Fashionably Late

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 30, 2009 under Previews | Be the First to Comment

Finally rounding up CelticsBlog‘s NBA Blogger Previews, with a little bit of a late look at the Southeast:

Atlanta HawksPeachtree Hoops

Charlotte Bobcats: Rufus on FireQueenCityHoops

Miami Heat: Peninsula Is Mightier SportsAgentBlog.com

Orlando Magic: Third Quarter Collapse

Washington WizardsBullets ForeverHoops AddictTruth About It

Bonus Links: See full schedule here

Once More, With Feeling: The Wrap-Up

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 27, 2009 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

For those of you that are too lazy to click through and find each of the preview posts, here’s the whole shebang put in a box and gift wrapped with a bow. It’s your birthday, darling, and we all love you very, very, very, very, very much.

The Explanation

I: The Formula/The TrueHoop Network Preview

II: The Four Factors

III: The Coach

IV: The Rotation

But wait, there’s more!:

My Mavs season preview for CelticsBlog’s NBA Blogger Previews.

ESPN.com’s Mavs Preview Chat with myself and Marc Stein

My season preview/State of the NBA address on TrueHoop

Once More, With Feeling: The Rotation

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Commentary, Previews | Be the First to Comment

This is a part of the multi-part season preview, Once More, With Feeling. To read an explanation, click here. To read Act I (the Network preview), click here. To read Act II (the Four Factors), click here. To read Act III (the Coach), click here.

Defining and maintaining a rotation is a bit of a delicate process for some folks, and a simple measure of brute strength for others; it’s either a continued exercise in tinkering and ego-stroking or a desperate attempt to jam fifteen square pegs into one giant round hole. As I discussed in the last segment, Rick Carlisle usually opts for the finesse approach.

But on top of the difficulties that come with appeasing the egos of professional athletes, Rick Carlisle also has the distinct privilege of fitting many multi-positional, versatile players into a series of coherent lineups. What is Josh Howard’s true position? Or Shawn Marion’s? Or Drew Gooden’s?

It doesn’t matter. The designation doesn’t matter so much as their contextual place within lineups and within the rotation. With a team that boasts such an atypical power forward and superstar, we shouldn’t expect each player to fall into neat little roles based on the expectations of their position. The reasons why Dirk Nowitzki is so brilliant are exactly because he’s not what you’d expect from a power forward. So when I say that Josh Howard will have no problem filling in as the starting shooting guard, I want you to grasp my full meaning. I don’t think that Josh Howard will be able to fulfill the ball handling and distributing responsibilities normally assigned to a 2 guard, but in my mind that doesn’t mean he can’t start alongside Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, and either Drew Gooden or Erick Dampier.

Photo via ESPN.com.

The Maverick offense is fairly unique in that even though it’s come along way since the plodding isolations of the Avery Johnson era, wing players have rarely had a role of the playmaking part of the offense. Aside from Jason Terry’s two man game with Dirk, the 2 is a position of scoring through cuts and jumpshots. Wings still create shots in one-on-one situations or the additional drive and kick, but the majority offense goes through the expert management of Jason Kidd or the high post savvy of Dirk Nowitzki.

With that in mind, why would Josh Howard and Shawn Marion be unable to coexist peacefully on the perimeter? Each is able to both shoot and slash, but in ways complementary of the other; Josh would rather shoot than slash, and Shawn would rather slash than shoot. But both are (at least) passable from three point range and fine finishers around the basket, which offers the Mavs a plethora of options in the half-court offense. Rare are the teams with two capable perimeter defenders, meaning in most cases either Howard or Marion will have free rein to do what they do best.

The other big question for the Mavs comes on the inside. Carlisle has opted to go with Dampier and Gooden as “co-starters,” with matchups determining the starter at center. That, more than anything, is reflective of the underlying theme of this year’s Mavs: flexibility. Gooden and Damp not only afford the Mavs a versatile approach to the inside game, but their unique contracts (Gooden’s unguaranteed contract and Dampier’s virtually expiring contract) will ultimately dictate the Mavs’ roster changes over the next year.

