The lockout hasn’t even reached its official end, and yet all eyes are fixed on the summer of 2012. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and Deron Williams have dominated media outlets with their rumored gravity toward various teams and markets, and though basketball fans are likely queasy already from the trade rumor overload, the hype is legitimate. Those three superstars are hugely impactful players, and while the NBA world would be a better place without the rumor mill’s nonstop churning, to ignore teams’ awareness of next year’s free agent class would be naive. Franchises around the league are working hard to be in a position to take part in the free agent fun, and the Mavs are no exception.
In that vein, Chris Broussard and Marc Stein of ESPN.com dropped a fairly startling report yesterday:
In a surprise development on the first day that NBA teams and agents could start talking about new contracts, Tyson Chandler came away convinced that his time with the Dallas Mavericks is coming to an end.
“I really think I’m going to be on a new team come training camp,” Chandler told ESPN.com in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “I’m really taking a hard look at all of my options, trying to see what best suits me.”
…Chandler maintains that staying in Dallas has always been his first choice, but he expressed disappointment that the communication between the sides was minimal from the end of the NBA Finals in mid-June and the June 30 deadline for extensions. On Wednesday, when teams and agents were allowed to commence free-agent negotiations, NBA front office sources listed New Jersey, Golden State, Houston and Toronto as the teams chasing Chandler hardest.
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Tyson Chandler made a radio appearance yesterday with Mason & Ireland of ESPN Radio in Los Angeles, and gave his own respectable, respectful take on the lockout and its proceedings. It’s exactly the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from a thoughtful player like Chandler, and his lockout comments are worth a listen (or a read, via Sports Radio Interviews).
Yet what interested me about Chandler’s radio spot was his tackling of a fairly routine question posed to him by the show’s co-hosts, regarding his determination of the league’s best player. Here was Chandler’s response:
“I would go with Dirk. It’s funny, I tweeted about it and I’ve been catching the same flack about it. But I feel it’s proven by what he did last year, what he did to the Lakers, what he did to Oklahoma City, what he did in the Finals, throughout the whole playoffs Dirk just became a man possessed. He went to a whole other level offensively. People talk about what he did defensively, but he actually stepped it up better during the playoffs last year and became a better team defender. And my whole thing is if you outscore the guy defending you by 10 to 15 points, then you’re playing pretty good D.”
Is Dirk Nowitzki the best player in the NBA? Not quite. LeBron James — even after a disappointing series in the Finals — should still rank as the NBA’s top contributor, and Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul all have legitimate claims over Nowitzki. Generally, the #ESPNRank project was right on the money in its assessment of the top five NBA players; Nowitzki still showed incredibly well at No. 5, but he’s still a bit removed from status as the league’s absolute best.
That said, Nowitzki is dominant enough that Chandler’s opinion isn’t considered absolutely absurd. One would expect Chandler to get his teammate’s back here; I doubt I need to remind anyone that Dallas recently won the NBA title, largely due to Nowitzki’s ability to anchor the offense and contribute on defense. Considering Dirk’s playoffs performance — the most recent NBA basketball we’ve seen, mind you — Chandler’s perspective is completely understandable. The logic isn’t flawless, mind you, but Nowitzki is in an elite class that can be noted as the NBA’s best without being met with incredulity. Dirk is that good, and with trophy in hand — a foolish reason to finally acknowledge Nowitzki’s success, but alas — the entire basketball-loving world has finally recognized it.
But my question in light of Chandler’s response is this: at what point is a great player’s teammate not “obligated,” (in some sense of the word) to throw out their colleague’s name in these discussions? I’m sure plenty of Mavs would cite Dirk as the league’s best considering the postseason he just had, just as I’m sure that many Magic players would name Howard, many Hornets players would glorify Paul, or virtually every Bulls player would cite Derrick Rose. The same would undoubtedly be true for Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. But would a Clipper really introduce Blake Griffin into this discussion? Would a knick put Carmelo Anthony toe-to-toe with the best in the business? Who exactly can be included in this group worthy of coworker endorsement, and where is the brightline for teammate stumping? Or, to put it another way: which players are worthy of being in the “best NBA player” discussion, even if only as a function of reasonability?
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 MVP debate has heated up with detailed defenses offered for several players, as well as plenty of commentary on the amorphous, shifting, and individualistic parameters used to define this award. Earlier this week, I shared my opinion on the MVP race at Hickory-High; my thought is that, with no consensus on the criteria for determining an MVP, there can be no definitive right or wrong answer. The discussion itself is then the crux of this whole affair. People from all sides seem to be wailing at the heavens over potential injustices yet to be meted out, instead of enjoying an opportunity for a rich and passionate exchange of ideas.
Towards the end of my piece, I admitted that I’m still not sure who I would vote for, were I lucky enough to be a part of the official process:
I don’t have a problem with Rose winning MVP. I’m not entirely convinced he’s the best choice, but it’s certainly not a travesty if he wins. I do have a problem with the vocal minority who have been arguing it’s a travesty if he doesn’t win. There is a reasonable argument to be made for Rose. I think there is also a reasonable argument to be made for Dirk, LeBron and Howard.
