Team Pace Off. Eff. eFG% FT/FG ORB% TOR
Dallas 92.0 101.1 48.8 15.9 8.5 10.9
San Antonio 107.6 53.3 23.7 18.4 15.2
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- It would be unfair to lump the weight of a loss on one player in any game, but Jason Terry (eight points, 3-16 FG, four assists) makes the idea awfully tempting. Last I checked, JET was supposedly the Mavs’ most efficient non-Dirk scorer, and yet his shooting stroke was lost but never found. There were no late-game heroics (aside from a pair of three-pointers swished after the game had been decided) from Terry, only well-intended attempts each flawed in their own special way. He drove to draw fouls rather than score. He took a three from a good foot-and-a-half behind the three-point line, just for kicks. He pulled up and pulled up and pulled up in the hope that something would go down. Whatever pixie dust JET has benefited from in the past seems to have disappeared over the last two games, so if anyone knows a good supplier of magically enchanted performance-enhancing goods or potions, Terry might be interested.
- The Mavs’ defense wasn’t sterling, but it was surely competent. In man and zone alike, Dallas put forth a strong defensive effort, and though the execution was hardly pitch-perfect at every turn, the Mavs did about as well as one could ask — while throwing two deep bench players into the regular rotation — against San Antonio’s impressive offensive front. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined to shoot 10-of-27 from the field, and though Ginobili’s three-pointers were pretty crucial, I think the Mavs can live with that shooting mark.
- If one Maverick lived up to expectation and then some, it was Caron Butler (30 points, 10-21 FG, ). The oft-maligned wing was an efficient scoring machine, and the one stable aspect of the Mavs’ offense all game long. Jason Kidd started off hot but faded fast, Jason Terry sputtered throughout, and Caron worked his way into good attempts. The Mavs’ offense isn’t sustainable without Dirk, but Caron did his part to keep the team afloat. Toss in plus performances by Tyson Chandler, Brian Cardinal, and Alexis Ajinca (who leapfrogged Brendan Haywood in the rotation, if only for this game), and the Mavs almost stole a win. They competed, but their offensive limitations combined with Terry’s struggles were too much to overcome. (Also: the Spurs switched every 1-4 pick-and-roll, pitting George Hill and Tony Parker up against Shawn Marion in the post. The Mavs found some success going to that match-up, but they never attacked it. Why?)
- All hail the vaunted zone. It broke down at times (as any D is ought to do), but the match-up zone again keyed substantial runs for the Mavs that helped them overcome the Spurs 14-point first-half lead. It continues to amaze me how seamlessly Dallas can transition from zone to man and back again, as if each didn’t require a distinct mentality and its own approach.
- Three-point shooting seems a popular theme, but it’s not as if the Spurs were the only team hitting their looks from beyond the arc. Gary Neal hit a dizzying 5-of-8 threes en route to 21, but Cardinal hit all three of his attempts, and Jason Kidd nailed 2-of-5 from deep. It’s a point of separation in a close game, but even the Spurs’ blistering shooting was countered. Plus, if we’re looking to long-range shooting as a distinction between the Mavs and the Spurs, then offensive rebounding should surely be taken into account; San Antonio bested Dallas by nearly 10% in offensive rebounding rate.
- Jason Kidd (12 points, 5-15 FG, 10 rebounds, 13 assists) notched a triple-double, which deserves note. Like much of the Mavs’ efforts though, it was a bit empty. Dallas never felt like they were ready to actually win the game, instead seemingly content to have fought hard and ceded in the final act. It’s a commendable loss if such a thing exists, but I’ll be damned if there didn’t seem to be a bit of destiny involved. Caron Butler may not have gotten the memo, but Dallas wasn’t scripted to be the plucky underdog.
You know the drill. The Difference is a quick-hitting reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- First, the relevant information that transcends the scope of this game: Dirk Nowitzki left the game around the nine-minute mark in the second quarter after landing just a bit awkwardly on one of his trademark jumpers. There were no defenders in Dirk’s immediate vicinity, no flailing limbs to throw Nowitzki off balance or planted feet to disturb his footing. He just landed, winced, and left the game. The injury didn’t appear serious, but it very well could be. We’ll know more when Nowitzki gets an MRI later today.
- Even after losing Nowitzki for the night, Dallas did a great job of keeping pace with a Thunder team that was anxious to attack in transition. Kevin Durant (28 points on 21 shots, five rebounds, four assists, five turnovers, two steals, and two blocks) was his typically fantastic self, but the Mavs rallied to keep pace while going on some very effective defensive runs. The fourth quarter belonged to Dallas; the Maverick zone held the Thunder to just 12 points in the frame, as Durant and co. shot just 4-of-18 from the field for the quarter while turning the ball over five times. The zone is probably more effective with Shawn Marion and Caron Butler on the wings in place of Nowitzki anyway, and Dallas went into full lockdown mode in a game-turning fourth quarter. In most cases, I’m quick to dismiss the overvaluation of the fourth (over any other quarter, anyway), but in this case there was an observable change in momentum in addition to a literal turn on the scoreboard. After 36 minutes played, the Mavs were down two, and after a dominant defensive performance, they won the day by 10. Influential enough for me.