But while they’re both in Dallas, Gooden and Dampier will give the Mavs two very different looks in the middle. We know what to expect from Dampier: rebounding, on-ball defense in the post, the occasional dunk. But Gooden is more or less a wild card. We know that he’s a more gifted offensive player than Damp, but how will Drew fare on the defensive end? Determining when Gooden is the appropriate matchup will be Rick Carlisle’s first big test of the season, and assessing his offensive contributions relative to his expected defensive limitations. I’m not convinced that Gooden will give up all that much at center, but only time will tell how he will function within the Mavs’ scheme.

Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images.

You have to love the depth that comes with the Mavs’ new additions. Shawn Marion will fill many of the minutes as the Mavs’ back-up power forward, particularly in the rumored small ball lineup featuring the top five players in the rotation (Dirk, Kidd, JET, Howard, Marion). Quinton Ross also gives the Mavs a defensive stopper on the wing, either to neutralize particular perimeter threats or possibly to fill in as a starter for the injured Howard. Kris Humphries is poised to build on his solid preseason by playing as either big, and James Singleton/Tim Thomas fill the role of utility big based on specific need. I’d be remiss not to mention the excellent J.J. Barea, who proved against the Spurs that he’s capable of being a big-time difference maker. Rodrigue Beaubois will get some burn as the third point guard and occasionally as an off-guard, but he won’t get enough minutes to appease the Roddy-hungry MFFLs. I’m already salivating while we wait for Beaubois to actualize his potential, but for now we should all take deep breaths and try to be comfortable with the idea of limited minutes and some DNP-CDs for Rodrigue. All of his hopefully translates for more opportunities to thrive for the big names in Dallas. It’s so much easier to succeed in the NBA when surrounded by a decent supporting cast, and Dirk, Kidd, JET, and Josh have quite the ensemble.

I’m interested to see just how reliant the 2009-’10 Mavs are on the small ball approach. Putting Dirk at center certainly has its perks, but he does give up a bit defensively. We won’t really know for sure until Josh Howard returns from injury, but if last year was any indication (where Brandon Bass was a part of the Mavs’ most effective lineups), it could be Dallas’ trump card.

Once More, With Feeling: The Coach

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Previews | 3 Comments to Read

This is a part of the multi-part season preview, Once More, With Feeling. To read an explanation, click here. To read Act I (the Network preview), click here. To read Act II (the Four Factors), click here.

Heading into the off-season, the Mavs made a conscious effort to improve their depth. Adding starting caliber players like Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden helped to solidify back-ups into their roles, and the additions of Quinton Ross, Kris Humphries, Rodrigue Beaubois, and Tim Thomas helped to round out the bottom of the rotation. But in spite of all of the moves (not to mention the departure of Brandon Bass and the would-be addition of Marcin Gortat) Dallas has made to thrust itself into contention, one position has always been solidified: the head of the bench.

To some, that’s Jason Terry, a virtual starter and the Mavs’ most effective scorer not named Dirk. But to others, it points to head honcho Rick Carlisle.

Carlisle is, in many ways, unspectacular. He lacks the flair of D’Antoni, the culture of Popovich, and the smugness of Jackson. But that’s not to say that Rick doesn’t have style, a system, or confidence. All three would have to be considered staples of his coaching repertoire. Though Rick Carlisle isn’t instantly recognized and revered among the league’s coaching crop, he damn well should be. This isn’t just a competent coach, but an excellent one.

Carlisle knows his X’s and O’s, but his strength beyond strength is his willingness to accept change. Too many head coaches are headstrong to a fault; their stubbornness and refusal to change their system to fit the available personnel creates a clear divide between potential and actual success. Rick is just the opposite. His game plan is always fluid, whether it be a starting lineup, the first man off the bench, or the primary offensive option. All of this spells trouble for opposing coaches looking to battle Carlisle in a chess match. How do you plan three moves ahead when your opponent is willing to scrap his game plan in favor of the particular strengths of the pieces at his disposal?