Argue your belief, passionately and completely. However, acknowledge that someone else may do the same and reach a perfectly reasonable, albeit different conclusion from your own. Enjoy the discourse and exchange of ideas. There is no wrong answer in this discussion. Except, of course, for Kobe Bryant. That guy is terrible.
Putting my money where my mouth is, I’m going to shamelessly pander to this audience and argue the case for Dirk Nowitzki. Respecting the spirit of my previous statements, I’m not here to say he is THE Most Valuable Player, rather that he is one of many valuable players with a legitimate claim at being the Most. I’ll lay out his case, and you can decide for yourself.
MVP profiles seem to fall into one of three categories, or occasionally, an amalgamation of some of the three. The first is a player with an overwhelming statistical profile (Think Shaquille O’Neal’s 29.7 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 3.0 BPG campaign in 2000). The second is a player who represents the defining storyline of the season, (Think Steve Nash and the “Seven Seconds or Less Suns” of 2005). The third is a player who, in apparent single-handed fashion, drags a collection of sub-par teammates to a spot among the league’s elite. The best recent example of this third type of candidate would be Allen Iverson in 2001.
Nowitzki’s season definitely doesn’t fit into the first category. The table below shows his per game averages from this season compared to the averages for the last 20 MVPs:
|Average MVP 1991-2010||26.6||8.7||5.4||1.5||1.3||50.6%||79.2%
|Dirk Nowitzki 2011||23.0||7.0||2.5||0.5||0.6||51.8%||88.9%
Looking at these numbers, Nowitzki gets his foot in the door, but just barely. Clearly his MVP claim can’t be based on individual statistical achievements alone.
Nowitzki also isn’t going to win the award this season for sentimental reasons, or the nature of his narrative. Voters hungry for compelling storylines will find more sustenance with LeBron James struggling to overcome the negative backlash of his move to Miami, Derrick Rose pushing his game and his team to new heights and Dwight Howard holding the Magic together through a merry-go round of roster and lineup changes. I’d even wager that, a decade from now, more fans will remember what Kevin Love accomplished this season than the play of Dirk Nowitzki.
Nowitzki’s claim then, is based on the way he has pushed the Mavericks to achieve this season. In this regard, he is, at worst, on par with any other player in the league. The most commonly quoted statistic accompanying any mention of Nowitzki as an MVP is the team’s 2-7 record in the nine games he’s missed this season. Preferring instead to look at things in a positive light, I’ll rephrase that statistic and point out that the Mavericks have gone 51-17 with Nowitzki on the floor. That’s a win percentage of 75% — the highest win percentage of any of the MVP candidates’ teams in games they’ve played in.
- Dirk Nowitzki – 75.0%
- Kobe Bryant – 72.7%
- Derrick Rose – 72.3%
- LeBron James – 72.0%
- Dwight Howard – 65.3%
- Chris Paul – 57.3%
Every one of those players makes a huge impact for their team, but by win percentage, Nowitzki’s impact would seem to be the largest.
That’s not the only statistic that shows him as the most valuable to his team’s success, out of that group of players. The Mavericks have outperformed their Pythagorean Win projection by 5 games this season. The Spurs are the only other team in the league to outpace their Pythagorean Projection by at least 5 games. This fact is a testament, in part, to Nowitzki’s ability to make plays when they matter most. If I may indulge in an incomprehensible arrangement of words, Nowitzki’s performance in clutch situations has helped the Mavericks outperform their performance.
Nowitzki also has the second best Unadjusted On/Off Net Rating (the difference between the team’s Net Rating (ORtg-DRtg) when Nowitzki is on the floor vs. when he’s off the floor) in the league this season. In this category, he trails only Paul Pierce, but has a significant edge on each of the players we mentioned above.
- Dirk Nowitzki: +16.00
- Chris Paul: +12.77
- LeBron James: +10.62
- Dwight Howard: +7.87
- Kobe Bryant: +5.62
- Derrick Rose: +1.90
This statistic is certainly influenced by the quality of competition and the abilities of teammates and backups. Nowitzki is a starter and plays the majority of crunch-time minutes, so a bias based on quality of competition is a non-issue. The matter of the his teammates’ contributions actually seems like it helps Nowitzki’s case. The common argument against this type of measure is that a player’s numbers can be inflated by the play of inferior teammates. However, if Nowitzki’s numbers are inflated, it should only serve to decrease our opinion of his supporting cast — and make what Nowitzki has done this season that much more remarkable. Helping the Mavericks accomplish what they have with less than ideal help from teammates should increase our opinion of Nowitzki’s importance.
The arguments against Nowitzki are fairly obvious; people who favor individual statistical achievements or compelling storylines in their MVP evaluations will dismiss Nowitzki out of hand for not fitting into either. Additionally, those who disagree with Nowitzki’s candidacy (even based purely on impact) will argue that almost all of his damage is done at the offensive end of the floor. It’s a common refrain. It’s also wrong, and a bit irrelevant. Nowitzki wouldn’t be the first MVP — nor the last — whose contributions come primarily at one end of the floor. Plus, Nowitzki’s offensive contributions are among the most valuable in the league, and the idea that he is a non-factor at the defensive end is raking an extremely narrow view.
