The Dallas Mavericks have an odd history with the draft, largely due to their needs as a team failing to coincide with their position in the first round. That’s the price paid for being a perennial playoff team always on the brink of contention; Dallas has been very competitive over the last decade or so, but in exchange for that success, they’ve only selected a player earlier than the 21st pick (or acquired a player selected on draft night with a pick higher than No. 21) one time since 2000. It’s tough to find immediate help late in the first round, and though it can certainly be done (Josh Howard and Rodrigue Beaubois are two convenient in-house examples), those success stories will always be the exceptions to the norm.
Beyond the inherent difficulties in finding contributors late in the draft, Dallas has also long been a team without easily rectifiable weaknesses. The Mavericks have never been perfect, but their problems were more complex than mere positional defect; picks in the 20s (or even the late lottery) weren’t likely to produce players better than Devin Harris, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Erick Dampier, or DeSagana Diop with the immediacy needed. The lineup was set, it just hadn’t been quite good enough.
That much has changed with the whole winning the championship thing, but the Mavs, as is the case with any defending champion, still need to find ways to improve. This particular draft is not a sufficient means to achieve that improvement. There are some serviceable players in the bunch (along with a pinch of debatable star power up top), but the 26th pick won’t give Dallas a piece that will amount to anything within the context of their current rotation. So long as free agency isn’t an abject disaster, this 26th pick will be temporarily irrelevant; the Mavs have a chance to draft a player to stash away overseas or to bring along slowly, but the potential for an immediately capable contributor so late in this draft is virtually nonexistent.
Yet Dallas, possibly more than any other champion in NBA history, is ready to improve regardless of any additions to the team. Caron Butler’s return to the court — provided that he re-signs to the Mavs as is expected — is a big reason why; Dallas won the title without their second best scorer and one of their top perimeter defenders playing a single playoff minute, and plugging in his production in place of that of DeShawn Stevenson/Peja Stojakovic should result in a rather significant gain. Beyond Butler, though, Dallas has three capable young players who watched the Mavs’ unbelievable playoff run unfold from their courtside seats. Rodrigue Beaubois remains a prominent piece in the franchise’s future, even if he never could quite find the right gear during his sophomore campaign. Dominique Jones is an effective slasher, a capable ball-handler, and a physical on-ball defender. Corey Brewer is a bundle of energy that simply cannot be contained, and his defensive effort has a funny way of making good things happen for his team, even if his jumper is still a work in progress.
It certainly wouldn’t hurt if Dallas were picking earlier in the draft, but Brewer and Beaubois are studs compared to the talent in this year’s class, while Jones would likely figure in as a late lottery pick. That’s an astounding amount of talent waiting at the kids table, and more versatile as a group than any one particular prospect from this year’s lottery would be.
There’s a lot to celebrate in the wake of winning the NBA title, but Mavs fans have the luxury of not only living in the moment. Sip on that champagne. Rewatch Game 6. Scoop up all of the commemorative memorabilia that your arms can carry. But know that even without the draft, these Dallas Mavericks are in a position to be even better than the team that won the title in 2011.
I never expected to be writing series previews for the Mavs this deep into the post season, but here I am, and here are the Mavs, playing some absolutely fantastic two-way basketball. Dallas played through the first two rounds as well as any team in the playoffs, but in the Conference Finals they’ll face their toughest opponent yet. Oklahoma City has neither Portland’s obvious flaws nor L.A.’s crippling defensive issues, and contending with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Thunder’s brilliant supporting cast will require more incredible execution from the Mavs. There was little room for error during this playoff run to begin with, but Dallas must continue to walk the fine line of passing without overpassing, pressuring on D without fouling, and committing to a team defensive front without sacrificing the means to grab defensive rebounds.
Reducing this series to a “who guards Dirk/Durant?” bullet point may be oversimplifying things a bit, but I understand the temptation to determine the victor of this series by way of defending an opponent’s star player. Nowitzki and Durant are both fantastic offensive players without clear cross-team matchups; Shawn Marion* and DeShawn Stevenson will get the call for Dallas and Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison for OKC, but none of those four should be expected to do a stellar defensive job, even on the basis of an individual game. All four defenders will work like crazy to defend their man, but there’s only so much you can do against Nowitzki’s array of jab steps and fakes and Durant’s combination of size, speed, and shooting.
*Marion actually didn’t spend much time at all defending Durant this season. Caron Butler logged a lot of time against Durant the first two times the teams met, and Marion spent the last game of the season series filling in for an injured Nowitzki. In both contexts, Marion ended up covering Jeff Green during many of his minutes, but should see a lot more of Durant in the games to come.
The key in either matchup is the minimization of losses — which team can manage to get torched for less. With that in mind, I think the Mavs have a bit of an advantage on the superstar front. Whether Nowitzki or Durant is the superior player hardly matters. What does is the fact that Nowitzki has more easily initiated ways to attack defenders (low post, high post, iso on the wing, pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop) than Durant. KD’s alleged troubles to get open and receive passes are very real; he may be one of the most brilliant scorers in the league, but against heavy defensive pressure, his touches can be limited. He’s more susceptible to double-teams. His influence can be hindered by encouraging Russell Westbrook to shoot. Dallas simply has more avenues to derail Durant than OKC does to limit Nowitzki, a point which gets lost in the Durant vs. Marion and Nowitzki vs. Ibaka framework.
As far as individual defense goes, I think Marion is perhaps a bit slower than the Mavs would like, but he’ll have to be their best first line of defense against Durant. Stevenson doesn’t have the size, strength, or athleticism to pull off a Tony Allen-like (or even Tony Allen-light) defensive performance, and Jason Kidd isn’t really an option in this series. Corey Brewer could see the court for a few minutes, but Rick Carlisle clearly prefers the rotation regulars. Marion is the most logical choice at this point, even if the speed advantage he surrenders to Durant could be a recurring problem. Still, Marion will make Durant work for every point he gets, and doesn’t often surrender free cuts to the rim nor bite on shot fakes. Marion is excellent at staying down while getting a hand in a shooter’s face — an advantage afforded him by his height and length — and that ability to challenge Durant’s jumper without allowing KD to draw a cheap foul is incredibly important.
