All The King’s Men – A Preview In Two Parts

Posted by Ian Levy on May 31, 2011 under Commentary, Previews | 7 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-05-31 at 5.00.54 AM

I.

As a Finals matchup between the Mavericks and the Heat appeared possible, then probable, then certain, the story of a chance at redemption rose to the surface. The Heat’s victory over the Mavericks in 2006 has been The Elephant in The American Airlines Center the past five seasons, and a Finals rematch against the Heat would seem to give the Mavericks a chance to atone for previous shortcomings. If this redemption becomes reality, it will mostly be at the organizational level; only four players from that 2006 series — Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem — will be returning for their original teams. The legacy of each has continued to build on the foundation of the 2006 Finals, and will be, in large part, determined by what happens in this year’s Finals. However, the later chapters of several other NBA stories will be written in this series, stories that have little or nothing to do with the initial Finals matchup between the Mavericks and Heat.

Caron Butler is unlikely to play in this series after recovering from a gruesome knee injury. Tat injury seemed cruel at the time, but as the season has unfolded, that cruelty has taken on an entirely new meaning; Butler served as a crucial contributor in each of the Mavs’ regular season wins against the Heat, and yet a single bad fall has robbed him of the ability to participate in this series. Butler’s defensive presence will be particularly missed against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the wing, and his absence puts a lot of pressure on DeShawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, and Jason Kidd to hold their defensive ground.

In addition, Butler has a personal history with Wade and the Heat. He was drafted by the Heat in 2002, and spent two seasons with the team. His second season was Wade’s rookie year and saw the team win 42 games and a playoff series against the New Orleans Hornets. Committed to Wade as the team’s centerpiece, the Heat saw Caron Butler as an inadequate complimentary piece. He was traded the following summer in the deal that brought Shaquille O’Neal — and ultimately, the 2006 title — to Miami. For someone who didn’t participate in the 2006 Finals, his fate is still greatly intertwined in those events.

Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson came to Dallas by way of the Washington Wizards, and while neither player has any particular history with the Heat, both have had their share of conflict with Miami’s shiniest new toy, LeBron James. In both 2007 and 2008, the Wizards were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by LeBron and the Cavaliers. Both series were heavy on trash talk and technicals, and featured some heated one-on-one matchups between LeBron and Stevenson. I have to believe that each relishes the opportunity to go through LeBron in their pursuit of this title, even as they publicly say otherwise.

Dallas also has a veritable who’s-who of “Close, but no cigar,” guys. There are 34 active players who have played at least 80 playoff games. 14 of those 34 have never won a championship. 4 of those 14 play for the Dallas Mavericks. In addition to Nowitzki, we find Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic on that list. It’s worth noting that in LeBron, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mike Bibby, the Heat have three players on that list as well.

Kidd is finishing his 17th season in the NBA. Among his other remarkable achievements, Kidd has played in 136 playoff games. 10 of those 136 games were played in the NBA Finals, over two separate trips with the Nets. The results are a disappointing 2-8 record. Marion has played 86 playoff games but never participated in an NBA Finals. He lost twice in the Western Conference Finals with the Suns. Stojakovic has played in 91 playoff games. That includes a crushing loss in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers.

The Mavericks are a stunning collection of the league’s disenfranchised and overlooked. This series offers many chances for redemption, not just for missed opportunities in the 2006 Finals. A victory over the Heat could provide closure for heartbreaking trades and soul-crushing playoff exits, for years of dominance by the Lakers and Spurs, for odiferous officiating, and for a body slam and a three-pointer from Robert Horry. The ghosts of this playoff series won’t just be wearing the uniforms of the Mavericks and Heat.

II.

Five different Mavericks’ lineups have played at least 30 minutes together in the playoffs. Of those, the most effective has been the Kidd-Terry-Marion-Nowitzki-Chandler combination. In just under 100 minutes, this group has posted an Offensive Rating of 122.51 and a Defensive Rating of 89.56, for an absurd Net Rating of +32.95. They’ve outscored their playoff opponents by 71 points in 96 minutes, meaning they’ve added a point to the Mavericks lead, on average, every 81 seconds.

This has been one of the Mavericks’ strongest and most consistent units all season. Unfortunately, it’s one that may be difficult to keep on the floor for extended periods of time against the Heat. To use this lineup against any Heat unit with both LeBron and Wad means that either Terry or Kidd will likely have to guard Wade. Obviously, this is a less than ideal defensive matchup. Using their zone is an option, but committing to using it consistently with this lineup will make them very predictable. To deal with these matchup problem, the Mavericks may need to rely a little more heavily on a lineup that has been generally ineffective in the playoffs this far: their starters.

Dallas’ starting lineup (Kidd-Stevenson-Marion-Nowitkzi-Chandler) has played the most minutes of any of their five man units in the playoffs. It’s also the only unit they’ve used for more than 25 minutes which has a negative Net Rating. Kidd, Marion, Nowitzki, and Chandler have all played well in other units, and most of the struggles with the starting lineup can be traced to Stevenson. Make no mistake, Stevenson has been bad in these playoffs. He’s shooting 27.1%, and his PER his fallen all the way to 2.2 (with 15.0 being indicative of league average production). Still, I think he the chance to be an impact player in this matchup against the Heat.

When we look at the lineups used by the Mavericks in their two regular season matchups with the Heat, we see they struggled mightily with Terry and Wade on the floor together. The Mavericks had an Offensive Rating of 108.24 and a Defensive Rating of 124.71 in the 44 minutes they were both in at shooting guard. However, in the 29 minutes Stevenson was matched up with Wade at shooting guard the Mavericks posted an Offensive Rating of 126.16 and a Defensive Rating of 71.93. As this was early in the season, and both teams are in a much different place then they were the last time they met, those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.

But Stevenson does have some things working in his favor. Unless Rick Carlisle is interested in finding minutes for Corey Brewer, Stevenson is the one Maverick with the size and mobility to challenge Wade. His offense is mostly of the one-dimensional spot-up shooting variety, and that single dimension has mostly abandoned him in the playoffs. Still he’s a much better shooter then what he has shown the past few weeks. At some point you would expect his percentages to rebound, moving closer to his averages. As I mentioned above, Stevenson has a history with LeBron, and by association, the Miami Heat. He’s always been a player who thrived on an emotional challenge, and perhaps that connection with James provides just such a challenge. There is a path cleared for him to step up and make a difference in these Finals. It will be up to him to walk it.