Photo by AP Photo.

An excellent case study in Carlisle’s brilliance is his work with the Pacers during the 2004-’05 season. Due to a largely unknown incident that sidelined Indy’s three best players for a total of 131 games (not to mention only half a season from his starting point guard), Carlisle was essentially handed scraps of the team he expected coach. But rather than fall back on the lowered expectations in the aftermath of the Brawl, Carlisle and the Pacers rallied. Anthony Johnson, Austin Croshere, and Fred Jones all played significant roles on the new-look Pacers, and somehow, some way, it worked.

A championship contender stripped to bare bones still managed an impressive 44 wins, and the Pacers rode their resiliency to a first round victory over the Boston Celtics. They even took the arch enemy Detroit Pistons, who would go on to be the Eastern Conference champs, to six games. Not bad for a team decimated by injury and suspensions, with no time to find a rhythm or establish chemistry in the frenetically paced NBA regular season. Not too shabby.

Fast forward to 2008-’09, and Carlisle is still maintains the same coaching fluidity. His early experiment with a Princeton-style offense suited to fit Jason Kidd’s strengths ended up in the scrap heap, in large part because the team didn’t take to the scheme as anticipated. For other, more inflexible coaches, that could spell a half season of offensive mediocrity (or more). But Rick defaulted to the tried and true offensive sets of Avery Johnson, integrating plays familiar to Dirk and the Maverick mainstays into his arsenal to build a comfort zone. And it worked, as Carlisle’s tinkering so often does.

When all else fails, having a coach like Rick Carlisle functions as a hell of a safety net. He puts players in a position to succeed without fear of the bottom falling out, and that’s a powerful thing.

So powerful, in fact, that several of ESPN.com’s experts predicted Carlisle to come home home with the Coach of the Year Award this season. Among those experts were Henry Abbott and Kevin Arnovitz. When I asked Henry and Kevin for the rationale behind their selections,  both credited Carlisle with the ability to coach teams above and beyond reasonable expectations. From Henry:

Wayne Winston brainwashed me. That’s the main thing.

But also, this award usually goes to the coach of the team people think will be mediocre but turns out to be elite-or-close.

The Mavs are excellent contenders to be that team.

Two big obstacles: Jerry Sloan is in the Hall of Fame already and is long overdue. And, if the Lakers totally roll with Artest, Phil Jackson may deserve both coach of the year and the Nobel Prize.

Kevin offered the following explanation:

First and foremost, let’s be honest about what Coach of the Year means:

The head coach who presides over the postseason team that most exceeds expectations.

Given my faith that the Mavericks can contend in the West, Rick Carlisle was the natural choice. But my belief that the Mavs will surprise the prognosticators actually has a lot to do with Carlisle.

Whether it’s because he’s coached traditionally defensive-minded teams or it’s just his personality, Carlisle has been unfairly tarred as rigid over the course of his career, which I find baffling. I think back to the 2004 Eastern Conference finals, when Detroit’s defenders were stifling the Pacers’ big men down low. Carlisle responded in Game 4 of that series by starting Austin Croshere (who hadn’t gotten off the bench in the series) over Jeff Foster, thereby creating more space inside. That’s the very definition of flexibility – and it worked.

Last Christmas, Dallas played a road game in Portland, and it was nip and tuck the entire way, with the Mavs having mixed success running isolations up high. Then, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Carlisle realized something: The Trail Blazers were adequately defending the perimeter, and they were doing a pretty decent job at anticipating those underneath cuts/passes Kidd likes to execute. But what Portland couldn’t do was defend a super-speedy and agile pick-and-roll combo. So Carlisle rode J.J. Barea and Brandon Bass the entire fourth quarter, during which the Mavs outscored Portland 25-14.

How many coaches are confident and adaptable enough to design an impromptu offense around their 7th and 8th guys on the road against one of the league’s better home teams?

This season, Carlisle has a fascinating collection of offensive and defensive pieces to work with, and I can’t wait to see how he mixes things up in the frontcourt.