There are 13 players with a usage rate of at least 28% this season. Among them, Nowitzki has the lowest turnover rate, a full percentage point below Kevin Durant, at 9.2%. This means a greater portion of his possessions are used on scoring opportunities than anyone else in this group. That’s a good thing for the Mavericks, because he also leads this group in true shooting percentage (TS%) at 61.4%. In fact, Nowitzki is the most efficient offensive player of this group overall. I used the totals from Basketball-Reference to calculate the points per possession average for each player. The table below shows that information alongside each player’s usage and TS%:
MVP Offensive Efficiencies
Nowitzki has turned in an elite offensive campaign, possibly the league’s best this season. That alone has been good enough, in some years, to lock up an MVP.
I also find this idea that Nowitzki’s contributions are one-sided completely absurd. Dirk is obviously no Dwight Howard, but he’s also not a Bargnani-like sieve. The Mavericks’ defensive rating is 6.23 points better with Nowitzki on the floor. He doesn’t offer much in the way of blocks or steals, but he still has the 17th best DRB% among forwards who have played at least 2,000 minutes despite some age-related decline. I’m willing to accept that Nowitzki doesn’t provide a ton of help at the defensive end, but we also need to acknowledge that the Mavericks’ have built a scheme around him, where his shortcomings don’t hurt them all that much either. His length, experience, and understanding of the system hamper the opponent’s ability to score, even if he isn’t swatting shots into the twentieth row. Perhaps, instead of thinking of Nowitzki as a one-way player, it’s most fitting to think of him as a one-and-a-half-way player.
The one other unavoidable piece of this discussion is the fact that Nowitzki has already won an MVP. He took home the award in 2007 and I’ll save Mavs fans the reminder of how exactly that particular season ended. Suffice it to say that events which took place four seasons ago have a bearing on his chances this year. There are certainly people who have allowed Nowitzki’s — and the Mavericks’ — performance in the playoffs that season to color their opinion of his regular season accomplishments. This strikes me as unsavory for two reasons, both of which revolve around the one piece of this MVP debate that does seem to be defined by the league. The MVP award covers the accomplishments of one, and only one, regular season. This is hardly the first time the entirety of a player’s career has bled into the MVP voting, but the Mavericks’ prior failings seem to be the one piece which clearly has no place in this discussion. It likely won’t get this far, but should it come to it, I feel confident in saying that what happened in 2007 would act as a final barrier, preventing Nowitzki from winning this season.
Like each player under consideration, Nowitzki’s case for MVP has strengths and weaknesses. As I noted above, the glory of this discussion is that each individual gets to decide their own definition of the words “Most Valuable,” and specify the optimal technique for measuring that definition. If your definition includes an elite offensive player, who has done as much as anyone in the league to push their team to exceed its limitations, then Dirk Nowitzki just might be your man.
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.
It’s been just over three weeks since Corey Brewer signed with the Dallas Mavericks. Brewer is young, athletic and by all accounts, an extremely hard worker. However, the chief attraction for the Mavericks was his reputation as an excellent wing defender. So far he’s had trouble carving out a place for himself in Rick Carlisle’s rotation, averaging just 8.9 minutes per game over seven games. It’s difficult to draw conclusions with such a small sample size, but he hasn’t yet done anything to stand out at the defensive end.
What exactly is his defensive reputation based on? Watching him play we see a long and bouncy sliver of a forward. He competes on every defensive possession; he battles through screens, moves his feet on the perimeter, and displays a knack for using his length to contest shots. Defensive impact is notoriously hard to measure statistically, but is there any numeric evidence that his excellent tools and motor translate to an effect on an opposing team’s offense?
There are plenty of defensive statistics available. The issue is that none are accepted as a completely accurate metric, with opinions varying wildly on the value of each. Today we’re going to take a tour through some of these available statistics, examining Corey Brewer along the way and trying to pin down the quantity and quality of his defensive contributions. Since he’s spent such a short time with the Mavericks, most of the stats we look at will cover his entire season or just his games with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Box Score Statistics
These are the basics that everyone is familiar with: steals, blocks and rebounds. When we look at these stats per 40 minutes we find Brewer averaging 2.6 steals, 0.4 blocks and 4.5 rebounds. Compared to the league average for swingmen, Brewer is sub-par with regards to rebounds and blocks. However, he steals the ball at a rate nearly twice the league average.
Another way to look at these basic statistics is as a percentage of their opportunities. Steal Percentage, Block Percentage and Rebound Percentage (Ed. note: These measures have also been referred to as “rebounding rate,” etc. on this blog. The terms are completely synonymous.) are all statistics available from a variety of sources, including Hoopdata.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Stl% is calculated as the percentage of the opposing team’s offensive possessions on which a player records a steal. Blk% is calculated as the percentage of the opposing team’s shot attempts which are blocked by the player. Reb% is calculated as the percentage of available rebounds which a player grabs. Reb% is available as a total number, but can also be split into Offensive and Defensive Reb%.
Brewer’s total Reb% of 6.2% and his Blk% of 0.8% are both below average. Again, where he really shines is stealing the basketball. This season, Brewer ranks 4th in the league in Stl%, at 3.2%. He trails only Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul. Over the past four seasons, Brewer has the 17th best Stl% in the league, at 2.5%. Forcing turnovers is something the Mavericks have struggled with all season. They are currently 24th in the league, with an Opponent’s TOV% of 12.4%, well below the league average of 13.5%. Having Brewer on the floor to wreak havoc in the passing lanes could be a real asset in the playoffs.
