If last season’s Mavs had one defining flaw, it would be their lack of a team identity. They struggled all season long to define who they were as a team, and with no team-wide, implicit understanding of their collective on-court personality, the 2008-’09 Mavs faltered when faced with a legitimate challenge.
The 2009-’10 season to date has played out a bit differently. One might claim that the Mavs have developed a strong defensive identity, and though you probably wouldn’t know it from watching the second half of last night’s game, they wouldn’t be wrong. One might claim that the Mavs have developed a resilient identity, working tirelessly toward wins despite their shortcomings. But I see something different. Through eleven games, the Mavs have forged a completely new identity from the regular season fires. Your Dallas Mavericks, ladies and gentlemen, are heartbreakers.
Just ask the Milwaukee Bucks, who fought and fought and probably deserved to win. Or ask the Houston Rockets, who ran out to a big lead against a more talented Mavs team. Or ask the Utah Jazz, who…well, you know. These aren’t just big wins or comeback wins. The Mavs are trivializing the spirit of their opponents’ hard work and execution by showing that this team will always be there, ready to break some hearts and play the villain. These Mavs may not have many characteristics that make them inherently hate-able, but if you win enough games that have gone to the wire, opposing teams (and their fans) will not only feel deflated, but resentful.
The Mavs’ long lost offense turned out to be the mechanism that silenced the Milwaukee crowd. Though the Mavs’ O stalled significantly in the second half (37 second half points vs. 66 first half points), it was more of a return to earth than a genuine struggle. The hot shooting in the first half had to stop at some point, and Brandon Jennings, Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Ridnour, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute took full advantage of the sudden cold streak. An 18-point Maverick lead was wiped out completely, and a team whose defense had struggled all game long was now left with cold shooters to contest the oozing confidence of Brandon Jennings.
Let’s take a minute to properly appreciate what Jennings did. He exploded for 13 points in the fourth quarter, and they could not have been bigger in terms of magnitude. These were game-tying buckets, go-ahead buckets, and momentum-shifting buckets, many of which could have gone down as the final scene if not for some Maverick heroics. Jennings simply ran around or shot over every Maverick not named Rodrigue Beaubois, and Carlisle’s shift to a zone in the fourth quarter seemed to be an admission of that. It didn’t help much at all, as Jennings (25 points on 8-22 FG, 7 rebounds, 8 assists) and Ilyasova (19 points, 4-7 3FG, 12 rebounds) were well in rhythm on the threes and mid-range jumpers.
But each time the Bucks made a big shot, the Mavs made an even bigger one. Dirk Nowitzki was especially effective down the stretch, but the Mavs would have been lost (and would have lost) without the clutch contributions of Jason Terry and Drew Gooden. Gooden’s contributions on the night won’t be forgotten (22 points, 14 rebounds), but his tip-in of a missed Nowitzki layup was absolutely tremendous, tying the game with 27 seconds remaining in overtime, and setting up Dirk’s game-winning jumper.
At times, it almost seemed as if the Mavs were trying to lose. Jason Kidd had his best passing game of the season to the tune of 17 assists, but very nearly gave away the game with an unforced turnover near the end of the fourth quarter. Dirk Nowitzki had an excellent night, but committed a horrible loose ball foul that sent the Bucks to the line with the game tied and just 37 seconds to play. Rick Carlisle refused to put Rodrigue Beaubois into the game in the fourth, despite the fact that Brandon Jennings was just 2-11 from the floor while Roddy was in the game. But all of those figures found redemption in the game’s final sequence: Beaubois partially blocked (or at least heavily contested) a Jennings 3, Carlisle draws up a game-winning inbounds play executed perfectly with a pristine pass from Kidd and a sweet jumper from Dirk at the final horn.
Rodrigue Beaubois (12 points, 5-9 FG) needs to be on the floor more, and needs to be on the floor when it matters most. His performance wasn’t flawless, but he really does change the game with his speed and in this game, with his defensive ability. I respect J.J. Barea’s defense more than most, but he was a liability on the court. He couldn’t stop Jennings, and J.J.’s trips into the lane often ended with an awkward floater or a blocked attempt.
Shawn Marion missed the entire second half with an ankle sprain, Erick Dampier was still not with the team (although he seems to be feeling better), and Josh Howard was still out with injury. This was a big win for the Mavs regardless, but even bigger considering the Mavs’ injuries.
I feel sorry for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. He played that last shot about as well as anyone could, but Dirk still got a pretty good look and an even better bounce.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to…Rodrigue Beaubois? Drew Gooden? I’m tempted, but this one just seemed too obvious.
The JV Mavs’ summer league debut was about as rocky as it gets. It was beyond painful to watch, and that’s coming from someone who was intrigued to see what players from both teams had to offer. I still managed to choke down turnover after turnover after turnover (the Mavs alone had 25), and saved all of you the displeasure of watching some of the worst basketball I’ve ever laid eyes on. These summer league rosters are assembled primarily from rookies, recent draftees, and D-League talent. The teams only have a handful of practices before they play under Vegas lights, and last night they certainly played like it.
