Dallas Mavericks 98, New Orleans Hornets 95

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 16, 2010 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Comfort was allowed to come to them rare, welcome, unsought: a gift like joy.
-Ursula K. LeGuin

Jason Terry curled around a screen. He streaked by his teammate and his defender. He rose. He fired. With the gradual click of grinding gears, the Mavericks’ universe balanced itself. With each give goes a take, with each reaction an equal and opposite reaction.

Statistically speaking, Dallas’ defense is the strength on which they’ve built their season, but it’s the improvements in the offense that give just as much reason for hope. Jason Kidd won’t score 16 points every game, but other than that, Dallas didn’t do anything out of character. Dirk Nowitzki faced up and hit over his defenders. Jason Terry found the ball when plays needed to be made, and had a fantastic second half to balance a crummy first one. Other than that, Kidd knocked down spot-up attempts, J.J. Barea got to the rim a few times with mixed results, and Tyson Chandler finished a few inside. There’s nothing to see here, other than Dallas’ offense executing against one of the best defenses in the league, doing nothing apart from what they do on a nightly basis.

The Mavs have been haunted in the past by their predictability, but this is one case in which familiarity offers sure comfort. Opponents should know that Dirk and JET are central to the Mavs’ offense, but Rick Carlisle and his staff have done a great job of freeing up both players in a variety of ways. This year, it’s been Dallas that meticulously picks apart opposing defenses with smart cuts, well-planned picks, and expert shooting. From a taglined perspective, it’s still Nowitzki and Terry, but their ability to get open consistently and execute against defenses like Boston and New Orleans is promising.

Of course, what happens to that offensive balance and flow when Caron Butler is reintroduced to the lineup is still a concern. Wednesday’s rematch with the Hornets could end up being an interesting case study on Caron’s impact, for better or worse.

As I mentioned in The Difference, Dallas’ second-half defense on Chris Paul (or on pick-and-rolls in general) should be commended. It’s not just the decision to put Tyson Chandler on David West, which turned out to be a fantastic strategic call, but the execution against the pick-and-roll by the team defense was top-notch. It was Chandler, it was Barea, it was Terry, Kidd, Nowitzki, Marion…every Maverick on the floor was rotating well, and the chosen concession was to give three-pointers for Willie Green, Peja Stojakovic, and occasionally Trevor Ariza. Those players get a pat on the head for hitting their open shots, but that was an excellent choice considering the alternatives. Paul was corralled, West was smothered. The ball was put in the hands of New Orleans’ lesser talents, and that’s something Dallas can live with, even if Green decided to be an above-average NBA player for a night.

Well-planned, and well-played, Mavs. Now do it all again on Wednesday.

Closing thoughts:

  • The Hornets lost, and it doesn’t really matter. I’m sure they’d prefer to still be undefeated, but New Orleans is a damn good basketball team.
  • I could watch Tyson Chandler hedge on pick-and-rolls all day.
  • This wasn’t Shawn Marion’s game. His five turnovers were killer, and to make matters worse, he wasn’t all that successful defensively. Marion can easily get lost on a night like this one, in which the opponent has no clear scoring option on the wing. Marion isn’t the type of defender the Mavs want chasing Peja Stojakovic down the baseline. He’s the type of defender you want to blanket a superstar wing scoring in isolation. Matchups like these negate Marion’s strengths, and though he did some good things on the court, the circumstances didn’t exactly help him along.
  • Jason Terry deserves much more credit than he received in this recap, but rest assured, more is coming on JET’s performance. The same goes for Dallas’ fourth-quarter defense.
  • I’m not sure there’s a more infuriating player to defend in the NBA than Chris Paul. He’s sickeningly good, and that makes the task of D-ing him up a tough one in itself. But factor in the fouls he draws both in the half-court offense and in transition by exaggerating contact, and it’s a miracle that anyone guarding Paul can keep their head. Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups are just as crafty with their manipulations of perception, but neither combines CP’s blend of top-level production and infuriating extracurricular activity.
  • Jason Terry’s defense really is much improved this season. Not only is he covering better in general, but it seems as though he’s somehow improved his anticipation in the passing lanes. Maybe JET is just more selective with his more blatant steal attempts, but he can really disrupt ball movement on the perimeter.
  • Brendan Haywood. Yeesh.
  • Dallas has actually run plays designed to get Shawn Marion mid-range jumpers this season, and they’re working. My guess is that they’re sets frequently used by the starting lineup to free up Caron for a jumper at the free throw line extended, and Marion is benefiting from sliding into Butler’s role. Regardless, Marion is making them, and he’s 3-of-3 in such sequences by my highly unofficial count.
  • The zone will give up threes, but opponents would be smart to put their most prolific three-point shooter on Dirk Nowitzki’s side of the zone. Dirk got burned a few times in this one by corner shooters, and given his responsibilities to collapse in the lane and his relatively slow recovery speed, I’d say that Nowitzki’s corner (usually the right one) is one of the zone’s more vulnerable points.
  • This was just a wildly entertaining game. If you didn’t have a chance to watch it, I highly recommend tracking down the game via League Pass Broadband, etc. The fourth quarter alone was one of the more entertaining frames in any NBA game this season.
  • J.J. Barea finished with three shot attempts at the rim, five rebounds, four assists, and no turnovers. I’d say he’s settled in nicely after his early struggles, wouldn’t you?
  • DeShawn Stevenson and Brian Cardinal finished with two threes apiece. I don’t buy into the “Cardinal doing the little things” rhetoric on most occasions, but I can definitely understand using him as a stopgap when he’s hitting his open shots.
  • Something needs to be said about Dirk Nowitzki’s passing. Dirk hit a game-tying three-pointer with a little more than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but he gave up a three in transition — a Nowitzki favorite — so that Kidd could get an even better look in the corner. Then, within the final minute, Dirk set up Terry out of the two man game for an open jumper. Nowitzki would love nothing more than to have taken a shot in both situations, but he deferred, and it paid off.