Dallas is the better shooting team in this series, which puts OKC at a disadvantage to begin with; in order to win, the Thunder will need to defend like crazy in order to bring the Mavs’ shooting down to a reasonable level, create a considerable advantage on the offensive glass (akin to Chicago’s Game 1 rebounding dominance against Miami on Sunday night), win the turnover battle by a significant margin, or get to the free throw line at an incredible rate. Marion’s defense can help on a number of fronts, as he can limit Durant’s impact on the glass, create turnovers with deflections, and limit Durant’s free throw attempts. KD may still drop 29 a game in this series, but his full impact across the four factors should be diminished if Marion does his job correctly.
Across the sky, Collison won’t be exploited in his attempts to cover Nowitzki, just overwhelmed (Ibaka may be a different story; he’s a strong defender in most contexts, but this matchup is not one of them). He’ll do a serviceable job against Nowitzki, but I see no way for the Thunder to even hedge on this particular weakness, no way to limit Dirk from doing exactly what he wants to do virtually every time he gets the ball in a position to score. Nowitzki will be bound by his own natural misses and errors, but I don’t see any defensive coverage that can rattle Dirk at this point, and no individual who can truly claim an ability to limit him. With Dirk on the floor against the Thunder this season, the Mavs have posted an offensive efficiency of 131.74. Fish in a barrel, my friend. The Western Conference Finals are the fish, the Thunder defenders are the barrel. Fish in a barrel.
Beyond Nowitzki and Durant, Russell Westbrook is the best player in this series, though with the regular season as precedent, I wouldn’t expect him to play like it. On paper, Jason Kidd seems like a horrible cover for Westbrook; the Thunder point man is among the most impressively physical perimeter players in the league, and can run circles around any defender with the misfortune of covering him. Dallas, however, lets Westbrook be. Kidd doesn’t try to go chest-to-chest with him, but backs away, affording Westbrook all the opportunity to give into temptation and fire off his pet pull-up jumper. Westbrook isn’t a horrible shooter, but this is far and away the preferred result of any Thunder possession. Not only does it often result in a low-percentage shot, but it creates a scenario in which Westbrook has to turn down open shots on every single possession** in order to get the ball to Durant or any other Thunder player. That’s tough for any player to resist, and particularly so for one with an occasionally destructive tendency to fire at will.
**This is as true of the Mavs’ man-to-man defense as it is the zone. Regardless of the coverage, Westbrook will be given room.
In reality, this matchup is less about Kidd vs. Westbrook than it is about Westbrook vs. his own decision making, and subsequently Westbrook vs. Kidd and Tyson Chandler. Westbrook will need to be incredibly patient in order to properly initiate the Thunder offense, and the Mavs will attempt to goad him into shooting by going under every screen and playing several feet off of Westbrook when he has control of the ball. If Westbrook chooses to shoot, he’ll halt the Thunder offense, miss more than he makes (Westbrook converted 29 percent of his mid-range jumpers against the Mavs in the regular season), and generate transition opportunities for the Mavs. If he chooses to drive, he’ll have Kidd bothering him along the way and Chandler lying in wait. In the season series, Westbrook converted just 44 percent of his shots at the rim and 29 percent of his shots in the paint when Chandler was on the floor (according to NBA.com’s StatsCube), and TC will continue to aggressively challenge Westbrook’s drives; leaving offensively limited bigs like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison doesn’t create much of a disadvantage for Dallas, so utilizing Kidd and Chandler as a two-man front against Westbrook is only a logical choice. It may be a bit hyperbolic to say that Westbrook will be neutralized in this series as a result, but he’ll certainly be tested and likely be limited.
If much of Westbrook’s positive impact is taken out of the picture, the advantages held by Nowitzki and the Mavs’ supporting cast (which is more versatile and productive than the Thunder’s crew, even if the difference in efficacy isn’t glaring) become even more vital. That could easily be negated if OKC does particularly well on the offensive glass or gets out into transition frequently, but I see the Mavs taking care of business in both of those regards. The Thunder will naturally get theirs on the break and with second chance points, but not to a degree that will significantly affect the series. Marion, Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, and J.J. Barea, on the other hand, seem poised to consistently outscore OKC’s supporting cast thanks to the opportunities granted by Dallas’ offensive system. The Thunder will play much better defense than the Lakers did, but the production and efficiency of the Mavs’ complementary scorers was no fluke.
That’s why I predict that the Mavs will win in six games. The Mavs haven’t won back-to-back series because of hot shooting, but because their commitment to offensive execution in these playoffs has no equal. Contending with their ball movement is a difficult feat, and an incredibly difficult one if Westbrook is side-stepping the offense to pull up for mid-range jumpers. There isn’t a terribly compelling reason why the Thunder will be able to disrupt the most beautifully structured and productive offense remaining in the playoffs, and the strength of the Mavs’ offense should power them through to their second ever NBA Finals appearance, prediction jinx permitting.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
That, ladies and gents, was one of the most dominant performances in NBA playoff history. Dallas posted an effective field goal percentage of 74.0% — seventy-four percent! — which, according to Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, was the highest mark in the playoffs by any team of the past two decades. The Mavs won by 36 points, but the actual margin was even larger; if we adjust the final totals of both teams to the 100-possession standard, Dallas was actually 39.1 points superior on a pace-neutral scale. That’s an absurd, gaudy dominance that nears Bambi vs. Godzilla territory.
It was all possible because of the ball movement. Dallas did such an incredible job of finding open space and making the right passes in this series, and as I’ve noted on several occasions, it was that continued work toward the extra pass and the better shot that destroyed any hope L.A. had of mounting an effective defense. The Lakers embarrassed themselves with their inability to stick with the Mavs’ shooters, but they were only put in a position to fail because the passing was so crisp and the cuts were so perfect. Dallas — though they look absolutely brilliant at present — had fallen victim to their own stagnant offensive execution at various times during the regular season, but that’s not even a conceivable outcome with this team right now. Execution is playoff currency, and the way the Mavs created shots on offense was borderline magical. The Lakers were flummoxed by the sight of a moving ball, and incapable of defending pick-and-rolls, flare cuts, or really anyone at all.