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

A Reckoning

Posted by Ian Levy on May 17, 2011 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

“Our similarities bring us to a common ground; our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other.” – Tom Robbins

The Mavericks and Thunder have arrived in the Western Conference Finals by way of very different trajectories – the Mavs having swept the defending champion Lakers, the Thunder fighting off their future rivals, the Grizzlies. Game 1 tonight will be the beginning of a, hopefully, spirited series between the youngest and oldest teams in league (weighted by minutes played). Besides the dichotomy between youthful exuberance and aged wisdom, here are a few other items to watch for:

  • The Mavericks outscored the Thunder by 5.46 points per 100 possessions in their three regular season matchups. However, in the 24 minutes Jeff Green wasn’t on the floor the Thunder outscored the Mavericks by 24.86 points per 100 possessions. I have it on good authority that Green will not be playing for the Thunder in this series, and no I won’t be revealing my sources. Taking away Green and Nenad Kristic, replacing them with Kendrick Perkins and a bigger dose of Serge Ibaka means there will be some configurations the Mavericks haven’t seen in person. The Mavericks also have gone through some changes of their own, losing Caron Butler and finding a place for Peja Stojokavic. In short these are two very different teams than the ones that last met in the regular season.
  • Rob pointed out in his series preview yesterday, that the Mavericks posted an Offensive Rating of 131.37 against the Thunder this season with Dirk Nowitzki on the floor. To be fair to the Thunder, a lot of that offense came at the expense of Jeff Green. Against the frontcourt tandem of Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison, the Mavericks posted an Offensive Rating of just 105.26. Expect the Thunder to try a few different defenders on Nowitzki.
  • Oklahoma City led the league in FT/FGA and FT% this season. The average NBA team scored 18.6 points per game at the free throw line. The Thunder scored 24.1. During the regular season, the Mavericks did as good a job as anyone at keeping the Thunder off the free throw line. They held the Thunder to 17.7 points per game at the free throw line and a FT/FGA ratio of 0.215, that’s below the league average and well below their league-leading mark of 0.299. If the Mavericks can continue to keep the Thunder off the foul line they’ll have neutralized one of their biggest weapons.
  • The Mavericks have rebounded really well against the Thunder this season. Across their three games they’ve grabbed 26.2% of their own misses, and 76.6% on the defensive glass. The 76.6 DRB% would have been the second best mark in the league had they maintained it across the entire season. Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood are coming off a thorough stomping of one of the best front-courts in the league. Their ability to maintain intensity and focus will be key for the Mavericks.
  • The lineup of Kidd-Terry-Marion-Nowitzki-Chandler has been one of the Mavericks’ most frequently used and most successful lineups. This lineup was particularly effective against the Thunder during the regular season, scoring 28 points on 15 possessions in just under 8 minutes of play. That’s an Offensive Rating of 186.67. They also held the Thunder to 13 points on 15 possessions over the same time span, a Defensive Rating of 86.67. Matchups will be important all over the floor. If the Mavericks can be successful with largely the same rotation they’ve been using in the playoffs, it should help them maintain continuity with their blistering offensive execution.

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 22, 2011 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

Kevin Pelton, Basketball Prospectus: “[Nate] McMillan also changed his finishing lineup. While [Brandon] Roy got back on the court when the Blazers needed more shooters and ballhandlers to close out the game, Portland played with its starting lineup most of the stretch run, putting more size and rebounding on the floor. I’m not sure there was a verdict on that decision, as the teams played even during the stretch the Blazers used their starters. Over the course of the season, however, Portland has been much more effective with Aldridge at center and Wallace at power forward in a smaller, quicker unit. Looking ahead to Saturday’s Game Four, the Mavericks can feel good that they had a chance to steal a game in which the Blazers rode their crowd to an early lead. Dallas can also point to missed opportunities at the line, where they shot just 56.5 percent (13 of 23), including an atypical 4-of-7 effort from Nowitzki. Nonetheless, if Roy has found a way to contribute for Portland in this favorable matchup, that might prove the most crucial takeaway of all.”

Ben Golliver, Blazersedge: “Portland’s initial push came courtesy of Matthews, who practically refused to talk about his individual play after leading Portland with 25 points on 8-12 shooting. Thankfully, LaMarcus Aldridge was there to do it for him. ‘I think every game [this series] the team that’s won it has had someone play really, really well,’ Aldridge said. ‘Tonight it was Wesley.’ There’s been so much to like about Aldridge’s maturation this season but that quote is near the top. Aldridge, Matthews and everyone else with a pulse in the Rose Garden knows that the bulk of the headlines are going to Brandon Roy, who finished with 16 crucial points off the bench to help push Portland over the hump. But it was Matthews’ hot shooting that got Portland up early. 16 points in the first quarter. 22 points in the first half. Good shot selection (even including the heat checks, which you know are coming). Solid defense throughout the game on top of it. That Aldridge would single out Matthews with praise — despite his own success on the night and the mountain of questions about Roy — is a moment that will endure. Credit where credit is due. Recognition and rewards for those who have earned it.”

Tim MacMahon (and Ben Rogers), ESPN Dallas: “An object thrown from the Rose Garden stands hit Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in the face during Thursday night’s Game 3 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. The incident occurred midway through the fourth quarter after Cuban had been interacting with the fans in the section behind the Mavericks’ bench. Cuban was not injured. ‘I don’t know what it was, but something hit me in the face,’ said Cuban, who encouraged fans to boo him more by putting his hand by his ear. Extra security was assigned to the area behind the Mavericks’ bench for the remainder of the game. There were no other issues.”

Read more of this article »

Fierce Invalids From Hot Climates

Posted by Ian Levy on April 15, 2011 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

Screen shot 2011-04-15 at 4.06.15 AM

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

This is my eleventh contribution to The Two Man Game, and the most difficult to construct. The challenge of recapping a basketball team’s season without knowing the ending is a significant challenge. How do you tell a story without knowing its conclusion? The simplest technique would be to explain how the Mavericks arrived at this point. The truth is I’m not entirely sure.

Over the past two days I’ve started and re-started this post trying and re-trying to find a theme to capture the structure of this season for the Mavs. Looking for said theme may be where my problems started. Have you ever flipped away from a TV show to avoid the commercials, and come back to that channel to find that you’ve missed two bewilderingly crucial minutes? All of a sudden you’re lost. You know all the characters, the setting remains the same, and yet you’re completely confused by the events unfolding. That’s how I feel about this year’s Mavericks; most of the elements are familiar, but the inciting moment of their season’s plot must have been revealed while I was flipping channels.

The only other team I write about on a consistent basis is the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers have been as schizophrenic as any team in the league, but have vacillated between bouts of inspiring dominance and soul-crushing decrepitude. The Mavericks have not seen fluctuations in performance quite like the Pacers, so much as a steady stream of shapeshifting. I wouldn’t even characterize it as metamorphosis. There have been no linear changes. Like The Master of Disguise, they have been assuming identities and casting them aside just as quickly. I look away for two minutes and come back to find a completely different team.

