The Dream Never Died

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 14, 2011 under Commentary | 14 Comments to Read

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No team with Dirk Nowitzki at its core will ever be wholly conventional, but the Dallas teams of the last half-decade have become strategically tamer than some of the outlandish groups pieced together under Don Nelson’s tenure. The Mavericks iterations of the last few seasons have all had their quirks, but Rick Carlisle has largely remained true to positional orthodoxy in his lineup machinations. Carlisle demonstrates a clear willingness to push buttons (as evidenced by masterful lineup control in last year’s playoffs), but the cogs in his machine were largely in line with positional expectation.

All of that is about to change, as the Mavs have revamped their roster by adding a ridiculous amount of versatility. Tyson Chandler is long gone, and while his departure may leave Dallas with few precious traditional centers, the Mavs have other, more ambitious plans in mind.

“We still have the prototypical starting center in Brendan [Haywood] that’s still the quote-unquote ‘aircraft carrier,’” Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. “But now we’ve got the flexibility to slide Dirk [Nowitzki] a little bit over there, slide Lamar [Odom] over there a little bit, which gives us a whole different wrinkle. These guys are three-point threats. It’s kind of a different way to attack a same problem.”

Nowitzki was no stranger to minutes as a makeshift center when Don Nelson was running the show, but those opportunities all but vanished once Avery Johnson — and later Carlisle — took the reins. Odom’s arrival, though, opens the door for some intriguing possibilities. The defensive aptitude of a lineup featuring, say, Nowitzki, Odom, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and either Jason Terry or Vince Carter remains to be seen. But such a grouping would pack an astounding amount of offensive firepower and provide an incredible number of scoring avenues.

Nowitzki, Marion, Odom, Carter, and Kidd are all credible post players. Virtually every variation of the pick-and-roll would feature an effective duo. Nowitzki would be surrounded by shooters at every position, and would face less help-side trouble from opposing bigs tasked with guarding Odom. Every player on the floor would be able to handle the ball, shoot from range, and make the right pass. It’s an absurd combination that — even in spite of its defensive limitations — could be incredibly successful this season (Note: Dallas played very well in extremely limited minutes with Nowitzki acting as a center last season). Together, that lineup forms an amazing mesh of skills and abilities, capable of compensating for individual weaknesses with collective strength.

“It works nicely because you’ve got Shawn Marion — ‘Blondie’ over there — who was the number two rebounder at the small forward position last year,” Nelson said. “And Jason Kidd, who is perennially one of the great rebounders. So you don’t give up that much in terms of your front line, but you add all of this flexibility.”

This isn’t a fantasy. It’s not some fanciful combination of impossible parts concocted for the delight of NBA fanatics. It’s a vision. It’s a real basketball strategy to help the Dallas Mavericks win actual basketball games. It’s a credible option for a coach who’s willing to experiment — and experiment he will.

“Certainly we don’t do any of this stuff without Rick’s blessing,” Nelson said. “He understands the versatility of this team, and I think if anyone has an appreciation and an emphasis for shooting, it’s Rick. So now all of a sudden we can put five guys on the floor that can spread the court and all of them can make threes.”

Three-point shooting is important in itself for the offensive efficiency it provides, but loading the floor with shooters has the potential to completely neuter an opponent’s team defensive concept. Such rangy lineups don’t even require that much outside shooting, so long as the threat of said shooting remains. It’s much more difficult for bigs to rotate or hedge when even a few steps away from their man could result in a wide-open three-pointer, and even the slightest rotational hesitancy can throw an opposing defense off the rails.

That spacing not only opens up the paint for potential drives, but also frees up passing lanes and angles for Dallas’ numerous playmakers to swing the ball toward its appropriate end. The Mavs made their way to the Finals last season on the power of the simple pass, and in these configurations the Mavs will have more room than ever with which to execute them.

These lineups will only have limited application this season, but they present Carlisle with even more filling for his toolbox — a necessity as the team attempts to grapple with the departure of Tyson Chandler. It won’t be easy, but a little ingenuity and some fortunate timing have certainly made it easier. A roster with already remarkable depth and versatility was somehow upgraded further in both regards, providing a team of creative decision makers with the pieces they need to forge something very different and — in all likelihood — still incredibly effective.

  • Howard1122

    People forget Dirk made his first all star game as a center. I can't wait to see some of these line ups.

  • http://twitter.com/tcopp Tyler Copple

    I'm not sure sure can call Marion a credible 3pt shooter anymore.

    • entropy13

      He's still a credible shooter. It just doesn't mean he's likely to shoot from 3. Compare, for example, Trevor Ariza. Attempts were just as high in one season where he was shooting well, compared to the next season where his percentages got worse, but still took roughly the same amount of 3pt shots.

      In Marion's case, there's only a minimal variation in shooting percentage, but the number of attempts was greatly reduced.

      • http://twitter.com/tcopp Tyler Copple

        “In Marion's case, there's only a minimal variation in shooting percentage…”

        His worst 3p% year on Nash led phoenix team was 31%. Last year he shot 15% from three point range. He does shoot less yes, but he also misses more.

        I don't think anyone is confused about his ability to put the ball in the basket, but there's little indication that he can make a jump shot from anywhere on the floor, on a consistent basis. 
        Good player, huge rebounded, excellent defender, and sometimes the only competent scorer, because of that strange post flip move, when dirk is out. But he is in no way a 3p threat.

    • Auditiontexas

      Harsh but true.

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  • Andrew

    I'm so excited about this team! Even when Haywood is on the floor, putting Nowitzki at 4 and Odom at 3 is going to create ridiculus match up problems for the other team.  I never thought I would be this excited about a team that lost Chandler.

  • http://twitter.com/Matt_Hulme Matt Hulme

    I love Marion, and I really, really like the near-free addition of Odom. But I want both on the floor without straining Dirk at all at center. I know (and remember from back in the day) that Dirk can be a very serviceable center for decent stretches, but I'd also like to stick a traditional center out there anyway, and obviously Coach Carlisle will the majority of the minutes. But man… if only the Mavs could put six on the floor at once, they'd be unstoppable!

    • Auditiontexas

      Six is good…ten would be better

  • http://twitter.com/FromWayDowntown FromWayDowntown

    Although I agree with the basic message of this post I strongly disagree with some details. First off: How can you seriously consider Kidd as still being a post-up threat? All I remember from the last season are botched lay-ups and failed offensive stretches.
    Secondly: Carter's 3 point shooting is on its way down and atm we can only hope that he gets better. Given the fact that he looked chubby and remembering his work ethic in the past  I don't want to put any hope in him. If he recovers I am very happy but I don't put any many on it.
    Thirdly: Marion's time a a three point threat are long gone.

    Anyways the season is gong to be an very interesting ride. Odom's acquisition was very important the counter the brutal schedule. That he provides flexibility offensive-wise  is a big bonus.

    • Andrew

      Actually Carter's 3pt percentage has stayed pretty constant over the years, hovering around the 35% area. Not great but not terrible. And Kidd can still bully younger guards, and even though he misses a lot of lay-ups, teams still occassionally double team him when he posts up, which is a perfect situation.

      • http://twitter.com/FromWayDowntown FromWayDowntown

        Just checked and you are correct. I watched some games of him last season and he was so godawful that it might have tainted my memory.

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  • zigzags214

    i see dirk and haywood coming out the game in the 1st qtr with either odom/marion and mahami coming off the bench.  i would have odom and terry both come off the bench with odom playing streches of the game with dirk.