Not that Dallas’ defense was anything to scoff at, either. Some of the same lethargy that haunted L.A.’s defense crept into their offensive game, but it’s not as if shots went up unchallenged or passes deflected themselves. The Mavs were true defensive aggressors, and forced the Lakers into a 17.4 turnover rate while holding them to a 40.9% effective field goal percentage. Kobe Bryant had a successful first quarter run, but that short burst aside, the Lakers had absolutely no continuity. They scored a bucket here and a bucket there, but the Mavs were scrambling so incredibly well in their half-court defense and demolishing one of the league’s most impressive offensive outfits in the process.
There should be no question that the better team won this series because frankly, when the Mavs play like this, they’re better than almost any team in the league. Dallas essentially played a perfect game to cap off an incredible four straight victories, and while there should be understandable doubt regarding the Mavs’ ability to sustain their current roll, the Dallas team of this series was a championship contender and then some.
Jason Terry (32 points, 11-14 FG, 9-10 3FG, four assists) was positively stupendous. This wasn’t “one of those nights” or the “hot hand”; on May 8th, 2011, Jason Eugene Terry activated his final Chakra. He reached out and touched the divine. He shifted into another state of consciousness, or was possibly existing simultaneously in two realms, his body a conduit for some greater power. This shooting display was a spiritual experience, the likes of which can change lives and convert men in their heart of hearts. The Lakers didn’t exactly put up much resistance, but the confidence and the consistency in JET’s jumper was otherworldly, or self-actualizing, or centering, or dimension-shifting. I’m not exactly sure which, but one simply knows when they’ve witnessed something miraculous.
Peja Stojakovic (21 points, 7-7 FG, 6-6 3FG, three steals) wasn’t too bad, either, and continued in his efforts to make me look like an absolute fool for wondering if he would bear fruit for the Mavs. Stojakovic was perfect from three-point range in six attempts, and like JET, his composure is admirable. He can fire off a corner three even against a hard close-out, and in those situations when he thinks the defense might get the better of him, he doesn’t hesitate to put the ball on the floor or swing it back to the top of the key. Stojakovic is a shooter, but he isn’t exactly consistent with the typical limitations spot-up shooter archetype.
The Maverick reserves scored 86 points, matching the Lakers’ collective total. Unreal.
Blowout losses do crazy things to people. Like Lamar Odom:
And Andrew Bynum:
I can understand the argument that Odom’s foul wasn’t quite deserving of the flagrant 2/auto-ejection, but Bynum’s is completely classless, uncalled for, and unacceptable. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t receive a multi-game suspension to kick off the 2011-2012 season for his momentary lapse into insanity. Bynum is typically a pretty reasonable, aware guy, but the sight of J.J. Barea getting yet another uncontested drive to the rim drove him into some kind of madness. Then again, he had mostly himself to blame for Barea’s previous effortless drives, so maybe he was just taking out his frustrations on a mini, Barea-sized avatar of himself. Or, y’know, he just lost his mind.
Bynum’s flip-out wasn’t wholly negative though, because it did help Barea (22 points, 9-14 FG, eight assists) — who shared the game’s tri-MVP honors with JET and Peja — score an elusive made bucket on a flagrant foul. Even after taking a huge forearm hit from Bynum, Barea’s floater went up and in, resulting in two points for Dallas, two subsequent free throws, and possession of the ball. Not exactly an everyday occurrence.
On a related note, it’s still baffling to me that the Lakers would commit so much pressure at the three-point line to the task of defending Barea with either Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood setting a screen. Is it so hard to roll under screens to encourage Barea to shoot jumpers while letting the big man sag in the paint? Chandler and Haywood aren’t going to catch at the free throw line and pop a jumper, and if J.J. concedes in order to take a three, that’s ultimately a good thing for the Laker defense considering the circumstances. Yet L.A.’s defenders got hung up on screens time and time again with Bynum hedging 20 feet from the rim and Pau Gasol unable to leave Dirk Nowitzki. I’m not sure who was responsible for the pick-and-roll blunders for the Lakers, but they empowered Barea as a creator and made him into a significant problem in this series.
But let’s take a moment to appreciate just how incredible Barea was in this game and this series. The pick-and-roll opened the door, but it was still up to Barea — who has often functioned as the Mavs’ built-in scapegoat, but has set that honorary title ablaze — to finish his looks and find his teammates. He scored over and around Bynum, he worked for creative passing and scoring angles, and had Terry not connected with an unseen power, he would have been the best guard for either team in Game 4, despite taking the court alongside two surefire Hall-of-Famers.
Also: attempting to defend Barea with Ron Artest was hilarious.
As were Artest’s offensive pursuits:
Gasol vs. Nowitzki used to seem like an actual argument, but that debate segued into Bryant vs. Nowitzki, and now Nowitzki vs. pretty much anyone. To the victor go the spoils of public opinion, and after championing the Mavs through their improbable sweep, Dirk is walking on sunshine.
I doubted the ability of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood to defend against LaMarcus Aldridge’s versatility, and then doubted their ability to defend against Bynum’s sheer size. I was horribly wrong, and both players have been defensive rock stars. Bynum scored six points and grabbed just six boards in Game 4, his second game in this series where he had both under 10 points and 10 rebounds. Bynum still had a pair of successful performances, but that’s the expectation. He played up to par in two games, and was held far below his expected performance in two others, including the final outing of the Lakers’ season.
Oh, by the way: the Mavs happened to make 20 three-pointers (in just 32 attempts), setting a new playoff record. No big deal, just making history over here.
Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook found one constant in the Mavs’ three-point shooting aside from the hard work of Terry and Stojakovic: the influence of Dirk Nowitzki. Yet another example of how the man makes things happen, even on a day where his statistical output isn’t quite what you’d expect.
Brendan Haywood made two consecutive free throws. That’s an omen of the apocalypse, right?
