ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon reported prior to the game against the Los Angeles Lakers that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban would be willing to give Baylor women’s superstar Brittney Griner the opportunity to have a chance to play in the NBA.
“If she is the best on the board, I will take her,” Cuban said. “I’ve thought about it. I’ve thought about it already. Would I do it? Right now, I’d lean toward yes, just to see if she can do it. You never know unless you give somebody a chance, and it’s not like the likelihood of any late-50s draft pick has a good chance of making it.”
Griner replied with a positive response to the possibility. “I would hold my own! Lets do it.” she wrote on Twitter on Tuesday night in response to Cuban.
Brittney Griner finished her spectacular career second all-time in scoring, and her 748 blocks are the most in men’s or women’s college basketball. With 3,283 career points, Griner finished with the second-highest point total in Women’s NCAA Division I history (Jackie Stiles – 3,393 points). In his initial comment about Griner, Cuban said that if they don’t plan on using a second round draft pick on Griner, the Mavericks certainly wouldn’t be opposed to giving her an opportunity to join the team’s Las Vegas summer league roster.
The idea or notion of Griner being affiliated with the NBA was met with some obvious resistance, on multiple levels. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma called Cuban a financial genius, but “his genius would take a huge hit if he drafted Brittney Griner.”
After boarding the last Orange Line train at Victory Station, my voice still hoarse and heart still heavy from a lopsided loss to the Indiana Pacers, reality slowly sank in in. With the season quickly winding to a close, this particular loss represented a critical lost opportunity for Dallas to gain ground in the race for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
The pain of the moment was visible in the long faces of several of the passengers in the packed train car. After a few moments, a couple’s conversation broke the silence. The husband, a white-haired man in a blue-haired wig, turned to his wife while searching for the right words to describe the game we had all just witnessed.
“Well, that was … heartbreaking, huh? Hard to think of a worse way to lose a more important game…”
The wife simply shook her head in disbelief as her husband’s sentence trailed off. Before she could speak, another passenger softly interjected by muttering a single word: “Pitiful.”
The wife again nodded, breaking her stunned silence by noting that “This just isn’t Dallas Mavericks basketball.”
While I certainly shared their disappointment in the outcome, I found it difficult to share their sense of disappointment in this Mavericks team. Dallas fans have rightly developed high expectations, the product of owning the NBA’s longest active playoff streak, and those expectations make it easy to view the possibility of a season without a playoff finish as a failure. If success is defined solely in terms of wins and losses then 2012-2013 was indeed just that.
Focusing solely on wins and losses, however, is a flawed way of measuring what makes a season successful. John Wooden, the legendary coach of ten NCAA champions at UCLA over a twelve-year period, defined success in different terms. In his book Wooden on Leadership, Wooden defined success as “Peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.” Wooden loved to win as much as anyone else, but cautioned those who treat winning alone as success that “there is a standard higher than winning the race; effort is the ultimate measure of your success.” By Wooden’s standards, the Mavericks’ 2012-2013 season has been highly successful.
“Greetings, men of Earth, I have been awaiting you.” — Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
Let’s start with a philosophical question: What’s the most important position on the court? Like all philosophical questions, it’s more of a thought experiment than something to directly answer—similar to “if a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Obviously, in regards to the “most important position,” the answer is that it depends. It depends on the players the team has, the type of offense and defense the team runs, and the opponents they face. The discussion is more significant than the conclusion, because it reveals fundamental thoughts on how basketball operates as a team sport. I would suggest that the debate narrows down to the positions of point guard and center. The point guard is often the “floor general,” the person who controls the ball up the court, and sets the offense. The point guard has his hands on the ball, facilitating, more than any other player. The center is closest to the basket. In theory, he has the high percentage shot. He is also the defensive anchor, the last resistance for anyone driving to the basket. His very presence can alter the offense’s decision on whether or not to dare any closer to the rim.
This season for the Mavs, the point guard and center positions have been the most inconsistent and continually in flux.
At point guard, the departure of Jason Kidd may have hurt the Mavs more than they are willing to admit. Then there was the mysterious departure of Delonte West. Darren Collison hasn’t been able to make his case as the starting point guard or even deserving more minutes when coming off the bench. He has had moments of offensive production. But for someone so fast, he hasn’t been able to move particular well—especially on defense. I shudder every time I see Collison attempt a full-court press against another point guard. As he backpedals, playing his opponent close, I can count down the seconds, 5… 4… 3… 2… until a foul is called against Collison. To fill in the gaps of Collison’s gaffs, the Mavs have used Derek Fischer, Dominique Jones, Rodrigue Beaubois, and finally settled on Mike James. James, while not a perfect or even long-term fix, has surpassed expectations. Collison may eventually grow into his role as a starting point guard, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time.