There were the 19-8 Mavericks with Caron Butler finding his place offensively and defensively. There was the mysterious 10 game stretch where Sasha Pavlovic masqueraded as a rotation player. There are the 2-7 Mavericks without Dirk Nowitzki. There was the 24-5 run to start the season. There was the 3-10 stretch to close 2010 and ring in the New Year, which was immediately followed by a 19-1 run. At times they couldn’t be scored on. At times you couldn’t stop them from scoring. Unfortunately, those two incarnations never seemed to align.

Through all the ups and downs; rights and lefts and wrongs, the regular season has to be considered a success. With 57 wins, the Mavericks have had their best regular season since the infamous 2007 campaign. If not for their 2-7 stretch without Nowtizki, they could have spent this final week fighting for the best record in the league. 57 wins gives them just two more than last season, but it feels like a much wider gap, mostly because preseason expectations seemed to be down.

Not many people thought this year’s roster would be an improvement over recent Mavericks’ squads. The Schoene Projection system used by Pro Basketball Prospectus predicted a 48 win season for the Mavericks. With their win over the Hornets last night, the Mavs have out paced that projection by 9 wins. They’ve also outpaced their Pythagorean win projection, based on their actual point differential, by 5 wins.

It’s tough to blame anyone for projecting this as a down year for the Mavericks. There is no disguising the fact that they have an older roster, and near the midpoint of the season it was the oldest in the league when weighted for minutes played. Their roster didn’t see much turnover from last year, as they returned 79% of their minutes played. The draft netted them Dominique Jones, who wasn’t expected to contribute this season. In addition, they lost two of their younger stars, Butler and Beaubois, to injury for significant portions of the season. Nowitzki has helped make them great (last week we looked at how much Nowitzki has meant to the Mavericks’ season), but his production isn’t that much different than what he provided last year.

That leaves just one cog unaccounted for: Tyson Chandler.

Chandler was expected to back up the newly re-signed Brendan Haywood. After two straight down and injury-plagued seasons, it appeared the peak of Chandler’s career may have already passed. Yet the Mavs got a far better return than expected. Chandler played in 74 games this season and logged over 2,000 minutes, milestones he hasn’t reached since the 2008 season. He hit career highs in FG%, FT%, PER and a career low in TOV%. The Mavericks’ Defense Rating was 3.95 points better when Chandler was on the floor. Surprisingly, given his small, well-defined skill set, their Offense Rating was much better (+3.23) with him on the floor as well. No Maverick except for Nowitzki had a better Unadjusted On Court/Off Court Rating for the Mavs this season.

The Mavericks’ Defensive Rating was 105.0 this season, the fourth best mark in franchise history, and the lowest since their 67 win team in 2007. As we discussed a few weeks ago, the biggest drops in their defensive efficiency seemed to occur when Chandler’s minutes were limited by fouls or injury. The Mavericks turned in their third best defensive rebounding season franchise history, and posted their highest DRB% since 2008. They center position has been manned admirably in Dallas by the likes of DeSagana Diop, Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood. Each of those burly giants was a capable rebounder and could be effective challenging shots at the rim. Tyson Chandler has the athleticism to do those things as well as hedge effectively and recover on a pick-and-roll, or step out and cover a stretch big man. He made the Mavericks’ defense that much more efficient by adding versatility to a familiar formula.

The following assessment was written of Tyson Chandler before the season started, again from the tremendous Pro Basketball Prospectus:

A change of scenery failed to revitalize Tyson Chandler’s career like it did when he went from Chicago to New Orleans. He was limited by injuries and inconsistent on the floor during his final year with the Hornets, and the same was true of his lone season in Charlotte. Both Chandler’s rebounding and his two-point percentage have fallen dramatically the last two years, and SCHOENE isn’t optimistic about his chances to return to peak form. Chandler is only 28, but similar players were already starting to decline at the same age.

I will be upfront in saying that nothing in that paragraph seemed out of line to me when I read it in the middle of October (Of course, I also thought the Kings would win 44 games this season). Chandler’s resurgence has been remarkable, baffling, inexplicable and inspiring. The splendid Spurs and horrible Heat were the big surprises early in the season. The Bulls’ dominant shift into an even higher gear has been the shocker of the past month. Lost somewhere in the middle were the Dallas Mavericks (somewhat) quietly having one of the best seasons in franchise history. Buried even further in the void, is the fact that Tyson Chandler — after essentially being ruled irrelevant — has changed the fortunes of an actual NBA basketball team.

The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus Portland Trailblazers Official Playoff Preview for the Official 2010-2011 Official NBA Post-Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 14, 2011 under Commentary, Previews | 27 Comments to Read

balloons

Dallas’ playoff opponent is finally set in stone. Thanks to a Maverick win and Kobe Bryant’s ongoing crusade to burn the city of Sacramento to the ground, the Mavs will face off with the formidable Portland Trailblazers in the first found of the postseason. Rejoice, and be worried; this matchup is terrific for basketball fans but should be uncomfortable to the Maverick faithful, a conflict of identities for those who appreciate both the game and this particular team. We’re in for a fantastic series, but a hell of an opponent stands between Dallas and the second round.

The Mavericks are a better team than the Blazers by virtually every objective measure; win percentage, efficiency differential, point differential, Pythagorean win percentage, and the simple rating system all favor Dallas. In terms of their season-long numbers, the Mavs have outperformed the Blazers on both ends of the court, and enjoy all of the statistical trimmings that come with that superior level of performance. However, the fact that Dallas is a better team only matters tangentially. Playoff series’ are so much more dependent on the ways in which teams succeed than just how successful those teams are, a fact surely not lost on Mavs fans. This outcome of this series won’t be determined by determining the better team, but merely the more effective one given this specific matchup.

Dallas and Portland faced off four times during the regular season, but reading too much into the outcome of those four contests can be a bit misleading; the Blazers thoroughly dominated their latest game against the Mavs, for example, but Tyson Chandler’s absence hardly makes it a representative sample. The same can be said of the exclusion of Dirk Nowitzki and Brandon Roy in previous games, the mid-season acquisition of Gerald Wallace, and the unavailability of Caron Butler — we have four games’ worth of competition between the two teams, but little to speak of in the way of legitimate macro-level assessment.

magnify

So instead, the most prudent way to predict the performance of both teams is to look at smaller factors which could potentially turn the series. In my eyes, Portland creates particular problems for Dallas through their combination of versatile forwards and sizable guards. LaMarcus Aldridge — who averaged 27.8 points on 51% shooting against Dallas this season — is a huge part of the problem, and acts as a catalyst of sorts for the Blazers to exploit the Mavs on a number of levels. Regardless of whether Marcus Camby is on the floor, Rick Carlisle has largely opted to defend Aldridge with either Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood. Carlisle’s decision is understandable; putting Dirk Nowitzki on Aldridge wouldn’t present any kind of advantage (and needlessly puts Dirk at risk for foul trouble), and Shawn Marion doesn’t have the size to contend with Aldridge in the post. That leaves Chandler and Haywood as the most logical defensive options, as both are long enough to contest Aldridge’s shot and strong enough to fight him for position down low. Neither has been tremendously successful in stopping Aldridge in the post thus far this season, but they provide the best theoretical counters considering the Mavs’ lack of alternatives.