I’m still in disbelief over Gasol’s regression. Nowitzki did a fantastic job of defending him both on the perimeter and in the post, but even with that in mind, the degree to which Gasol was neutralized is startling. He’s been the most important Laker all season long, but throughout both of L.A.’s postseason series he’s failed to be aggressive, failed to execute, failed to make an imprint on the game in almost any regard. Basketball fans will again call him soft, but really, Gasol was just bad; it has nothing to do with his masculinity or his ability to grind in the post or something equally ridiculous, but simply an odd reluctance to assert himself. He was certainly too passive, but also underwhelming even when he did get touches down low or in the high post. I don’t mean to make the man a scapegoat — what ailed the Lakers went far deeper than Pau Gasol — but he was so unbelievably absent from this series.
32 assists on 44 made field goals is pretty insane, as was the fact that the Mavs had assisted on 10 of their first 11 buckets, and had notched 20 dimes by halftime. This is truly unparalleled ball movement.
Dallas’ worst quarter in Game 4: a 9-of-17 third frame in which they played L.A. to a draw at 23-all. The Lakers started out the second half with some defensive stops, and for a matter of moments, looked like they actually belonged on the court on Sunday.
Jason Kidd deserves a round of applause for 1) his well-publicized ability to impact the game in a variety of ways, and 2) his tremendous defense against Kobe Bryant in this series. Kidd didn’t even rack up all that many assists in Game 4, but he was a contributor during some big Maverick runs (the 10-0 sprint to close the first half, for example) and did those mythical little things.
However, it was the Mavs’ additional defensive pressure that really threw Kobe off of his game. Dallas was somehow able to pull off the feat of committing an extra defender against Bryant overtly at times (direct double team) or more subtly at others (a floating defender, waiting to help), and yet still scamper back to cover the open man. Kidd, Stevenson, Stojakovic, Terry, and Barea deserve a ton of credit — they managed to hound Bryant a bit and recover nicely to avoid weak side exploitation.
For the sake of finding a silver lining, L.A. did do one thing relatively well: rebound. The Mavs should have dominated the raw rebounding totals given the incredible number of Laker misses. Instead, they took just a 40-39 advantage, thanks largely to L.A.’s 30.6 offensive rebounding rate. I don’t want to glorify a series of missed put-backs in a game that the Lakers essentially forfeited, but at least there was a slight display of effort in creating extra possessions off the glass.
Stojakovic was an oddly effective defender in this series. He faced a series of tough assignments created by weird matchups or on switches, but held his own against Bryant, Odom, Artest, and even Bynum and Gasol (via denying entry passes) on occasion. I’d settle for Stojakovic not providing opponents with a clear point of attack, but at various times in this serious he made legitimately beneficial defensive plays.
The same is true of Marion, but due to his superior defensive ability, I don’t look at his performance in this series in such rosy terms. Dallas clearly didn’t need huge performances from Marion due to their hot shooting, but he ultimately took the back seat in defending Kobe Bryant to Kidd. Marion still had effective stretches, but just wasn’t quite as good as one may have expected given Marion’s track record in defending elite wing players. Even at this age, he can do better, and if the Mavs play the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, he’ll have to.
The Lakers made five three-pointers in the entire game. The Mavericks made at least four pointers in each quarter, including seven in the second and five in the fourth.
I still don’t have the foggiest idea why we didn’t see more of Corey Brewer in this series. DeShawn Stevenson didn’t play all that well on either end of the court, and Brewer is definitely capable of shooting 1-of-5 from three but while providing better slashing, more energy, and better defense. Plus, when opponents are leaving Stevenson to double elsewhere, isn’t that enacting the fear of the offensive burden that Brewer might bring?
Haywood grabbed more rebounds in 17 minutes of action (eight) than every Laker except for Gasol (who also had eight).
Kudos to the folks running the entertainment at the American Airlines Center. During several rounds of the “BEAT L.A” chants that broke out in Game 4, the folks running the soundboard killed everything. They cut the music, the sound effects, the video clips — they let the fans unleash in support of their team with only silence as the backdrop. The AAC can be characterized by its non-stop audio-visual stimulation (sometimes to the detriment of the basketball experience), but these moments of unadulterated fan fervor were pretty awesome. I know it’s easy for fans to get psyched when their team is on the verge of sweeping the defending champs, but the MFFLs showed up on Sunday and the AAC entertainment staff let them scream to the rafters.
Terry’s rapport with the fans is tremendous. You know JET eats up the response to his antics, but the man makes a conscious, ongoing effort to keep the fans involved and energized, even when things like long TV timeouts take away some of the game’s natural momentum. Rather than loiter around the scorer’s table to wipe off his shoes an extra time or do a quick stretch, JET took the court solo to energize the fans. He stalked the sidelines and called to the Maverick faithful. Opposing teams, coaches, and fans may find him irritating, and I can understand their frustration with JET’s posturing. Yet there’s a reason he holds such a special place in the hearts of Mavs fans, and it goes beyond the timely shots and the fourth quarter performance.
More record fun: Terry’s nine three-point makes tied an NBA playoff record, but the lopsided nature of the game prevented him from securing that record-breaking three. Drat.
This was likely Phil Jackson’s final game as a coach, and it’s a damn shame that his players couldn’t have taken that into consideration when they were spacing on pick-and-roll coverage and practically rotating away from open shooters. Jackson’s the best there ever was, and though this loss likely won’t be even a footnote of a footnote of a footnote on his coaching career, it would have been nice to see his team go out with a bit more fight. For the record, I don’t think Jackson was a victim in this loss or this win-less series; there are a number of technical problems that held L.A. back, and that responsibility falls on the coaching staff. Still, Phil wasn’t supposed to go out like this, and even if the Lakers committed some strategic blunders, the biggest problem in Game 4 was the embarrassing lack of effort.
Predictable dynamic of the post-game press conferences: though plenty of questions were lobbed up for both Dirk and JET to answer (they took the podium together), Dirk remained silent while Terry offered his analysis and reflection. In several cases, Nowitzki didn’t even look up; he merely stared straight through the table in front of him during the question and the response both, allowing Terry — ever the talker — to handle every single question purposed for both of them to answer.