- When playing zone, Dallas seems to have found the perfect balance of ball pressure and reactive defense. They force opponents into tough shots by restricting access to the paint and allowing opponents to kill themselves with outside shots, but have a knack for attacking a ball-handler at just the right moment, or completely swarming a passer with limited vision at the perfect moment. The Mavs’ match-up zone looks like a legitimate long-term weapon, and though the playoffs provide a completely different preparation dynamic, zoning up seems to confuse the hell out of regular season opponents.
- Interestingly enough, the Thunder started off the game with a little zone of their own. Unlike earlier zones that the Mavs have seen this season, they didn’t seem too affected by it. Progress!
- The Mavs are still killing it from the three-point line. DeShawn Stevenson and Butler combined to shoot 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, and the team as a whole shot 47.8% from distance. OKC shot a decent enough 35.3% from the three, but the discrepancy in percentage and attempts helped the Mavs almost double the Thunder’s three-point makes.
- Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Jason Terry struggled through the first three quarters — both with Nowitzki in the lineup and without him — but came alive in the fourth. JET shot 5-of-8 and made his only three-pointer of the night in the fourth, which was home to 11 of Terry’s 13 points. This isn’t a terribly positive habit to fall into, but it’s nice to know that Terry isn’t so affected by a shooting slump as to miss a chance to soak up the bright lights.
- Jason Kidd (10 points, nine rebounds, 10 assists, four steals, two turnovers) surged appropriately. With Nowitzki out of the lineup, the offense relies even more heavily on ball movement and spacing, which provides Kidd a perfect stage to showcase his showrunning talents. Kidd excels when given the pieces to run a balanced offense, and though the Mavs are unquestionably a lesser offensive team without Nowitzki, Kidd is a tremendous asset to have on a team with limited shot creation that could help Dallas keep their collective head above water if Dirk is forced to miss a little time.
- Terry’s defensive improvements are pretty subtle, but continue to impress me. As is usually the case on the defensive end, it’s all about the little things: stopping a Russell Westbrook fast break by attacking his dribble, closing out just a tad more quickly…I’m sure proper defensive effort is a big part of it, but Terry nonetheless deserves credit for figuring out how to boost his all-around effectiveness.
- Alexis Ajinca found some minutes in Nowitzki’s absence, and looked alright. Interesting to have a player with his height and length on the wing in the zone alongside Brendan Haywood or Tyson Chandler. Also: Ajinca hit a three-pointer, the first in his NBA career.
- Marion and Butler are crucial offensive contributors even under normal circumstances, but for the duo to add 41 points on just 37 shots is certainly notable. That’s more Marion than Butler, but Caron had a solid all-around night.
Basketball, like most other things in life, should be meritocratic. Those who deserve distinction, a role, or a buck should get it. Chalk it up to the American dream or whatever you’d like, but the fundamental notion that work and success should be rewarded doesn’t sound all that revolutionary to these ears, and shouldn’t be kept apart from basketball by a white picket fence.
Yet almost inevitably, complications begin to creep in, and for a variety of reasons the goods in this sport aren’t always doled out as they should be.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is sadly one of those times.
On Tuesday night, Ian Mahinmi and Alexis Ajinca played their tails off. They hustled, they scrambled, and they fought for every rebound they could. They were everywhere, even though thus far this season, they’ve been nowhere. Mahinmi and Ajinca were able to accomplish all of this on a night that was supposed to be Brendan Haywood’s; with Tyson Chandler sidelined by stomach illness, this was Haywood’s grand opportunity to show that he’s still a meaningful member of this rotation, and that the gargantuan contract he was given this summer was a wise investment, albeit one that has yet to pay off.
Haywood didn’t show any of that. He looked just as fireless as he’s been all season, and though Haywood grabbed a few boards and scored a few points (six and four in 18 minutes, if you’d like to be exact), this was every bit the Brendan Haywood we’d seen through the year’s first 20 games. What’s worse: he cared just as little, even when the spotlight was fixed squarely on him.
With about a quarter of the season in the books, Brendan Haywood doesn’t seem to care. He sometimes defends like he gives a damn, but his total effort? Particularly on the boards? It’s outright distressing, if not depressing. If another player in another spot in this rotation gave similar effort, they’d find themselves demoted. If Caron Butler listlessly floated through games like Haywood has, Shawn Marion would have his starting job in a few games’ time. If DeShawn Stevenson hadn’t grabbed his one opportunity by the throat and played well ever since, Rick Carlisle would toss him back to the end of the bench.
But Haywood hasn’t been taken down a peg on the depth chart, and that’s as much about what he’s capable of doing (playing great interior defense, cleaning up inside, rebounding effectively) as it is about the price tag clipped to his ear. Dallas doesn’t just need Haywood to play well because he’s the best back-up center option available by a long shot. They need Haywood to play up to his potential because that’s what they paid for, and what they’ll continue to pay for over the next five and a half seasons.