If that potential mismatch in Portland’s favor isn’t enough, more problems start to arise when we weigh Aldridge’s other abilities. Not only is Portland’s new frontman skilled in operating from either block, but he’s a credible mid-range shooter and a constant threat to slip toward the basket for a lob. Aldridge’s combination of size, range, and mobility makes him an incredibly difficult cover, and with Dallas’ assumed defensive configuration, his ability to put up points is only the first of several concerns introduced by his very presence. Defensive rebounding is also a legitimate issue, as Aldridge is able to pull one of the Mavs’ strongest rebounders away from the basket by stepping out to the perimeter. That not only limits the rebounding impact of Chandler and Haywood while Aldridge is on the court, but opens up more opportunities for the Blazers — one of the strongest offensive rebounding teams in the league — to attack the glass. Dallas is normally strong on the defensive glass, but it’s no coincidence that some of their worst rebounding performances of the season have come against Portland (the Blazers grabbed more than 27.9 percent of available offensive boards in three of the four games, with the only outlier being the quasi-blowout in the most recent game).

boat

Even more problematic is what that same range does for Dallas’ defensive spacing. Every successful defensive scheme relies on bigs who are able to rotate from across the court and contest shots around the rim, but Aldridge’s ability to knock down an open 18-footer makes it far more difficult for Chandler or Haywood to leave him and rotate into the paint. Without consistent help on the back line (Nowitzki tries, but Dirks will be Dirks), the Mavs’ perimeter defenders are in trouble; one misstep could lead to an uncontested layup or a trip to the free throw line, and Jason Terry, J.J. Barea, and Rodrigue Beaubois certainly commit their share of defensive blunders. Plus, Aldridge’s ability to space the floor opens up the opportunity for the Blazer guards to set up against their undersized opponents on the block. Brandon Roy and Andre Miller are skilled post-up threats capable of both scoring and making plays, and together with Wesley Matthews and Rudy Fernandez, the Blazer guard corps towers over the Mavs’ backcourt.

Portland not only has that specific size advantage, but has shown in their last two games against Dallas that they fully intend to exploit it. Ultimately, the Mavs are put in a position in which fielding any of their crucial but diminutive guards — the aforementioned Terry, Barea, and Beaubois — invites an easy post-up opportunity for either Roy or Miller. The three-guard lineup is even more vulnerable, further limiting Carlisle’s rotational options. Terry and Barea will play, but we could be left pondering ways to keep them off the floor, particularly if either player fails to produce on offense.

Carlisle may adjust by redistributing minutes, but Corey Brewer and DeShawn Stevenson seem to be his only alternatives, and I’m not sure either is likely to actually play significant minutes. In a way, this is all an extension from last year’s playoffs: Terry is almost certain to be an on-court mainstay, and even more certain to be on the court to close games — even when his replacement makes intuitive sense. Last year, it was Beaubois, who ripped up the court in Game 6 against the Spurs before grabbing a seat prematurely, who could have replaced JET. This season, if Terry isn’t on his offensive game, it may make more sense for him to sit for defensive reasons. He isn’t uniquely responsible for Dallas’ potential defensive troubles, but he’s the undersized guard most likely to log the most playing time. The decision to slash the minutes of a player like JET is an immensely difficult one, and it may not even be the correct one. But those guard matchups could end up doing a lot of damage, and one can only hope that Carlisle has some counter — either in scheme or personnel — up his sleeve.

darts

For their part, the Mavs don’t have a unique matchup advantage other than the fact that they employ Dirk Nowitzki, and that as a team they have the ability to hit shots of all kinds with consistency. That last fact should be especially evident against Portland’s relatively poor shooting defense; for all their defensive versatility and long-armed wings, the Blazers rank 22nd in effective field goal percentage allowed. Dirk Nowitzki will have his work cut out for him grappling with Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum (among others), but I nonetheless anticipate him having an MVP-type series. There’s only so much a defender can do. Wallace and Batum are sure to put in good work on D, but Nowitzki is that efficient, that prolific, that deadly. Expect consistently excellent work from the block, the wing, and the elbow, as Dirk turns in more typically stellar postseason numbers.

Dallas’ perimeter shooters should also be in for a field day. According to Synergy Sports Technology, the Blazers rank 25th in the league in their defense of spot-up jumpers on a per possession basis, while the Maverick shooters rank sixth in their points scored per spot-up possession. This is where being a “jumpshooting team” comes in handy; spot-up jumpshots are a substantial part — 22.7 percent — of the Dallas offense, and happen to be one of Portland’s greatest defensive weaknesses. Let there be a turkey in every pot and a kick-out for every shooter — it’s gonna be a feast from the outside.

To hone in a bit: Portland ranks in the bottom 10 in three-point shooting defense — a big reason why both their points per spot up possession allowed and their opponents’ effective field goal percentage are so high. The Mavs have four consistent perimeter marksmen (Terry, Stevenson, Brian Cardinal, Peja Stojakovic) outside of Nowitzki, and any who sees the floor should find open looks with some regularity. The problem is how many of those shooters will actually see notable time; Stevenson could end up starting, but he’d been out of the rotation for a while before his unearthing on Wednesday. His role is uncertain, to say the least. Cardinal could be left off the playoff roster altogether if Rick Carlisle elects to bring Brewer along for the postseason, and even if Cardinal does make the playoff roster, Dallas rarely plays him and Nowitzki at the same time, which would limit his potential application.