At center, the Mavs have four players all vying for the same spot: Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Bernard James, and Brandan Wright. Each of them have, at times, disappointed. Bernard James, although older than Brandan Wright, is a rookie. He’s the only one who gets a pass. Anything James can produce this season is a boon for the team. However, Brand, Kaman, and Wright are all free agents next season, and they need to be evaluated with more scrutiny.
In an effort to keep the discussion going, I sought out ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon for his opinion on pressing issues for the Dallas Mavericks. You can view MacMahon’s coverage of the Mavericks at ESPNDallas.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @espn_macmahon. Periodically, we have touched base and discussed topics with our own unique point of view. It’s been a while, so it was necessary for us to reconnect and agree and disagree on a few subjects.
MacMahon likes to call it like he sees it. That perspective can hover on the other end of the spectrum from my optimistic viewpoint on things. You could say it’s a classic case of good cop, bad cop. Our different perspectives should make for an interesting conversation on hot topics revolving around the Mavs.
This round of bloom and doom analyzes if Rick Carlisle is having the coaching performance of his career, which 2011 departure would fit best this year and other topics.
Several weeks ago I put together a post highlighting the incredible amount of turnover on the Mavericks’ roster and rotation this season, and looking specifically at the effectiveness of different player pairs. At that point, 19 different players had dressed in a Mavericks uniform during the 2012-2013 season, not including Delonte West who was released just before the regular season started. That number has now climbed to 21, despite the team’s slow march towards 0.500 and a potential playoff berth. The larger pieces of the rotation finally seemed to have fallen into place, which means Rick Carlisle can return to tinkering around the edges. Plenty of elements have been difficult to watch this season, but among the most challenging for me has been the trial-and-error…and error method Carlisle has needed to piece together the limited specialists on this roster into a consistently reliable attack. We’ve never seen so much of the error portion of his process in years past, and Carlisle’s previously masterful performance in managing rotations have raised expectations to obscene levels. As Dirk Nowitzki has returned to form and all the new parts have become more secure in understanding how they fit around him, the tumult has eased. It’s an incredible relief to feel that identifying useful player combinations is no longer such a daily battle.
Obviously, I’m still hung up on these player combinations, so I decided to take another look, again using a Tableau Visualization. The chart below shows each different player combination the Mavericks have used this season graphed by their minutes played. I divided the season into six-game segments so each mark displays the numbers for just the previous six games. The color of each line represents the effectiveness of the unit, as expressed by Net Rating; red is good, green is bad. You can use the search filter at the bottom to focus in on any pairing that strikes your fancy.
The overall graph, displaying every combination is an overwhelming amount of information. But in looking at the hornet’s nest as a whole, a few things should pop out. The first is how inconsistent the use of different pairings has been. Injuries have shuffled the cards at different points during the season, but the jagged peaks and valleys adorning most of those lines emphasize what a shifting surface the Mavericks’ rotation has been. The second point is how inconsistent performance has been. Six games is not a huge sample slice by which to be measuring these groups, but most of the pairs, especially those at the top, have been rocketing back and forth between terrific and terrible.
Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
Until this month, we’d gone most of the season without being able to celebrate undefeated weeks by the Mavs. Now, all of the sudden, we’ve been bestowed that privilege. This week was surely the most impressive, as the Mavs went 3-0 against a decently tough schedule.
Let’s hit the highs and lows of the week.
Week 22 (Celtics, Jazz, Clippers)
1) Dirk Nowitzki
A vintage week from Dirk, as he averaged 24.0 points per game on a cumulative 27-of-49 (55%) shooting along with seven rebounds per game. He was particularly effective in crunch time against the Clippers, dropping 15 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter and overtime alone. Nowitzki’s season-long efficiency numbers are finally starting to approach his usual, otherworldly levels; as of today, his true-shooting percentage is 56.2% (well below his monstrous 61.2% during the 2010-2011 championship season, but otherwise comparable to most recent seasons). His effective field-goal percentage is 51.2%, which is higher than any of the last six seasons other than 2010-2011.
Some of that can be attributed to the fact that Nowitzki has posted an amazingly low usage rate — just 23.8%, by far his lowest in nine seasons — though it can also be difficult for a high-volume scorer to find such consistent accuracy when they don’t touch the ball early and often. Dirk defies that trend, though the Mavs still need to work to get him the ball regularly (which they were much better at this week than last).
