Less than 48 hours after he reportedly asked for a trade, the Brooklyn Nets found a new home for Kyrie Irving, sending him and Markieff Morris to Dallas in exchange for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and some future Draft picks.
In Brooklyn, Irving was half of one of the best offensive duos in the league. And in Dallas, he’ll be that too. How will it work with Irving and Luka Doncic in the same offense? Here are some notes, numbers and film on the new Mavs.
1. My turn, your turn
If Doncic and Irving never really play off each other, the Mavs will still be terrific offensively. These are two guys who are just fine playing one-on-one. Among 35 players with at least 100 isolation possessions this season, Irving (1.28 points per possession) and Doncic (1.16) rank first and fourth in isolation efficiency, and Irving’s mark would be the highest for any player (with at least 100 possessions) in 19 seasons of Synergy tracking. His 54.4% on pull-up 2-pointers ranks second (behind Kevin Durant) among 68 players who’ve attempted at least 100.
Doncic has been assisted on just 12.1% of his field goals, the lowest mark of his career and the second-lowest mark for any player in the 27 seasons of play-by-play data.
Lowest percentage of field goals assisted, since 1996-97
Minimum 200 FGM
Both guys can create space to get themselves open looks from the perimeter …
Irving has ridiculous handles, and you never know which leg he’ll take off of or which hand he’ll finish with. Doncic is a little more methodical, but has a bevy of moves that he can go to even if you’ve stopped his initial drive to the basket …
Both guys will find open shooters when they drive. Doncic ranks second (behind Tyrese Haliburton) with 4.1 assists per game on 3-pointers and, playing alongside Irving, he should get more 3-pointers off the catch himself. He’s shooting a career-high 40% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this season, but has attempted only 35 in 47 games. Irving’s 52-for-137 (38.0%) on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers ranks 69th among 165 players who’ve attempted at least 100.
2. Working together
Doncic and Irving can play off each other by just being the weak side while the other is playing pick-and-roll. If the initial action is stopped, the secondary guy can attack a rotating defense.
But the Mavs can also put them in actions together. Irving has set 109 ball-screens this season, according to Second Spectrum tracking. And the purpose of some of those was simply to get his defender (usually another small guard) switched onto Durant, something he can obviously do for Doncic.
And if the opponent doesn’t like the new matchup, they’re just giving one of those guys space to operate …
Doncic can also screen for Irving to get a similar mismatch. The Mavs will run the same action they ran for Dirk Nowitzki a billion times, where he screens, gets a smaller guy on him, and then isolates against that guy from the middle of the floor. From there and off the catch, it’s tough for the opponent to send a double-team, because every teammate is just one pass away.
If they do double, then the wheels are in motion …
The Mavs will also run “Spain” or “stack” pick-and-rolls, where a shooter sets a back-screen after an initial ball-screen for Doncic. It’s a tough action to guard, because all three defenders need to be on the same page.
Here, Dinwiddie is the back-screener getting a piece of Jonas Valanciunas, forcing his own defender (CJ McCollum) to help on Doncic’s drive, and then popping out to an open 3.
Irving as the back-screener will make that decision even tougher on McCollum. There will be instances where his man doesn’t leave him, allowing Doncic to get to the rim. The Mavs can also run “Spain” with Irving as the ball-handler, as the Nets did, with Durant setting the back-screen.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't remember the Nets running Spain p&r last season. pic.twitter.com/2TsHHxfxUV
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) October 4, 2022
3. In transition
The Mavs could probably rank higher offensively than they already do … if they just ran every once in a while. League-wide effective field goal percentage is highest in the first six seconds of the shot clock, and the Mavs rank last (by a healthy margin) in the percentage of their shots (12.2%) that have come in the first six seconds. They also rank last with just 8.9 pass-ahead passes per game, according to Second Spectrum tracking.
Irving averages fewer pass-ahead passes (3.0) than Doncic (3.4), but he will push the ball himself and get the Mavs out in transition more often. He’s averaged 3.9 fast break points per 36 minutes (tied for the highest rate of his career), while Jaden Hardy (who’s played just 277 minutes total) is the only Mav who’s averaged more than 2.8 per 36.
He can kick it into gear when he sees an opening in a retreating defense…
4. Some on-off numbers
One benefit of having two stars is that you can have at least one of them on the floor for the entire game. Dinwiddie isn’t a “star,” but he was the guy running the Mavs’ offense when Doncic wasn’t, and the Mavs consistently staggered his playing time with that of Doncic, where Doncic generally played the entire first and third quarters and Dinwiddie ran things at the start of the second and fourth. The Nets did the same thing with Kevin Durant (played the entire first and third) and Irving (started the second and fourth), so there shouldn’t be any need for either star to adjust.
One reason that Irving is the league’s leading fourth-quarter scorer (9.5 points per game) is that he leads the league in fourth-quarter minutes (10.8 per game). Doncic is the league’s leading first-quarter scorer (11.6 – what would be the highest average for any player in any quarter in the 27 seasons for which we have by-quarter stats) and is second in third-quarter points per game (10.3).
And Irving should be able to lift the Mavs’ no-Doncic offense higher than Dinwiddie did. In 703 total minutes with Dinwiddie on the floor without Doncic, the Mavs scored just 110.4 points per 100 possessions, a mark well below the league average (113.5).
Mavs efficiency with Doncic and/or Dinwiddie on floor
|Doncic + Dinwiddie||1,105||115.8||116.4||-0.6||-1|
|Doncic without Dinwiddie||609||123.8||112.5||+11.3||+144|
|Dinwiddie without Doncic||703||110.4||114.8||-4.4||-74|
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
The Nets, meanwhile, were efficient in Irving’s 677 minutes on the floor without Durant…
Nets efficiency with Durant and/or Irving on floor
|Durant + Irving||801||114.8||110.3||+4.5||+82|
|Durant without Irving||602||119.9||111.9||+8.0||+107|
|Irving without Durant||677||117.4||113.8||+3.6||+44|
The Mavs rank eighth offensively as Irving gets set to make his debut (without Doncic) on Wednesday. With how good they can be with both Doncic and Irving on the floor, and with how they can have at least one on the floor all game, they should have no worse than a top-three offense going forward.
5. What about on defense?
The other end of the floor could be an issue. In fact, it’s on the other end of the floor where the Mavs have really fallen off. Only the San Antonio Spurs (+8.7) and Golden State Warriors (+6.8) have seen bigger jumps in points allowed per 100 possessions from last season than the Mavs (+5.8), who rank 24th defensively after ranking seventh in 2021-22. And now the Mavs have traded one of their best defenders (Finney-Smith) for a small guard who’s had defensive issues in the past.
Irving’s defense this season has been a mixed bag. He was more on point (fewer mistakes) within the Nets’ switching scheme this season, and he can be quick and instinctual on that end of the floor …
He can also ad-lib a little too much defensively, helping where help isn’t needed and leaving his man open …
Even if Irving is engaged defensively, he’s 6-foot-2, and size matters a lot on defense. One reason the Nets got swept out of the playoffs last year is that they had Irving or Seth Curry (6-foot-1) guarding Jaylen Brown (6-foot-6) for most of the series.
Finney-Smith was the guy guarding the opponents’ best player every night. Among the eight players he’s matched up with most this season are Durant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Without him, the Mavs really need Maxi Kleber to stay healthy once he returns from his hamstring injury. And even if he does, Dallas may struggle to get stops.
But as evidenced by the Mavs’ willingness to trade for somebody as mercurial as Irving, talent remains the most important thing in this league. And Dallas now has what may be the league’s most talented duo.
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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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