Regardless, Terry, Stojakovic, Jason Kidd, and J.J. Barea should have room to fire from outside. They may not always convert (particularly in the case of the latter two), but those openings are nonetheless an important part of Dallas’ advantage. The opportunities will be there, so it’s on the usually efficient Mavs to hit their shots.

horse

Dallas shouldn’t have too much of a problem scoring, but they may have some issues in setting up a fluid offense. As counter-intuitive as that sounds, consider this: the Blazers are as good as any team in the league at creating turnovers, but as noted above, they don’t contest shots well at all. One shouldn’t expect some freewheeling Maverick attack, but once the ball gets to Nowitzki or Marion in the post (where they can either score or execute a basic kick-out), to a shooter off a curl via a Kidd assist, or to Terry or Barea to run the pick-and-roll, all should be right with the world. The problem is in the intermediary, those moments between the first and second options in a set where Kidd tries to thread an overly ambitious pass, Terry attempts to create off the dribble in vain, or a non-ball-handler ends up uncomfortably holding the rock as the shot clock dwindles. If the Mavs establish their play actions and work through them without trying to do too much, they shouldn’t have much of a problem on the offensive end at all. If they panic or rush rather than work through their options patiently, then Wallace, Miller, Matthews, and Fernandez will furiously swarm the ball like leather-eating piranhas.

With that in mind, this series feels like a shootout. Portland isn’t a particularly sound defensive team, and Dallas’ defense doesn’t seem poised to be particularly effective based on the matchup and their recent performance. The point totals may not soar due to neither team being a true fast-breaking outfit, but this is a series of offensive prowess unless the Mavs can prove otherwise. One defensive scheme isn’t enough, either; Nate McMillan is a smart, flexible coach, and he’ll have his players adapt to any single counter the Mavs utilize. Dallas will need multiple responses to both Aldridge and the Blazer guards, and somehow not neglect Wallace and Batum in the process. It’s doable, but difficult.

Screen shot 2011-04-14 at 4.39.06 PM

Which is why I regretfully predict that the Blazers will win in seven games. It’s not an easy call; these Mavs are skilled and can theoretically execute on both ends. I just think Portland’s mismatches will prove a bit too problematic. I think Jason Kidd won’t be quite as effective as the Mavs need him to be. I think Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge will both be tremendous, and the rest of both teams will be left to tip the balance. I think the Blazers can hide Brandon Roy too easily on defense, which lets him stay on the court long enough to cause a problem. I think Wallace and Batum may only hinder Nowitzki, but they’re capable of significantly limiting Marion. I think that there is a distinct possibility that the Mavs win this series, but there are just too many concerns to consider it the most likely outcome.

The Mavs are the better team in this series. Sometimes that just isn’t enough.

Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

The Lion’s Mane

Posted by Ian Levy on March 17, 2011 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

Missing!

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

A major storyline early in the season was the defensive performance of the Dallas Mavericks. Through November they were solidly in the top five in Defensive Rating. Since then, Dallas has slowly regressed to a Defensive Rating of 106.2, which ranks 12th in the league. The Mavs have been able to maintain their winning ways by becoming more efficient offensively and edging out their opponents in close games with terrific clutch performance, but playing up to their potential at the defensive end of the floor will obviously give Dallas the best chance of playoff success.

Earlier this week I got caught up looking at Ed Kupfer’s rolling averages charts and lost a significant chunk of an afternoon. In particular, I was intrigued by the way his graphics illustrated the steady decline in the Mavericks’ Defensive Rating. I set about to see if I could recreate his data and then identify some trends or events which might be contributing to their defensive inconsistency.

The chart below shows my version of the five game rolling averages for the Mavericks’ Defensive Rating. (A rolling average looks at the most recent data points to illustrate a trend. In this case each data point on the graph represents the average of the previous five games.)

Chart #1

The Mavericks’ defense peaked around their 19th game this season, a 93-81 victory on December 3rd against the Utah Jazz. Starting with their 34th game, an 84-81 victory on January 4th against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Mavericks’ Defensive Rating has gone through a dramatic series of peaks and valleys.

There are myriad factors which influenced the Mavericks’ strong defensive showing to open the season, as well as their subsequent roller coaster ride. Today we are going to focus in on just two of those factors. The table below again shows the five game rolling averages for the Mavericks’ Defensive Rating. You’ll notice that I’ve added a marker at the 29th game.

Chart #2

The 29th game which I marked was the last one Caron Butler played before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The contrast between the team’s defense before his injury and after his injury is pretty sharp on the graph. It shows up in the statistics as well.

When Butler suffered his (likely) season-ending injury, the Mavericks had posted a Defensive Rating of 103.6 to that point. Since then, the Mavericks’ Defensive Rating has swelled to 109.8. With Butler out of the lineup, the small forward minutes have been filled by a combination of DeShawn Stevenson, Sasha Pavlovic, Shawn Marion, Peja Stojakavic and most recently, Corey Brewer. Brewer has played limited minutes since joining the team and his defensive prowess hasn’t really materialized in any significant way. Shawn Marion is a solid defender but is slowing with age. The Mavericks are actually allowing more points with Marion on the floor this season then when he’s on the bench. Pavlovic, Stojakavic and Stevenson will never be confused with lockdown defenders. This is not exactly an ideal list of defensive replacement players.

The interesting thing is that despite having a reputation as a strong perimeter defender, Butler hasn’t done much to justify it in recent years. For the first four seasons of his career, Butler averaged an Individual Defensive Rating of 105.0. Of forwards who played at least 10,000 minutes over that stretch, Butler has the 15th best Defensive Rating and the 7th best Defensive Rating among forwards who spend at least some time defending perimeter players. From the 2006-2010 stretch of his career his Individual Defensive Rating grew to a worrisome 109.0, the 28th best mark among forwards with at least 10,000 minutes played.

In keeping with that theme: Butler was not very effective defensively with the Washington Wizards last season, giving up 0.92 points per possession overall, per Synergy Sports Technology. (Ed. note: Butler’s defensive numbers for the part of last season he spent with Dallas aren’t available through Synergy at the moment) However, his defensive numbers to start this season were terrific. Before his injury, Synergy Sports had tracked 237 individual defensive possessions for Caron Butler. Over those 237 he had allowed just 0.78 points per possession, the 42nd best mark in the league this season. The table below shows some of his numbers for each of those individual possession categories.

Possessiont Type% of Total PossessionsPoints per PossessionRankFG% AllowedTO%
Overall - 0.783936.9%13.1%
Isolation18.1%0.601735.5%23.3%
Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler9.3%0.68 - 42.9%27.3%
Post-Up9.3%0.91 - 50.0%13.6%
Pick-and-Roll Man0.4%2.00 - 100.0%0.0%
Spot-Up40.0%0.9211037.5%4.9%
Off Screen13.5%0.66730.8%15.6%
Hand Off5.9%0.43 - 18.2%14.3%

According to 82games, opposing small forwards were posting an eFG% of 46.3% against Butler and a PER of just 10.6 this year. As a team, the Mavericks have allowed opposing small forwards an eFG% of 48.1% and a PER of 13.2. Butler was statistically the team’s best perimeter defender, and the data confirms the observable improvement on that end that was so evident in Butler’s play. When Butler went down, the Mavs didn’t just lose a scorer — they lost a significant defensive weapon.