On Court/Off Court Statistics
The premise with On Court/Off Court statistics is simple: look at how a team’s defense performs when a player is on the floor and compare that with how it performs when they’re off the floor. Theoretically, the player should be responsible for much of that difference. The problem is that these statistics have a lot of inherent “noise” in them. Since this model is essentially about comparison, trading minutes with a horrible defender can make someone look much better than they are. By the same token, a back-up may look much better than they are because they’re matched up against the opponent’s back-ups.
These statistics are available in a lot of different formats. 82games.com tracks several categories for On Court/Off Court, including Defensive Rating, eFG% allowed, Blk%, Reb%, Turnovers and Free Throw Attempts allowed. BasketballValue.com allows you to look at the On Court/Off Court Defensive Rating for a player overall, and broken down by the different five-man units the player was a part of.
Looking at these stats for Corey Brewer incorporates a lot of the “noise” we mentioned above. Brewer’s place in the Timberwolves’ rotation varied quite a bit. He started just under half of the 56 games he played with them. In 11 of those games he played fewer than 20 minutes. He played over 30 minutes 9 times. The Timberwolves are also ranked 26th this season in Defensive Rating, meaning Brewer played alongside some less than ideal defensive teammates, in a less than ideal defensive system.
To try and limit the influence of some of those factors in the statistics I isolated some five-man units Brewer was a part of to look at the On Court/Off Court Defensive Ratings. I started with the 6 units Brewer spent the most minutes playing with. For comparison, I pulled out any units that had the same four teammates but a replacement for Brewer. The table below shows the Defensive Ratings for each of those units.
In three of those lineups the team’s Defensive Rating was better with Brewer on the floor, in the other three it was worse. Inconclusive to say the least. I went over these lineups several times and couldn’t identify any common patterns, such as Wesley Johnson replacing Brewer making the defense significantly better. For the purposes of our discussion, it’s convenient that this case is a perfect illustration of some of the problems with On Court/Off Court statistics.
These metrics come directly from analysis of play-by-play data. The three I see utilize the most often are Individual Defensive Rating from Basketball-Reference.com, counterpart statistics from 82games.com, and possession category data from Synergy Sports Technology.
Individual Defensive Rating is a metric that was introduced by Dean Oliver in his book, Basketball on Paper. It’s based on the same principle as team Defensive Rating: how many points are allowed per 100 possessions. It’s calculated by using play-by-play data to figure out how many points the opposing player creates while the defensive player is on the floor.
Extensions of this data can be unreliable because it often assumes match-ups based on listed position, which is not always the case. Teams like the Mavs have a lot of positional interplay on both offense and defense, so some of the metrics derived from play-by-play data can be a bit problematic.
Brewer’s Individual Defensive Rating has only been below 110 once in his career: this season, where his time in Minnesota and Dallas have worked out too a rating of 109. The league average this season is 107.1. Granted, he’s played on some bad defensive teams in Minnesota, but this statistic theoretically captures just the points created by the opponent he’s guarding. Even when accounting for the defensive deficiencies of his teammates, Brewer does not look impressive by this metric.
Counterpart statisics are just an extension of Individual Defensive Rating. They’re also culled from play-by-play data, and show the eFG%, FTA/48, Reb/48, Ast/48, Pts/48 and PER for the opposing player while the defensive player is on the floor. Being calculated in the same way as Individual Defensive Rating, they can be unreliable for some of the same reasons. 82games displays these statistics broken down by the position that the defender was playing. The table below shows the counterpart statistics for Brewer’s time in Minnesota this season.
Keeping in mind the shortcomings of these stats, we still don’t see much evidence of defensive impact. Brewer seems to be more potent defending shooting guards but still allows fairly healthy production. I would guess that shooting guards are a better matchup for him because his height creates an advantage and his lack of strength is less likely to be exploited. These numbers also reinforce his strength in creating turnovers. However, Brewer sends opposing players to the free throw line at a fairly high rate, which indicates that his aggressiveness may be hurting nearly as much as it helps.
The possession statistics from Synergy Sports Technology are a little different in that they come from video analysis. Each play from each game is reviewed on video and than categorized by the type of possession (post-up, transition, etc.). The fact that the data comes from video analysis solves some of the defensive cross-matching problems that the other play-by-play statistics have. The table below shows Brewer’s defensive possession statistics from his time in Minnesota.
|Possession||% of Possessions||Points per Possession||Rank||FG%||SF%||TO%
|Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler||20.5%||0.88||143||39.7%||10.9%||15.8%
Shoddy team defense certainly affects Brewer’s numbers here, but again there is very little to indicate we’re looking at an elite wing defender. He’s solid against the pick-and-roll, does a good job closing out on spot-up shooters, and creates a lot of turnovers. But he’s not in the top 50 in any category, and on several possession types, particularly isolations, is nearly as likely to commit a shooting foul as to force a turnover.
After all looking at all these numbers we end up right about where we started. Our eyes tell us that Brewer’s physical tools and motor make him a terrific defender. The statistics say he generates a lot of steals, but plenty of fouls as well, and for all his tools doesn’t seem to make a huge impact defensively, either individually or at the team level.