If you haven’t read Bryan Gutierrez’s interview with Zach Lowe, you should–in part, because Lowe agrees with me about Cuban, GMs, draft picks, and the CBA. And it’s always nice when intelligent people agree with me. It rarely happens.
I also mention the interview, because Gutierrez and Lowe discuss what might be the newest defining moment in Mark Cuban’s tenure as owner of the Dallas Mavericks: the decision to not wheel and deal for Tyson Chandler after winning the NBA championship. Of course, it wasn’t just Cuban. Donnie Nelson was also part of the discussion. According to Cuban, even Nowitzki was on board or at least understood the reasoning behind the plan. Chandler wasn’t the only player affected. The later departure of Jason Kidd and Jason Terry possibly indicated their lack of faith in Cuban’s strategy for the future.
The plan: Sign players to one-year contracts to create cap space, which they’re putting a premium value on, in order to have financial flexibility and better options. Who is to blame for any negative outcomes — Cuban for taking a calculated gamble or the NBA for approving a CBA that penalized owners with deep pockets?
Frankly, the Mavs weren’t a favorite to win it in 2011. If they hadn’t won the championship, Cuban’s plan wouldn’t be under such scrutiny. I’ve seen Cuban explain his thinking about ten different times. I’ve read the same online arguments over and over by disappointed fans. I’ve heard sports talk radio hosts dumb down the issue with “good ol’ boy” logic and bumper sticker wisdom. I’m convinced we’ll be debating this until the Mavs win another championship, whenever that might be.
Even though it’s hard to resist, I don’t want to focus solely on Cuban and the CBA. Let’s go back a few months earlier, before the lockout, immediately after the parade, when an arena full of Mavs fans were chanting, “Thank you Mark! Thank you Mark!” That was a good day for Cuban.
What did Mark Cuban do to deserve such praise?
When he purchased a majority stake in the Mavs franchise on January 4, 2000, Cuban became the most interesting and most enthusiastic owner in pro sports. With his billions, he probably could’ve purchased a better team that promised a better return for his investment. But he loved this wayward team and wanted to make them great. Whatever criticism he may have earned, no one could accuse him of not caring. His impact went beyond writing checks.
In Part One of my conversation with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, we discussed the recent disappearing act of Dirk Nowitzki’s shot attempts, Rick Carlisle’s coaching and the whacky twists and turns the point guard position has created for the team this season.
Part Two really digs into the meat and potatoes for the Mavericks. This summer will once again present a crossroads of sorts for Dallas. There’s also a decision the Mavericks made after winning their championship in 2011 that will likely hover around the franchise for quite some time. Lowe discusses the hindsight look at that as well as looking at the legacy Dirk Nowitzki will imprint on the league.
Let’s dig in. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.
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.
Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
You wouldn’t know it from the game results (L, W, L, W, L), but the Mavs played at a fairly consistent level for the entire week (at least until the fourth quarter of the final game against Brooklyn). After being wildly inconsistent for most the season, the Mavs seem to have finally leveled out and settled into a groove.
So, if the Mavs were so consistent, why 2-3? Why alternating wins and losses? Well, that’s just the thing — the Mavs’ “consistent” level of play sits pretty much right in the middle of the league. Their season-long ceiling (as opposed to their single-game ceiling, which is largely a function of variance) sits right around the 50th percentile. By playing consistently over several games, then, the Mavs make it very easy to see exactly where they sit in the league pecking order. They’ll beat bad teams regularly (Cleveland); they’ll beat decent teams sometimes (Atlanta); they’ll lose to decent teams sometimes (Brooklyn); and they’ll lose to elite teams almost always (San Antonio and Oklahoma City).
Hence, the week that was.
Week 21 (@Spurs, Cavs, Thunder, @Hawks, Nets)
1) Brandan Wright
Wright’s offensive game is so fluid and efficient, it’s hard to imagine that he could barely get off the bench earlier in the year. Here’s how Wright’s key numbers shook out this week: 10.4 points per game, 24-of-43 (56%) shooting, 6.2 rebounds per game, and 1.0 blocks per game. It’s much more difficult to quantatively measure individual defense, but I thought Wright showed his continued improvement in that area. He’s got a long way to go, but his footwork in the defensive post has improved since November, and he’s being more judicious with his weakside defense (i.e., not wildly jumping around trying to block every single shot instead of boxing out). Wright earned numerous accolades during college while playing in the highly competitive ACC, and it’s easy to see why. His raw talent is undeniable. With hard work and on-point coaching (and I have no reason to suspect both won’t occur), his ceiling is fairly high.