The second factor I wanted to look at was the impact Tyson Chandler. It didn’t even take the entire preseason for Chandler to win the starting center job from Brendan Haywood and his brand new 42 million dollar contract. Chandler quickly became the team’s interior anchor and was one of the reasons they got off to such a hot start at the defensive end of the floor.

Chandler has continued to have a strong defensive impact, but he’s struggled to stay on the floor at times due to a combination of injuries and foul trouble. The table below combines the five game rolling average for Defensive Rating we looked at above with the five game rolling average for Chandler’s minutes per game. I included games he missed in these calculations, counting them as zero minutes played.

Chart #3

For the most part, a decrease in Chandler’s minutes per game average has corresponded with a spike in the team’s Defensive Rating. When Chandler has been on the floor, the Mavs have posted a Defensive Rating of 104.1, which would rank 7th in the league. When he’s off the floor their Defensive Rating jumps to 107.6, just slightly above the league average. Simply put: Chandler’s presence takes Dallas from being a merely average defensive team to a very good one.

One of the areas in which Chandler has made a significant difference is on the defensive glass. According to 82games, the Mavericks have a DRB% of 73.1% when Chandler is on the floor and just 71.9% when he’s not in the game. His personal DRB% this season is 26.4%, the 15th best mark in the league. Chandler is the first major Mavericks’ contributor in the last 5 years with a DRB% over 25.0%.

For the first third of the season, Dallas was a formidable defensive squad, featuring the impact tandem of Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler controlling the paint and the perimeter. Since then, the team has vacillated between being average and terrible defensively. Butler won’t be returning, but the Mavericks still have hopes that Corey Brewer will be able to provide some of what Butler was giving them to start the year. The Mavericks are a top 10 team in terms of offensive efficiency but seven of the other top 10 offensive teams are potential playoff opponents in the Western Conference. For dreams of a deep playoff run to materialize, the Mavs will have to find a way to keep Tyson Chandler on the floor, slow down dominant perimeter scorers, and once again become a defensive dynamo.

Toxophilite

Posted by Ian Levy on March 10, 2011 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

Screen shot 2011-03-10 at 12.16.35 PM

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

The Boston Celtics received plenty of attention earlier this season when their team FG% was sitting above 50%. This focus was certainly deserved; in the last 20 years, only 10 teams have finished a season shooting better than 50% from the field. Only two teams have done so in the last decade. Unfortunately, the Celtics’ shooting has fallen off slightly since that point, and now sits below the threshold at 49.3%. That percentage is impressive even it falls short of a nice, round benchmark, but even Boston’s strong shooting shouldn’t overshadow another remarkable shooting performance by the Dallas Mavericks.

The Mavericks are second in the NBA — trailing only the Celtics — with a FG% of 47.6%. That puts Dallas 1.7 percentage points behind Boston. If we look at eFG%, which factors in the extra point scored on a three-pointer, the gap between the two teams closes to just 0.2 percentage points. The thing that separates the two teams (and ultimately puts Dallas in front) is the difficulty of their shots.

Hoopdata calculates a field goal percentage measure called “expected field goal percentage,” or XeFG%. Shots from different locations have different difficulties: the league average FG% on a shot at the rim this season is 64.0%, the average FG% on shots from 16-23ft. is 39.5%, etc. XeFG% uses the league average FG% from each shot location and a team’s own average shot selection to calculate the field goal percentage the team would be expected to shoot. My own work on Expected Scoring at Hickory-High is an extension of this idea.

For example, the Charlotte Bobcats have an eFG% of 47.86% this season. The Minnesota Timberwolves have an eFG% of 48.00%. Only 0.14 of a percent separate the two. However, Charlotte’s XeFG% is 50.8%, two full percentage points higher than Minnesota’s 48.8%. Charlotte’s XeFG% is much higher than Minnesota’s because they take 10% more of their shots at the rim then Minnesota does. Although their eFG% is almost the same, looking at the XeFG% shows us that Charlotte is having a much worse shooting season than Minnesota because they are taking easier shots and should therefore be making more of them.

Hoopdata also expresses this idea of “more or less than they should” by calculating a simple ratio, eFG% divided by XeFG%. Here’s where we return to Dallas. When we look at this Offensive Ratio (eFG%/XeFG%) the Mavericks are leading the league at 1.07, Boston’s ratio is 1.05. Hoopdata has this same statistic available for the previous four seasons and over that stretch I could only find four other teams with an Offensive Ratio of 1.07 or higher. I’ll give you hint: It was the same team each season and they play within a four-hour drive of the Grand Canyon. If you guessed the Portland Trailblazers then you need to look at a map.

The thing I found most interesting is how Dallas has been able to accomplish this elite shooting performance on an very different shot distribution from the Phoenix Suns. The table below shows the percentage of each team’s shots which came from each location.

TeamSeason% At the Rim% <10ft.% 10-15ft.% 16-23ft.% 3PTXeFG%eFG%Offensive Ratio
Phoenix2006-200731.3%8.8%8.0%23.3%28.7%50.7%55.15%1.09
Phoenix2007-200831.0%10.0%8.5%24.2%26.0%50.3%55.13%1.10
Phoenix2008-200936.7%13.8%8.3%19.4%21.6%51.0%54.51%1.07
Phoenix2009-201031.7%11.2%8.6%22.4%26.1%50.4%54.57%1.08
Dallas2010-201125.4%13.0%10.9%23.6%27.0%49.4%52.59%1.07

The Phoenix Suns made this list each season by making a ton of the shots everyone expects to make: three-pointers and layups. Dallas has made this list with an incredible shooting performance on mid-range jumpers. 47.5% of the Mavericks’ shots this season are coming from the space between 3ft. and 23ft. away from the basket. The closest Phoenix came to that was in 2007-2008 when 42.7% of their shots were neither at the rim or from behind the three-point line.

When you think of the Mavericks excelling in the mid-range game, Dirk Nowitzki quickly comes to mind. Although he’s an exceptional mid-range shooter, he doesn’t deserve all the credit for the team’s shooting performance this season.

  • Rodrigue Beaubois, Ian Mahinmi, Peja Stojakavic, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion are all shooting better than the league average on shots from 3-9ft.
  • Dirk Nowitzki, J.J. Barea, Jason Terry, Ian Mahinmi, Rodrigue Beaubois and Tyson Chandler are all shooting better than the league average on shots from 10-15ft.
  • Dirk Nowitzki, Peja Stojakavic, DeShawn Stevenson, Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry, Dominique Jones and Ian Mahinmi are all shooting better than the league average on shots from 16-23ft. Sasha Pavlovic and Caron Butler were also above the league average before they left the Mavericks due to ineptitude and injury respectively.