The Mavs-Blazers affair cited by Kevin is especially vivid to me. Two former D-Leaguers completely took Portland’s defense to task, and it’s truly a credit to Carlisle that he kept going back to the Bass-Barea pick and roll time and time again.

But Dr. Arnovitz’s anecdotes also illustrate a pretty incredible point: these stories are a dime a dozen when it comes to Carlisle. Whether it’s tales of late season rallies in the months following the Malice at the Palace, well-timed rotation alterations during the playoffs, or effective play calling in a “meaningless” regular season game in December, Carlisle’s brilliance is defined by a seemingly endless stream of sound, flexible coaching decisions. That track record speaks for itself, even if his reputation does not.

They Were Giants

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 26, 2009 under Previews | Be the First to Comment

My preview of the league at large (which is so large that it becomes small) is up on TrueHoop. Here’s an excerpt:

In ages long since past, basketballers walked as men. But they were not men. One was Magic. One was a Bird. Others were giants or Warriors, another a sky-walker with a powerful will and a golden touch. They were the NBA’s true immortals, and they reshaped the league in their image.

Then came the collapse, when gods of the hardwood were quickly replaced with false prophets. The gilded succeeded the golden, and mortal after mortal fell short in the remarkable shadows of the greats.

I think I feel a Harold Miner joke coming on.

But that age of mere men is coming to a close. The NBA is entering a mythological renaissance, as a meteoric rise in talent coincides with intriguing narratives to fuel the ever-expanding hype machine. The best and brightest are not only superstars, but basketball figures with transformative potential. Olympians in their own right, this elite group has the opportunity to shape not only the NBA, but American sports at large.

Follow through and finish reading here.

Once More, With Feeling: The Four Factors

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Previews | 3 Comments to Read

This is a part of the multi-part season preview, Once More, With Feeling. To read an explanation, click here. To read Act I (the Network preview), click here.

———-

Dean Oliver, in his book Basketball on Paper, isolated four factors that determine NBA success:

  • Shooting
  • Rebounding
  • Turnovers
  • Free throws

That’s it. An entire game of nuance and complexities boiled down to four bullet points.

Of course it’s never really that simple; behind these four headings lies each team’s offensive and defensive numbers boiled into a few metrics. They’re a step beyond your run-of-the-mill counting statistics, but still a bit of a reach from your more advanced measures. But they give tremendous insight into the particular successes of a basketball team, and they’re well worth your attention.

Let’s break it down, now.

Original photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images.

Shooting

You’ll find that Oliver’s four factors are determined on an offense vs. defense basis. So when I say shooting, what I (and Oliver) actually mean is the comparative shooting success between a team and their opponent.

In terms of their own shooting, the Mavs are certainly above average, but not quite elite (.504 effective field goal percentage or eFG%, 11th league-wide, .004 better than league average). The culprits of a normally potent’s offense decline into near-mediocrity? Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard. Dirk and Josh are good scorers and efficient scorers, but their reliance on two-point jump shots is impossible to ignore when calculating effective field goal percentage, a measure that weighs three pointers appropriately with their additional value. When your primary offensive weapons are shooting jumpers, their eFG just won’t measure up to the league’s premier interior or 3-point shooting outfits.

Keeping the Mavs afloat were the dunkers, Erick Dampier, James Singleton, and Ryan Hollins, and the three point shooters, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd.

In theory, new additions Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden would seem to fit right into that bunch. But their affect on the team’s eFG may be much more difficult to quantify. Shawn Marion was a dynamo during his time in Phoenix, with his eFG topping at .561. But much has happened since Marion’s run-and-gun days, and though Rick Carlisle and the Mavs are vowing to push the pace more than ever this year, it’s a line we’ve heard many times in the recent past. The good news is that last year’s much less effective Marion still managed a .491 mark, which matches J.J. Barea and bests Josh Howard.

