Why the Jason Kidd Hire Has Worked and How it Shows the Lakers Mistake
Last night the Dallas Mavericks beat the streaking Atlanta Hawks 103-94 in a game that saw the Mavericks three most potent offensive players barely see the floor with foul trouble and injury. The Mavericks won last night partly from the phenomenon known as, “Luka Magic,” (Luka had 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists by halftime) but mostly because of a revamped defense lead by newly hired head coach Jason Kidd. Kidd has worked some of his own magic on this Mavericks defense that has regularly one of the worst in the NBA. In 2019-20 the Mavericks were 18th in defensive rating at 111.2 and in 2020-21 were even worse with a rating of 112.3 placing them at 21st in the NBA.
Those two seasons the Mavericks were led by head coach Rick Carlisle who is known for his offensive prowess. Carlisle proved that to be true with an offensive rating of 115.9 in 2019-20 which at the time was the highest offensive rating ever recorded. Carlisle’s offensive was in the top ten in 2020-21 as well but the coach butted heads with the Mavericks two offensive stars Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzinigis. You would think two offensive players would love to work with Carlisle but the opposite was true. For Porzingis he felt under utilized in an offense that regulated an athletic 7’3” sniper to a catch and shoot role which resulted in Porzingis’ worst season as a pro. And for Luka it was a battle of minds of sorts. Carlisle won a championship in 2011-12 and got a lot of praise for the Mavericks' efficient offense with just one all-star on the roster. So I’m sure in Carlisle's mind there’s no system better than his offensive system and schemes. Now for Luka Doncic at just 22 years old he has already won a Euro league championship, was named Euro League MVP, won rookie of the year, and was named to the all-star and all-nba team twice. So the Mavericks had a coach who believed in his system over everything and a player who believed in his talent over everything.
In the end talent won as the Dallas Mavericks fired Rick Carlisle and hired Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd. Kidd’s last two coaching spots in Brooklyn and Milwaukee didn’t end well leaving it a big mystery whether or not he’d get another coaching opportunity. The Mavericks hired Kidd hoping he could create a solid defense around Luka Doncic, something that hasn’t happened yet in his career. And as I discussed earlier it’s been working, remember the Mavericks defensive rating in the past, well this season the Mavericks have the 5th best defense in the NBA with a rating of 107.1. Kidd made this team care about the defensive end something that the offensive minded Carlisle never did. Besides the coaching however the Mavericks personnel has gotten better defensively. Kristaps Porzingis was one of the worst players on both sides of the ball last season, but reinvigorated with more offensive responsibilities Porzingis has returned to the defender and rim protector he was in New York. The Mavericks also brought in guys like Reggie Bullock, Bruce Brown, and Frank Ntilikina who are role players that thrive on the defensive end alongside established “3 and D” guys already on the roster like Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber.
Now you might be wondering, but what about the offense? Well looking at it statistically the Mavericks took a clear step back on offense. Under Carlisle and Doncic the Mavericks never dipped below a top ten offense while under Kidd the Mavericks are 16th in offensive rating at 110.1. So you might be saying to yourself now what’s the point now they’re just bad on offense instead of defense and that would be true except the Mavericks have one of the most gifted offensive players in the world. Even though the offense doesn’t look pretty Kidd simply gives the keys to his playmakers and lets them work. The results? Luka, while having a down year, is averaging 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists with players like Jalen Brunson and Kristap Porzingis having career years. The Jason Kidd hire has been performing excellently and it’s the same logic used as the New England Patriots for years. You have your offensive juggernaut in Tom Brady so instead of having a coach that will try to control Brady give him somebody like Bill Belichick who will give him free reign while solidifying the parts of the game Brady can’t affect. The same goes for Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. Under Rick Carlisle, Luka was being helped with the part of his game that needs no helping, but getting no help on the defensive end where he’s average. While under Jason Kidd, Luka is free to be the offensive juggernaut he’s always been while now having a coach to help him through the weakest part of his game.
Now real quickly I would like to relate this point to a team currently struggling in the Western Conference the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers and Mavericks situation has a lot of parallels. An offensive juggernaut at the heart of the team that can go for a 30 point triple double on a nightly basis, an extremely skilled big man to compliment that juggernaut, and a defensive minded coach to solidify that end of the court. Right now this system is working for the Mavericks and not for the Lakers and it’s because of personnel. Like I said earlier Kidd isn’t the only reason the Mavericks have improved so much defensively, they brought in and found defensive talent on the roster as well. For the Lakers this was true for the previous two seasons as they were third in defensive rating in 2019-20 and first last season. And what’s changed from those two seasons to this season? The Lakers personnel. Last season the core rotation for the Lakers was Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Wesley Matthews, and Dennis Schroder. All guys I would consider above average defensive players, none of which are currently on the Lakers roster. Who replaced them you might ask? Malik Monk, Carmelo Anthony, Wayne Ellington, Kent Bazemore, and Kendrick Nunn. All guys I would consider above average offensively but below average defensively. But when you already have guys like Lebron James and Anthony Davis putting offensive guys around them doesn’t drastically change the offense more so than it drastically hinders the defense.
I wanted to add this last segment on the Lakers to defend their head coach Frank Vogel who has been on the hot seat recently because of the team's defensive play. The blame however should be on the front office for replacing a supporting cast of great defenders with a supporting cast of below average defenders. Vogel can only do so much from the sideline, but right now he’s being used as a scapegoat for a disappointing Lakers team that needs to reflect eternally rather than deflect externally.