Perhaps the most important part of being a contending team is being able to stop your opponent. Most sports fans already know this and are aware that the Mavs drastically need to improve on that end of the floor. However, just like on the offensive end, there are many layers to playing defense.
A team doesn't have to be a defensive juggernaut to be a contender, but they have to at least have a few areas where they can make an impact.
Creating turnovers is one way a team can impact the game without having the best one-on-one defenders. The Mavs finished 27th in the NBA in steals per 100 possessions (6.4). The top 9 teams in this category all made the playoffs.
Creating turnovers gives your team extra possessions and an opportunity to get easier buckets in transition. For Dallas, a team that was 28th in the NBA in field goal attempts per 100 possessions (86.2), creating more turnovers would be a viable way to make up for their defensive liabilities and help their predictable offense get a few more opportunities outside of the halfcourt set.
Similar to creating turnovers, blocking shots is another way a team can make up for defensive weaknesses and get out in transition. The Mavericks were 28th in blocks per 100 possessions (3.8). Six of the top ten teams in this category made the playoffs. Not having a rim-protecting presence exacerbated the Mavs' poor perimeter defense. This leads to perhaps the most interesting defensive stat for the Mavericks in the 2022-2023 season.
Dallas was 27th in the NBA in free throws allowed per field goal attempt at 22.6 per game. For comparison, eight of the top ten teams in this category made the playoffs, including the Lakers, Celtics, and the Nuggets.
Having poor perimeter defense backed up by poor rotations and no rim-protecting presence allowed teams to get to the free-throw line consistently. This means that almost one out of every 4.42 shots an opposing team took, ended up with them going to the free-throw line. This kills momentum and allows opponents to stay in games when they may otherwise get blown out.
The Dallas Mavericks could solve many of these issues by getting a starting center that can protect the paint, rebound, and get a few buckets inside. In addition, they need to be more active at creating turnovers and get more creative on offense. Dallas won't become a legitimate contender until they address these weaknesses.