“You will never learn anything new unless you are ready to accept yourself with your limitations. …You must accept the fact that you are capable in some directions and limited in others, and you must develop your capabilities.” – Bruce Lee
Acknowledging limitations is a key aspect of gaining wisdom, and all NBA teams, even the great ones, possess many limitations. The Mavericks can hardly be considered a great team these days, but the limitations of the offense without Dirk, while fewer than anticipated, are becoming clearer with every sputter.
The most noted Maverick shortcoming is rebounding, and with an offensive rebounding rate of 22.2% (28th in the NBA), rebounding is clearly an offensive limitation. However, it isn’t an explanation of the recent decline, as offensive rebounding represents a rare area where Dallas has shown small bursts of improvement — particularly in the case of Elton Brand. It also isn’t the best metric of offensive production. The teams behind the Mavericks in this category (the Heat and Celtics) aren’t exactly struggling.
A better explanation for the Mavericks’ offensive decline is their shot selection. The shot selection problems that plague this Dallas team are unusual. While most teams struggling with shot selection are plagued by poor three-point shooting or an inability to close near the basket, the Mavericks excel in these areas.
Dallas is a very strong three-point shooting unit, one of only a handful of teams that reliably shoot 40% or better from beyond the arc. They’re almost equally strong under the basket, making more than two-thirds of their shots at the rim (per Hoopdata) and hovering in the NBA’s top 10 in this category. Dallas also comfortably rates in the top ten from 3-9 feet, from the basket and top five in shots 16-23 feet away from the basket. While numbers like these are impressive, the Mavericks continue to experience scoring droughts.
The problem that ails the Mavericks is not immediately obvious to a viewer but is abundantly clear to a statistician. Shots 10-15 feet away from the basket are the Mavericks’ mortal enemies. While a top-ten team on every other spot on the court, the Mavericks fall to the bottom quarter of the NBA in 10-15 foot shots. HoopData shows that the Mavericks make a meager 33.3% from this range.
That chart alone shouldn’t be too alarming. Every team has an area where it struggles and, like most teams, the Mavericks attempt shoot fewer shots from 10-15 feet than anywhere else on the court. That does not, however, mean that Dallas knows its limitations from that area.
The chart below should worry Mavericks fans. Despite this being the only area where they struggle shooting the ball, the Mavericks are more addicted to mid-range jumpers than Lamar Odom is to candy. They average the second highest number of shots from no-man’s land in the NBA, bested only by the Orlando Magic.
The solution isn’t especially complicated: the Mavericks should take a cue from Bruce Lee. The key for the Mavericks is not to overcome their limitations, but instead to acknowledge and improve upon them. Dallas is well aware of their limits as they relate to rebounding and interior defense, but has been slow to recognize and correct poor shot selection.
In some ways, this is great news for the Mavericks. The problem isn’t one of personnel and doesn’t reflect an imbalance in ways to score the basketball. While it represents a serious flaw, the tools to correct it, namely discipline, are Carlisle hallmarks. This Mavericks team can remain a potent offensive force if it learns to be wise and live within its limitations.
Brian Rubaie is a high school teacher, debate coach, and full-time Mavericks fan. Follow him on Twitter: @DirksRevenge.