Dallas Mavericks 99, Philadelphia 76ers 90: Abridged

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 13, 2010 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

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TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas87.0113.848.129.136.411.5
Philadelphia103.445.816.931.114.9

Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so.
-Doris Lessing

  • Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry combined to shoot 10-of-30 from the field, but the Mavericks were in control for the entire fourth quarter. Mark that glass as half-full, folks. Dallas managed 113.8 points per 100 possessions with both of their top scorers putting up duds. Caron Butler watched from the bench, too, just to properly test the limits of the Mavs’ depth. The rest of the Mavs picked up the slack, and while they didn’t shoot quite as efficiently, offensive rebounds and fewer turnovers cranked up Dallas’ total possessions.
  • In a nutshell, that’s the story of this game. Dallas was able to be tremendously successful on offense while going away from their most prolific scoring options. It was an uncharacteristic night in just about every regard. The Mavs are 28th in the league in turnover rate, and yet they kept their turnovers to a minimum. Dallas ranks 27th in offensive rebounding rate, but destroyed the offensive glass in this one. And, despite being ranked 28th in free throw rate prior to this game, the Mavs got to the line with regularity. All welcome surprises, but still a little odd.
  • The Mavs still refuse to put away their opponents early, though. This is the NBA (where every team eventually makes a run ™), but Dallas should be better than the slim lead they took into the fourth quarter. Dirk Nowitzki was reportedly a bit bothered by his tweaked ankle, but it’d be nice for the Mavs to get a little separation at some point regardless. Dallas’ point differential has been fine overall, but eventually they’ll need to build up a substantial lead and actually sustain it.
  • There were all kinds of heroes in this one. J.J. Barea provided a ton of fourth-quarter scoring and had a team-high 19 points. Brendan Haywood brutalized Philly’s bigs on the glass; he grabbed 17 rebounds, including nine on the offensive glass. Tyson Chandler was tremendously active, and he balanced a versatile defensive outing with good board work (12 on the night) and scoring (Chandler added 11 points). Shawn Marion had his second-straight super-efficient evening, as he chipped in 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Having an effective supporting cast in a November game against the Sixers may not convert the Mavs’ critics, but this is the kind of performance Dallas can build on.
  • Nowitzki didn’t just put up a clunker on the offensive end, but he was clearly hindered defensively. Dirk has never been a strong defender, but last night he was pretty miserable. Whether in man coverage or zone, Nowitzki gave up dunks, rotated slowly, and didn’t offer much help at all. I think it’s safe to say that Dirk won’t be getting the game ball.
  • Brian Cardinal hadn’t done much to warrant considerable playing time prior to this game, but he contributed across the board in this one. Five points, two rebounds, two steals, a block, and a three-pointer for Cardinal, who probably can’t be counted on to do much better. There will be games when Cardinal makes multiple threes or grabs a few more rebounds, but in total this was a notably effective performance.
  • Chandler did a good job in his individual matchup with Elton Brand, who finished with eight points (3-8 FG), nine rebounds, and three turnovers.
  • I’m still liking the usage of the zone with Terry and Barea in the game together. Jrue Holiday had a few embarrassingly easy drives after getting past that two-man front, but otherwise the zone minimized some of the Mavs’ other weaknesses.
  • However, don’t take that last statement as a claim of Dallas’ defensive success on this particular night. The Mavericks’ fourth-quarter defense was very effective (Philadelphia was held to just 15 points in the frame), but Dallas needs to rotate quickly for the entire game. I’m not sure there’s any justification to give up multiple open dunks to Spencer Hawes.
  • Jason Kidd came out ready to shoot, but his release was noticeably off tonight. Nowitzki and Terry are so consistent in their shooting that it’s tough to anticipate their shooting performance by their form alone, but Kidd’s seems to come and go. From his first three-point attempt something seemed askew, and sure enough, Kidd finished 3-of-10 from the field and 2-of-7 from distance.
  • Dallas’ offense was subtly sloppy for stretches in the third quarter. Kidd and Nowitzki couldn’t quite sync up on entry passes. Catches were bobbled, even if they didn’t always result in turnovers. Those kinds of minor errors don’t necessarily kill an offense, but in this case they certainly kept the Mavs from reaching their full offensive potential.

View from the Clipboard: All Things Go

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 12, 2010 under Commentary, Recaps | Read the First Comment

After Wednesday’s game had been tucked in and bid a good night, the Mavs were put in a dream situation. The win was, more or less, already in hand, but an offensive possession was halted by a Grizzlies deflection that sent the ball out of bounds with a single second remaining on the shot clock. Dallas had the chance to run a pre-designed set on the ensuing inbound pass against real competition, but without having the result be terribly relevant. This is as low-pressure of a testing environment as it gets, and the minimal time on the shot clock made this a perfect opportunity to give one of Rick Carlisle’s last-ditch-effort plays a nice trial run.