Zach Lowe, SI’s The Point Forward: “To call this Dirk Nowitzki’s ”last ride” is obviously dramatic, but the future of this Mavericks team is uncertain. Jason Kidd is 38 and will be a free agent after next season along with Jason Terry. Tyson Chandler, the anchor of Dallas’ semi-revived defense, is a free agent after this season and plays the same position as Brendan Haywood, to whom Dallas has already committed more than $50 million. Caron Butler will be a free agent, Roddy Beaubois’ development has hit a snag, Shawn Marion is declining and Corey Brewer is at the edge of Rick Carlisle’s rotation. In other words: This team badly needs a playoff run now, especially after going out in the first round in three of the last four seasons.”
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: “The fact is that Nowitzki, 33, is one of the game’s premier playoff performers — one of four players in history to average 25 points and 10 rebounds — yet he is arguably the most underappreciated player in the game because his teams have failed to convert marvelous regular seasons into postseason parades. ‘I can’t really change peoples’ opinions. I’ll try to win it for me and to kind of top it off with the career that I’ve had. That’s why I’m trying to win it,’ Nowitzki said.’I'm not trying to win to shut anybody up. I’m trying to win for myself and this franchise, which really deserves it; for Cuban, who’s been amazing since he bought it, and for all my teammates. And if I don’t, it just wasn’t meant to be. The only thing that I can tell myself is that I left it all out there. Every summer I tried to get better. I play hurt. I play sick. I try to be out there for my teammates and for my team and ultimately win it all.’”
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: “A veteran NBA advanced scout gave us his breakdown of the two teams, and these are teams that he swears bear a striking resemblance to one another in that they have perimeter big men as their offensive anchors and crafty veteran point guards running the show. ‘The Mavericks definitely will play up and down more than any of Rick Carlisle’s teams in Indiana and even Detroit did in the past,’ he said. ‘Rick has definitely loosened the reigns since then. He’s still a guy that has a lot of sets and runs a lot of things. He lets [Jason] Kidd call his own plays and really lets them go. They run a lot more stuff in early offense. His Indiana teams he would slow them down and call plays, but not with this team. He really does let Kidd do his thing. And with [J.J.] Barea out there with Kidd, you have two ball handlers in the game, if the ball comes out to Barea, they’ll get into their transition game just as easily.’”
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
It’s probably a good thing that Jason Terry missed a potentially game-winning free throw with a second and a half remaining in regulation; Dallas had only played about 10 minutes of high-energy basketball up to that point, and for the sake of playoff readiness, an extra five minutes in which the Mavs were forced to run and rotate and execute certainly couldn’t hurt. The win still doesn’t excuse Dallas’ lethargy through the first three frames, but victories do have their own inherent worth, even if this one should and could have been significantly easier for the Mavs. I know there’s an element of mental fatigue involved when facing an opponent perceived to be inferior at this stage of the season — particularly an opponent missing two of its three best players — but Dallas has to be better at every turn. There are precious few tune-ups before the playoffs commence, and regardless of opponent, the Mavs can’tallow themselves tobe convinced that this kind of effort is conducive to winning. Each empty victory may be nice for other reasons, but such games nonetheless condition Dallas to accept performances like this one, even when a comparable showing would surely result in a less favorable outcome against a playoff opponent. Tick tock, Mavs. Get it in gear.
Don’t let the defensive numbers fool you. Houston only scored at a rate of 89.2 points per 100 possessions, but Dallas’ D wavered from possession to possession, and looked particularly vulnerable to high post action executed by Chuck Hayes (10 points, 5-12 FG, 12 rebounds, four assists) and Brad Miller (12 points, 5-13 FG, eight rebounds, three assists). In its natural state, the Rockets’ offense is a beautiful thing; Rick Adelman’s system facilitates offensive flow like no other, and rewards hard cutting with smart passes. It’s the Mavs’ job to take the Rockets out of that natural element, and in that area they failed. The shooting and overall scoring numbers don’t reflect that, but Dallas’ defensive letdowns — many of which led to wide open layups and dunks — were pretty horrendous. The Mavs showcased the diametric opposite of their defensive struggles during the fourth quarter and overtime, but don’t overrate the significance of their clutchness; as nice as it was that Dallas finished strong, they should never have been in a situation where that was necessary.
Dirk Nowitzki (23 points, 8-22 FG, 12 rebounds, three assists) struggled with his shot a bit, but his jumper was the least of the Mavs’ offensive problems. For large portions of this game, Dallas had little or no offensive structure whatsoever. Some players wandered around the three-point line, but having bodies on the perimeter with others inside does not constitute spacing. Just…blech. Here’s to better days when the Mavs actually elect to run sets.
The offense wasn’t without that ever valuable silver lining, though. Shawn Marion (21 points, 10-14 FG, four rebounds, four assists, three turnovers) was the most efficient Mav by a considerable margin, despite the fact that he threw away two cross-court passes in the extra period. Marion on the left block is a credible offensive option, and a pretty interesting counter to Dirk’s operation on the opposite wing. (A quick aside: Marion also might be among the best in the league in his ability to discern shot fakes from legitimate attempts; Kevin Martin [28 points, 10-24 FG, 3-7 3FG, seven turnovers] is a wizard with the ball, but Marion stays on the floor and contests Martin’s shots without fouling as well as any wing defender out there.) Additionally, Jason Terry (21 points, 9-15 FG, four assists, six turnovers) had a lot of success driving to the basket, and fully exploited Houston’s lack of shot-blocking inside. Chuck Hayes is a fantastic post defender, but his options in rotation are limited by his height. Once Terry makes an aggressive move toward the rim, Hayes can contest the shot or try to maintain good position between JET and the rim, but he’s unable to put a lot of pressure on Terry’s attempt at its most vulnerable points.
Mavs fans have now witnessed the other side of Corey Brewer’s coin. The effort is always there for Brewer, but he played nine largely fruitless minutes. Nothing wrong with grabbing four boards (and his one offensive rebound was heavily contested), but Brewer just isn’t a consistent scoring threat. He’s skilled and works relentlessly on both ends, but Brewer isn’t productive enough to tip the scales nightly.