Both sides of this equation could change over the next three seasons in Dallas. Perhaps playing alongside better defensive teammates and in a more cohesive system will allow the statistics to catch up with what we see when we watch Brewer play. Or perhaps playing alongside more effective defenders will expose him as spastic in the Hansbroughnian style, not always able to control and channel his effort and energy into positive outcomes. The good news for Mavs fans is that, barring injury, I can’t envision any reasonable scenario where his defense would get worse.
Brewer is a perfect microcosm of the debate between old-school and new-school methods of player evaluation. Fans who gravitate towards observation for player evaluation will likely find some reasons why the numbers don’t fully capture his performance. Fans who gravitate towards statistics for player evaluation will likely find some reasons why our eyes can’t discern his true defensive impact. The truth probably lies somewhere in between, illustrating there’s still a wide gap between what we think we see and what we think we’ve measured.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“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.
- 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.
The Difference is a new feature here at The Two Man Game, in which I’ll provide a bit of instant analysis on games shortly after they occur rather than the following morning. The longer, more detailed recaps will be up as soon as they’re available, but consider these morsels your post-game snack to hold you over until then.
For this feature, I’ll offer one bullet point for each point in the margin of victory. That makes this first installment fairly simple, but fun will be had when the blowouts come. Let’s not have another 50-point win though, eh?
- After a 20-point, five-assist, four-rebound first half in which he shot 72.7% from the field, Chris Paul went 1-for-5 for two points and four assists in the game’s final 24 minutes. There are three individuals to credit/blame. Paul himself was kinder to the Mavs in the second half, as he traded his weaving, probing style for a less audacious approach. Tyson Chandler deserves a heap of credit for challenging Paul’s jumpers aggressively, and showing well on almost every pick-and-roll he was involved in. The third player who deserves some sort of nightly hardware? J.J. Barea. Everyone’s favorite scapegoat got a bit of a raw deal at times from the officiating crew, but he fought hard from the top of the zone to keep Paul covered. New Orleans clearly had plans to exploit him, but Barea scrapped, Paul faded, and Dallas won.
- Peja Stojakovic turned back the clock with a throwback performance, but Willie Green turned the very laws of the universe. Long-time Mavs fans should be quite familiar with Stojakovic’s shooting potential give how good he was for the Sacramento Kings earlier in the decade, but Green has never and still is not a very good basketball player. He’s also not a particularly efficient shooter. The stars just aligned. Then they collapsed, merged into a giant black hole, and pulled all of us through an NBA wormhole. Apparently, we are now in the dimension in which it makes perfect sense for Green, who is shooting 18.2% from three this season, to make three of his four attempts from deep.
- The Mavs’ decision to match up Tyson Chandler with David West and Dirk Nowitzki with Emeka Okafor may seem like an odd one, but it was quite effective. Nowitzki’s interior defense is strong enough to challenge the robotic, predictable Okafor inside, and Chandler did a fantastic job of challenging West all over the court. The Nowitzki-West matchup — a red herring in the Mavs’ 2008 playoff loss to the Hornets — is no more, and in its place is something far less dramatic but far more beneficial for Dallas. New Orleans’ two starting bigs combined to shoot 7-of-24 from the field for the game and turned the ball over five times.
- Kurt Helin, my fellow ProBasketballTalk-er, had a chance to interview Caron Butler. Here are Butler’s thoughts regarding what the Mavs’ areas for improvement in the coming year: “Controlling the glass, focusing on defense. Because we can score with the best of them. We have a great player, we have a Hall of Fame point guard and whole bunch of other guys that want to get it done and are willing to sacrifice whatever to win. We’ve just got to put it all together and we will.” Butler also noted that he’s been working with the needs-no-introduction Tim Grover.
- Kevin Arnovitz has a great interview with Texas Legends’ coach Nancy Lieberman, who is getting serious mileage out of her catchphrase (which you may remember from my interview with Lieberman earlier this summer): “Making the irregular regular.” Here’s Lieberman on her voice as a coach, and what the voice will mean to men who haven’t had all that many female basketball mentors: “I think the end message will be similar, but the methods and how they get the information could be different. I’m excited about it because I’m not going to be in practice f-bombing people. That won’t be me. I’ll be firm and I’ll be fair. We won’t tell people what to do. We’ll explain what we’d like them to do. We’ll show them what we want to do. Then, they’ll do it. I will work their tails off. Trust me. I’m not as nice as I’m faking it on this conversation. I will work them really hard, but I’ll love them on the other side. And they need to know they’re loved and cared for. But that doesn’t mean you can walk over me, through me. That won’t happen. But look, I’m going to kill my guys so I might as well be nice to them. I have high expectations. I haven’t made it in a man’s world for 35 years by being soft, scared or insecure.”
- Mike Krzyzewski on Tyson Chandler’s play for Team USA, via Chris Tomasson of FanHouse: “Tyson has been outstanding. We have a relationship from the 2007 qualifying team (and in 2008 when Chandler came close to making the Olympic team) … He doesn’t need the ball. He’s stronger. I bet he’s at least probably 15 pounds heavier and stronger than he was in 2007. He feels healthy.”
