Dallas Mavericks: Why Dennis Smith Jr. will revolutionize the offense

Photo by Brian Babineau/Getty Images
Photo by Brian Babineau/Getty Images /

The Dallas Mavericks have always been an offensive juggernaut under Rick Carlisle, and Dennis Smith Jr. can help them get their offense back to its best.

No team is receiving less hype than the Dallas Mavericks entering the 2017-18 season, as many do not think they have a chance at making the postseason, and many do not see them as a so called “League Pass team.”

On the surface this makes a lot of sense, as Dallas is essentially rolling out a roster of misfits, praying with all their heart that they can give Dirk Nowitzki the send-off that he deserves.

However, many are overlooking the impact that Dennis Smith Jr. will have from day one, as he brings an athleticism that has been lacking in Rick Carlisle’s pick-and-roll offense for a long time. It is for this reason, that the Mavericks offense will be more complete this season, and they will be an exciting watch that will earn League Pass viewers as the season progresses.

It is rare for a rookie to have such a high impact on the offensive side of the floor from day one, but Smith looks set to break this trend, purely because he is walking into a great situation. Rick Carlisle’s offense is by no means a simple system, but some of the core concepts are ones that he will be able to adapt to straight away.

Rick Carlisle teams have generally ranked high in drives per game, as the Mavericks were in the top 10 in both the 2014-15 and the 2015-16 campaign, but he had to forcefully retract some of these concepts last year as he did not have many players who were effective on downhill plays.

Dallas dropped to 21st in drives per game, and they essentially switched to an offense that was purely a playbook system, as their point guards were better distributors in set plays than they were in freelance concepts.

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  • Dallas not only abandoned drives last year, but they were poor on the rare occasions they did drive to the basket. Their field goal percentage out of drives was 46.4 percent, which was good for 21st in the NBA. Harrison Barnes was the only decent high volume finisher in traffic for the Mavericks as he finished at 49 percent on drives, which was around the median in the NBA among qualified players.

    The point guards mostly struggled, however, as Yogi Ferrell and J.J. Barea both ranked in the 60s out of 88 qualified players. Dallas’ offense last year was essentially broken, and not fit to function, which saw the team post their lowest offensive efficiency placing in the Rick Carlisle era.

    Dennis Smith has a lot of learning to do, but at minimum, he is going to be efficient on drives for the Mavericks, and he should allow their offense to step out of the dark corner it is currently placed in. Smith almost plays with an arrogance when he is driving to the basket, and this fearlessness and downhill speed should help the rest of the Mavericks players go back to being off-the-ball threats, which is where they are at their best.

    Smith’s ability as a driver will help Nerlens Noel, who posted mixed offensive results after joining the team from the Philadelphia 76ers. Noel was expected to be the lob-catching machine that Tyson Chandler was and that DeAndre Jordan would have been, but he was stunted by the fact that Dallas could not consistently get teams to commit to stopping their drive game, as it was not efficient enough to justify sending help defense. In theory, Smith should change this whether he is starting or playing off the bench.

    Many of Dallas’ plays simply broke down last year because they did not have a difference-maker in one-on-one situations on the perimeter. One of the Mavs’ go-to actions towards the end of the shot clock is running a 1-4 formation and having the point guard attack, but the likes of Devin Harris and Yogi Ferrell struggled to exploit the space they were given, as you can see below.

    The Mavericks fanbase never really warmed to Monta Ellis, but he was a good fit in Rick Carlisle’s offense, and his ability as a driver was never really replaced. The likes of Deron Williams and Devin Harris did a lot of the distributing work in Carlisle’s offense, but the lack of consistency in attacking the basket is why Dallas no longer has a top tier offense.

    Dallas was second in the NBA in total drives attempted in Ellis’ lone season there, it was top 10 in field goal percentage, and Ellis himself ranked highly in driving efficiency amongst players who were regularly attempting drives.

    Smith isn’t going to be perfect from day one, but his presence on the roster will immediately allow Rick Carlisle to return to the concepts that saw Dallas lead the league as an offensive juggernaut for nearly a decade. He is the early favorite for Rookie of the Year, purely because he is going to get a lot of volume, and Carlisle already has a clear plan of how to use him. Most of the other rookies will suffer growing pains purely because their coaches don’t already have a clear system in place, but Smith will really just walk into a team whose concepts he already fits.

    Dallas’ set plays are amongst the best in the NBA, but when they had to switch to freelance concepts, they struggled due to a lack of speed and the lack of a difference-maker. Smith seems to be confident enough to be able to lead this team from day one, and he should quickly take the starting job from Yogi Ferrell or Devin Harris.

    Smith will also immediately transform the Mavs’ transition offense, as they were dead last in fast break points per game last season. The Mavericks have a lot of good 3-point shooters, and the threat of Dirk as a trailing big in transition could be unlocked by the pure directness and speed that Dennis Smith possesses.

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    In my current projections I have Dallas finishing in the 11th spot in the Western Conference, but they will not be far off making the playoffs if Dennis Smith lives up to his billing. At minimum, he will allow Dallas to be a more aggressive offense, and this frees up Yogi Ferrell to do more of his work off-the-ball, which could be a blessing in disguise.