It ran, alright. It darted to the wing and ended without a defender in sight. J.J. Barea had a full second to enjoy life on the wide, open, hardwood plains before calmly sinking a jumper.

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The play begins two by two, with Shawn Marion and J.J. Barea set up at the free throw line, and Jason Terry and Brendan Haywood on the right block. Brian Cardinal triggers the play. Before Cardinal receives the ball, the play is already in motion; Barea begins walking toward the right side of the lane, in what looks to be a double-screen set-up for JET. Instead, Barea quickly cuts back to screen for Marion, and Terry sets up in the corner. Brendan Haywood creeps into the lane.

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Marion screens for Terry on the right wing, and JET curls up toward the three-point line. Meanwhile, Haywood catches Mike Conley off-guard with a surprised screen on Barea, and holds Conley just enough to ensure the play’s success.

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The Mavs’ two options in this set are then revealed. In this case, due to just how shockingly out of position the Grizzlies are to defend Barea’s jumper, Cardinal set up J.J. for the bucket. If Gasol had switched onto Barea or Conley fought around the screen, then JET might be the play’s best option.

Regardless, the misdirection of this play is pretty beautiful. The initial fakeout by Barea can put defenders on their heels before the set even really begins, and the way Haywood slides into position makes this a pretty difficult cover. Additionally, if you sub out Marion for Dirk Nowitzki, the set becomes even more effective. Nowitzki could draw a double-team at any conceivable turn, and considering that it would be Nowitzki’s job to free up Terry, that could leave JET wide open. Additionally, if the opponent decides to switch the picks, the Mavs have two alternative options: Nowitzki in the corner over a shorter defender and Haywood/Tyson Chandler for the lob over Barea’s man. From that perspective, the primary action on this play is really the setup in the right corner, which should theoretically open up either Terry or Nowitzki for an open three-point attempt. That Barea ended up with a great look is no coincidence, but I’d wager that this particular result wasn’t even Plan A or B.

Dallas Mavericks 106, Memphis Grizzlies 91

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 11, 2010 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

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TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas90.0117.859.412.928.211.1
Memphis101.147.622.624.013.3

The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.
-Oliver Wendell Holmes

The average Mavericks game could be rewritten as a labor of Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk has the distinction of being the franchise’s one true constant, which has burdened him with an unfortunate weight: in the past, Dallas could only go as far as Nowitzki was able to take them. Other players chipped in when they could, but none — even a certain messianic French combo guard — proved to be the steady hand by which Nowitzki and the Mavs could depend. As a result, victories often came as a function of Nowitzki’s scoring alone. If he could put up enough points to counterbalance his teammates’ struggles and the Mavs’ spotty defense, Dallas notched a win. If not, then getting out with a W became a bit tricky.

This was not an average Mavericks game, and, if the first seven contests are any indication, this may not be an average Mavericks season. There’s still entirely too much basketball to be played for any team to make any kind of statement with their play, but Dallas is proving that they may be an interesting team, even if no one should be ready to label them a contending one.

The Grizzlies are in no way a golden barometer, but the fact that the Mavs put away this game so easily should offer some reassurance. Quality of opponent is obviously important, but Dallas’ execution, regardless of who the schedule put in front of them on this particular night, is paramount. Last night, the Mavericks were without Caron Butler, and thanks to a minor ankle sprain, were temporarily without Dirk Nowitzki. Jason Terry (25 points, 11-16 FG, four assists, three steals) didn’t blink, and I’m not sure he has all season. Every curl JET made was rewarded with a perfect pass, and Terry finished almost every opportunity with a smooth jumper, for the sake of aesthetic consistency if nothing else. From start to finish the Mavs’ offensive sequences were fluid and effective. Dallas totaled 30 assists — including 12 from Jason Kidd — on 46 field goals, and little more could be asked of the Mavs’ non-Dirk offense.

Shawn Marion’s night actually looked a bit reminiscent of his pre-Nash Phoenix days. Marion worked toward the front of the rim both as a driver and slasher, and he spun his way into layups and runners galore. He doesn’t have the softest touch, but Marion (20 points, 10-15 FG, seven rebounds, two blocks) worked hard to get good looks at close range and capitalized at a fairly high rate. Marion’s movements won’t soon be listed as textbook examples of athletic fluidity, but there’s a definite flow to his game when he gets into one of these zones. Shawn’s offense can turn stagnant when he relies too heavily on that fading hook shot, but his intermediate game is strong enough to work as a regularly featured element of the offense.

There should also be little question that as of today, DeShawn Stevenson (11 points, 3-5 3FG, four rebounds) deserves to be a starter. Dominique Jones’ potential combination of scoring (or at least what should be scoring, if he can figure out how to make his layups) and playmaking is intriguing, but Stevenson offers a more immediate utility. Playing Jones major minutes would require a patience that’s not necessary with Stevenson. DeShawn has made 5-of-10 from deep in his last two games, which lifts him from the “offensive liability” category. The Mavs now have their wing defender/designated corner man, and though it’s conceivable Stevenson could be marginalized upon Rodrigue Beaubois’ return from injury, for now he’s a welcome addition to the lineup.

Dallas didn’t win the game on the strength of their offense alone, though. Tyson Chandler (11 points, eight rebounds, one block) and Brendan Haywood (six points, eight rebounds, one block) did a superb job of protecting the basket. Memphis shot just 59.1% on their attempts around the basket. The league average on such shots is 61.2%, and yet Dallas was able to best that mark despite giving up some free layups to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. With such strength inside, the Mavs were able to defend well in both man-to-man and zone coverages. The perimeter rotations weren’t always as crisp as they could be, but overall, it was a nice defensive outing.