Mahinmi and Ajinca are hungry, even if they’re not as capable as Haywood. That’s endearing. Hell, Mahinmi’s 12 points (with 10 FTAs), 10 rebounds, a steal, and two blocks against the Warriors — that’s endearing. Yet nothing can ever change within this rotation, and it shouldn’t. If you don’t think Haywood’s stock could possibly fall any further than it already has, imagine throwing a demotion — in favor of the unheralded Mahinmi, no less — on top of it all, followed by Haywood’s likely response to such a situation. Brendan Haywood isn’t playing well now, but it can get much, much worse.
It’s a shame that this is the way we’re forced to reflect on a talented center and his fresh new contract, but this is what has become of Haywood. He’s no longer even displaying the kind of effort you’d expect from a second-string center. He’s being outplayed by both Ian Mahinmi and Alexis Ajinca. And without ample production to justify his minutes, validating Haywood’s playing time involves waving around the money he’s owed in an attempt to avoid a complete collapse in value. Come back, Brendan.
A few more detailed looks at the Mavs’ upcoming season are on their way, but in honor of the CelticsBlog-hosted NBA preview circuit, I present to you a first look at the immediate future of the Dallas Mavericks:
Last Year’s Record: 55-27; best in the Southwest, second in the West.
Key Losses: Erick Dampier, screen-setter extraordinaire and instantly expiring contract, Eduardo Najera, a signed-and-released Tim Thomas, Matt Carroll, Rodrigue Beaubois’ preseason, and hope for a big name free agent.
Key Additions: Tyson Chandler, Ian Mahinmi, Dominique Jones, Alexis Ajinca, Rick Carlisle’s faith in Beaubois, the benefit of a full training camp.
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
Dirk Nowitzki was re-signed on a bargain deal relative to his current production. Brendan Haywood was inked to a long-term contract that has brought the Mavs a fair bit of criticism, though the partial guarantees written into the deal and the market this summer (not to mention the fact that re-signing Haywood was a flat-out necessity) make his deal fairly palatable. Erick Dampier was traded for Tyson Chandler, and the Mavs shed Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera’s contracts while picking up an interesting young big in Alexis Ajinca. Mark Cuban shelled out $3 million for the chance to select South Florida’s Dominique Jones in the first round of the draft. Ian Mahinmi, a per-minute wonder with plenty of promise, was had for two years and minimal salary commitment.
Yet the biggest moves of Dallas’ off-season were the ones never made. The Mavs’ brass made pitches to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Joe Johnson in an effort to lure them to Dallas via sign-and-trade, but the former two had grander ideas and the latter his eye on a much larger paycheck. Erick Dampier’s instantly-expiring contract was a hell of a trade chip, but it sat unused while the most attractive free agents on the market committed to playing anywhere but Dallas.
The Mavs also made runs at two candidates for their mid-level exception. Al Harrington: miss. Udonis Haslem: miss. Dallas wasn’t sinking any battleships.
Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban then turned their attention to the trading block, where they found an eligible bachelor in Al Jefferson. His fit with the team may have been a bit awkward, but there’s no mistaking Jefferson’s talent. Reportedly, the Mavs were but Dampier’s contract and a few draft picks away from working out a deal with Minnesota, yet the Mavs balked. Maybe it was the luxury tax implication. Maybe Nelson and Cuban were hoping for an even better return on Dampier’s contract. Maybe it was concern over how Nowitzki and Jefferson would play together. Regardless, the Utah Jazz swooped in to collect Jefferson while giving up little more than cap space and a pair of first rounders in return, and the Mavs leave the summer in only a slightly better position than when they entered it.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Dirk Nowitzki. In an otherwise unremarkable offense, Nowitzki is one of the few unmistakable standouts. He still presents a match-up problem for every player in the league, and even at 32, Nowitzki’s offensive game is as potent as ever. His rebounding rate has dropped a bit. His defense is still lacking, though probably underrated on the whole. But Nowitzki is the player through which all things come and all things go for the Mavs.
Taking care of the ball. The Mavs had the 10th best offense in the league last season, but were ranked 13th in effective field goal percentage, 26th in offensive rebounding rate, and 15th in free throw rate. How? Dallas turns the ball over on just 12.2% of its possessions. Nowitzki is an absurdly efficient go-to scoring option in part because of how deliberately careful he is with the ball. Jason Kidd may pick up quite a few turnovers, but between Nowitzki and a few other high-usage, low-turnover players (Jason Terry, Caron Butler), Dallas puts up plenty of shots without giving up scoring opportunities.
