Dallas Mavericks: Did Willie Cauley-Stein fix the Mavs?

: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /
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Willie Cauley-Stein, Center, Dallas MavericksMandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Willie Cauley-Stein, Center, Dallas MavericksMandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Dallas Mavericks: Rebounding

Believe it or not, rebounding can dictate the flow of a game. In fact, the Mavericks are 4-0 when outrebounding their opponent. (If you’re keeping track, they haven’t won a game this season when they’ve been outrebounded.) Eight games is a very small sample size but it is fairly interesting to see how much of an effect rebounding has on this team.

The previous starting lineup of Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr, Josh Richardson, Dorian-Finney Smith, and Dwight Powell were averaging 7.5 rebounds per game when on the court. In 6 games, this lineup produced the fifth highest rebounding average amongst all lineups the Mavericks have run this season.

In two games, the lineup of Luka Doncic, Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, and Willie Cauley-Stein have quite literally doubled the previous lineups rebounding averaging grabbing 15 per game on just four minutes more per game.

Ever since starting, Willie-Cauley Stein has been averaging eight rebounds per game; Maxi Kleber has been averaging 8.5 per game. As a starter, Dwight Powell was averaging 4.7 rebounds per game; Hardaway Jr was averaging a mere 3.5 per game. The difference in averages alone is night and day and roughly equal to the difference between both lineups.

When concerns about the team’s rebounding kept connecting Dallas to Andre Drummond, the Mavericks kept reiterating they weren’t interested. Instead, they decided to send a second-round pick to Golden State for Cauley-Stein. It was a move that sounded every bit like the message the front office was relaying. Get an athletic defensive rebounder who can contribute in various lineups and not break the bank.

Unfortunately, the Willie Cauley-Stein experiment in Dallas didn’t last long in the 2019 season as the pandemic suspended NBA operations and Cauley-Stein did not make the trip to the bubble with the rest of the team so it was unclear just how much of an effect he had on the team. Even on small sample size, he was actually quite effective.

Last season, Cauley-Stein only started two games for Dallas and averaged eleven points, ten rebounds, one assist, and two blocks per game on 66 percent from the field. In such a small sample size, those numbers are great. In the other thirteen games on the bench, the efficiency carried over as he had an offensive rating of 121.

The rebounding prowess and offensive game were visible but with Kristaps Porzingis looking like a more natural fit at center than power forward, Cauley-Stein’s playtime was always going to be less. Even after the Powell injury, it was Seth Curry and Maxi Kleber that earned starting nods because of Cauley-Stein’s lack of positional versatility.

So how does this all tie into Cauley-Stein? Last year the Dallas Mavericks the best offense in NBA history. Tim Hardaway Jr and Dorian Finney-Smith’s lethal three-point shooting allowed Luka Doncic to work the pick-and-roll with Dwight Powell and ultimately giving Porzingis the ability to lineup anywhere on the floor to catch-and-shoot, pick-and-pop, or catch lobs.

Even if there was a call for more rebounding, Carlisle knew bringing someone else into the equation instead of playing the same five players was going to mess around with the offensive output. As a team that was below average defensively, messing up with the offensive synergy would have had negative repercussions because the team’s defensive issues existed on the wings and not near the rim, Cauley-Stein’s bread and butter.

This year, the organization made it a point of emphasis to get better defensively. There is a certain offensive boost that will come with the return of Kristaps Porzingis to the starting lineup, but for the time being, a void of roughly nine rebounds exists and with Luka Doncic being the only elite-rebounding backcourt member, the team has seriously needed Cauley-Stein’s consistent rebound.

The addition of Maxi Kleber to the starting lineup has brought some continuity in the form of three-point shooting, but it’s Cauley-Stein’s rebounding that has ultimately elevated the Mavericks offense the last two games because he gives the team more opportunities with rebounds.

But the best part of this is he is still impacting the game in other ways.