This definitely registers as a curiosity, but count me among those who hope to never hear about Terry’s possible miscalculation again. Honestly it doesn’t really matter to me if JET knew the score or didn’t. Awareness is certainly preferred, but he’s shooting to make free throws at that point, and I’m fairly positive he intended to make his second one. It’s a non-issue, really.
How Dallas struggles to rebound in a game like this one baffles me. Tyson Chandler is among the top rebounders in the league. Dirk Nowitzki has historically been a solid defensive rebounder, even if he doesn’t attack the offensive glass. Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd both do terrific work on the glass relative to their positions. Yet the Mavs allowed the Rockets to grab an offensive board on 28.3% of their rebounding opportunities, despite the fact that Chuck Hayes (16.3% total rebounding rate for the season) was Houston’s only decent rebounder on the court. Dallas typically does a decent job of securing defensive rebounds, but this won’t fly.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Wins against the Clippers may be all but assumed, but don’t take this one for granted; Dallas needed a W pretty badly for both the sake of their collective psyche and their place in the standings, and bounced back from a poor defensive performance in the first quarter to win this one outright. Dallas forced a ton of turnovers, which acted as a catalyst for their transition game. The Mavs rounded into form once they got out on the break, as the influx of easy fast break buckets relieved enough pressure on their half court offense to keep it stable. It’s wonderful to see the defense power the offense again, and the Mavs — though unlikely to create turnovers at this rate in the postseason — will need to establish a similar level of offensive/defensive flow. The success of one end should carry into the other, provided that the effort and execution are there.
Sub-plot of the game: Jason Terry had some kind of “tirade”/“heated exchange”/fit at the beginning of the second quarter, apparently aimed at J.J. Barea. The confrontation wasn’t exactly spotlighted on the broadcast, but Terry was certainly frustrated, and Barea’s slightly off-target pass to a curling Terry — an exchange which resulted in a turnover and a fast break layup for Los Angeles — apparently made him boil over. The team intends to deal with the matter internally, but I’m sure it’ll be hinted at in the coming weeks, particularly if Terry’s frustrations continue into the postseason. For now, it’s nothing more than an asterisk; Terry didn’t play after his outburst, but he’ll be back soon enough, likely in good (enough) spirits.
More relevant sub-plot of the game: Corey Brewer (20 points, 8-16 FG, six rebounds, four assists, four turnovers, four steals, one huge block to prevent a fast break layup) did it big — again. The case is certainly mounting for Brewer to have a spot on the Mavs’ playoff roster, though his inclusion would likely mean that one of DeShawn Stevenson or Brian Cardinal would be left out. Normally that would be a tough call to make, but Brewer has been playing tremendously well over the last two games. His breakout game against the Nuggets seemed slightly fluky; Brewer just isn’t going to convert his jumpers at that reliable of a rate every night. That doesn’t devalue his defense or hustle, but expecting such a high point total from primarily perimeter looks is a bit questionable. That said, Brewer’s performance on Friday was a bit more in line with his skill set, even if it exceeded expectation. He slashed to the bucket, finished fast breaks, and cut backdoor. These are the kinds of things that Brewer can do nightly, independent of whether his jumper is actually falling, and it’s one reason I saw him succeeding in a Marion-esque capacity for the Mavs.
All of which ignores Brewer’s incredible defensive effort. He’s endeared himself to his teammates rather quickly, in no small part due to the fact that Brewer is going hard at all times, looking at every element during a possession as a chance to make a play. Henry Abbott wrote the following concerning Brewer over a month ago, and I’ve had the sentence bouncing around my head during every minute that Brewer’s been on the floor over the last two games:”Once you clue in to the guy, it’s glaringly obvious that no one on the court is defending like him.”
One last note for BrewerFest 2011: the guy is an unexpectedly smooth playmaker. He can’t run an offense, and if you give him the ball at the top of the key and tell him to go to work, your possession could end in shambles. But swing the ball to him on the weak side against a stilted defense, and Brewer seems to not only know exactly how to drive in order to maximize his potential to score, but also to set up for a little bounce pass or drop-off to an open big man. Brewer’s four assists were a huge help to the Mavs last night.
Dallas did some incredible work on the offensive glass. Posting an effective field goal percentage of 52.9 percent doesn’t leave all that many caroms, but the Mavs did a terrific job of scrapping for rebounds and keeping loose balls alive. I lied about the finality of my last Brewer praise: He was the leader in terms of offensive rebounding effort and collection, but Shawn Marion (13 points, 5-10 FG, 10 rebounds, four offensive boards, four assists) was also huge in that regard, as was Tyson Chandler — who wasn’t credited with many offensive boards but tapped quite a few out to the Maverick guards. The height of the Mavs’ rebounding dominance was in the third quarter, when the Clippers were only able to collect five boards for the entire 12 minutes.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 20 points on 16 shots, grabbed eight rebounds, and notched seven assists. Nothing to see here, folks, just one of the best players in basketball, looking about as brilliant as one could expect.
It was mentioned briefly above, but the Mavs’ first quarter defense was fairly horrendous. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have a way of making opponents pay for their slow rotations on the back line, and the Clips exploited the Mavs to the tune of 35 points (on 15-of-23 shooting) in the first frame. Dallas then went on to hold L.A. to 61 points over the final three quarters while forcing 18 turnovers along the way.
Mo Williams (29 points, 10-18 FG, 5-9 3FG, five rebounds, six assists, seven turnovers) scored quite well, but he was making everything. He worked his way into good looks from short and mid-range, but also took some of his pet pull-up three pointers (the Chauncey Billups special) when bringing the ball up court. The Mavs certainly could have closed out better on Williams and not doubled Blake Griffin quite so often in the post (Tyson Chandler is a pretty formidable interior defender, and the help wasn’t exactly all that helpful), but the Clipper guard was hitting easy and difficult looks alike. It was just his night, and if I’m Rick Carlisle, I’d be far more pleased with Eric Gordon’s (11 points, 4-12 FG, six assists, five turnovers, four steals) relative invisibility than Williams’ outburst.