The zone, in particular, seemed to really bog down the Grizzlies’ movement in the second half. Memphis had a hard time exploiting any of the zone’s weaknesses, and attempted several cross-court passes that were easily deflected or picked off. The Mavs need to be confident enough in their man defense to rely on it full-time with the zone used as a complement. Dallas has been using Jason Terry and J.J. Barea on the floor a bit together in the past two games, which leaves the Mavs a bit undersized up front. It’s no coincidence that Dallas zoned up with that lineup. Terry and Barea are easily taken advantage of if asked to defend a bigger player on the way to the rim or if consistently put in pick-and-roll situations. The easiest way to counter both is to remove them as options. A combination of JET and J.J. doesn’t make for a terrifying zone front, but it could be the most practical way to hide Barea defensively.

Rick Carlisle is figuring these things out. The Mavs are getting the ball where it needs to go (in sets and otherwise), and they’re tweaking their defense to better account for their own personnel and their opponents’ production. It’s an on-going process, but you have to appreciate where the Mavs seem to be headed.

With the defense clicking, Jason Terry shooting the lights out, Jason Kidd running the offense adroitly, and Tyson Chandler making a considerable impact on both ends, the Mavericks are looking more and more like a team they were never supposed to be. There’s no point in lauding the team too much today, but Dallas’ success this far has been no fluke. These are replicable efforts, the Mavs just have to, y’know, replicate them.

Closing thoughts:

  • For a night, the Mavericks’ turnover woes vanished. Dallas had just a 11.1 turnover rate, which brought their TOR for the season down to 16.1. Dallas had five turnovers through three quarters, and committed the majority of their other five turnovers while coasting out the game behind a double-digit lead.
  • Something a bit odd: Tyson Chandler, a career .603 free throw shooter, is currently leading the Mavs in free throw percentage (.909). He’s also third on the team in free throws attempted (22, or 3.1 per game), so there’s no foul play with the sample size.
  • Dallas can in no way take complete credit for this victory. The Grizzlies played some pretty miserable defense and their inability to defend the paint was startling. Not that O.J. Mayo (four points, 1-8 FG, three assists, two turnovers), Marc Gasol (10 points, five rebounds) and company didn’t fall apart offensively, too. Not the finest showing for the Grizz.
  • Dirk’s ankle sprain isn’t a cause for too much concern, but he did look a bit hesitant to go into the low post after returning in the second half. Can’t blame him.
  • Brian Cardinal played, and I’m not sure why. Nowitzki’s injury opened up some available minutes at power forward, but honestly I’d rather see a game of Ian Mahinmi — who played some decent defense in his four-minute stint — than Cardinal. Mahinmi is at least a plus rebounder, but Cardinal has been ineffective for nearly every minute he’s been in a Maverick uniform.
  • This was undoubtedly Brendan Haywood’s best game of the season, and yet he still put up some disappointing statistical totals. Still, his offensive activity was notable, and he was fighting hard for rebounds. Carlisle will take that, especially with Tyson Chandler playing well enough to account for the top of the center rotation.
  • J.J. Barea (10 points, seven assists, five rebounds, one turnover) was vital. He was terrific. He was everything that anyone that watches or runs this team could reasonably expect him to be. Barea has nights where he tries to force his own offense or becomes a defensive liability, but in yesterday’s game he was neither. He did an excellent job of setting up the half-court offense along with Jason Terry, and he ran the break well as both a distributor and a finisher.
  • The Mavs don’t typically get to the rim with such regularity, and that aspect of the game won’t necessarily carry over into Dallas’ future efforts. However, the discipline that the Mavs showed in their half-court offense was impressive nonetheless. There doesn’t need to be some kind of offensive revolution for this team to be successful. They just have to be a little better. Marion and Terry need to continue to make smart cuts. Nowitzki should keep looking for backdoor opportunities. Chandler should look for lob openings every chance he gets. A subtle offensive improvement coupled with a legitimate defensive stride could be all Dallas needs to really force their way into legitimate standing.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: Jason Terry. JET was asked to carry the offense when Nowitzki went down at the 3:31 mark of the second quarter, and he responded by scoring seven of the Mavs’ nine points in the frame. Dallas will continue to search for stability in their supplementary scoring, but I’m more and more convinced that such a search should conclude with JET being given even more offensive responsibility. Caron Butler may still be an interesting piece, but his scoring approach pales in comparison to Terry’s far more efficient style.

Once More, With Feeling: The Four Factors

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 26, 2010 under Previews | 8 Comments to Read

Dean Oliver, in his book Basketball on Paper, isolated four factors (by dissecting offensive and defensive rating) that determine success in the NBA:

  • 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 quite that simple, as Oliver readily admits. Still, behind these four headings lies each team’s central offensive and defensive successes and failures. The four factors are a step beyond your run-of-the-mill counting statistics, but still a bit of a reach from your more advanced metric. These measures give tremendous insight into a squad’s particulars, and in my estimation, they’re essential to evaluating the performance of any team.

