At last, the first major deal (sorry, Rui) of this trade deadline period has been consummated.
And what better way to open the festivities than with a move that officially (we think) puts an end to the Kyrie Irving saga in Brooklyn?
On the surface, some observers may view this transaction as lopsided. The Dallas Mavericks just acquired a perennial All-Star, and the Brooklyn Nets’ title chances are officially sunk.
Other parties may see this as the Mavericks sacrificing their current core and future capital for arguably the most volatile player in the NBA.
However, if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that modern-day front-office decision-makers are hardly the bumbling idiots that we portray them to be. Nowadays, many deals prove to be beneficial for both teams (see the Domantas Sabonis-Tyrese Haliburton deal).
And this trade is no different. Don’t believe us? Let us tell you why.
Why it’s a Win for Dallas
Since Luka Dončić ascended into stardom, the Mavericks’ biggest offensive concern has been trying to find someone who can buoy the offense in his absence and play off him in the time that their minutes coincide. That’s why losing Jalen Brunson was such a gut-wrenching blow. He filled this role better than anyone over the last half-decade.
To his credit, Spencer Dinwiddie has patched up the gaping hole left by Brunson the best he could. But the problem is that he isn’t a prolific enough volume scorer to make up for Brunson’s departure and match his own contributions from last season. (You’ll recall that the Mavs could rely on the services of both Brunson and Dinwiddie during their run to the conference finals last season).
This was fully apparent last Thursday when the Mavericks almost surrendered a 31-point lead to the New Orleans Pelicans after Dončić left the game with injury and Dinwiddie was forced to captain the ship on his own.
The Pelicans closed to within four in the final minute. And while not all the blame lies on Dinwiddie’s shoulders, he played a large part in the offense’s stagnation – going 0 for 8 and turning the ball over twice after Dončić’s premature exodus.
Irving can bear both those burdens. Even in the midst of a season brimming with controversy, he’s still tallying 35.7 points per 100 possessions (94th percentile). That’s significantly more than what Dinwiddie had posted up to this point (26.1 per 100, 74th percentile) and what Brunson averaged last year for Dallas (25.6 per 100, 75th percentile).
On top of that, Irving can act as a play finisher when Dončić decides to go into double helioball mode. On the year, he’s shooting 38% from 3-point range on 3.4 catch-and-shoot attempts per game (a solid indicator of play-finishing ability). But even more impressive, before this year, he has averaged 40% or higher in this category in each of the last six seasons.
(Sidebar: it’s worth noting that he does have some experience playing alongside a ball-dominant supernova forward. Does the name LeBron James ring a bell at all?)
Irving’s presence has the potential to catapult this already impressive offense (11th in the NBA in our adjusted offensive ratings) to elite heights (remember, historically speaking, elite offenses tend to be the teams that make playoff runs!).
As for the defensive concerns, it appears people have forgotten that Dallas has been without Maxi Kleber for nearly two months (tied for second on the team in defensive DRIP) and that Josh Green (the individual he’s tied with in the stat) missed over a month.
Why it’s a Win for Brooklyn
Star counters will do some mental calculus, find that the Nets’ star total has dwindled from two to one, and immediately come to the conclusion that they can no longer pursue a title this year.
But they’re right, aren’t they?
Short answer, no. Remember that Dallas team that had a 7-foot unicorn of its own and a bunch of super role players that won the NBA title in 2011?
Long answer, Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith may be more in line with this team’s current identity and may also address one of their major shortcomings.
Unlike the Mavericks, who, with their current personnel, will plan on succeeding through having an elite offense and a defense that doesn’t kill them.
The Nets rank 10th in adjusted offensive rating and 19th in adjusted defensive rating. And that second category stands to improve with their recent acquisitions and the impending return of Kevin Durant from injury (he’s actually 32nd out of 176 players with at least 1,000 minutes played in defensive DRIP).
The defense is predicated on length and switchability. Outside of Irving and Seth Curry, everyone in the Nets’ top nine in minutes per game is listed as 6-foot-4 or taller, with five of those individuals being 6-foot-8 or taller.
For all Irving did for them on offense, he caused some problems against teams that had the personnel to force him into massive mismatches. For instance, when they played the Chicago Bulls in early January, Nikola Vučević caused a ton of problems for the Nets by getting himself switched on Irving and inducing the All-Star guard into a scram switch situation.
And while Vučević is a mismatch for almost everyone, the 6-foot-5 Dinwiddie and 6-foot-7 Finney-Smith mitigate the number of scenarios where something like this could take place, making Brooklyn’s switching defense that much more formidable.
Offensively, while we’ve established that Dinwiddie is no Irving, he does give this Nets team a much-needed different dimension.
As many of you are aware, Irving’s claim to fame rests in his uncanny ability to take and make difficult pull-up jumpers. That is a luxurious skill set to have, especially during the playoffs. But it becomes a tad bit redundant when you already have Durant operating as in-house counsel.
The feature that Brooklyn’s offense needs is a volume driver who can get downhill in traffic and pressure the rim. The Nets have the second-lowest rim frequency in the NBA heading into Monday night’s action.
Despite playing with the usage monster in Dončić, Dinwiddie has taken a larger percentage (30.8%) of his shots at the rim than Kyrie (24.1%). He’s not the dazzling finisher Irving is, but he’s a stronger body who can muscle his way into the lane.
The volume scoring and creation Irving provides will be difficult to compensate for. But between Durant, Dinwiddie, Curry (a vastly underrated offensive piece), and Cam Thomas (the guy gets buckets), Brooklyn should be able to mime his offensive impact for the most part. Plus, what they lose on offense, they get back on defense with all the length they’ve added.
It won’t be perfect on either side. Very few things ever are. But with all the parity that exists in the league, this move has given both these franchises a shot at a deep playoff run this season.