The Dallas Mavericks managed to reach the Western Conference finals this season after experiencing first-round exits in consecutive postseason appearances. After advancing further than they have since their 2011 championship run, the focus will now be to build on it and be a perennial contender.
With Luka Doncic at the helm, the Mavericks' half-court offense will always be in good hands. As long as shooters are converting open looks and there is at least one player that can also dribble the basketball on the court, there'll be enough for success.
Where the Mavericks' midseason turnaround after a 16-18 start truly began was on defense coupled with Doncic finding his MVP form and the team's perimeter shooting regressing to the mean. Dallas embraced a defensive identity built on speed and versatility without being anchored by a rim protector.
On Monday, Mavs GM Nico Harrison joined the Ben and Skin Show on 97.1 The Eagle and mentioned one of the team's needs is to add more rim protection.
“We need some rim protection. That’s one thing that we don’t have a lot of on our team. I think that’s the easiest thing to say,” said Harrison.
“Of course, you always want to add more talent, but the thing you have to caution against is we were a really good team. If you look at the parts individually, not a lot stands out, but as a team, together, we were really, really good. We had great culture, we liked each other, we played for each other. All that stuff matters and you don’t want to lose that.”
When identifying what made the Mavericks' defense work in the playoffs, it's clear that having a center that can play close to the level on screens was a key factor in their success against the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns in this year's playoffs. Donovan Mitchell was unable to get to his regular ball screen pull-up 3s while Chris Paul and Devin Booker had a much tougher time getting into short-range gaps.
There was no shortage of games against the Jazz and Suns that featured the Mavericks getting outrebounded. They were willing to concede size in favor of making life difficult on the star players doing what they like to do best. The only problem with that? It doesn't work as well against the Golden State Warriors due to the gravity of Stephen Curry within the half-court.
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Adding a rim protector is a great way for a defense to raise the floor of their impact as a unit throughout the regular season and against most matchups. The Mavericks should undoubtedly look to add a player who fits that mold. However, what truly plagued Dallas in the Western Conference Finals went beyond rim protection.
The Warriors experienced success defensively by overloading the strong side against Doncic, deploying junk schemes (1-2-2 zone, box-and-one), and often sticking Draymond Green on Jalen Brunson as the primary defender. In a unit that's starting Dorian Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock, and Dwight Powell, nobody else can create outside of Doncic and Brunson.
With how often the Mavericks had a more efficient shot profile than the Warriors prior to their letdown performance in Game 5, poor shooting at times played a role. However, had there been a wing that can attack off the bounce alongside Brunson and Doncic, Dallas could have better attacked vulnerable points of the defense.
If the Mavericks find a satisfactory option at the center position, they are going to still need to acquire another wing that can score, defend, and knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers. Bullock and Finney-Smith logged many playoff performances with heavy minutes and had their most taxing matchup as their last one.
When the Utah Jazz were struggling to close the regular season, there was reporting linking the Mavericks to Rudy Gobert — stating they'd be "highly interested" if he were to be available. Since the end of the playoffs, it was reported they are unlikely to pursue an 'all-out trade' for him.
There will be some intriguing rim protection options available for the Mavericks to pursue this offseason. There haven't been specific names linked in terms of established interest, but that could very well change the closer we get to the 2022 NBA Draft.
You can follow Grant Afseth on Twitter at @GrantAfseth
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