- Have $25 burning a hole in your wallet? Then do I have the deal for you. (H/T: Scott Schroeder)
- Josh Howard, infused with Devean George’s trade veto power.
- Caron Butler thinks the Heat could make it to 73 wins. The Bulls’ sacred 72-win mark is seemingly unbeatable, but next year’s Miami Heat have definite advantages those Bulls were never afforded. The ’95-’96 Bulls are certainly one of the best teams to ever lace them up, but is Caron wrong? Isn’t the combination of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — with Chris Bosh and a hell of a supporting cast — enough to at least bring the Heat into the discussion?
- Andre Miller and Chauncey Billups are two big, strong point guards that have made the most of their size by posting up smaller opposing guards. The Mavs have dabbled with using Jason Kidd in a similar capacity, but he just doesn’t have the scoring chops for it. Regardless, Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook breaks down what it is that makes Miller and Billups so effective in the post.
- Kelly Dwyer is ranking the top 30 players in each of the five conventional positions, beginning with point guards. You can see the first installment (30-21) here, and the second (20-11) here. Jason Kidd comes in at #12, which may seem a bit harsh, but consider the 11 PGs likely to top Kidd in Dwyer’s rankings (in no particular order): Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Jameer Nelson (already confirmed as #11), Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Devin Harris, Tony Parker, and Tyreke Evans. Of those 11, which would you pick Kidd to best in the coming season?
- Jeff Fox of Hoops Manifesto takes a stab at listing the top 10 Mavericks of all-time.
- Rodrigue Beaubois’ surgery was successful.
- From Caron Butler’s blog on HoopsHype: “Aside from the Tyson Chandler trade, my team has had a pretty quiet offseason. I’m not surprised. We had a great roster already. The management looked at the team and thought change wasn’t needed.” Well…that’s certainly one interpretation of the summer’s events.
Chris Paul is brilliant enough as a player that teams have to indulge his whimsy. He’s the top point guard in the game — no, that is not up for debate — and depending on how you slice it, either a top-three or top-five player overall. He’s not the kind of player you dismiss out of hand. He’s the kind of player you send fruit baskets to, and offer a shoe polish if he ever steps through the door. His game absolutely, positively demands your attention, and there’s no use arguing around that.
Still, there’s no point in playing the trade game until the rumors start to get a little more serious. Yes, Chris Paul has the Dallas Mavericks listed among the teams he’d prefer to be traded to, and that matters. Still, the Hornets, if they even decide to trade Paul at all, can ship their star point guard wherever they’d like. They can shop him around to every team in the league in search of the most attractive return package, and say “To hell with him and his list.” It’s certainly relevant that Paul wants to be traded in the first place, because it’s likely in the Hornets’ best interest to cash out now if they’re unable to pacify him. However, it matters less and less where he’d like to end up, because if New Orleans does make the move, they’re going to do so on their terms.
If the Hornets insist on receiving young talent in return for Paul (which only seems logical), the Mavs’ chances are dead in the water. With all due respect to Dominique Jones, Rodrigue Beaubois is the only young asset on the roster worth having, and he just so happens to be a positional duplicate to either Darren Collison or Marcus Thornton. That should be enough to cut down any possible intrigue Rodrigue may have held for New Orleans. Plus, even if Beaubois were enticing to the Hornets, a deal of this magnitude would take more than one young, talented player. New Orleans won’t ever get equal value for Chris Paul via trade, but they’re also not going to entertain a low-ball offer centered around just one young asset.
However, if New Orleans is instead focused on clearing cap to start again, the Mavs are in business. Dallas has $29 million in expiring contracts to play around with, and a Paul-less Hornets team will have a few expensive contracts to dispose of. If Tyson Chandler’s expiring deal were to be involved, a trade couldn’t officially go through until September 13th due to trade restrictions on recently acquired players. If not, the Mavs may have trouble putting together an attractive enough deal to steal the Hornets’ glance.
The most palatable offer from Dallas would likely be Tyson Chandler’s expiring contract, Caron Butler’s expiring contract, DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract, Rodrigue Beaubois, two first rounders, and a trade exception for Chris Paul, Emeka Okafor, and James Posey. Okafor and Posey are the two contracts that are likely to be moved along with Paul, as their departure (Okafor is owed $52 million over the next four seasons while Posey is owed $13.4 million over the next two) would help to facilitate the franchise reboot incited by Paul’s trade demand.
I have a hard time believing that such an offer would be competitive with the types of deals that will be thrown against the wall. Almost every team in the league will be after Paul, and while few teams can compete with the long-term savings the Mavs can offer, Dallas is likely still a few good, young players short of making a deal work.
Everything rests with the Hornets. Before it’s even worth it to fully analyze the Mavs’ trade potential, we need to know that New Orleans is seriously entertaining the option of moving Paul. Right now we don’t. So table your trade machine wizardry until things get a tad more serious, but with the tiniest bit of focus on what it could mean for Dallas to add one of the top talents the NBA has to offer.
Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“Disappointment is a sort of bankruptcy — the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.”
There are some things in this world that we take for granted. The sun will come up tomorrow. Our technology, that helps us, guides us, conveniences us, and protects us, will not fail. That the institutions with a huge influence on our lives — governmental bodies, banks, etc. — will work with the best interest of the population at large in mind. These are things that we likely only give thought to in the event that they fail, which doesn’t give the proper due to the steady but impactful forces in our lives.
