• Kenny Tran

Heliocentricity and the Dallas Mavericks’ Historic Offense

Updated: Feb 4

The 2019-2020 Dallas Mavericks have achieved the highest rated offense in NBA history by utilizing a new offensive philosophy.

Heliocentric offenses, coined by Seth Partnow of The Athletic, refers to offensive systems where a single star handles the majority of their team’s scoring and playmaking responsibilities. This offensive philosophy is a stark contrast to the team-oriented style of play that dominated the majority of the 2010s. Rather than running balanced offensive systems with multiple points of attack, a heliocentric offense seeks to run their entire system through a single player.

The clip above is an example of a heliocentric offense in action. Watch how all four Bucks “orbit” around their star player, Giannis Antetokounmpo. There’s not a lot of ball movement, but there is a lot of off-ball movement. Giannis is able to attract four defenders all by himself and is able to get his teammate an open three.

The 2019-2020 NBA season saw a record high number of teams utilizing this style of play and for a good reason; it’s efficient. By giving star players full control of the offense, they’re able to maximize their own offensive capabilities which can lead to easy scoring opportunities for them and their teammates. It also makes sense from a business/management perspective; investing in a single talent and surrounding him with complementary pieces is much easier than seeking talent to fit a preexisting system.

There’s also statistical merit to the strategy. Prior to the NBA reset, 4 of the top 6 offenses utilized a heliocentric offense (measured by having a player that averages 35% or higher usage rate). Even the Washington Wizards, who sat at a mediocre 24-40 record prior to the restart, attained an offensive rating close to the 46-18 Toronto Raptors.

The Dallas Mavericks were the biggest beneficiary of this offensive philosophy. They achieved the highest rated Offensive Rating (116.7) ever in NBA history by playing through Luka Doncic. This was a tremendous jump from their 109.4 rating in the 2018-2019 season, good for 20th in the league. Luka Doncic was a sensation and blossomed in this system, and with only a 1.4 minutes increase in playtime, he was able to massively increase his production and statline.

Luka Doncic wasn’t the only Dallas Maverick that benefited from this heliocentric offense. Most of his teammates saw increases in shooting percentages when Doncic was on the floor. In addition, all but one teammate saw an increase in shot quality, which is defined as the likelihood that a “field goal attempt” turns out to be a “field goal made”. When Doncic is on the court, his ability to slice through defenses and draw multiple defenders opens up the floor for his teammates. As a result, they are getting increased open looks and higher percentage shots.

Multiple Mavericks, including Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Tim Hardaway Jr. have attained career high effective field goal percentages and true shooting percentages. These trends are prevalent across many other heliocentric teams and the efficiency of this offensive philosophy should be compelling enough to draw interest among teams with traditional offenses. There are countless other stars in the NBA that have showcased an ability to playmake and score at an elite level and it’s interesting to see how much further they could elevate their game with this offensive philosophy.

Stats from: pbpstats.com, cleaningtheglass.com, and basketballreference.com

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