Gooden, on the other hand, has posted a much lower career eFG (.474 compared to Marion’s .511), but may be poised for a bump. The only time in Gooden’s career where he has played alongside an above average playmaker was his time in Cleveland. The passing prowess of LeBron James brought Gooden’s eFG all the way up to .511. Jason Kidd shares James’ penchant for assists, and his helpful passes (along with some skilled teammates to relieve defensive pressure) will likely give Gooden more open looks around the basket than he’s ever had before. Hopefully that would at least shoot him in Damp’s direction in terms of eFG, but I’d settle for something right around last year’s team average of .504.

In terms of shooting defense, the Mavs were better than you might think (.493 eFGA, 10th, .007 better than league average). We’ll find the true source of the Mavs’ defensive woes in other areas, but in terms of forcing opponents into difficult shots, the Mavs weren’t too shabby. Though the now departed Antoine Wright’s eFG allowed last season was actually better than Marion’s, the Mavs hope that familiarity with the system as well as his teammates will help return Marion’s production to its previous highs. That isn’t a misguided notion; though familiarity and comfort level matter a great deal on the offensive end, they’re an absolute necessity for operating effectively in a defensive system. Marion needs to know where to rotate and when, and that’s a tough thing to do when the only constant in your life is Marcus Banks. Shawn Marion and Josh Howard are the keys defensively, and if the Mavs are going to transform into a top-notch defensive squad, the improvement will have to come on the wings. If not, there will be nothing to offset Jason Kidd’s lead feet or the Mavs’ lack of help-side shot blocking, and we’re looking at yet another year of average-ish defense.

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

Rebounding

The Mavs are not a good offensive rebounding team (.266 offensive rebounding percentage or ORB%, 16th, .001 worse than the league average). It’s an ugly truth that comes along with playing a perimeter-oriented power forward, talented though he may be; If Dirk is fading away at the elbow, he’s not going to be in position to hit the boards.

That leaves the primary offensive rebounding duties to fall on the shoulders of the Mavs’ centers, and for the most part, they’ve stepped up to the task. Erick Dampier, Brandon Bass, and Ryan Hollins were among the team’s leaders in ORB% last season, and though they didn’t perform at All-NBA standards (actually, Dampier did nearly match Dwight Howard in this ORB%), each performed admirably when acting as a one-man boarding crew.

It’s no big. Offensive rebounds are tremendously important and help create possessions out of thin air, but it’s hardly a requirement for team success. Though the Blazers and Lakers were near the top of the league last year in offensive rebounding, six of the top fifteen teams didn’t even make the playoffs. The Magic and Spurs were worst and next to worst in the league, respectively. I don’t feel too bad about the Mavs’ mediocre ranking in that department for exactly this reason, and though we should probably expect more of the same in 2009-10, it’s hardly a reason to panic.

That’s only because the Mavs are a competent defensive rebounding team (.746 defensive rebounding percentage or DRB%, 8th, .013 better than average). Dirk more than makes up for his poor offensive rebounding numbers with his work on the defensive glass, and he’s helped by Erick Dampier and the best rebounding point guard in the game, Jason Kidd. This is another area where the additions of Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden will pay dividends, and if each rebounds at a rate equal to their career averages, they would immediately be two of the top three defensive rebounders on the team. And, if the preseason is any indication, Kris Humphries should be a contributor on the glass as well, supposing he can carve the minutes from Dampier, Gooden, and Nowitzki’s hands.

Even if the Mavs don’t improve in rebounding by rank, they should at the very least improve in terms of rebounding percentage.

Photo by the AP.

Turnovers

In the days before Jason Kidd’s return to Dallas, the Mavs were a low assist, low turnover franchise. It got them all the way to the NBA Finals, and created a team ethic after the departure of Steve Nash. Typically, with the return of a true point guard comes the return of the high turnover numbers. Yet somehow, the Mavs have maintained their status as elite ball protectors despite Kidd’s sometimes reckless (yet effective!) passing style (.121 turnover percentage, 3rd, .016 better than league average).

That’s largely because Dirk, JET, and Josh Howard are all unusually careful with the ball. When your team’s (qualified) leaders in usage rate are also the most careful, that translates to some pretty impressive team numbers. Kidd can throw lobs and full-court bounce passes all he wants because at the end of the day, the Mavs’ big possession stars are handle the rock with care.