Creating turnovers without fouling. Typically, successful NBA defenses fall into one of two general categories: a more conservative, field goal percentage-limiting style, or a more aggressive scheme based on forcing turnovers. Great defenses can sometimes manage to do both. Dallas manages to do neither, at least to the full extent of each defensive theme. Of the 10 teams that forced the most turnovers last season on a per possession basis (GSW, BOS, CHA, MIL, DET, UTA, OKC, MIA, PHI, and DEN), seven were also among the bottom 10 in opponents’ free throw rate. This is pretty intuitive; the more teams pressure ball-handlers and try to force turnovers, the more likely they are to be whistled for fouls.
Dallas, however, has managed to be fairly successful in creating turnovers (they ranked 11th in the league in that regard last season) without picking up all that many fouls (the Mavs were 3rd in the league in opponents’ free throw rate). It’s a strange balance, but thanks to anticipation on the wings and an overall conservative style (perhaps a bit too conservative at times), Dallas has made it work. Not well enough to do serious damage in the playoffs in the last few years, but well enough to remain in the West’s second tier in spite of other defensive shortcomings.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Shot creation. Nowitzki can manufacture a reasonably good shot attempt against almost any opponent when covered one-on-one, but aside from Dirk, Dallas doesn’t have many players that can create quality shots reliably. Rodrigue Beaubois is likely the team’s second best option in that regard, as Beaubois can use his speed to free himself up for an open look or execute relatively simple drive-and-kick sequences. Otherwise, Jason Terry’s shot-creating abilities looked stifled in last year’s playoffs, and Caron Butler is a decent isolation option…which might make a difference if decent isolation options were considered useful for offensive success.
Jason Kidd is, oddly enough, the question mark. Against San Antonio last season, he wasn’t able to create open looks for the likes of Terry, Butler, Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood, and the Mavs suffered. One of the reasons why Beaubois seemed so brilliant in that series was his stark contrast to Kidd; while the future Hall-of-Famer claimed to be troubled by illness and a bad back, Beaubois was slicing to the hoop in a way that no other Maverick can. If Kidd can stay healthy for the playoffs and redeem his performance against the Spurs, the Mavs’ offense could be pretty potent. It comes down to Dirk providing another year of solid production, Dallas recognizing the kind of shot-creating star it has in Beaubois, and Kidd finding a way to make the rest of the offense work. Without all three of hopes points coming to fruition, the Maverick offense will struggle at times.
A lack of elite production in any particular category. When people say that the Mavericks lack a team identity, they’re wrong. What they really mean to say is that Dallas isn’t really a top-level team in any particular statistical regard. The Mavs were a solid team in most capacities last season, but with the Lakers looming above and so many other team fighting for the no. 2 seed in the West, just being solid may not be good enough. The Mavericks were neither an elite offense nor an elite defense last year, and that’s troubling, particularly because their primary off-season acquisition was a back-up center that will replace the already steady Erick Dampier. Any improvement that will thrust Dallas into elite company will have to come internally, and that puts a lot of pressure on Rodrigue Beaubois, Caron Butler, and Brendan Haywood.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Win 50 games to extend the Mavs’ current 10-year streak, rest the veterans as much as possible, and make it to the conference finals. Any playoff series would be a step up from last season’s first round exit, but Dallas has enough talent to aim high. Not ‘up, up, away, and through the Lakers’ high, but high enough to be L.A.’s stepping stool on the way to the Finals.
Here are some developmental goals for some of the younger guys:
- Rodrigue Beaubois needs to prove that the production from his fantastic rookie season is sustainable, while working to improve his ability to run the offense and defend opposing point guards.
- Dominique Jones needs to find a way to crack the Mavs’ wing rotation, which is currently clogged with veteran talent. Jones’ on-ball defense and ability to get deep into the paint could be quite useful, but nothing will be given to Jones. He’ll have to pry every minute he gets from Terry, Butler, Beaubois, and J.J. Barea’s fingers.
- Ian Mahinmi needs to continue to work on his face-up game, work the offensive glass as well as he did in the preseason, and focus on improving his ability to defend centers. There aren’t all that many minutes to be had behind Dirk, but if Mahinmi can grow into a capable defensive option in the middle, he could become a Maverick fixture.
- Alexis Ajinca needs to outplay Ian Mahinmi and force the Mavs to give him a serious look. He’ll start the season at the back of the center rotation, but if Alexis can outplay Ian in practice and in his limited floor time this season (which won’t be the easiest thing to do considering Mahinmi’s gaudy per-minute numbers), he’ll have a chance to feast on the Mavs’ center minute scraps. Other than that, Ajinca needs to continue honing his hook shot, and improve his defensive positioning.
- J.J. Barea needs to be a bit more choosy with his shots in the paint, and really hone in on his coverage of the pick-and-roll. All things considered, he’s not a bad backup, but it’s his D on screens that really gets him in trouble.
5. Do you have a video of Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash playing guitar that could take us back to the simpler times, when defensive inadequacies were just a cute little quirk of our beloved Mavs?
I thought you’d never ask.
Predicted Record: 53-29.
You can also head over to ProBasketballTalk to read more of my thoughts on the Mavs this season, if you’re antsy.