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Shooting

As measured by effective field goal percentage. Mavs’ 2009-2010 eFG%: .506 (13th in the league); ’09-’10 eFG% allowed: .495 (15th)

We think of the Mavericks as a team of shooters, mostly due to the sheer number of mid-range jumpers that the Mavs take and make. Dallas shot a better percentage from 16-23 feet than any team in the NBA last year, and hit at nearly two full percentage points better than the second ranked Raptors. Dirk Nowitzki, Caron Butler, and Jason Terry are mostly to both blame and praise for that success. The Mavericks are thus great at hitting the most inefficient shot in basketball, and considerably less effective (relative to their competition) as the shots get more and more efficient. Dallas just doesn’t have a lot of scorers tasked with taking efficient shots, and the result, while propped up as a Mavericks strength, makes for some inefficient shooting overall.

Dallas may shoot 43.2% on long two-pointers, but the Lakers made 44.0% of their shots in the 10-15 foot range, the Raptors shot 50.9% within 10 feet, and the Cavs converted 66.2% of their looks at the rim. It’s impressive that the Mavs shoot as well as they do on long twos, but shot selection continues to plague the Mavs’ overall offensive efficiency. Backing those same attempts to the three-point line or moving them in closer to the basket would drastically improve the Mavs’ overall shooting numbers, but alas, doing so would either require a significantly restructured offense or a pretty drastic change in personnel.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with Nowitzki, and both Butler and Terry are capable offensive sidekicks. The problem is that when all three are operating for the same team in the same space, the damage to the offense goes further than it would in similarly limited offenses. Put all of a team’s primary scorers in one range, and the team’s offense will struggle. Put all of those scorers in one range as far away from the basket as possible without giving them the added benefit of a three-point attempt, and it’s a testament to Nowitzki, Butler, and Terry that the Mavs aren’t even worse offensively.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem very likely to change. Those three players are still central to the Mavs’ offense, and even if Rodrigue Beaubois’ scoring talents become featured as anticipated, he isn’t reshaping the entire plan of attack on his own. He’ll help to boost the Mavs’ eFG% with drives to the rim and solid three-point shooting, but this is one area in which a healthy dose of Beaubois will only result in modest benefit.

The Mavs were equally unimpressive in their ability to contest high-percentage shots. It’s not that the Dallas defense was woeful in that regard — you’ll find that the Mavs a solid team across the board in many of these measures, but perhaps plagued by the fact that they’re merely solid — they just weren’t up to the elite caliber that those within the organization have targeted as a goal.

The Mavs ranked 13th in the league last season in FG% allowed at the rim, and 15th in FG% allowed within 10 feet. Both fine marks, really. Just not acceptable for a team that needs to be aiming a bit higher. Taking away as many high-percentage shots as possible is key for Dallas, particularly because their own offensive attack is lacking in those same attempts. They need to limit that discrepancy as much as possible, and to this point, they haven’t been able to do so to the degree necessary for extended  defensive success.

Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler are both essential if the Mavs plan to improve their effective field goal percentage defense, but it’s also vital that Dallas’ perimeter defenders continue to play tight on opponents’ three-point shooters. The Mavs ranked 10th in the league last season in their opponents’ eFG% off of threes, and that kind of effort will again be necessary for Dallas to improve their overall shot defense. If Haywood and Chandler can perform better as a tandem than the combination of Dampier, Gooden, and Haywood did last season, Dallas’ opponents will not only have more of their quality attempts contested by the Mavs’ center duo, but will also be deterred from seeking out such shots in the first place. The Mavs need to keep their opponents’ out of the paint as much as possible, and the arrival of Chandler — a quality post defender and excellent defender of the pick-and-roll — to complement Haywood could provide Dallas with just the defensive boost they need.

The foundation is there for defensive improvement, but its up to Haywood, Chandler, and co. to build on it.

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Rebounding

As measured by offensive rebounding rate (ORB%). Mavs’ 2009-2010 ORB%: .243 (26th); ’09-’10 ORB% allowed (roughly equivalent to DRB%): .263 (15)

The easiest way to diagnose the Mavs’ offensive rebounding troubles is to trace the line from system to production. The Dallas offense often pulls its second big (Nowitzki, Marion, Cardinal) far from the rim, forcing the rest of the lineup to either hit the offensive glass or retreat to defend a potential break. Having Jason Kidd helps out here, but the rest of the bunch? Jason Terry? Caron Butler? A post-Phoenix Shawn Marion? They’re not the proper group to make up for the deficit on the offensive glass.

Defensively, Dallas has a collection of solid rebounders but few impressive ones. Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler are both quality board men, but neither is a standout in that regard. Nowitzki collects his fair share of boards, but his rebounding rate has dropped bit by bit over the last few seasons. Marion has regressed into a nice rebounder rather than an elite one, and the Mavs’ tendency to play smaller lineups undoubtedly hurts their efforts on the glass. Putting good rebounders at every position has helped the Mavs get this far, but without a single proven rebounding machine on the roster, I’m not sure they’ll be able to climb much higher.

Tyson Chandler may provide an improvement on the offensive boards over Erick Dampier, but overall, Dallas is the same collection of effective but unspectacular rebounders they were a year ago. Plus, some of the best rebounders of last year’s bunch — Drew Gooden and Kris Humphries — have been shipped out in the last year, meaning the addition of Chandler and a year’s worth of Brendan Haywood will have to first off-set those losses in order to bring an improved regular season mark.

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Turnovers

As measured by turnover rate (TOV%). Mavs’ 2009-2010 TOV%: .122 (3rd); ’09-’10 opponents’ TOV%: .138 (11th)

Here’s the thing: Jason Kidd turns the ball over as often as he ever has. 21.4% of his possessions end in a turnover. Yet Dallas still turned the ball over less often than all but two teams in the league. Kidd aside, the Mavs are unfathomably careful in their offense.