Now, if you’re an endless optimist, this might be the part where you turn away, cover your ears and eyes, and sing “LA-LA-LA-LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.” Even though the Mavs low turnover numbers are worthy of your awe, their opponent’s almost equally low turnover rates are at the very least worthy of an exasperated sigh (.123, 25th, .010 worse than the league average). The Mavs are not very good at creating opportunities by forcing turnovers, and their lack of speed on the perimeter has brought on-ball pressure to a grinding halt. So much emphasis is put on staying in front of a man rather than trying to exploit him, and though that might be a necessity on a team that lacks a lockdown defender on the outside, it also results in a painfully low amount of opponent’s turnovers.

Though the addition of Shawn Marion (and, to a lesser extent, Quinton Ross) would theoretically improve upon this weakness, I’m not quite so optimistic. I do think that Marion will find success in Dallas, but it’s impossible to argue against the fact that he’s lost a step. And as Shawn gets older and older, his utility as a defender will certainly dwindle. I still think he’s a capable defender in many ways, but Marion has less athleticism to compensate for gambles, leaving in a position to play more “honest” defense than ever. If less aggressive perimeter defense translates to less forced turnovers, then Marion will likely fall in line with the more defensively conservative Mavs.

Photo by the AP.

Free throws

Dirk shoots jumpers. JET shoots jumpers. Josh Howard shoots jumpers. Jason Kidd, Tim Thomas, and Matt Carroll all shoot jumpers. Even Marion and Gooden dabble. That’s almost an entire offense predicated on successfully making jump shots, and while it’s not exactly conventional, it is successful.

That doesn’t mean we should expect many free throw attempts.

The Mavs are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the league in terms of percentage, but most fans probably wouldn’t know that because of just how rarely the Mavs go to the line (.224 free throw attempts per field goal or FTA/FG, 22nd, .012 worse than league average). That’s not likely to change in the Dirk Nowitzki era, barring the acquisition of a big-time offensively skilled center. And I’m pretty sure MFFLs stopped holding out hope for that years ago.

———–

Values for the Four Factors from Basketball-Reference.com.

Once More, With Feeling: The Formula

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Previews | 7 Comments to Read

The TrueHoop Network banded together like a rag tag group of unexpected heroes to conquer the most sizable of foes: a season preview of both considerable scope and depth. Having blog representation for every team grants the project some tremendous perspective. So Act I of Once More, With Feeling will feature my contribution of the Mavs’ official season preview:

The 2009-10 Dallas Mavericks

Crystal Ball
The consensus win total prediction of the TrueHoop Network bloggers … and the best hopes of The Two Man Game.

Last YearCrowd Says...Blogger Prediction
50-3250-3253-29


Yes We Can!
The sun is out. The seas have parted. The basketball gods are shining upon us!

Team changes are often thought to exist on a continuum. On one end, “rebuilding” teams seek financial flexibility and the acquisition of young, productive assets. On the other, quality squads amass veteran talent, no matter the cost, in pursuit of a title. Defying all logic, the Mavs have simultaneously moved in both directions, an off-season strategy that bears the best of both worlds.

Dallas still has a lot to prove before we place them in the top tier, but the Mavs’ moves this summer have them planted firmly among the second group of would-be contenders. Headlining those moves was the acquisition of Shawn Marion, another offensive weapon for Jason Kidd to work with and a decorated perimeter defender. Though Marion’s odometer and price tag have understandably made some wary, it’s hard to see how adding Shawn to an already successful roster doesn’t work out for Dallas in the short-term. Historically, Marion has worked best with other scorers to play off of, and with skilled point guards capable of finding him at his favorite spots on the floor. Dallas certainly has both, though only time will tell if Marion’s down year in 2008-2009 was an aberration or indicative of real decline. In addition to Marion, Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas, and Quinton Ross will bolster the Maverick reserves, each bringing varying levels of talent, reliability, and veteran know-how.

