After the Dallas Mavericks managed to post the highest single-season offensive rating (115.9) in NBA history, they decided to focus on improving defensively. The primary element to these efforts was a draft night trade with the Philadelphia 76ers that swapped out Seth Curry for Josh Richardson.
Said Curry recently: “It’s nothing personal. I got a lot of respect for a lot of those guys over there. I just think they made a bad business decision.”
There has now been more than enough of a sample size to make a reasonable determination of how this trade panned out. A "bad business decision''? Well ... The results have been disappointing for the Mavericks.
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Richardson has struggled to fit in the Mavericks' offense while failing to make more than a noticeable impact on the team's defense. A single player isn't going to transform a defense, but it's clear the ceiling of the offense has diminished.
Disparity in Off-the-Catch Impact
One of the main limitations the Mavericks have faced with Richardson has been his lack of execution in spot-up situations, particularly on standstill jumpers. His output of 0.931 points per possession (PPP) when taking no dribble spot-up jumpers ranks 95th among the 100 players in the NBA with at least 100 possessions of this kind.
Teams simply are not respecting Richardson when he's playing off-the-ball and he hasn't made them pay in the slightest. Defenses have applied extra pressure on Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis as a result -- making Richardson a legitimate offensive liability.
The disparity in impact the Mavericks are receiving in spot-up shooting by replacing Curry with Richardson cannot be understated. Last season, Curry produced an incredible 1.357 PPP during no dribble spot-up plays, which topped all of the NBA's 214 players who registered a minimum of 100 of these plays.
The value that Curry provided as an off-the-ball threat went far beyond just catch-and-shoot attempts out of spot-up plays. Being a more dynamic threat than the typical complementary player helped the Mavericks to make the most out of broken plays throughout games.
Curry's presence off-the-ball is a stark contrast from Richardson. In fact, Curry commands so much respect from closing out defenders that his shot fake frequently creates rhythm pull-ups. On top of that, he can create space for himself against defenders that decided to 'stay home.'
Something to take into consideration is Curry's proficiency at getting to the rim when driving off-the-catch. He is a smooth finisher even against pressuring rim protectors in position to pressure his takes. When the paint isn't clear, his floater is a reliable counter when operating within the gaps.
With how layered and efficient Curry is as an off-the-catch threat, it's difficult to come up with a better complementary option to Doncic in the backcourt. Teams simply were unable to ball watch without being exploited and even against principled execution, Curry has more than enough tools in the proverbial tool box to counter aggressive closeouts.
When factoring in all of Curry's intangibles as a scoring threat off-the-catch, it's no wonder he produced a staggering 1.306 PPP in late shot clock situations (5 seconds or less) out of spot-up. Last season, he trailed only Duncan Robinson, Langston Galloway, Furkan Korkmaz, and Aaron Holiday among all 72 players with at least 30 of these possessions.
Curry's Off-Ball Versatility
Perhaps some of the more valuable aspects that Seth Curry provided the Mavericks was his impact as an off-screen shooting threat and in handoffs. These are two areas of lost impact that Dallas hasn't been able to replace quite yet.
Whether using an Iverson cut or a pindown, Curry has a rare ability to shoot off-the-move while needing just a split second of daylight to get his shot off. This resulted in defenses respecting him when moving off-the-ball substantially, which created gaps and vulnerabilities to open up other actions.
Curry is not limited to just being a knockdown perimeter shooter when using off-ball screens. He has an ability to get his shot off within narrow windows either within the gap of the defense in mid-range, or by using shot fakes and pivots after getting downhill.
Josh Richardson simply lacks the shooting impact and general craftiness to be used in a similar manner. Being unable to make a positive impact using off-ball screens makes the Mavericks' half-court offense less layered in their options.
Where Richardson does make a positive impact off-the-ball is when he's involved directly in handoffs. He's often able to get downhill and take advantage of vulnerabilities in the defense for finishes around the basket, but it's nothing special by any stretch.
For the sake of comparison, Curry is also an effective scorer out of handoffs but takes it a few steps further than Richardson. The threat of Curry taking the early three-pointer upon the catch opens up the ability to operate in mid-range and get downhill.
Having a complete off-ball threat like Curry in plug-and-play lineups alongside Doncic helps, but the bench unit suffers the most without it. There aren't a lot of 'go-to' options for a second unit and Curry's involvement in off-ball screening and handoff situations were precisely that throughout games.
Pull-Up Shooting in Pick & Roll
When the game slows down and the Mavericks need a perimeter threat to step up outside of Luka Doncic, Josh Richardson is often unable to deliver. This is primarily due to his inability to consistently convert as a pull-up shooting threat when using ball screens.
Richardson is prompted to take a pull-up jump shot 62.8% of the time he dribbles off a ball screen. This is partly due to defenses adopting drop coverage and having the on-ball defender go over the pick. His output of 0.759 PPP ranks ahead of only John Wall and Anthony Edwards among all 89 NBA players with at least 50 attempts.
This is yet another part of the game where Richardson struggles but Seth Curry is a legitimate asset. In fact, his 2019-20 output of 1.247 PPP on dribble jumpers when coming off a ball screen ranked behind only Damian Lillard and Kyle Lowry when stacked up against all 81 players with at least 75 attempts.
Neither Curry nor Richardson are complete pick-and-roll scoring threats as they each have their own limitations. However, having a player that can knock down pull-ups is a far superior option as opposed to mostly being limited to making a positive impact when getting to the rim.
Lost a Weapon in Transition
When fielding an ideal supporting cast around Luka Doncic, it's important to have players who contribute in transition. His scoring efficiency in fastbreak situations has been underwhelming but he's proficient at finding the open man.
Seth Curry was the most potent option for Doncic to create spray out three-pointers for in the open floor. This wasn't purely because of Curry's ability to convert on catch-and-shoot attempts but also due to his ability to put the ball on the floor and make something happen.
There were times when Curry would provide the Mavericks with a momentum swinging play in transition with his pull-up jumper. These are typically sequences that would need to come from a superstar like Doncic but instead are from a bench player with Curry.
Teams had to dedicate a significant amount of defensive attention to Curry, in general, but particularly when the Mavericks were in early offense situations. When a defender wasn't properly in position for even a moment, Dallas swung the ball to their sharpshooter to take full advantage.
Seth Curry was often a stabilizing presence for the Mavericks' bench unit and thrived alongside Luka Doncic. Whether he was initiating with the ball in his hands, or providing his dynamic off-the-ball impact, his offensive skill-set was one that was vital for Dallas throughout games.
Going from having an elite shooter to one of the NBA's worst is a difficult change to overcome. Especially when considering the defense has gone from allowing 111.2 points per 100 possessions (18th) in 2019-20 to 112.2 (20th) this season.
The gamble on improving defensively has failed and now it's more difficult for Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis to operate within the half-court offensively. Dallas - which could, per coach Rick Carlisle consider a lineup shake-up this week - must decide how they will approach this situation with Josh Richardson before it's too late.
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