The problem isn’t that Rodrigue Beaubois is incapable of playing point guard, but that he apparently doesn’t feel comfortable being an aggressive scorer when asked to fill in for Jason Kidd. Skill-wise, he’s a competent replacement, yet you don’t see the same drives or even shot attempts in general from Beaubois when he’s a “point guard.” I can appreciate that he wants to facilitate the play of his teammates, but Beaubois isn’t precise enough with his passing to impact a game the way Kidd does. His greatest impact will come through scoring for the conceivable future, and that potential to create offense for himself will open up opportunities for his teammates.
Peja Stojakovic (10 points, 4-7 FG, 2-5 3FG) and J.J. Barea (15 points, 4-13 FG, four rebounds, five assists, six turnovers) performed well in supporting roles. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, both offered their designated contributions on offense — three-point shooting and dribble penetration, respectively — without hurting the team’s defensive concept. That’s all one could reasonably ask.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin, give or take a dozen or so considering the ridiculous scoring margin of this game.
50 wins is a big deal or something, right? Seriously, though: Savor these incredible seasons. I know everyone within the Maverick organization will downplay the significance of 11 straight 50-win seasons, but it’s a remarkable accomplishment and has been an incredible gift to this fan base. Title or not, good basketball is good basketball, and that’s been the Mavericks’ #1 export for a little over a decade.
Anthony Randolph, who had been in hibernation for the last 10 months, was roused from slumber to thoroughly dominate a would-be contender. Last I checked, this isn’t the way it’s supposed to work. With Kevin Love out, the Mavs were supposed to go about their business and check out with a ho-hum, double-digit win. They weren’t supposed to allow a player without a meaningful basketball performance in months completely tear apart their defense from inside and out. Dirk Nowitzki couldn’t stay with him. Tyson Chandler wouldn’t step out far enough to contest his jumper. Shawn Marion was undersized around the basket. No Mav could stick Randolph, and though he’s admittedly a unique basketball specimen, let’s just mark this game down as another blemish on Dallas’ defense. Good on Randolph for his new career highs (he finished with 31 points, 14-20 FG, 11 rebounds, three assists, and two turnovers, for the record), but this — and the fact that Randolph’s night wasn’t the sole representation of Dallas’ defensive problems — doesn’t bode well for a team entering the playoffs in a matter of weeks.
The Mavs’ offensive execution wasn’t that bad. Not where it needs to be, mind you, but certainly not deserving of substantial criticism. The turnovers are still a bit too high, but quality attempts were there all night. That’s to be expected when facing the league’s 25th ranked offense, but it still deserves a note considering how poorly the Mavs shot from the field. Dallas made just eight of their 25 field goal attempts in the first quarter, including a horrendous 1-of-11 mark from three-point range. That shooting normalized as the game went on (and really, had already done so by halftime, as the Mavs shot 13-of-19 in the second quarter), but Dallas’ shooting numbers were sandbagged by the dead weight of that first frame.
Fine, fine work by Shawn Marion (17 points, 8-14 FG, six rebounds, two steals, two blocks) and Peja Stojakovic (16 points, 6-10 FG, 4-8 3FG, four rebounds) on the offensive end. Both were dynamite in their movement without the ball, and the Wolves’ defenders often got lost on curls and cuts. When Marion and Stojakovic can function this efficiently, it gives Dallas a brutal level of offensive versatility. They won’t both be rolling every night, but their performances in this one weren’t merely indicative of Minnesota’s defensive lapses; this was solid offensive play. Dirk Nowitzki (30 points, 12-26 FG, 11 rebounds, four assists) and Jason Terry (18 points, 7-12 FG, three assists) did their thing, but the former is expected and the latter is unsurprising. Enjoyed every high-arcing jumper nonetheless, but this is just what Dirk and JET do.
An interesting wrinkle to the Corey Brewer situation we saw manifest itself last night: when healthy, Dallas doesn’t even really have room for him on the active roster. Last night’s 12-man roster: Kidd, Beaubois, Marion, Nowitkzi, Chandler, Terry, Stojakovic, Haywood, Barea, Mahinmi, Cardinal, Stevenson. Brewer has been able to rock the warm-ups lately because of minor injuries to Marion and Stojakovic, but when both are active, I’m not sure where exactly Brewer fits at the moment.
Not a great night for some of the other Maverick regulars, but let’s dig for the silver lining amidst all the gloom naturally emanating from this game. Rodrigue Beaubois finished with just three points on 1-of-5 shooting, but did make a handful of nifty passes (several of the around-the-back variety), even if he doesn’t have the assists to show for it. Tyson Chandler didn’t have a great game, but he neared double-double territory while playing some nice defense in the second half. Jason Kidd had 13 assists and six rebounds, and isn’t that enough, really? J.J. Barea picked up six assists in 16 minutes, Brendan Haywood played passable basketball, and DeShawn Stevenson got to step on the court for four seconds of actual game action.
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.
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.
% of Possessions
Points per Possession
Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler
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.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin, give or take a dozen or so considering the ridiculous scoring margin of this game.
It’s hard to ask for more in a bounce-back game. The Mavs completely smothered a solid offensive team, they cleaned the glass, got quality shot attempts all around, Kept Monta Ellis (18 points, 7-18 FG, four assists, three turnovers) and Steph Curry (11 points, 4-12 FG, six rebounds, six assists) relatively quiet, and contested the hell out of everything. Wins against the Warriors only mean so much, but Dallas needed this game, and more importantly they needed a performance as dominant as this one. It’s hopefully only the beginning of a renewed commitment to defensive detail.
Not only do the Warriors lack even a single notable defender to counter Dirk Nowitzki (20 points, 9-15 FG, six rebounds), but they no longer even have a pesky, high-risk defender (a la Stephen Jackson) to cause problems with speed and active hands. David Lee was visibly frustrated in trying to defend Nowitzki, and the other defenders Golden State threw at Dirk probably should have been frustrated. Lou Amundson, Ekpe Udoh, and a handful of others had their shot, and not one of them did a passable job of defending the Mavs’ headliner. (One exception: Udoh’s on-ball block on a Dirk jumper early in the fourth quarter. A good play, but not exactly consistent with the Warriors’ total body of work in defending Nowitzki in this one )
Tyson Chandler (seven points, 17 rebounds) and Ian Mahinmi (nine points, 13 rebounds) were both glorious, which is the kind of thing that tends to happen against poor rebounding teams without competent defensive bigs. No sign of Brendan Haywood, but it didn’t matter in the slightest; Chandler and Mahinmi did excellent work on both ends of the court, and their rebounding totals speak for themselves. Standing O for the Maverick center corps, even if Haywood just had a view from the sidelines.
