It’s not every day you get to chat with, in my opinion, one of the best writers in basketball. I had the privilege to talk to Grantland’s Zach Lowe over the weekend to go over key subjects that revolve around the Mavericks. His exclusive, inside look at how SportVU is changing basketball is can’t-miss stuff. With his vast knowledge of the league, including the nuances of the salary cap and the CBA, Lowe’s insight on what is going on in Dallas is definitely worth reading. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to get into the twisted fascination he has with NBA mascots. At least we have something saved up for hopefully another conversation with the talented writer.
With all of the things we were able to discuss, we’re able to break this into two parts that will be easy to digest and absorb. In part one, we discussed the recent disappearing act of Dirk Nowitzki’s shot attempts, Rick Carlisle’s coaching and the situation that has hampered the Mavericks all season long. The conversation covers pretty much the nuts and bolts for Dallas. Let’s dig in.
Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.
A big topic of discussion last week was the fact that Dirk Nowitzki had a three-game stretch where he only averaged 10.3 field goal attempts. The Mavericks lost two of those three games. When observing Dallas and seeing that he only had that many field goal attempts, why do you think he only had that many shots?
ZL: I think it’s probably a combination of things. The team has had so much turmoil both in terms of the rotation, Dirk’s injury and other injuries that it’s been hard for them to develop quite the ideal level of chemistry that you’d like to see, although they have been a decent offensive team for most of the season. The defense has really been the problem.
In terms of Dirk getting the ball, he’s not quite in the condition to just sort of demand it on the block and go to work from there or demand it at the elbow and go to work from there as much as he would be if he were in peak condition, so he needs guys have to get him the ball in the right spots. I would think Rick Carlisle would be the first person to tell you some of the decision making on the perimeter hasn’t been ideal this season in terms of shoot/pass, turnovers, missed passing attempts, those kinds of things. It’s probably a combination of a lot of things.
Dirk was being pressed on the issue after the games. Obviously, he played the role of the good solider and didn’t throw anyone on the bus. He said it’s a matter of not being able to dominate the ball based on the opposing defenders and that his teammates need to make plays when the opportunities are there.
ZL: That’s not surprising. The talent level of this Dallas team in terms of having a reliable second and third creator or another really good pick and roll player like Tyson Chandler or Jason Terry was hasn’t been there. O.J. Mayo looked like he was going to be that kind of player for the first few months of the season and has been solid, although not as spectacular as he started. Certainly, the point guards have been collectively a disappointment.
There’s no one else there that can really do the heavy lifting. Vince Carter has to handle a disturbing amount of the heavy lifting in crunch time situations this year. Much more than is probably healthy for any team. So yeah, Dirk is right. Like I said, he’s just not in the sort of condition to take over, 2011 style, by just getting the ball and doing something with it in isolation. That’s just hasn’t been his game this year.
A championship two years ago helped validate Rick Carlisle’s coaching career. He’s been known as one of the best offensive coaches in the league. That being said, the team’s record hasn’t been very good this year. If you were to grade or evaluate Carlisle’s coaching this season, what would the results show?
ZL: I think he’s still one of the half dozen best coaches in the league. I was talking about this with an executive on another team the other day. We had watched Mavericks/Hawks a couple of games ago where the Mavs just blew out the Hawks. I had tweeted something about how the Hawks defense was terrible in that game. I got to talking with guy and we were saying that it’s indicative that Rick Carlisle plus Dirk Nowitzki still equals a very good foundation for an offense in the NBA. His system works; he’s a good schemer. He’s a creative play-caller, and Dirk is Dirk. His shooting ability and the gravity that emanates from wherever he is on the floor in terms of sucking defenses toward him is still this hugely valuable thing.
Far be it from me to criticize the guy who won the title two years ago and generally is regarded as a very successful head coach, but I do think he’s been a little weirdly cranky this year the way he’s yanked guys in and out of the rotation sometimes within the same game or in and out of the starting lineup. That has been a little strange. For instance, I know guys like Darren Collison and Roddy Beaubois are very frustrating players. I get it, but some guys needed to be treated a little differently than other guys. I wonder how Darren Collison would have done had he had a little bit of longer of a longer leash. But, Dallas isn’t a place where you’ve had a long leash for the last 15 years, basically. It’s been put up or shut up. Right now we don’t have time, especially with Dirk out. We don’t have margin for error for you to turn the ball over and make bad decisions. But I do think his crankiness has been counter-productive perhaps.
You could say that’s been the rub. Over the course of the season, coach Carlisle has hitched his wagon to Derek Fisher and now Mike James. They feel Darren Collison is better suited as a backup point guard.
ZL: If Darren Collison is an ideal backup in the league, what is Mike James? That is my natural follow up question for Rick Carlisle. He’s not going to get you into the paint and to the rim. He’s a caretaker who is not that particularly good of a caretaker. That being said, he might be right about Darren Collison. He’s been really an awful defensive player since he came into the league. He just hasn’t been able to negotiate NBA defense, pick and rolls, that kind of stuff.
One of the stories from Dallas this season has been for all the attention that’s been paid to whether or not you need a big man, like Tyson Chandler type, it’s also very hard to build a really good NBA defense when you’re starting guards are Darren Collison and OJ Mayo. OJ Mayo is okay, but he mostly has a lot of bad habits and Darren Collison is really bad.
My hope for this season for Darren Collison was pairing him with Dirk in the pick and rolls was going to help him develop an aggressive, attack the paint mentality that really separates the very best point guards in the league and we just haven’t seen that. He’s still hesitant and he’s still confused. He still pulls up 20 feet from the basket without a real clear plan despite all the space that Dirk generates for him. It just hasn’t worked. If that’s what he is, he’s probably a very good backup point guard or the starter on a team that is very loaded and that just doesn’t need much from the point guard position.
[We will finish with Part Two tomorrow. It will cover what the Mavericks can do during this summer with cap space, the decision that will continue to be evaluated for several years and what Dirk Nowitzki's legacy is to the league.]
Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He is a contributing writer for Mavs.com. Bryan also attended Ball So Hard University. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.