That starts with Nowitzki. His combination of high usage rate (28.8%) and low turnover rate (7.8%) are startling, even when cast against the league’s other elite players. Comb through the history books, and in only eight instances has a player (with an 800-minutes played prerequisite) posted a turnover rate lower than 8% and a usage rate higher than 28% over the course of a season. Three of those instances belong to Dirk. Two of them belong to Michael Jordan. This is a special, special place in the league pantheon that Nowitzki inhabits.

The Mavs’ correspondingly low turnover rate has a lot to do with Dirk having the ball in his hands more than any other player on the roster, but most of his higher-usage teammates are also impressively protective. Jason Terry, for example, had the seventh lowest turnover rate of all players who used more than 22% of their team’s possessions while on the floor last season. Caron Butler was also notable for his lack of turnovers, even if some of Butler’s other decisions with the ball are a bit confounding. Dallas puts the ball in the hands of players like Nowitzki, Butler, and Terry, while limiting the touches of turnover-prone bigs like Brendan Haywood, Erick Dampier, and this season, Tyson Chandler. The shots may not always be distributed in the most efficient manner possible, but the possessions are typically used by those least likely to senselessly give up the rock. The Mavs, as a result, are able to hedge some of their other offensive limitations by their quantity of attempts.

Considering that Dallas’ biggest offensive contributors will remain mostly the same (with the exception of the slightly turnover-happy Beaubois moving up in rank) from last year to this one, the Mavs should be pegged for a similar lack of turnovers in the coming season.

On D, the Mavs actually force quite a few turnovers considering how little they foul. Dallas ranked seventh in the league last season in defensive play rate (a per-possession measure of of steals, blocks, and drawn charges), and between Caron Butler, Jason Kidd, Rodrigue Beaubois, and Jason Terry, they have a number of perimeter players eager to jump passing lanes and strip driving players from behind. It’s not a full-on pressure defensive scheme, but the Mavericks do force their opponents to cough up the ball a fair bit. Not enough to make them an elite defensive outfit mind you, but enough to keep them afloat on their way to another successful season.

freedom

Free throws

As measured by FTM/FGA. Mavs’ 2009-2010 FT/FGA: .226 (15th); opponents’ FTM/FGA: .206 (6th)

Two Mavericks posted excellent free throw rates last season: Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler. Naturally, those two Mavs have some of the lowest per-minute field goal attempt averages on the team, so their high free throw rates are rendered nearly irrelevant.

Luckily, Dirk Nowitzki isn’t too far behind, rate-wise, as he remains the Mavs’ primary source of free throw attempts. Take out Nowitzki, and Dallas has some serious problems getting to the line. Even Rodrigue Beaubois, Dallas’ great hope, has trouble getting to the line with regularity. Maybe that was a case of an unknown rookie guard getting calls relative to his reputation, but Beaubois nonetheless failed to match his otherwise impressive scoring style with a high frequency of free throw attempts.

Beaubois would need to make a concerted effort to drive more than ever if he were to boost the Mavs’ free throw rate single-handedly, though a shift in Caron Butler’s shot selection could also help the Mavs in this regard. I wouldn’t wait on Caron to give up his jab step-jab-step-pump-fake-pull-up-18-footer routine any time soon, though. Dominique Jones won’t be impacting the Mavs’ free throw rate much in his rookie year (how could any player do so with the limited playing time projected for Jones?) but he’s worth keeping an eye on. Jones’ ability to get to the line paid huge dividends for him in college, and if ever given consistent minutes, it seems likely that he could replicate that same free throw shooting regularity.

The Mavs don’t foul much. They pick their spots to apply defensive pressure, and they don’t send opponents to the line all that often. It’s obviously both a blessing and a curse, as the Mavs’ lack of aggressive defensive plays could be one of the reasons why they’re a middling defensive team, even if it prevents their opponents from taking freebies from the stripe. With that in mind, this is a defensive ranking that I’m sure Rick Carlisle and his staff wouldn’t mind seeing take a little dip. If the Mavs are fouling more often, it could be indicative of  more effective defense overall. Then again, it could just mean that Dallas is handing out points to their opponents, putting them back at square one after trying to treat a symptom as a disease.

All in all, it’s probably not worth worrying too much about how often the Mavericks foul, so long as the rest of their defense holds course. It’s nice to have opponents shoot free throws infrequently, but it’s nicer to have a more oppressive defense that limits opponents’ shooting effectiveness and forces even more turnovers than the Mavs currently do.

Many thanks to Basketball-Reference and HoopData, both completely indispensable in the making of this post and in life as a follower of the NBA in any capacity.

Two for the Road

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 21, 2010 under News | 2 Comments to Read

two-lambs

Per Marc Stein of ESPN.com, a team source has confirmed that the Mavericks will keep both Steve Novak and Brian Cardinal for the coming season. After all, why choose between them when you can have the set?

Additionally, the Mavs announced that they have waived Dee Brown and Adam Haluska. Sorry, fellas.

Novak and Cardinal filled out the Mavs’ roster, leaving no room for Brown, Haluska, Rashad McCants, or Sean Williams to latch on. None of those players were expected to make the Mavs’ regular season roster, but the confirmations for Novak and Cardinal made the exclusion of their fellow training campers a certainty. There’s hope for those four yet, provided hope comes in the form of an invite to play for the Texas Legends.