In spite of all of that spending, the Mavs find themselves with financial flexibility in spades. Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden in particular provide the Mavericks with unusually valuable trade chips, as each can provide a potential trade partner with unique financial benefits. Given the window-shopping going on in anticipation of 2010 free agency and the current economic climate, that’s powerful. And while the Mavs are very flexible financially, they’re perhaps even more flexible on hardwood. By adding various players capable of playing multiple positions, the Mavs can offer a variety of looks and lineups to either befuddle or adjust to opponents. The desired result is a more explosive offense and more versatile defense, though the Mavs might be one more move away from fully actualizing their potential on either front.

And of course, the Mavs’ biggest guns are those returning from last year’s squad. Dirk Nowitzki is still an All-World talent, and his unique skill set will be supplemented by the better-than-you-think Jason Kidd, reigning Sixth Man Jason Terry, and a hopefully healthy Josh Howard. While that core may not measure up to the true championship contenders, it’s still stacked with enough talent to make the Mavs a dangerous element in the West.

All-a-Twitter
A 140-character insight into the
soul of the team.

Samuri Jack is back on cartoon network gotta watch” – Shawn Marion (@matrix31), who incidentally discovered the perfect metaphor for his career arc. The eponymous Samurai Jack is unwillingly thrust into the future via wormhole, and his longing for the comforts of simpler times echoes Marion’s own pining for his days in Phoenix. Though both battle an ambiguous, seemingly unconquerable adversary (be it incompatible offensive systems or the demon Aku), their true enemy is time itself. Just as Jack adjusted to a futuristic dystopia, so must Marion to the limitations of an aging athlete.

On the Record
Single best quote concerning the team during the last 12 months.

Everybody was in attack mode after we got stops…We didn’t have to grind it all out all the time.
–Dirk Nowitzki, following the game 3 playoff win over the Spurs

Last season’s Mavs suffered from an easily diagnosed, but difficult to cure ailment: the defense just couldn’t keep up with the offense. A lack of defensive stability left the 2008-2009 Mavs looking like an elite team one minute and a merely average one the next. That made the Mavs both mortal and dangerous, a combination that bore both a win over the Spurs and a loss to the Nuggets in the 2009 Playoffs.

The 2008-09 Almanac
Some key stats from last season.

Dallas Mavericks
Offense: 5th
Defense: 17th
Pace: 16th
Team Factor Strength(s): Turnovers (4th), Defensive Rebounding (8th)
Team Factor Weakness(es): Turnovers Forced (26th), Free Throws (23rd)

Despite the flaws of a system predicated on shooting jumpers, Dallas still boasted a top-notch offense handicapped merely by their inability to wreak havoc defensively. Shawn Marion and Quinton Ross were added for this reason, and, along with a healthier Josh Howard, they’ll ship up the sloppy perimeter. As for the free throws…well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Play
Down a single point with 9.2 seconds to play in a must-win game. What’s the play?

Jason Terry collects the inbound pass at the 3-point line on the right side of the floor. Dirk sets a high screen, which opens up myriad options. Terry could have an open shot, or room enough to drive to the basket. Dirk will likely have the space to operate after drifting to the elbow. Just in case JET and Dirk are swarmed, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, and Shawn Marion lie in wait. That’s hardly ever the case, though; Terry and Nowitzki make beautiful music together in the two-man game, and their harmonizing versatility begs for comparisons to Pet Sounds. They simply move together in step and in time, creating an idyllic sequence with an impressive, undeniable finished product.

The People’s Choice
The fan favorite the crowd will be chanting for to see some action.

Mavs fans will be chanting for rookie point guard Rodrigue Beaubois…as soon as they can conjure up an appropriate French-themed nickname for the young Guadaloupean. Beaubois has three pretty significant assets working in his favor: he’s a young first round draft pick, he’s a point guard with some flash, and his lack of exposure makes him a figure of intrigue.

If You’re Watching the Bottom Line, You’re Watching This
The single biggest spreadsheet issue hanging over the team.

