Jason Kidd exemplifies longevity. His athleticism and strength have slowly dissipated, but even at age 38, his value remains. His game has matured superbly, and at this stage in his career, Kidd is the picture of adjustment.
He may no longer look to attack the basket (his at-the-rim field goal attempts slowly dwindled to last season’s measly 0.6 attempts per game), but Kidd has managed to find strength in weakness; his reduced foot speed has led to greater focus on competent three-point shooting and facilitation from the perimeer. In both of these facets, Kidd excels, and he contributes through made threes, crisp passing, exemplary rebounding, and timely defense.
But so far this season, Kidd has struggled to continue his helpful – if declining – play. His utter inability to make three-pointers (25.8% 3PT) has rendered his already minimal scoring almost completely nonexistent. 66 of Kidd’s 78 field goal attempts have been three-pointers, meaning that his failure to capitalize on these shots has led directly to his general scoring ineffectiveness.
That reduction in Kidd’s scoring output and efficiency cannot be characterized as especially surprising, especially given last year’s dip in both regards. However, the most worrisome and affecting decline in Kidd’s play is his seemingly declining diminished ability to create opportunities for others. His assist rate has fallen by almost 20 percent, and he’s only producing 6.5 assists per 36 minutes, underwhelming for a player who often hangs his proverbial hat on passing ability. The defense from Kidd that so frequently impressed during the Mavericks’ championship run also seems to have lost a peg in both intensity and quality.
What can account for the precipitous early drop in Kidd’s overall effectiveness? Age is a likely factor. As previously stated, Kidd is 38 years old, and playing in his 18th NBA season. He’s logged more than 47,000 minutes over the course of his career — minutes characterized by constant action and a variety of skills. For years, Kidd has defied an aging body with inherent talents and a willingness to play within his physical capabilities, but a player can only stave off time for so long. Eventually, the body rises up in defiance. One could point to the lockout and the resulting lack of preseason preparation as reasons Kidd’s play finally weakened, but those are only a few of several factors involved in his decline.
Among those other possible factors: the incredible turnover of the Mavs’ roster. Dallas has seen a remarkable number of players come and go since winning the title, and on some level those changes have created another transition for Kidd and the Mavs. That said, Kidd’s role has remained largely intact since last season. Some of his teammates may have changed, but he still brings the ball up the court, searching for a small opening or opportunity. He continues to coordinate the offense on an regular basis, but he’s often less ambitious. By the time the Mavericks score (and they do so at a significantly worse rate than last season), Kidd has often been completely removed from the play for a number of seconds.
A natural conclusion would be to assume the presence of Delonte West in the Mavericks’ starting lineup inhibits the number of possessions Kidd directly facilitates, but that seems an unlikely reason. The Mavs had utilized lineups with an additional point guard in the past (namely with the diminutive and speedy J.J. Barea), and that didn’t seem to significantly alter Kidd’s distributing. Moreover, Barea possessed an assist rate last season almost twice that of West’s current rate, meaning less possible assists are likely being taken away by West than once were by Barea.
Given how many minutes Kidd is playing (30.5 minutes per game, the second highest of any Maverick), it’s imperative that he adds more overall value. Though West is undoubtedly a capable passer, and filled in ably in Kidd’s four-game absence, Kidd is still likely to play significant minutes as the team’s primary facilitator. In this sense, Kidd remains key to the team’s success. As age, lockout blues, and the slow starts of Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki take their toll on Kidd’s production, he must still find a way to overcome at least a portion of his struggles. The Mavericks aren’t completely reliant on Kidd’s ability to spur ball movement, but he’s an important cog within the offense’s flow. If Kidd isn’t going to improve his assist rate, he must turn the ball over less; his turnover rate has risen from 22.1 percent to 29.5 percent in just one season, and the flow of the Mavericks’ offense has suffered.
Though certain problems may remain unassailable to the aging Kidd, others can be remedied. There’s little precedent for such a steep drop in three-point shooting percentage from year-to-year, and it’s a skill not overly dependent on age. Kidd will continue to get open looks within the Mavericks’ ever-shifting offense, and it’s likely his capitalization on those opportunities will improve, though by how much is debatable. If Kidd can solve his shooting woes while simultaneously cutting down on unnecessary risks, the entire Mavericks’ offense will greatly benefit. His low assist rate will likely take care of itself as Terry and Nowitzki’s production returns to normal levels, but Kidd must take initiative in reducing his own errors in judgment. At present, the Mavericks are an astounding 14.5 net points better (from team average) with Kidd off the court, and 9.8 points worse than average with him on it. “Jason Kidd, detrimental offensive player” is not a description we’re used to hearing, but it’s become a valid label one month into a shortened season.
The removal of this label will fall largely on the shoulders of Kidd as the season continues. Kidd has proven himself an expert at game adaptation, and he may have to change the way he plays once more. As Kidd makes the necessary adjustments, the return of his offensive rhythm and usefulness should be soon to follow.