Peja Stojakovic (17 points, 6-11 FG, 5-8 3FG) had a tremendous game, largely because his threes were falling. Stojakovic made a trio of three-pointers in the first minute and a half of the third quarter, despite the fact that he hadn’t played since March 7th. Good on him for coming out guns a’blazing. That said, a game like this one speaks to how random Stojakovic’s good and poor games really are. There are plenty of nights when Peja is a non-factor, and he leaves the game with only a handful of shooting attempts. However, often the only significant difference between this kind of showing and his 2-of-8 nights is the outcome of his attempts. Stojakovic doesn’t really force shot attempts, meaning that those shots he does take are typically open ones. On Sunday, those shots fell. In other games, they won’t. But how does Rick Carlisle go about getting production from an offense-only player (or on another level, how does Carlisle decide when to play Stojakovic and when to pull him) whose most significant offensive flaw is the fact that he can’t make every shot? Stojakovic may be limited, but he stays within himself, so much so that his production is almost entirely reduced to the open three-pointer make-miss binary.
I find Udoh’s defensive potential incredibly intriguing, but the guy just isn’t an NBA-ready offensive player. He can grab the occasional bucket off a cut or offensive board, but he doesn’t have any kind of high or low post game and isn’t even a serious pick-and-roll threat. Even for a team that so badly needs his defensive impact, that’s a problem.
Good to see: Dallas had no intent to give up easy looks inside. The Mavs contested well even when various Warriors got all the way to the rim, and in the cases when the back line was out of position, the Maverick bigs took hard, limiting fouls.
This was fun:
I can’t remember the last Warriors game I saw in which I though Golden State utilized Reggie Williams as much as they should. Williams had a nice run during the Warriors’ D-League call-up rush last season, but on a healthy roster Williams tends to get lost in the shuffle. Their loss.
Nowitzki did a pretty nice job of hedging on pick-and-rolls, which isn’t exactly a staple in his game. Dirk isn’t the most mobile big around, but he was able to stall Monta Ellis in a potentially dangerous situation long enough for a perimeter player to recover. Claims of Nowitzki’s defensive ineptitude are still largely hyperbolized, but it’s still nice to see him deter a Maverick-killer like Ellis from turning the corner on screens.
Dallas played a good offensive game against Golden State, but not a great one. That said, it’s good to see this team get to the free throw line with notable frequency, grab plenty of offensive boards, and execute for good attempts. The turnovers could still stand to go down and the shots didn’t always fall, but this was a pretty sound offensive outing.
Rodrigue Beaubois (15 points, 5-11 FG, four rebounds, four assists, five turnovers) has done an outstanding job of putting pressure on opposing defenses in the last few games. Beaubois can become a bit passive for stretches, but he wasn’t settling for step-back threes or mere spot-up attempts in this one; drives into the paint were commonplace, and from that point Beaubois was creating scoring opportunities at the rim or kicking out to his teammates for open jumpers.
One note about Beaubois’ abilities as a drive-and-kick player: his kick-out passes tend to sail a bit. The accuracy is there, but by lobbing those passes a bit more than he should, Beaubois negates some of the impact of his drive and wastes precious time in the open shooting window for his teammates. Even a bit more arc on those feeds allows defenders time to adjust and contest, so bringing those kick-out passes down a bit could go a long way in picking up Beaubois’ passing effectiveness.
All you need to know: there were sequences in this game in which Vladimir Radmanovic was used as a token center. I know Andris Biedrins was out with injury and David Lee had foul trouble at times, but once you’ve reached that point in the rotation, why bother with convention? Throw another wing out there and see what happens. Worst case scenario, Dorrell Wright or some other forward gives up buckets inside. Best case: you might be able to cut into that deficit with hot shooting, or even be able to shoot Tyson Chandler off the floor if he doesn’t chase his man all the way to the three-point line. Radmanovic is no answer, regardless.
Dallas does more odd defensive cross-matching than any team in the league. It’s certainly not uncommon to see a given team swap coverage among PG-SG, SG-SF, or PF-C, but the Mavs are the only team that regularly pits their starting point guard — Jason Kidd — against opposing small forwards with regularity. Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler are constantly flipping coverages to pit Chandler against the greater offensive threat, and Carlisle switches up Beaubois, Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Jason Terry, and J.J. Barea all the time. PER allowed by position may be more irrelevant for the Mavs than any other players in the league.
An odd sequence with 32 seconds remaining in the first half: David Lee attempts to back down Beaubois from the wing, but makes no progress whatsoever after a few seconds’ work. Incredible, right? Well, it’s less so after a closer inspection, as Beaubois appeared to be giving Lee a double arm-bar to the back, the bane of post players everywhere and — as I understand it — an automatic foul.
To the Mavs’ credit, one of their greater defensive successes for the evening was limiting Golden State’s explosive scoring potential. Basketball is a game of runs and all that, but the most notable spurt in the Warriors’ favor was an 11-2 burst toward the beginning of the second half. That’s a victory to take on a purely independent basis; the overall defensive execution was marvelous, but to quash every run is pretty spectacular on its own merit.
The Warriors may have been a great landing spot for Al Thornton (eight points, 2-7 FG, four rebounds, two turnovers) in terms of a team that’s able to artificially inflate his stats despite limited minutes, but I’m not sure a style that facilitates his ability to take quick, poorly chosen shots is the best thing for his development as a player. Horrible shot selection was already among Thornton’s vices, and life as a Warrior certainly hasn’t done much to change him.
A few weeks into his Maverick career, I still don’t see Corey Brewer’s incredible defensive ability. He’s certainly effective on that end, but I see nothing to demand time on the floor, particularly when he’s — as Corey Brewer is ought to do — airballing three-point attempts from the corner.
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.)
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.
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.
% of Total Possessions
Points per Possession
Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler
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.
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.