- Kelly Dwyer ranks Dirk Nowitzki as the fourth best power forward in the game, behind Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan, and Amar’e Stoudemire. Feel free to be angry, if that’s how you feel about these things. I will say this: when you get to the top of a positional ranking, you’re often going apples to oranges. Gasol, Duncan, Nowitzki, and Stoudemire are all great players. I happen to think Nowitzki will best Stoudemire in the upcoming season, New York’s offensive freedom be damned, but then again, I’m more of a citrus fan than most.
- On a related note, Andrew McNeill of 48 Minutes of Hell compared Gasol and Duncan in response to Dwyer’s rankings. A great place to start if you’re really into battling this out.
- And because we can never get enough rankings, Dwyer also sorted out the top 30 centers in the NBA next season. Erick Dampier ranked 30th, Tyson Chandler 24th, and Brendan Haywood 19th. Chandler’s ranking I can understand, but Dampier and Haywood’s seem a bit harsh. Then you look at those listed above Haywood (Or below? Rank orientation always confuses me.), and it’s hard to find some unthinkable error.
- Statistically speaking, defense does win championships. A certain Celtics dynasty skews the results a bit, but even exempting that team (and all teams prior to 1976) from the statistical sample yields a significant result in favor of prominent defensive squads.
- Tyson Chandler on how it feels to be traded, the significance of having a role as a defense-first player, and the secret to playing good D (via DOH on Mavs Moneyball).
- Another smart organization hiring quality personnel to run their D-League team.
- Alexis Ajinca didn’t quite make the French national team, though Ian Mahinmi is on their final roster in spite of a minor hand injury. (via DallasBasketball.com)
Positional certainty has never been a luxury the Dallas Mavericks could afford during the Dirk Nowitzki era. Yet year after year, the team’s flaws are diagnosed according to the standards of a conventional lineup. Dallas needs a better center. A better shooting guard. A better point guard. Hell, anything that isn’t power forward. Dirk has been the one constant, and despite his unconventional and unique talents, the success of his team is ultimately measured by way of an antiquated tradition.
No longer. Or at least as minimally as possible in this space.
It may be naive to think that the mainstream basketball audience will soon abandon the five conventional positions, but that doesn’t mean those of us in this corner of the universe can’t strive to be better, smarter basketball fans. I’m ready to take a hop (more than a step, but well short of a leap) in the way we classify players. With that, I’ll cue Drew Cannon of Basketball Prospectus:
But what do you really need from a lineup?
On defense, you need to be able to guard your opponents. This means you have to be ready for speeds and heights of all kinds. You need to have a player capable of guarding each of the five traditional C-PF-SF-SG-PG positions. We’ll call the players capable of defending each position “D1” through “D5,” respectively, with speed/athleticism on the x-axis and height/strength on the y-axis:
And on offense what do you need to be successful? You need to be able to make shots (from the field or free throw line), avoid turnovers, and clean up the offensive glass–at the very least to the point where you aren’t handing over points by doing the opposite. This means that you need someone who can take care of the ball, someone who can put it in the basket, someone who can get the ball to that guy, and someone who can get the ball back when someone misses. We’ll call these four characters the Handler, the Scorer, the Creator, and the Rebounder.
Quick point. The Creator and the Handler have to be the same guy. Because you can’t have your Creator losing the ball all the time before he can feed your Scorers, and you can’t have your Handler with the ball all the time but unable to get it to the Scorers.
…It boils down to this: On defense, you have to be ready for whatever the offense throws at you. But on offense, you really just need to rebound and protect the ball enough to let your scorers go to work (or protect the ball just enough that your dominant rebounding can keep putting points on the board despite below-average scoring, etc.). Really, how you put points on the board is your business. The defense is just reacting.
This is more than just a quaint idea.
I’m sure Cannon’s model isn’t a perfect one, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a start, and nothing more. Just as the traditional formula yielded point-forwards (or even point-centers…word up the the Antoine Walker experiment), combo guards, and other atypical cogs, I’m sure that this framework will allow for a few more offensive player designations yet. What matters is that we move away from a nondescript and misleading method of classifying players in favor of something — anything — that actually manages to advance basketball discourse.
To those still clinging to what they know, I’d ask this: what’s a power forward? What characteristics link Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Rashard Lewis, Lamar Odom, Reggie Evans, Tyrus Thomas, and J.J. Hickson? Not rebounding. Not scoring. Not skill set. Not height relative to their teammates. Not even the spaces they occupy on the floor. I’m at a total loss as to the criterion that would group that bunch together, which makes the assessment “Player X isn’t a real power forward” pretty much worthless. I think I know what it means, but without the ability to define the contemporary power forward, how could I really know for sure?
Conceptually, this is nothing new. Players like Dirk have been bending positional bounds for years, and the basic tenets of fluid positionality have been preached by a number of NBA scribes. Yet this system makes enough intuitive sense to work, and gives the thought a more practical and literal application.
If you’d like to join me on this little adventure, I’d love the company. If not, that’s fine, too. This post isn’t meant to convert, but primarily to do two things:
- Inform as to what the hell I’m talking about when I write that “Jason Kidd is a D2,” in the future.