The Dallas Mavericks are apparently resolved to never fall into that category.
If you even begin to take this team for granted — even their leadership, their execution — they’ll make you a fool. They’ll cough up 14 turnovers over the span of two quarters. They’ll go six minutes without scoring a single point and surrender a 23-0 run to a Hornets team that really isn’t that good. They’ll give up 20+ points to not only David West (25 points, 10-17 FG, six rebounds, 10 assists) and Marcus Thornton (28 points, 12-22 FG, 4-9 3FG), who are very talented scorers, but also to Morris Peterson (20 points, 8-11 FG, 4-7 3FG, five rebounds). It was a 36-minute defensive disaster, and though the Mavs once held a 16-point lead in the opening frame, it wasn’t enough to save them from the clinic the Hornets ran over the final three quarters.
That’s an important distinction. The Hornets won this game. They didn’t stumble into success; they earned it with their defense and their effectiveness in transition and from the perimeter. I’m not in any way saying the Mavs aren’t culpable for the way they played, because Rick Carlisle should demand accountability from this team. They’re too good and too experienced for anything less. But New Orleans still played some incredibly impressive basketball from the first quarter on.
They were white-hot from beyond the arc, as good ball movement (33 assists on 45 field goals) and strong cuts opened up shooters from all over. The Hornets are in the top third of the league in three-point shooting percentage, but they looked nothing short of elite last night. Peterson and Thornton combined for eight makes alone from the beyond the arc, and the team as a whole shot 50% on 24 attempts. That shooting combined with David West’s interior scoring was more than enough to anchor New Orleans’ half-court offense.
But all of that is manageable. The Mavs have dealt with teams that are skilled operating on the perimeter before (Phoenix, Orlando, etc.), and they’re certainly capable of doing it again. But a team shooting so well from just about everywhere on the court doesn’t need to be handed points, and that’s exactly what the Mavs did with their 18 turnovers, a vast majority of which came over the game’s horrific middle quarters. That gave the Hornets entirely too many opportunities for transition buckets, which made what could have been a perfectly winnable game (even given the six-minute scoreless stretch the Mavs had spanning the second and third quarters) into a bit of a laugher. That’s usually what happens when one team allows the other three 30+ point quarters in a row.
99 points is enough, and that’s with Dirk resting over the final eight minutes. Making 52% of your shots is enough, and that’s with Jason Kidd (six points, six assists, three turnovers) and Caron Butler (12 points, six rebounds) combining to go 7-for-21. The Mavs were scoring at a rate of 108.8 points per 100 possessions, which would register as a top five offense. But when you allow your opponent to 126.4 points per 100 possessions, you’re going to face some problems. I’m not sure where the defense went or why it decided to take a sudden vacation, but the Mavs would be wise to track it down. The search starts on the perimeter and goes inward.
- Jason Terry ditched his protective face mask, apparently because he has regained some of the feeling in his face. Doctors have advised him to wear it for the rest of the season, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Especially not after dropping 24 points on 16 shots without it.
- Chris Paul (11 points, three assists) returned to the starting lineup, but he actually didn’t have all that much to do with this win. That’s a bit scary. This game was kind of reminiscent of the Mavs January loss to the Lakers in that way: a limited superstar was technically on the floor, but wasn’t necessarily a reason why Dallas lost at all. The Mavs were taken down by Paul’s supporting cast, and that’s no bueno. As a follower of the Mavs, I’m obviously not thrilled to see Chris Paul back in uniform. But at the same time, as an NBA fan, how could you not be excited? Even if there’s some bitterness over when Paul downed the Mavs in the playoffs in 2008, Chris is such a special player. I’m convinced of Paul’s greatness, as in eventual historical greatness, and you’re honestly missing out if you don’t take every opportunity to appreciate his game now.
- Caron Butler’s vice: the jab-step, jab-step, jab-step long two-point jumper with his heels on the three-point line. It’s almost always contest, but sometimes goes in. The sometimes is not a positive, as the makes only encourage him to do it again and again.
- Wow, Marcus Thornton. I don’t get a chance to talk about him much around here, but how could you not like his game? His double-clutch reverse layup around Erick Dampier was just plain beautiful. I was pretty high on Thornton around the draft, but I didn’t expect this. Not for him to be this good this fast.
- Slightly alarming offensive note: Dirk Nowitzki shot 67% from the field, but only put up 12 field goal attempts. That’s as many as Shawn Marion. The Mavs were getting Nowitzki plenty of good looks when they settled into their sets, but the Dallas turnover splurge hurt Dirk’s attempts more than anyone else. Dirk was responsible for five of them himself, which is more than a tad uncharacteristic.
- Signs of life from Brendan Haywood (10 points, nine rebounds, two blocks), who had played poorly in his last three. Only ten minutes of action for Erick Dampier, though, all of which came in the first half. Something happening there.
- The Hornets broke a three-game losing streak, and the Mavs have now lost three of their last four.
- Darren Collison deserves mention for his excellent play off the bench. He finished with 16 points and eight assists in 35 minutes, though he only shot 6-of-15 from the field. Impressive nonetheless. And who says Collison and Paul can’t play together?