Erick Dampier’s contract has cast a dark cloud over the organization for quite some time, but that cursed agreement could reap some serious benefits this season. Damp is technically under contract for the 2010-2011 season, but some creative salary structuring makes Dampier a living, breathing, eight figure expiring contract (next season’s salary is not guaranteed). But wait! There’s more! Beneath the hard, inflexible candy exterior of the aforementioned expiring contract lies a hidden treat: Erick Dampier can be traded for equivalent salary value late into the 2010 off-season, providing this trade chip with an unusually long and beneficial shelf life. The timing and returns are yet to be determined but Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have a wonderful toy to fiddle with.

Once More, With Feeling: An Introduction

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Previews | 2 Comments to Read

Tick-tock, tick-tock. Even the slightest movement by the clock’s hands brings us that much closer to tomorrow’s regular season opener. That much closer to the zip-a-dee-doo-dah of Opening Day, complete with singing, dancing, and cartoon blue birds.

There’s just nothing like regular season ball in the NBA. Nothing. The playoffs have their own particular allure, but the win-or-go-home format fails to capture much of the magic of professional ball. I don’t care how little is actually decided in the standard 82 because of exactly how much is told; the regular season acts as a story unto itself, with plenty of juicy details to hint of what’s to come.

I hope that when all is said and done, we can say the same about these season previews.

So Mavs, let’s take it from the top. Once more, with feeling.

Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 21, 2009 under Previews | 2 Comments to Read

FanHouse has been absolutely on fire with their “supplementary” season previews, a “Player to Watch” feature. As part of their Mavs preview, blogging hegemon Tom Ziller highlighted Jason Terry’s incredible shooting efficiency:

Image by Tom Ziller/AOL Fanhouse.

Ziller explains:

How Terry produces so efficiently provides an interesting twist. Unlike most guards who push the True Shooting meter to its greatest heights — like Nash, Chauncey Billups and Kevin Martin — Terry hasn’t been an elite three-point shooter over the past two seasons, nor does he draw fouls at any notable level. Terry is just a murderous shooter on long two-pointers. Terry led the league in two-point jumper shooting last year, hitting 49.2 percent of his myriad attempts from that depth. The so-called “mid-range” shot is death to many offenses, but that’s because the wrong players usually take them. That’s not the case in Dallas, where Terry and Nowitzki take most of the team’s long twos … and hit them more regularly than most of the league. (Nowitzki finished sixth in two-point jumper shooting last season.)

Matt Moore also offers a level-headed assessment of the 2009-2010 Mavs, putting emphasis on Dallas finding an early rhythm:

It has become popular nowadays to take a movie or idea that was popular 20 years ago and revitalize it, tweaking it for a more modern touch, in order to attract both new and old audiences. It incorporates the base elements of the original and then features a modern “twist” in order to seem “hip.”

In a lot of ways, that’s the story of the 2009-10 Dallas Mavericks. They’re not the same old Mavericks, but they’re not the new Mavericks either

…What’s going to be the difference maker for the Mavericks this season will be how this team finds its rhythm. As opposed to prior years where the Mavericks have taken too long to discover their chemistry, this year’s squad needs come out and figure out who they are on both sides of the ball early. It’s OK if that means that Marion is playing more of the role he has with other teams lately, but the Mavericks need to know. It’s okay if J.J. Barrea has an off year and can’t reliably fill in at the point, but the Mavericks need to know.

Dear Chatty Cathy

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 16, 2009 under Previews | 9 Comments to Read

I know that you, dear readers, think all day and dream all night of chatting with me on the internet. And I’m here to make that deep-seeded desire come true. On Monday (Oct. 19th) at 2:30 CST, Marc Stein and I will be fielding Mavs questions as part of ESPN.com’s NBA preview. The chat will be archived and posted here for those that can’t make it, but I encourage everyone else to pencil me in for a 30-minute block on Monday.

So come, one come all. Tell your friends, loved ones, acquaintances, nemeses, barbers, and soothsayers. Good times will be had.