Altogether the Mavericks attempt 39.1 shots per game from that 3-23ft. space. 28.5, or 72.9% of them are coming from players who are above average shooters from that location. The quantity of players who are shooting well is striking but so is the variety. The list of names above includes players who fill significant minutes at all five positions. The ability to have nearly anyone on the floor knock down a mid-range jumper gives the Mavericks a tremendous amount of offensive flexibility.

I usually make an effort to abstain from unsupportable hyperbole, but I can’t help myself. This may be one of the best jump-shooting teams in history. 17 of the top 40 players in NBA history in terms of three-point field goals made are still active. Jason Williams, Baron Davis and Jamal Crawford all make the list, which takes some of the shine off this discussion. Still, 4 of those 17 who are still active play for the Dallas Mavericks, including three of the top 10. As I mentioned Hoopdata, only has shot location numbers available for the last few seasons so it’s tough to make a statistical argument on the mid-range abilities of teams predating that cut-off. Regardless, the numbers tell me the Mavericks have shooters everywhere and my eyes tell me those shots are going in like never before.

The Difference: Weekend Edition

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 6, 2011 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

Screen shot 2011-02-06 at 4.43.53 AM

Dallas Mavericks 101, Boston Celtics 97

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas88.0114.854.419.029.415.9
Boston110.254.413.930.315.9

  • When you go toe-to-toe with the best team in the entire league, you tend to take wins any way you can get them, even if they turn out a little bit flukey. Dallas had two very strange plays go their way: an errant pass from Jason Terry to Dirk Nowitzki that was somehow converted into a Jason Kidd go-ahead three-pointer, and a shockingly off-target lob from Rajon Rondo to Kevin Garnett on the ensuing inbound play. The probability of both of those plays unfolding in such favorable fashion is insanely low, and yet the Mavericks managed to steal one from the almighty Celtics.
  • The last time these two teams met, Dallas willingly gave Rajon Rondo a chance to win the game with an open three-pointer, a strategy which paid off when Rondo — a career .252 three-point shooter — caught rim on an attempt at late-game heroism. A similar event unfolded on Friday night, when Rondo found himself wide open from 17 feet with a little over a minute remaining and his team up three points. Rondo again fired away, and again he played right into the Mavs’ hands. Dallas scored seven straight points to end the game, and Rondo jumper marked the unwitting end of Boston’s offensive production.
  • Dirk Nowitzki (29 points, 9-14 FG, four rebounds, three assists) was back to his old hyper-efficient ways, but what impressed me most about the Mavs’ offense was their usage of Nowitzki as a central scorer, but not as their sole option. Looking past a pair of free throws to close the game, Nowitzki scored just three of the Mavs’ 10 points during their tide-turning run, largely due to the effectiveness of Jason Terry (17 points, 7-15 FG) off the dribble. JET was terrific in curling around defenders and pulling up off the bounce, and his sound night — in addition to other scoring contributions from Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, and J.J. Barea — led to a terrific offensive night against one of the league’s best defenses.
  • Speaking of: though Dallas also boasts an effective defense of their own, this was not one of their finer defensive performances. The Mavs let entirely too many cutters get open looks around the rim, and the Celtics’ interior passing was fantastically effective in picking apart the Mavs’ D from the inside. Toss in a standout performance from Ray Allen (24 points, 9-18 FG, 3-7 3FG, two blocks) and a solid showing from Kevin Garnett’s (16 points, 7-16 FG, five rebounds) turnaround jumper, and it’s no surprise that Boston matched Dallas at every turn, even in spite of the Mavs’ offensive variety.

Screen shot 2011-02-06 at 4.49.24 AM

Dallas Mavericks 101, Charlotte Bobcats 92

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas88.0114.850.616.335.911.4
Charlotte104.539.923.633.38.0

  • Dallas hit a few snags in their offense about midway through the fourth quarter, but even in their more limited moments they appeared to have this game firmly under wraps. A few much-needed buckets from Shawn Marion (10 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks, three turnovers) and plenty of near-turnovers (as opposed to actual turnovers) from Dirk Nowitzki (24 points, 10-19 FG, four rebounds, four blocks) kept things pointed in the same positive general direction, even if they weren’t on track. There were a few disappointing letdowns on the defensive glass during that stretch as well, but the Mavs at least did a good job of blanketing the Bobcats on their initial attempts (Charlotte posted an effective field goal percentage of just 39.9%). Defensive possessions weren’t played to their conclusion, but at least the effort was there in earnest…initially, anyway.
  • J.J. Barea (15 points, 7-14 FG, three rebounds, two assists) started — and thrived — again, and one can help but wonder if this short-term arrangement couldn’t become a bit more permanent. Dallas doesn’t have an obvious replacement to fill the spot in the starting lineup once occupied by Caron Butler and then by the since-departed Sasha Pavlovic, and before anyone touts Peja Stojakovic as any kind of solution we should probably see how he’s capable of playing. Additionally, Stojakovic and Stevenson are both spot-up options without a ton of other offensive potential, which puts a lot of pressure on Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd to create offense in that hypothetical lineup. Barea not only gives the Mavs another ball-handler on the floor (the gains of which can be measured in the Kidd-Terry tandem), but also gives them a player who can put pressure on opposing defenses with his ability to dribble penetrate.
  • In the first quarter, Nowitzki went to a pair of righty hooks on back-to-back possessions. The first came as he was sweeping across the lane against Boris Diaw, and was shorted. The second came in a more set post possession form the same block, and looked pretty natural. One of the most unusual things about Nowitzki’s post game is that although he has a vast assortment of fakes and counters to free himself up for shots, everything he does is essentially a variation of the same fadeaway jumper. Nowitzki has dabbled with hooks like these in the past, but it could be a nice wrinkle for him to incorporate on a more regular basis, if only for variety’s sake.
  • D.J. Augustin (21 points, 7-17 FG, 3-8 3FG, two assists) is a fine player, and should have a fairly successful career. That said, he’s such a natural scorer, but has never had much aptitude as a playmaker. Augustin can create opportunities for his teammates and will have some decent assist totals from time to time, but the Bobcats really need to pair Augustin with another player who can initiate the offense. Freeing up Augustin to catch and shoot or attack the defense from different angles could really open up his game, and would go a long way toward salvaging Charlotte’s offense. Stephen Jackson is not that guy. Although he has a reputation as a competent all-around player, Jackson is exactly the kind of ball-holding, low-percentage-shot-taking partner that Augustin shouldn’t have. I realize the Bobcats don’t have a ton of options at this point, but finding a suitable complement for Augustin should be pretty high on their list of priorities, should they be committed to making him a part of their core for the future.
  • Brendan Haywood (three points, 1-4 FG, seven rebounds, one block) seems to lack any touch whatsoever in finishing in the paint; he’s Dampier-esque in his need to dunk immediately off the catch, lest he commit a turnover or find new and exciting ways to make his shot attempts go “clang.”
  • Former Mav Eduardo Najera played 22 minutes (!) while Tyrus Thomas watched in sartorial splendor from the sidelines, and his stint served as a reminder that Najera should never really play that many minutes. If a team is in need of an energy big for five minutes here and there, Najera could be the guy. If the gig requires something more, teams should really look to invest elsewhere.
  • The Bobcats switched on a lot of the Mavs’ screens, and it was nice to see Jason Terry (21 points, 7-14 FG, three assists, three turnovers) and Marion take advantage of a one-on-one matchup with Brown or another of Charlotte’s bigs.
  • Tyson Chandler (nine points, 4-10 FG, 15 rebounds, two blocks) made it work. His teammates made a continued effort to get him the ball, but plenty of those possessions ended with botched passes or bobbled catches; the Bobcats were well aware of the Mavs’ intentions, and did their best to take away Chandler as an offensive option. So Chandler created his own scoring opportunities by grabbing eight offensive rebounds, and finishing in particular style on a pair of clean-up dunks. Teams really looking to focus their defense can take away Terry’s impact or Kidd’s impact, but I’m not sure any team in this league can tech Chandler out of a game. It honestly may not be possible.
  • It’s unfathomable to me that any team in the NBA could allow Dirk Nowitzki to get so many open looks, but this season’s Bobcats are a continued exercise in facepalm-worthy decision making. When Dirk had the ball in his hands, the Bobcats obviously paid him mind. But when the ball was swinging from side to side or Terry attracted multiple defenders on a drive? It was somehow Nowitzki who was standing wide open. Truly odd.