I’ve got nothing against summer league, in theory or in practice. Most of the time, I enjoy the bright spots of the game in spite of some generally poor play. But last night’s game was so uncoordinated and sloppy on both sides, that it was borderline unbearable. Luckily for us (or rather, me and the other schmucks the NBA suckered into paying for the online feeds), the games usually turn out markedly better by the end. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
As for Game 1, there was one bright, shining star for the Mavs, made even more brighty and shiningier by the dullness that surrounded him: Ahmad Nivins. I was personally anticipating the match-up between first round picks Rodrigue Beaubois and Brandon Jennings, but for the most part both point guards weren’t ready to run even a summer league offense. Nivins, on the other hand, showed plenty on both ends of the floor. On offense, Nivins was an active offensive rebounder and a sound finisher. He showed range out to the college three-point line, but wasn’t too in love with his jumper. But the superlatives don’t end there, as Nivins matched up mostly against Milwaukee’s first round pick in last year’s draft, Joe Alexander. Joe ended up 4-18 on the night with 2 turnovers, which is mostly a testament to Nivins’ defense. This is quite literally the first time I’ve ever seen Ahmad play, but if he keeps up this kind of production and activity, it will be awfully tough for the Mavs to deny him a roster spot.
Rodrigue Beaubois, flagged as the point guard of the future and the guy to watch on the summer league team, needs playing time. And he needs it badly. You could see exactly what piqued the interest of Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle when Beaubois demonstrated his quickness in the lane and his skill as a drive-and-kick point guard, but Roddy still has a long way to go before he can play within himself. He didn’t demonstrate a knowledge of when to push the ball or when to pull back out, his passing on the perimeter was a bit lazy, and he was caught with a careless dribble on a few occasions. Make no mistake: Roddy Beaubois is a talented point guard, but he’s still very, very raw. He may be ready for spot minutes on the pro level, but surely nothing more. Mavs fans will have to be content with flashes of Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo for now, two players that Beaubois clearly channels during his brighter moments.
Brandon Jennings seemed to suffer from similar problems, though I wouldn’t give all the credit to Beaubois’ defense. Rodrigue did an admirable job, to be sure, but also seemed very foul-prone in his first NBA contest. Jennings also didn’t help his cause by settling for outside jumpers, which have been described as one of the weaker points of his game. But Roddy (still not crazy about that nickname) clearly has the defensive ability to stay with the league’s quicker point guards…even if, for the moment, it translates to a bit of foul trouble.
Baylor product Curtis Jerrells could barely get off the bench, largely because the Mavs seemed more interested in Aaron Miles. Personally, I don’t understand the fascination; Miles is a perfect example of why slow and steady doesn’t always win the race, and why “manage the game” point guards often find their way out of the league sooner rather than later. Miles actually managed to one-up Beaubois with 8 fouls and 7 turnovers (compared to Beaubois’ 6 TOs). I know it’s the first game, but with Miles I couldn’t even find reason for optimism. Here’s to hoping that I’m proven wrong.
Shan Foster did not play well. For a shooter, he sure does have problems shooting. Several open looks for Shan that he just couldn’t convert. I don’t think Foster was really ready to make the jump to the Mavs’ roster anyway, but his first game back from Europe in a Mavs’ uniform was definitely a disappointment (1-7 FG or 2 points, though he did notch 4 rebounds and 2 assists).
Mickael Gelabale: you’ve got my attention. No star power to speak of, but Gelabale is a comfortable, athletic, role player type who could fit in comfortably as a wing defender.
Nick Calathes was nowhere to be found.
Luke Jackson was a highly-rated prospect coming out of college, and still has the potential to be a niche player in the big leagues. He’s clearly working on becoming a bit more of a play-making forward in the Luke Walton mold. He had some success on that front, but could really benefit from learning to play within himself a bit more on offense. The summer league team isn’t riddled with players who can create shots, so maybe Luke feels he needs to fill that role. Who knows. But he had a high turnover game for guy who would be a minimal usage player on the next level. Prove to the team that you can handle the ball a little, dish the rock, and hit the spot-up three. That’s what’s going to earn you a roster spot with the Mavs, not forcing the issue. Jackson also attempted a dunk in traffic, which drew maniacal laughter from one audience member. E for effort?
The Mavs have been linked to the Wizards and their number 5 pick in the draft for sometime now, with Jordan Hill’s name making the rounds. Most indications point to Hill being a solid basketball player, but he’s hardly bound for stardom; Hill’s strengths are matched by sizeable limitations, indicators that Hill may be a contributor on the next level but won’t sniff the glory his price tag suggests. If the Mavs can snag Hill for a combination of expiring deals, that’s spectacular. But with Washington poised to make a run at the playoffs with a healthy Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood, how does that even seem like a remote possibility? Dumping the contracts of a player like Etan Thomas may seem like an attractive possibility, but does a pure salary dump really make any sense with the Wiz over the cap for the foreseeable future and almost certainly above the luxury tax line?