- Bring the idea to the forefront. Even if you’re not ready to buy into an overhaul of positional classifications, I hope this at least gets you to think about what those classifications mean (or don’t mean).
This could be fun, but I’m going to need a lot of help. Here are the initial offensive and defensive positions for all of the current Mavs according to my own assessment, but they’re not infallible. Are there offensive profiles that aren’t represented? Is it fair to list Shawn Marion strictly as a rebounder? Or Jason Terry as a D2? Let me have it. Rip this idea to pieces. Tear it down so we can build it back up with stronger and smarter ideas, making our collective analysis that much better in the process.
Alexis Ajinca – D?, Large body
J.J. Barea – D1, Scorer-Creator/Handler
Rodrigue Beaubois – D1, Scorer
Caron Butler – D3/D2, Scorer
Tyson Chandler – D5, Rebounder
Brendan Haywood - D5, Rebounder
Dominique Jones – D2/D1, Scorer
Jason Kidd – D2/D1, Creator/Handler
Ian Mahinmi – D5/D4, Rebounder
Shawn Marion – D3/D2/D4, Rebounder
Dirk Nowitzki – D4, Scorer-Rebounder
DeShawn Stevenson – D2, Abe Lincoln tattoo
Jason Terry – D2 (I guess?), Scorer
In trading Erick Dampier for Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks made the right move because they could’ve made the wrong one, but they made the wrong move because they couldn’t make the right one. If you couldn’t tell, evaluating Dallas’ big off-season trade is a tad tricky. After all, this wasn’t just any swap. The Mavs had one of the most valuable trade chips in the league and had touted it as such while embracing the accompanying expectations. When a hungry fan base (and the team itself, for that matter) has guys like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James dangled overhead, they’re not likely to be satiated by the second best center on the Charlotte Bobcats.
That’s exactly what Tyson Chandler was last season. While he may be a starting-caliber player in name, the Bobcats’ top center in ’09-’10 was Nazr Mohammed. Nazr averaged 16.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, and the only real flaw in his campaign was that he didn’t see the floor more. That’s a better scoring season than Chandler has ever put together (Tyson’s single season high for PP36? 13.6, in ’02-’03). Mohammed may be a bit flawed as a defender and rebounder, but his competence in those areas in addition to his scoring made him the strongest 5 for Charlotte last season, even if Chandler’s injury prevented him from putting up a fair fight.
So the Mavs traded an incredibly attractive asset for the second best center on the 7th best team in the Eastern Conference…and for the license to dump the contracts of Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera. That’s a noticeably slimmer return than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or even Al Jefferson, for that matter. In somewhat fitting fashion, Erick Dampier’s parting gift to the Mavs is solid, but weighed down by the power of expectation. Just as a competent starting center seemed ridiculous when he had a $13 million price tag hanging around his neck, acquiring Tyson Chandler is a sad consolation prize when evaluated in the shadow of what could have been.
However, if we zoom out to get a slightly broader view, the Mavs did what they could. They tried to lure LeBron James. They reportedly met with Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson. They talked with the Minnesota Timberwolves about Al Jefferson, but decided that he wasn’t worth surrendering Dampier and multiple first rounders. None of those deals went through, so Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban moved further down their list of targets. The Mavs were prepared for this, it’s just unfortunate that they had to be.
So instead of picking up another star, Dallas will add a backup center. It fills a definite need. Ian Mahinmi isn’t ready to be that high on the depth chart just yet, so acquiring another 5 equipped to finish and defend was a must for the Mavs. Chandler can do a bit of both, but he is in no way the player that terrorized the Mavs in the 2008 playoffs. That Tyson Chandler is long gone, and in his place is a defending big clearly in decline.
Tyson is still a quality post defender, but he’s somehow even worse offensively now than he was with the Hornets. Fans frustrated by Erick Dampier’s inability to convert buckets around the rim are about to enter a whole new world of facepalming with Chandler. Damp may not have much touch around the rim, but Tyson struggles to complete anything that isn’t an easy dunk. I wish this were hyperbole. Chandler does have better hands than Dampier, which makes him a more viable option for easy finishes, but anyone hoping for an offensive upgrade is in for a hilarious surprise.
Defensively, Chandler can still hold his own. He’s frequently overrated as a shot-blocker, but Tyson is still a solid defensive option for guarding back-to-the-basket bigs. Chandler does struggle against some face-up threats, as the impact of his height and length is hedged by his injuries and an uncanny tendency to bite on pump fakes. However, if you put Chandler in off-ball situations (like, say, defending the pick and roll) that require a different kind of defensive read, he seems to perform fairly well. Tyson’s a smart defender, even if he is an impatient one.
Sounds good, right? Having two centers capable of making an impact on the defensive end is an incredible luxury, but I’d be remiss not to mention one minor detail: the Mavs had the same luxury last season. Erick Dampier was also a fairly successful defender, particularly when evaluated next to his second-string center contemporaries. Damp wasn’t producing worthy of his contract value on either end, but provided we analyze his strengths in terms of what the Mavs had rather than what the Mavs had to pay, Dampier was a quality rotation player.
