Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle can be like a mad chemist at times. There's always been a certain level of brilliance with how he can get the most out of his players, even if takes him a little while to perfect the formula, and even if some of the 'experiments' make you scratch your head. The man is a smart, future Hall-of-Fame coach, and he's earned the benefit of the doubt for now (and maybe forever!), especially given the Mavs' lack of overall talent over the last three seasons.
Through three games, the Dallas Mavericks have had three different starting lineups. In the season-opening win against the Washington Wizards, Dallas rolled out Luka Doncic, Courtney Lee, Delon Wright, Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber as its starting five. That particular five-man lineup played 11 minutes in that first game, and only scored just 18 points on 30-percent shooting from the field and 22-percent from deep, and having a negative-6 in the box plus-minus (meaning the lineup was outscored by that many points while on the floor together). That experiment didn't go the way Carlisle had hoped, and as a result, we haven't seen that combination of players together since.
In the Mavs' second game of the season in New Orleans, Carlisle made his first tweak by plugging in second-year man Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith into the starting lineup in favor of Wright and Kleber. The results weren't great, as the Mavs were outscored 41-27 by the Pelicans in the first quarter. That five-man lineup put up 13 points in six minutes, which is respectable, but it was also a negative-9 in the box plus-minus. So, at least defensively, that one didn't work, either.
Again, that wasn't the formula Carlisle was looking for, and it wasn't used again in the third game of the season.
Although the Mavs ultimately lost their game against Portland, they got off to a much better start, outscoring the Blazers 17-7 in the first four minutes of the first quarter. The starting lineup of Doncic-Brunson-Wright-Porzingis-Kleber has only been used once so far, but it has seen the floor in two of the three games, putting up 51 points in 21 minutes together, while shooting 46-percent from the field, 21-percent from deep and being a negative-5 in the box plus-minus.
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As the Mavs enter their fourth game of the season tonight at the Denver Nuggets (GAMEDAY preview here), don't be surprised to see yet another different starting lineup, as Carlisle continues to search for the right combination.
One thing that plays a big factor in these experiments: the absence of Dwight Powell, who signed an extension with the Mavs over the offseason and projects to be a full-time starter, once he returns from a strained hamstring. Powell, although not the most talented player on the roster, could be the missing piece in Carlisle's lineup concoctions, as he seems to be an excellent front-court fit with Porzingis on paper.
Carlisle knows what he's doing, but if we were able to make a suggestion, we could highly recommend his next experiment involve Seth Curry as a starter. We've been talking about five-man lineups up to this point, but with Powell not yet available, let's take a look at what a four-man lineup looks like with the players we'd want to be starting alongside Powell.
Although this combination of players has only been used for 3 minutes of action so far, the four-man lineup of Doncic-Curry-Wright-Porzingis put up 16 points on 71-percent shooting from the field and was a plus-14 in the box plus-minus. Again, all of that in just three minutes of play together. If you get anything close to that kind of efficiency and effective going forward, especially when you factor in Powell's return, that could very well be your starting lineup for the majority of this Mavs season.
One thing is for certain -- Carlisle isn't going to quit juggling beakers and flasks until he gets this thing right. He has all the ingredients he needs to make something great. As with most great creations, though, it will take some trial-and-error to get there.