That’s up for them and the Mavs to decide. As I discussed earlier today, Dallas has the ability to designate up to three of those four players in order to secure their D-League rights for the Texas Legends. We’ll know more as the Mavs keep cutting, but Brown, Haluska, McCants, and Williams are all realistic possibilities to make the Legends inaugural roster.

UPDATE: The Mavs announced this afternoon that they have also waived McCants and Williams, which means that at least one of the four players won’t be playing for the Legends next season. Considering that both of those players were signed explicitly for the purpose of being waived and for the Mavs to procure their D-League rights, I’d bet on McCants and Williams both landing in Frisco.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 18, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Art Garcia profiled the ’05-’06 Mavs in spectacular fashion for NBA.com. Among Garcia’s collection of quotes and anecdotes from that season was those Mavs’ little-known team motto: “Know when to party.”
  • This is a fantastic highlight mix of last season, complete with very high quality video. Questionable music choice, though…but then again, you’re asking this guy.
  • Rick Carlisle on the use of advanced stats in basketball (via Steve Aschburner of NBA.com): “Statistical analysis has gone two or three generations and now it’s at an extremely high level. So more teams are using that for everything, from performance of combinations to individual performances, to probability of injuries and everything else you can possibily imagine. It’s unbelievable. At a certain point, it’s making sure you don’t have too much information. In most cases, what you believe in your gut is 80 percent right. There might be another 20 percent where the data will make you say, ‘Hmm, I didn’t realize that.’ Whatever that might be. Sometimes it’s a subtle thing, sometimes it’s pretty severe.”
  • Jason Terry, on the prospect of taking over Rodrigue Beaubois’ (if you can rightfully call it his) starting spot (via Eddie Sefko): “Maybe I’ll just keep it warm. Or maybe I won’t give it back.”
  • Shawn Marion’s value to the Seven Seconds or Less Suns is already well-established among NBA diehards if not the casual basketball fans of the world, but Tom Ziller takes everything a step further in saying that without Marion, playing Amar’e Stoudemire at center would never have worked.
  • Marquis Daniels drains a three from half-court. As is everything with ‘Quis: no big deal.
  • The Mavs could up keeping Steve Novak and Brian Cardinal. Or they could end up keeping neither. News! Either way, I think it’s safe to say that Dee Brown and Adam Haluska are dust in the wind.
  • Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer: “[DeSagana] Diop has been a punchline the past year. On performance, he deserved it, but let me tell you something: If there’s a better guy in that locker room — and this is the best locker room I’ve covered in 21 NBA seasons — I don’t know who it would be. You don’t think Gana knows people ridicule him? If he became bitter and surly and introverted, who could blame him? But even when he never got a uniform, when he wasn’t activated for the playoff series to give fouls on Dwight Howard, he was gracious and classy.”

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 4, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Mark Cuban owes Don Johnson $51.7 million because of Nash Bridges. You cannot make this stuff up. (via Ball Don’t Lie)
  • Sonny Xiao, a Chinese “sports entrepreneur,” will be the co-owner of the Texas Legends, along with Donnie Nelson and Evan Wyly. Xiao is the first Chinese owner of an NBA or NBA-affiliated team.
  • Rick Carlisle on Dominique Jones (via Earl K. Sneed): “(Jones) is a strong, tenacious type player, and I think down the road he’s gonna be a guy that’s gonna be depended on to guard the best players on a lot of nights. No question.” High praise from a coach who doesn’t dole out these kinds of superlatives easily.
  • Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas supposes that Tim Grgugrich, who served as a guest coach for the Mavs throughout training camp, could be a candidate to join the Dallas coaching staff full-time: “Marion worked with Grgurich during their time together in Phoenix. Marion praised his subtle communication with players, to teach and translate information and ideas about the game’s nuances and geometry, and to share it in a way that, like Terry, excites players. Grgurich became well-known for his partnership with Gary Payton in Seattle and today some of the game’s top talent attends his under-the-radar camp in Las Vegas every August.”
  • Flip Saunders isn’t quite sure who his starting five will be tonight against the Mavericks. Also, John Wall is excited to play against Jason Kidd.
  • This would be pretty big news if it were more definite: Rick Carlisle notes that the Mavs may not play Rodrigue Beaubois much at the point this season.
  • Since the Phoenix Suns acquired Hedo Turkoglu from the Toronto Raptors via trade, Alvin Gentry has faced an endless stream of questions concerning Turkoglu’s position (he’s currently slated as a power forward) and what it means for the Suns’ defense. Here is his response (via Josh Greene): “Hedo will be fine. There are certain fours nobody handles in the league. I love when somebody says, ‘How will you guys guard Dirk Nowitzki?’ The last time I checked, no one else could guard him either. In those situations, we’ll do the best we can. My philosophy has always been, ‘They have to guard him on the other end of the floor.’ Sometimes that’s the best defense. The team that scores the most points wins the game. We were the best defensive team 62 times last year.”
  • Brian Cardinal, glue guy on some pretty bad teams.

Missing a Boat

Posted by Rob Mahoney on September 23, 2010 under Commentary, News | 7 Comments to Read

boat_snset

Ike Diogu has spent five years in a bottle. During four of those years he was a natural force waiting to be unleashed; Diogu played limited minutes for multiple Warriors iterations, landed in Indiana, was sent to Portland, and wound up in Sacramento, all without regular playing time or a role worthy of his talent. He’s been around, and yet in spite of impressive per-minute production, Diogu has yet to find a proper gig. He wasn’t a starter. He wasn’t a sixth man. He wasn’t even a utility big, really. He has filled in minutes here and there, but his career hasn’t been more than a series of sublets.

