coach, the Dallas Mavericks find themselves in some familiar territory. 

Although injuries and health and safety protocols continuously rock the NBA landscape, somehow, the Mavericks still find themselves with the fifth seed in the Western Conference standings. 

While some things don't change from season to season—mainly, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis failing to build a consistent rhythm due to injuries—there have been some significant revelations with this season's Mavs, such as their defense ranking fifth in the league. 

In theme with this bizarre NBA season, will pick an interesting stat every week going forward that helps in telling the story of the Mavs’ 2021-22 campaign.

Crumbling in the Clutch: -31.6

In seasons past, the Mavericks fumbled a handful of wins in the final minutes. Dallas didn't excel in the clutch (which is defined as a game that is within five points or fewer with five minutes or less remaining in the game) due to teams doubling Doncic and forcing his less-skilled Mavs teammates to make critical decisions at the end of games. 

Now, with a new coach and a different state of mind regarding team chemistry, the Mavericks once again find themselves fighting for home-court advantage, but they still have some issues in the clutch department. End-of-game scenarios typically haven’t played out in the Mavs’ favor, given that their offense can be mediocre and stagnant at times. 

League-wide, Dallas is as bad as it gets when it comes to net rating in the clutch. Dead-last in the NBA, the Mavericks have a -31.6 clutch net rating, with the Eastern Conference play-in candidate Indiana Pacers next in line. 

What is the reason for a hopeful playoff contender owning such a disheartening stat?

First of all, ignoring the general shaky state of the NBA in the COVID era might be irresponsible. The NBA is undergoing quite the shakeup with teams being forced to offer NBA contracts to guys who would otherwise be on their couches.

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It's hard to expect players without much prep time to excel in the most pressing moments of a game, though. Although the NBA isn't as play-call-heavy as past generations, offensive schemes still exist, and inserting a guy with little to no experience into said systems feels like a recipe for late-game breakdowns—especially when your franchise player has missed a good chunk of games during the first half of this season.

One would think that Luka Doncic, who has been spectacular in his young career, would be a positive in clutch situations for the Mavs, but that hasn’t been the case this season. After posting a +3.9 clutch net rating last season, it’s down to -3.2 this season. 

Due to a number of ankle injuries and having to work himself into game shape, Docnic has yet to reach the version of himself the Mavs need most to climb higher in the West.

Jalen Brunson's ascension into the starting lineup next to Doncic has taken his game to the next level. Aside from the recent blowout loss to New York, the Mavs had been undefeated in 2022 with those two starting together.

Individually, Brunson has, for the most part, been good in clutch situations this season, as he has a +2.9 clutch net rating to show for it. 

Another reason for Dallas’ clutch woes, simply put, is the lackluster three-point percentage. It's hard to win games when you're missing open three-point shots. Whether it’s the new ball or guys just not living up to expectations, it’s a problem that shows up for the Mavs more than it probably should.

Dallas does have a few notable non-clutch victories, for what it’s worth, including recent blowout wins over the Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls. That is certainly one effective way to avoid clutch situations—just simply blowout your opponents.

"Luka Magic" hasn’t appeared as much this season as we’ve become accustomed to, but Doncic has still shown that he can wipe away most of the Mavs’ clutch problems with just one flick of his wrist. This was the case earlier this season when he hit a game-winning three-pointer at the Boston Celtics' expense.

Although the Mavericks' current seeding give the perception of a legitimate postseason contender, it's hard to shake off such a daunting stat. Dallas will need to see more success in the clutch going forward if it hopes to end a decade-long playoff series win drought. 

Check back next week for another ‘Mavs Stat of the Week,’ and stay tuned the rest of this week and beyond for game coverage and updates as we inch closer to the February 10 NBA trade deadline.