Mavs Roundtable: Midseason Grades from 'Teacher's Pet' to 'Flunking Out'

Dalton Trigg

We've officially crossed the halfway point of the 2019-2020 NBA season, and the Dallas Mavericks (27-15) not only have a very strong chance of making the playoffs for the first time in three years, but they might also be just one piece away from becoming true title contenders as well. Our DallasBasketball.com staff - consider us "The School Board'' - gathered this week in the principal's office to give out their personal mid-season midseason grades for the Mavs.

Mike Fisher (@fishsports): Grades for an NBA team are as tricky as they are in real life. Do we grade on a curve? Do we grade based on expectations? Do we play “teacher’s pet” with the pupil who brings us an apple via a behind-the-back alley-oop pass?

HEAD OF THE CLASS: The highest individual grade is the easiest call not only on this team but also in this league. Use any standard you prefer to judge second-year supernova Luka Doncic:

*Coming into his second NBA season, expectations for the defending Rookie of the Year were sky-high - and he’s exceeded them.

*Or, forget expectations. Grade on a curve. Luka is undeniably on the Giannis/LeBron-led short list of “best players in the world.”

We can pick at a missed-free-throw-fest or a ripped-jersey tantrum, but do you really dock Shakespeare a grade point because he forgot to put an ‘I’?

What’s cool about Luka, as I hand him his A+, is that his self-demands mean he might be the only guy in basketball who doesn’t think he deserves it.

STUDY HALL: I hate to go all “bad teacher” on Kristaps Porzingis, but ... if a kid calls in with too many sick days, he can’t pass, right?

THE WHOLE CLASS: For coach Rick Carlisle to have engineered Dallas’ way to a 52-win pace earns the Mavs an A ... and should get the masterful Carlisle some votes as Coach of the Year..., er, “Teacher of the Year.”

Dalton Trigg (@dalton_trigg): Individually, Luka Doncic gets the highest grade for any Dallas Maverick in the first half of this season with an A+ (Tim Hardaway Jr. gets a shoutout here as having the second-highest Mavs grade with an A). Doncic is still just 20 years old and averaging 28.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game. He leads the league with 12 triple-doubles, which is also the most recorded by a Maverick in a single season. On a handful of occasions this season, Doncic hasn't even had to play in the fourth quarter of games due him being able to put his opponents away early. 

He's just a completely unprecedented, unique All-NBA talent that we're all very fortunate to have in Mavs uniform. If he keeps up this pace, he'll be considered for MVP at the end of this season.

I'm going to go a different direction from Fish in the 'underachiever' category. Despite Porzingis missing a handful of games due to what the Mavs have called 'right knee soreness,' he's still done enough in his time on the court to warrant a passing grade (I'd give him a B-). He's bought in to being the Mavs' second-best player and doing the dirty. Now he just has to get healthy again.

Jalen Brunson doesn't receive a failing grade (I'll be generous and give him a C+ here), but he definitely didn't finish out the semester in a strong way, either. Over Brunson's last 10 games, he's averaged just 4.7 points per game (nearly half of his overall season average) on 36.5-percent shooting from the field and 20.0-percent from deep. Brunson has shown us flashes of what he could become, which is a really good backup point guard in the NBA, but his consistency will have to improve for him to get there. Perhaps some extra tutoring from J.J. Barea is needed.

OVERALL: I'm giving the Mavs an A for their halfway-point results, and the only reason it's not an A+ is because of the close games they've let slip away. As good as the Mavs have been, they can be even better by cleaning up their own mistakes.

Matt Galatzan (@MattGalatzan): Even with their dip in performance over the past month, this team is far ahead of where anyone thought they would be. Have they been perfect? No. But, the offense has been historic, and the defense is just good enough. This team is, barring complete disaster, basically a lock for the postseason. The crazy thing is, this team hasn’t even come close to reaching its potential with Luka and KP. Once that happens, things could get very precarious for the rest of the NBA. Grade: A -

VALDICTORIAN?: Even with the massive steps forward, naming Doncic as the ‘valedictorian' is kind of the cheap way out, right? So for the sake of variety, I’m going to say, Tim Hardaway Jr. I was way off on what Hardaway was going to bring to this team. In fact, I thought he would be another version of Wes Matthews. Instead, he has been this team’s Michael Finley, hitting career bests in three-point percentage at 39.1 percent, and effective field goal percentage at 54.7 percent, while scoring a healthy 14.4 points per game. He has got to be a serious candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Grade: A

Jalen Brunson has been my biggest disappointment thus far. I never thought he’d take a bigger step forward than Luka, but I didn’t think he would regress, either. He constantly makes bad decisions with the ball, especially in critical moments, and has become more of a liability than anything else when he is in the game. Maybe that’s harsh, but I would hope the Mavs are considering him as a potential trade asset moving forward. Grade: C-

Steven Kilpatrick (@TheMadSpin): I feel like grading the Mavericks' first 41 games is a lot like grading one of the college exams I used to administer. The first 43 minutes of the game are multiple-choice, and the last five minutes are the essay question. 