In fact, Damp’s ’09-’10 season easily trumps Chandler’s in most statistical dimensions, and even compares relatively well to Chandler’s ’07-’08 year:
|Mecha Chandler ('07-'08)||17.5||26.1||13.2||4.1||122||104||0.7||7.3|
Those who didn’t have the opportunity to watch much of the Bobcats last season may be a bit shocked by Chandler’s inferior statistical résumé, but it’s no fluke; he really was a lesser player in many regards last season. It may not be fair to evaluate Dampier and Chandler’s offensive ratings directly (after all, one of them played alongside Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, etc., while the other relied on Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace to produce the bulk of the offensive production), but the per-possession measures give a slight edge to Dampier in shot blocking and defensive rebounding, while the more complicated metrics (Player Efficiency Rating [PER], adjusted +/- [APM], Wins Above Replacement Player [WARP]) also indicate that Damp had a greater positive influence. Chandler’s adjusted +/- last season was surprisingly awful, particularly considering that APM is thought to be more defender-friendly than most metrics.
There is something to be said about variety. Though Dampier was an productive player for the Mavs last season, he’s similar to Brendan Haywood in a lot of ways. Chandler provides a different kind of defender (even if it is a similarly effective one) that Rick Carlisle can use to tech against specific opponents. It’s nice to be prepared to compensate for injuries, etc. by having players of similar skill sets in the starting lineup and on the bench, but overloading on yin isn’t always the sound move.
The obvious wild card is Chandler’s health. Tyson has averaged 48 regular season games over the last two seasons, primarily due to a smorgasbord of lower body injuries. Chandler is supposedly healthier now than he’s been in a long while, but it’s tough to pin down exactly how much his game was hindered by injury last season. His ailments have the potential to impact his production next year in either direction, and though you’re welcome to take Chandler’s word on his status if you’d like, I’ll table my decision until we see Tyson in action at the Team USA tryouts later this month. Until then, I think it’s only fair to expect the same Chandler we’ve seen over the last two seasons: A quality defender (with definite weaknesses) and a bit of an offensive liability.
Alexis Ajinca is a reasonably promising young center prospect, but he seems destined for bench-warming duty. Ajinca played well for the D-League’s Maine Red Claws last season, but he isn’t prepared to tread water defensively against NBA opponents. Don’t let his 3.1 blocks per game last year in the D fool you — Ajinca would be out-muscled and out-maneuvered by his competition in the big leagues. He still has a ways to go before both his body and technique are ready for consistent NBA burn.
However, Ajinca’s offensive game is a bit more advanced, even if he isn’t ready to step into a sizable role on that end, either. Alexis has real offensive potential. Most of his current moves in the post are still rather basic, but you take what you can get from a 22 year-old giant like Ajinca.
It would be naive to assume that a basketball trade is all about basketball. While the Mavs do like what Chandler can bring to the team as a sub for Haywood, this move has some fairly clear-cut financial motivations. Dallas was able to dump the salary of Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera, which cleared about $17.5 million over the next three seasons (Najera has two more years under contract and Carroll has three). Those were two of the contracts Mark Cuban was reportedly trying to pawn off in a potential trade for Al Jefferson, so it’s not exactly shocking to see him dispose of their salaries in this deal.
Here is the year-by-year breakdown of the Mavs’ outgoing salary:
*Dampier’s 2009-2010 salary is entirely unguaranteed.
Also, because the Mavs did not waive Najera prior to June 30th, his salary for the next two seasons is completely guaranteed.
And their incoming salary:
|Ajinca||1,467,840||2,263,409 (TO)||3,243,465 (QO)|
Salary figures from Storytellers Contracts.
Plus, acquiring Chandler extends the Mavs’ ability to trade for talented players later in the year. While the off-season is the most convenient time to overhaul a roster, it also imbues far too many franchises with delusions of hope. Every team that struggled last year now has a blank slate, and with a few draft picks, a free agent signing or two, and internal development, all but the basement-dwellers seem poised to improve. It’s only during the regular season that the league’s harsh realities begin to surface: Regardless of which talent is where and what players are added or dropped from whatever rosters, only about half of the teams in the league are going to make the playoffs. The rest are doomed to another go-around as they continue to tinker in the hope of making the jump in the following season.
That should help the Mavs, who will no doubt attempt to use Chandler’s $12.6 million expiring contract (as well as Caron Butler’s $10.6 million expiring) as bait at the trade deadline. Right now, teams may be reluctant to settle for pure savings. However, when their roster’s shortcomings have been made painfully apparent over the course of 50 games or so, they may be more willing to deal. Financial flexibility is golden in the NBA, and while Dallas’ first token of financial flex didn’t bring in the star that they hoped it would, to have another shot using the same basic materials is nice.