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the incentive from a financial perspective. For Abe Polin and the Wiz’s ownership, saving a dollar is saving a dollar. But does it really make sense to sell out the 5th pick for only the slightest of profit margins? Unless Josh Howard or Jason Terry are involved, a swap for the no. 5 just doesn’t seem to make much sense at all for Washington.
Beyond that, what sense does it even make for the Mavs? Hill will be able to play immediately, but he can’t be expected to be an especially effective starter. Playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, and Jason Terry would seem beneficial to any rookie, but we still can’t expect Hill to make a tremendous amount of noise during his rookie campaign. Maybe the thought process is that he doesn’t have to for the Mavs to be successful. I wouldn’t be too sure. If the Mavs move either Terry or Howard for Hill, it’s certainly a step down. If they move Erick Dampier for Hill, it’s likely a lateral move for the first year at best. The only exception would be a salary dump deal centered around Jerry Stackhouse, but that seems like an impossibility given the value of such a high pick (even in an off year). Jordan Hill isn’t the type of talent that’s worth setting the team back, especially during the later stages of Dirk, Kidd, and JET’s careers. He’s likely not going to turn into an otherworldly force that could justify that commitment and that sacrifice, and trading members of the current core for him would be a pretty big mistake.
All that said, what if Hill really isn’t the apple of the Mavs’ eye? What if, in a bit of pre-draft shenanigans, the Mavs are insistent upon raising a Jordan Hill smokescreen?
Blake Griffin will be off the board, and Ricky Rubio and Hasheem Thabeet could likely be as well. The Kings have been linked to Rubio, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Jonny Flynn, and Alf. So who exactly may be left at 5? Better players than Jordan Hill, that’s for damn sure.
Personally, I’d like the Mavs (supposing a trade up in the draft can actually be had) to take one of two players.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.
The first is James Harden. Harden is essentially what the Mavs crave in a shooting guard, but he’s way out of their league pick-wise. Harden’s a surefire top 5 pick in my eyes, combining a tenacious ability to score from long-range or around the basket with tough, physical defense and good size (6’5”, almost a 6’11” wingspan). He’s as close to NBA-ready as any prospect in the draft, especially those on the wings, and in my opinion he’d have a seamless plug-in into the starting lineup alongside Kidd and Josh Howard. He’s not lightning fast and he’s not oversized, but Harden’s style offensively and defensively and his size would make him an ideal candidate for a franchise 2-guard to succeed Terry.
The second, and to me the more intriguing, is Brandon Jennings. It’s dubious as to whether or not Jennings will even be available at 5 (although the same is true of Harden, who has been linked to the Thunder and even the Grizzlies), but Jennings being gone at 4 means that one of the other top prospects (Rubio, Thabeet, Harden…not Griffin) would have to fall to the 5 spot. Good news, meet good news.
Jennings is a real deal, fast as hell point guard. He’s confident, he’s skilled, and he once rocked the high top fade. He’s bold (even brash) and clearly a willing risk-taker. Jennings could be exactly the type of athlete that could usher in a new era of Mavs’ success, and I’m not alone in thinking he’ll be something truly special. He’s got the bravado and the skills to bring some serious star power to the franchise, and it’s time the Mavs start planning for life after Kidd. Whether or not that life begins this summer or in summers to come is up to the Mavs and Jason to decide, but assuming he can’t keep playing forever, a realistic successor needs to be waiting in the wings. He has the potential to be one of the league’s best point guards, and a playing style that would make him a killer off the bench in the short-term. Others may see the risk in Jennings, but from the tape I’ve seen of him, he’s a sure thing. This guy could be absolutely stellar as a NBA point guard, and I can only hope the Mavs can leap up the draft to nab him.
With either Jennings or Harden likely available, the logic behind picking Jordan Hill doesn’t stick. If you want an instant contribution, Harden is the man. He’s a cure-all at the 2, bringing the shooting that Antoine Wright lacks, the defense missing from JET’s game, and the size Barea can never fully compensate for. If you want star power, Jennings has it in spades. His game is tremendous, he’ll sell jerseys, and he’ll be your point guard for the next decade. There’s plenty to like in either candidate, and plenty to prefer over Jordan Hill. Can Hill be productive in the NBA, and, can he even compete at the center position? The Mavs already have enough of a minutes problem at the 4 with Dirk and Brandon Bass, and if Hill doesn’t pan out as a good enough interior defender (the evidence, but statistical and anecdotal, doesn’t go in his favor), the Mavs are put in quite a pickle. It’s one thing if Hill is simply a Brandon Bass insurance policy, safeguarding the team from a compensation-less departure from Bass. But it’s another entirely if the Mavs plan on making Dirk, Bass, and Hill coexist peacefully in the minutes column and on the defensive end. Why take that chance when there are better prospects available? Why force Hill to play out of position when a natural 2-guard and the point guard of the future are right at your fingertips? The answer lies either in a smokescreen or under layers of psychosis in a Mavs front office deluded into false prophecies of Hill’s success alongside Dirk. Some of that success may be found, but at what cost?