- An odd sequence to end the game, as James Posey was called for a flagrant foul on Rodrigue Beaubois with 0.4 seconds remaining. The play wasn’t malicious, but Posey did make contact with Beaubois’ head.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“All good things arrive unto them that wait – and don’t die in the meantime.”
If it wasn’t crystal clear that easy baskets are the Mavs’ best friend, take note. Write it in red, underline it, and trace over it over and over again until it makes an etching in the rest of your notepad, the desk below it, the foundation of the building you’re in, and the molten core of the planet Earth. Dallas may not need a ton of transition buckets to win games, but the Mavs’ running game plays enough of a role that it can be the demonstrative difference between a dominant win and a nail-biter.
Not to lean too heavily on the “tale of two halves” platitude, but…well, it was a tale of two halves. The game’s first 24 minutes was about as dominant as Maverick basketball gets. The defense was creating turnovers (which as we well know, is not usually a strength) to ignite the break in the second quarter, and some great ball movement (23 of the Mavs’ 31 assists came in the first half) and fast breaking opportunities allowed the Mavs to put up 69 points in two quarters. Dallas led New Orleans by 19 at halftime, had created clear separation thanks to some explosive offense, and seemed set for a second-half snoozer with some late-game rest for Jason Kidd (13 points, nine assists, five rebounds, seven turnovers) and Dirk Nowitzki (36 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, no turnovers).
Not so. Jeff Bower had the Hornets making some serious defensive adjustments in the second half, and the Mavs’ pass-happy ways that had led to so many easy buckets in the first half turned on them completely. Jason Kidd had five turnovers in the third quarter alone, and though Darren Collison did a nice job of pressuring the ball, the real credit goes to an assortment of Hornets playing the passing lanes and picking off Kidd’s would-be assists. The game slowed down and the Mavs broke down, giving Collison (a career high 35 points, three assists, five turnovers) and Marcus Thornton (21 points, five rebounds) ample opportunity to carve into Dallas’ early lead. Both took full advantage as the Mavs’ defense focused on stopping David West, and on that front they were wholly successful; West with just 10 points on 20% shooting with four turnovers, though with eight rebounds and six assists.
The Mavs’ biggest problems weren’t on the defensive end, though I’d hardly call New Orleans’ 106.4 points per 100 possessions any kind of success. The primary troubles came with the Mavs inability to execute in half-court sets, though it was largely due to Dallas swinging for home runs rather than the steady single. Jason Kidd in particular wasn’t settling the Mavs into the offense, and a sequence of passes by Kidd and Terry compounded with a few missed jumpers keyed a 10-0 third quarter run for the Hornets. It’s hard to get too upset considering the Mavs were ultimately just trying to do too much, and especially because when they badly needed buckets late in the fourth quarter, they isolated Dirk Nowitzki and let him go to work. The results in those situations typically speak for themselves, and this was no exception. James Posey may have, at some point, been the prototypical defender for Dirk: skilled, hard-working, smart, athletic, long. But Nowitzki dropped 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the fourth, which was enough to give the Mavs a late surge and a sure victory.
- Caron Butler (19 points, five rebounds, four steals) isn’t known for his defense, despite his reputation as a tough player. But his steal with 51 seconds remaining of the game was crucial to preserving the Mavs’ lead…even if Brendan Haywood’s subsequent uncalled offensive basket interference should have turned the tide.
- I understand the need for bench depth, but the more minutes and shot attempts the Hornets give to Morris Peterson instead of Marcus Thornton, the worse they’ll be. There was a time where Mo Pete was a solid option as a shooting guard, and though he’s never been a gold standard for the position, he was more than capable of being a quality shooter and scorer for a good team. No longer, as each jump shot is more a shot in the dark, and all of his insubstantial production comes at a direct cost to a younger, better player that could stand to play even more. It’s not an issue right now, with Chris Paul out and Darren Collison logging major minutes in his place. But I worry that with the priority on Collison’s development as a point guard prospect (for either a 6th man role or to use as trade bait), Chris Paul’s return to the lineup will inevitably cut into Thornton’s production/opportunities just because of some ridiculous notion that Mo Pete deserves his due.
- Brendan Haywood may have played his worst game as a Maverick on Sunday night…and he had 12 points, nine rebounds (five offensive), two blocks, two steals, and no turnovers. Makes you wonder if Carlisle, Nelson, and Cuban are happy with the trade returns on Josh Howard.
- J.J. Barea didn’t have a high-scoring night, but he ran the offense to perfection for the entirety of the second quarter. He had eight assists and just one turnover in the frame, and for how brilliant Rodrigue Beaubois has been at times this season, I’m not sure he’s had a sustained performance that could fully match how J.J. fueled the team’s surge in the second quarter. The few Barea supporters left in MavsLand: here is your 12-minute long piece of video evidence.
- Caron Butler is looking more and more comfortable in the offense. He’s hitting his jumpers from his comfort zones along the baseline, and though he’s not quite a force in attacking the basket, he’s remaining assertive.
- Eddie Najera is starting to worry me a little bit. He’s not in the game for long enough stretches to make any kind of significant negative impact (and part of the drop-off is negated by his hustle), but I can’t wait to see how this rotation functions with Dampier back in the mix.