The worst case scenario is that Chandler plays terribly, Dallas whiffs while attempting to trade him at the deadline, and Tyson becomes an unrestricted and unwanted free agent next summer. Both of those developments are rather unlikely, as the more probable outcome would have Chandler playing rather decently in a reserve role, followed by a move in February for a decent — but sub-superstar — talent. Still, anything can happen, and because the Mavs’ flexibility was maintained through February, this deal gets stamped with the dreaded “INCOMPLETE.” Embrace the uncertainty.
- Marc Stein of ESPN Dallas: “The Mavericks had no centers under contract when free agency started. Now they have four. Don’t be surprised, though, if the one of the new arrivals is traded again before the season starts…provided that the Mavericks can find a taker for Alexis Ajinca…ESPNDallas.com has learned that the Mavericks have been asked [by Ajinca's agent, Bouna Ndiaye] to shop Ajinca in the hope they can find a team that might be able to offer him more hope for minutes.” As DOH noted at Mavs Moneyball, this does offer some hope for Omar Samhan to make the final roster. Not too much, though. Three centers isn’t necessarily crowded, but it’s certainly cozy.
- Dirk is still unsure if he’ll play in the World Championships this summer, but has decided to play for Germany in next year’s Olympic qualifier provided he’s healthy.
- Brendan Haywood will start next year. Tyson Chandler will not. Tyson Chandler does not seem to mind this. Crisis averted!
- By Jermaine O’Neal’s estimation, the Celtics have a better chance to win it all next year than the Mavs do. Hard to argue with that given Dallas’ early exit and Boston’s incredible (and seemingly improbable) run to the Finals.
- Rick Carlisle will head down to Senegal this summer to take part in the Basketball Without Borders program.
- Most comparable statistical projection for Brendan Haywood? Erick Dampier. Eerie. Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus thinks the Mavs overbid for Haywood, but he is fairly high on Ian Mahinmi. Count me among those interested to see what Ian can do with some regular playing time.
- Kelly Dwyer on the Dampier-Chandler trade: “It’s a great deal for the Mavericks. They had no use for a plodder up front in Dampier with Brendan Haywood re-signed, so adding the athletic Chandler as a counterpoint helps this team moving forward, even if he misses the de rigueur 25 games a year. Chandler’s contract expires next summer, so he’d be off the books after a one-year trial.” Though Chandler may only be a slight upgrade over Dampier if one at all, there is something to be said about variety. Dampier and Haywood are similar players, whereas Chandler can give the Mavs a different defensive look.
- John Hollinger (Insider), also on the trade and where the Mavs stand: “What Dallas really needs to vault itself to elite status is a first-rate perimeter player; at the moment, the Mavs man those positions with several 30-something former stars but no current ones. With none available to be had with the Dampier contract, they did the next best thing. By adding Chandler, the Mavs retain the rights to a top defensive center. Additionally, he has a $12 million expiring contract, which gives the Mavs maximum flexibility to pursue other trades during the course of the season. No, it isn’t quite as alluring as being able to waive Dampier and clean the books entirely, but it’s a useful asset.”
- Team USA looks incredibly thin at center this year, so Tyson Chandler has been added to the tryout roster.
- It seems like Gerald Green’s basketball experiences have helped him grow as a person, but have they helped him grow as a player?
UPDATE: The Mavs have confirmed the trade via press release.
Here’s what Donnie Nelson had to say about the deal: “We wish Erick, Eddie and Matt nothing but the very best. They are consummate professionals that represented the Mavericks family with class and integrity. We could not be more excited to add Tyson Chandler. He is one of the most versatile big men in the league today. He gives our front line a defensive, shot-blocking, athletic punch we haven’t had here in awhile. Alexis Ajinca is a fine young center with significant upside.”
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Mavs have traded Erick Dampier, Matt Carroll, and Eduardo Najera to the Charlotte Bobcats for Tyson Chandler and Alexis Ajinca. The chip has been traded, and while it’s not LeBron James, or Dwyane Wade, or Joe Johnson (or Al Jefferson, or Andre Iguodala, or…), the Mavs did trade Damp to fill a bit of a positional need.
This move isn’t a particularly good one, and it’s not going to thrust the Mavs into the title discussion. However, like the Ian Mahinmi signing, it stabilizes the frontcourt rotation and gives Dallas some depth in the middle. It’s important, but definitely underwhelming. Dampier’s contract was thought to be much more valuable than this.
If the Mavs could have picked up Chandler circa ’07-’08, when he was one of the game’s elite interior defenders and a Chris Paul sidekick? This would be a definite upgrade. Yet as it stands, it’s actually very debatable whether Chandler is better than Erick Dampier at all. Even gifting Chandler the advantage, it’s entirely possible that Damp’s contract, which was supposed to add a significant, long-term piece for the Mavs, could have no direct roster impact past next season. The Mavs may choose to let Tyson walk next summer, and for all of the hullabaloo, that’s awfully anticlimactic.
Plenty more to come on the Mavs’ “big” off-season move.