The Mavericks are nailing the multiple-choice section. They’re well-prepared, they have a depth of knowledge, and when the game is a little easier they recognize where to go with the ball, they know when to shoot, and they’re more at ease. That’s also when the Mavericks have that blistering best-in-history offensive rating, and any deficiencies on defense barely matter.

Unfortunately, the essay question is worth 20 percent of the final grade. When the Mavericks get into crunch time they’re not always as ready. Their league-best offense plummets to the bottom of the rankings. They suddenly turn the ball over. They can’t always figure out how to deal with a full-court-press or traps. Worst of all, they lose focus on the free-throw line. Suddenly, when the offense goes cold, their lackluster defensive efforts are exposed and scores get tight, with leads sometimes vanishing altogether.

If I only had to grade the Mavericks on beating expectations, I’d give them an A. If I only had to grade the Mavericks for their offensive rating (especially the multiple-choice section) I’d give them an A+. With all the injuries, if the Mavericks came to see me during office hours, I might even give them an incomplete. The problem is that damned essay section, that crunch-time inconsistency, as it really drags their grade down. I still give the Dallas Mavericks a B-plus for the first half of the season, and it’s near the tipping point of an A-minus. Luka has been even better than I expected, Tim Hardaway Jr. is playing so well that he doesn’t even seem overpaid these days, and the Mavericks are on pace to win over 50 games. B-plus, with plenty of time left in the semester to get their grade up.

I agree with Matt, that picking Luka is the easy way out, but Tim Hardaway Jr. is the only guy I can think of to replace him with, and Matt did that already, so I'll go Luka for the double double-cross answer. He leads the NBA with 12 triple-doubles, he's getting MVP respect from guys like Dame Lillard and "love-him'' props from Carmelo Anthony, he's top-three in both assists and points, and he's 16th in rebounding this season (tied with DeAndre Jordan, who is only good at rebounding). When Luka scores fewer than 25 points it feels weird. If Luka was more consistent at the free-throw line he'd have a perfect score, but he's still got a solid A+.

Jalen Brunson is also starting to disappoint me. It feels like his flaws in crunch time, especially while Luka was out, actually broke some unholy seal that exposed those flaws across the team. He's supposed to be the savvy NCAA Player of the Year that could. The OTHER guy on this team that's wise beyond his years. Yet, he can't handle the full-court press, he struggles with late-clock decision making, he doesn't always know when to drive into the lane, and his body language is getting worse and worse. The other day he managed to foul out of a game in ten minutes and it seemed like he didn't want to be there in the first place. Still, he wasn't supposed to be this important, so maybe Delon Wright failing to make the leap is a bigger disappointment. Based on the circumstance I'll bump Jalen to a C+.

TJ Macías (@Pocket_Siren): This season has been about bypassing every single expectation both the fanbase and the media had about the Mavericks going into this particular season by, oh, a whole LOT. 

While we all expected Luka Doncic to thrive in his sophomore year, we could have never foreseen a Peter Pan predator missile in the form of a 20-year old man-child. I mean, are you kidding me? It’s not even fair to the rest of the league, especially to those poor meretricious franchises who passed up on the guy, since some are still not over the move (not naming names…) and are flamboyantly falling apart before our very eyes.

Anywho… oh yeah, grades.

As a whole, I would give the team a B. That’s right, I said it. During Friday’s 120-112 win against Portland, we finally saw the Mavs thrive in the clutch, which hasn’t been one of their strong attributes this season so far. If you’re feeling rather reckless and head over to Mavs Twitter during the fourth quarter, you’re usually blessed with an array of fans who are clinching their behinds so hard, coal can be heard turning into diamonds. But they finally pulled it together during the Portland win, which helped ease Twitter frustrations.

Has their offense been a bombastic deadly weapon this season? Hell yeah, it has. But the losing of close games has to be rectified in order to soothe minds. And that means more wins like the one against Portland.

The highest grade of the class goes to Tim Hardaway Jr., who is scoring 14.4 points per game and is defying all expectations. A, my friend. Big A.

Lowest grade goes to bad knees and tight-lipped mouths. Everyone is eagerly awaiting the return of Kristaps Porzingis and this lack of verbal confirmation from anyone in the organization is alarming, to say the least. They keep being vague with fans in regard to his return (“he’s playing tonight!” and “We lied, lol he’s scratched”) and it’s leaving everyone frustrated. "An Unidentified Glitch''? What? What’s lower than an F-? A zero? Knock it off and ease everyone’s fears.

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