Now, despite being linked to the Mavs as a training camp prospect, it’s seems Diogu will have no lease in Dallas, either.

In some ways, it’s hard to blame the Mavericks’ brass for passing on a chance to sign Diogu. He is, after all, coming off a season lost in its entirety. The dreaded microfracture surgery saw to that, and it’s on such a note that I hope the Mavericks hesitated. When healthy, Diogu was a contributor. In better days, he was everything that Mavs fans found so endearing in Brandon Bass, but with sharper interior scoring and superior rebounding. He was capable of having that type of impact, on good teams or bad, on fast teams or slow. Ike Diogu was a player, and yet because of a few bad hands, this post reads like an obituary.

If Ike’s injury really has grounded him, Dallas was right to pass. However, should Diogu show for another team in another camp? I won’t quite understand the Mavs’ logic. Brian Cardinal and Steve Novak (among others) will be joining the Mavs on unguaranteed deals, but both are niche players. Each has a role and fills it well, but if Dallas is looking for a candidate to play consistent frontcourt minutes, I fail to see Diogu’s (non-injury) downside.

He obviously has weaknesses in his game (Defense and court sense, ay, caramba!), but Diogu can hit the boards and create on the offensive end, even if he often does so with blinders on. That’s something otherwise lacking among the Maverick reserves. His game offers more than a neat little trick, or token court balance; Diogu is a certifiable low-post option, particularly against second-string bigs. He’s capable of being something the Mavericks need, whether they acknowledge that to the public or not.

Or at least he was capable of being something the Mavericks need, last we saw him. Back then, Diogu was dropping big-time double-doubles in meaningless games, a plea for observers to raise his projected ceiling. The proper headroom does give the Diogu estate the appropriate character, but now, right or wrong, that very ceiling’s structural integrity has come into question. Diogu’s career marks of  17.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per 36 minutes should speak for themselves, and I hope they do. More importantly, I hope that the Mavericks listened. I hope they honestly and truly considered Diogu, only to find him slowed to the point of ineffectiveness by his injury, unfortunate though that may be. I hope that there is something going on here aside from a determination that “Ike Diogu is no Brian Cardinal.”

There has to be.

…Right?

Across the Pine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on September 20, 2010 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

pine


Tim Thomas won’t be playing for the Mavs this year after all
. In his place, Dallas is apparently looking to fill the void with a cartoon character capable of fulfilling what would have been Thomas’ most basic function: spacing the floor.

Maybe I’m the only person who still views Thomas as a three-dimensional talent, but his value for Dallas last season really did stretch beyond his ability to hit the three. Thomas wasn’t as bad as advertised defensively. He showed off off some of his post-up scoring ability. He displayed a great sense of court spacing that went beyond parking himself in the corner or rotating around the perimeter; Thomas found spots behind the defense and dug up free scoring opportunities. He even rebounded a little bit, and kept his turnovers in check.

Shooting from the perimeter was undoubtedly one of Thomas’ strengths last season, but he was far more versatile in his season as a Maverick than many of the free agent bigs left on the market will likely be in the coming year. Namely, the three candidates that Mavs are currently considering to slide into Thomas’ proposed role, according to Art Garcia of NBA.com: Brian Cardinal, Steve Novak, and Bobby Simmons.

Oddly enough, Cardinal, as the seasoned veteran of the trio, has somehow become the headliner and “early favorite” in spite of his limited athleticism and abilities. Perhaps this view of Cardinal’s game is overly simplistic, but I fail to see what he can offer any team that Steve Novak couldn’t; both are pretty poor defenders both in the post and on the perimeter, and find their strength in scoring from the outside. Though while Brian Cardinal has posted impressive three-point shooting averages in nearly every season he’s been in the league, he’s never really had the in-season volume to validate those percentages.

In his 10-year career, Cardinal has shot a total of just 517 three-pointers. Novak attempted 286 in a single season, and hit 41.6% of them. Cardinal has proven himself as a reliable deep threat, but Novak seems like a superior three-point shooting option, and is six years younger, to boot. Novak has shown that his shot holds up even when his attempts skyrocket, and that in a jam, he can use up minutes without taking anything away from the Mavericks offense. Novak isn’t leaps and bounds better than Cardinal, but if the Mavs are looking for a token three-point shooter, why settle for anything less than the best one left on the block?

We’ll conveniently neglect to discuss either player’s defensive abilities. They’re end-of-the-bench candidates for a reason, folks.

In fact, Simmons may also be a more attractive candidate than Cardinal to fill the roster vacancy. Simmons, too has a terrific career mark from the three-point line (.401 in eight seasons), is a few years Cardinal’s junior, and at least has a tinge of utility beyond three-point shooting. Novak and Cardinal are pure specialists, but Simmons does have some aptitude as a slasher, and a bit more defensive versatility. His absolutely absurd contract has made Simmons into a bit of a laughing stock over the last few seasons, but Dallas could do far worse for a 14th or 15th man.

In all likelihood, neither Cardinal, nor Novak, nor Simmons would really come into play (they’d come in to play, but not come into play, if ya dig) for the Mavs, so debating this issue too much is just splitting already-split hairs. There would have to be notable injuries at the top end of the roster for any of these players to register consistent minutes, and in that case, Dallas will have far more to worry about than the relative shooting abilities of these gents.