False Hope

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 19, 2011 under Commentary, News | Be the First to Comment

Let’s for one second forget that the Mavs were on the verge of true contention with Dirk Nowitzki glowing after every jumper and Caron Butler settling into a rotation he could finally call his home. Let’s momentarily misplace the fact that without Butler, Dallas is hurting for complementary scoring, and that Jason Terry is no longer reliable enough to carry that burden on his own. Let’s just wipe clear the notion that without Butler performing at a high level, another year of Dirk Nowitzki’s prime could end in a premature playoff exit.

All of that matters, I’m sure, but frankly none of it should be relevant in any way that impacts Butler’s decision-making. It’s a damn shame that Caron couldn’t be a part of some magical Maverick effort that toppled the Lakers and soared past the Spurs, but does that mean he should attempt a comeback this season when doing so would scrape the bottom of his rehabilitation projections? Why try to rush back into things at the four-month mark when recovery from this kind of injury could take six months and then some? Hasn’t Butler seen what happened to Brandon Roy? To Josh Howard? To all of those who haven’t respected the course of nature and medicine?

The notion that Butler could — or worse, should — return to the team for a playoff push is absurd. It would be a detriment to the team, and potentially a huge detriment to Butler’s health. The fact that he wants to play for the Mavs is admirable, but foolishly so. If it’s merely a mechanism to facilitate Butler’s rehab, then I wouldn’t dare take it away. But if he or the Mavs are seriously considering a pre-playoff or mid-playoff return a real possibility, I fear for the repercussions for both parties. Dallas has done a great job this season of refusing to wait on anyone. They didn’t bide their time and wait for some disaster to befell the Lakers; they grabbed the conference by the throat and played top-notch defense (before their recent drop-off, at least). When Rodrigue Beaubois’ return kept getting pushed back, the Mavs made it work offensively, and turned Beaubois into a welcome addition rather than a bare necessity.

If Caron’s return is touted as a possibility, it would only be deluding this team — from players to management to ownership — into thinking they may eventually have an asset at their disposal that they certainly do not. Even if Butler could return this season, he’d be limited. Even if you think that’s better than nothing, it’s not. When healthy, Butler was a genuine asset to this team, and he worked terribly hard (both in terms of his conditioning/physique and his understanding of the offensive and defensive systems) to get to that point. But without the same ability to move both laterally and toward the basket, Butler isn’t worth all that much. He’d likely be frustrated, as any capable player would be when reduced to a spot-up shooter. The Caron Butler Mavs fans had slowly grown to appreciate over the course of this season is no more — until after his full recovery, anyway — and even the most diligent rehab work won’t change that.

Wade through trade rumors if you must, but this team has to get better, and they’ll have to do so without even whispering Caron’s name.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 102, Indiana Pacers 89

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 13, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Screen shot 2011-01-13 at 2.31.58 PM

Under most normal circumstances, these game recaps take on a particular formula. Scrap it. Doing so comes with an assumption of normalcy, and these days for the Mavs hardly qualify as normal.

Dallas isn’t quite drowning, but this team is certainly tired of treading water. We’d all love to sit around the fire and tell tales of the go-getter Mavericks who could accomplish anything regardless of their significant disadvantage, but things haven’t turned out that way. Despite the fact that they’re playing hard, the Mavs aren’t playing well. It doesn’t help that Caron Butler is out for the season, but this team needs Dirk Nowitzki. Badly.

Until he returns, they’re just going through the motions. The other Mavs are getting in reps, I suppose, but this team doesn’t make sense without Dirk, and certainly doesn’t float. The extent of the roster’s buoyancy lies in a single man, and while Dallas is a capable squad with him in the lineup, they can’t compete as long as he’s sitting on the sideline. This is the roster that the Mavericks’ brass has constructed, and it works, except in those rare times when it doesn’t. Injuries to Nowitzki are anything but common, and yet the team needs to occasionally face the fact that this roster is sub-average without him, and unable to function at an acceptable competitive level in his absence. There are plenty of good players on this team, but as I’ve written before: none of it works without Dirk. The offense falls apart, and that puts entirely too much pressure on the defense, which eventually buckles.

That makes it quite easy for a team like the Pacers — lowly though they may be — to punch out on the clock and leave with a win. Indiana didn’t even have to do anything all that special; they played well enough, but it was hardly an inspiring performance from the Pacers. But with both teams in their current states, the 16-20 Pacers are better than the Dirk-less, Caron-less, Beaubois-less Mavs. Tyson Chandler can throw out double-doubles, Jason Terry can get his, DeShawn Stevenson can continue to be an unlikely source of points, and Shawn Marion can fill in the gaps, and it still won’t matter. Jason Kidd is a talented point guard, but this team wasn’t meant to succeed without Nowitzki, and will be doomed to fail in his absence as long as the offense is structured in a way that takes maximum advantage of his unique gifts. This is not a bad thing, but it’s certainly a thing. For now, it’s one that the Mavs are forced to live with.