This week, we’re going to look at each position on the floor and determine where things went wrong and what needs to change or areas of need from each position. Names will be named soon. Before you can do that, you at least need to assess, digest and progress.
This was easily the most unstable position for the Mavs during the season. Going back to the real start of the season, the offseason, the instability began. Dallas felt like they had Jason Kidd and Delonte West to sure up the position only to find out they’d have neither of them at the start of the season. Kidd bailed on Dallas at the last minute to join up with the New York Knicks. Due to multiple suspensions due to performing conduct detrimental to the team, West was released before the start of the season.
They then decided to make a trade with the Indiana Pacers, acquiring Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones for Ian Mahinmi. There were hopes of him being the point guard of the future.
Mark Cuban spoke on ESPN Dallas Radio 103.3 FM the day after the trade deadline. Of the numerous things he discussed, he mentioned that the Mavericks were close to landing a superstar. “It was crazy,” Cuban said the day after the deadline on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. “We thought we had a bunch of things done, literally a bunch of things done. We had teams get cold feet at the last minute. … Things that would have used cap room next year, would have had money next year, that were high-dollar guys, difference-maker guys.” Many people (sarcastic people) suggested that the players initials were BS (think about it and you’ll get it).
Reports today now suggest Cuban wasn’t fibbing. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported on Friday that the Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics were on the verge of a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline.
In a three-way deal that would’ve secured Josh Smith and surrendered Paul Pierce to Dallas, Atlanta wanted Boston’s first-round draft pick, too.
The Celtics were in talks to send Paul Pierce to Dallas at the trade deadline.
Dallas had constructed a package that included Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright and Dahntay Jones to Atlanta, with the Mavericks and Hawks exchanging positions in the 2013 NBA draft.
Nevertheless, Boston wouldn’t relent on the pick and the deal died on meeting-room grease boards in three cities.
Well, that’s something, isn’t it? Atlanta would have gotten the pieces they needed for a rebuilding project. Boston would have gotten a new superstar. The pieces on Dallas’ end don’t exactly match up in terms of finances, so other pieces would likely need to be involved in that suggested offer. It likely wouldn’t be pieces of a major consequence. Clearly Dallas and Atlanta were on board, but Boston was the team that put things to a halt. What would acquiring Paul Pierce mean to the Mavericks?
The Rundown is back. Every Monday (unless there’s a better feature to run with), The Rundown will chronicle the week that was for the Mavericks, as well as let you know what is coming up for the boys in blue, with a unique spin. Simply put, it is your Monday catch-up on all things with the Dallas Mavericks.
The week was highlighted with trade rumors, determining if Dirk Nowitzki’s basketball game was dead and actual basketball. As usual, it was an up and down week for the Mavericks. The final game before the Rundown, against the Los Angeles Lakers, might prove to be the moment where people might need to find nails for the 2012-13 coffin for Dallas. There’s still time for them and they’re not mathematically out of the picture, but that loss against the Lakers will hurt in a big way. Let’s take a look at the week for that was for Dallas.
Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
Welcome to Thermodynamics: Post All-Star Weekend Edition. What does that mean? It means the Mavs had only one game this week, which renders pretty meaningless a weekly hot-cold column like this one (yeah, okay, this column is always meaningless; I see you, wise guy).
Instead of making this a hot-cold column exclusively about the Mavs-Magic game, let’s also expand into some of the fun off-court shenanigans going on in the world of ball.
Week 17 (Mavs v. Magic, All-Star game, trade deadline)
Vince Carter’s run at the end of the third quarter against Orlando last night caused one of the most intense and sudden momentum shifts you’ll ever see in an NBA game. The Mavs had been lethargic for the entire frame, were already down six points, and looked like they might be on the path toward a home blowout loss. Then OJ Mayo makes a huge hustle play to block a JJ Redick layup, and Carter scored on an alley-oop dunk four seconds later.
Four seconds. That’s all it took. From that point on, the Mavs dominated the game. Carter hit two more threes to end the quarter, and that was pretty much all she wrote. The Mavs dominated the fourth (complete with a totally gratuitous spinning-dance-move-assist-into-celebratory-arm-gesture pass from Carter to Marion), and the Magic walked off the court with a 15-point loss.
Carter also left his mark this week on an event where he wasn’t even present. During Saturday night’s dunk contest at All-Star Weekend, eventual champion Terrence Ross donned Carter’s old Toronto Raptors jersey and threw down a beautiful windmill dunk. Given that the Mavs had no players participating in All-Star festivities for the first time in two decades, it was a nice treat to see a current Mav represented in some capacity (actually, it was two Mavs — Dahntay Jones, live and in the flesh, assisted with one of Jeremy Evans’ dunks as well). And hey, old man Carter can still ball a bit.
The Mavericks were expected to be quiet as the deadline came. Despite that theory, it appeared that things might work out to where the Mavericks acquired Beno Udrih if a deal with Josh Smith and the Atlanta Hawks fell through. The Smith deal never panned out, but Udrih ended up being dealt as part of a six-player deal between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic. As the deadline was winding down, the Mavericks ended up striking a deal with the Atlanta Hawks. The Mavericks swapped veteran wing player Dahntay Jones in exchange for Anthony Morrow. “We want to thank Dahntay for what he brought to us,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.
After the deal was announced, Carlisle commented on his new player. “He’s one of the best shooters in the game and you can never too many shooters,” Carlisle said. Morrow, 27, averaged 5.2 points and 1.1 rebounds in 12.5 minutes per game in 24 appearances for the Hawks this season. He has had to miss a chunk of this season with a hip injury. For those who haven’t tracked Morrow, he was acquired by Atlanta from Brooklyn as part of a package for Joe Johnson. The Mavericks are interested in Morrow as he’s in the final year of his deal that pays him $4 million.
According to TV play-by-play voice of the Mavericks Mark Followill, the only rookie in NBA history to lead the league in 3-point shooting percentage is Morrow at .467 in 2008-09. Morrow’s career .425 3-point percentage is the 9th highest in league history (minimum 250 3-pointers made).
A few weeks ago, Kevin Pelton of ESPN looked at the best contracts in the NBA by multiplying a player’s WARP (wins above replacement level) by the average amount that teams pay for each WARP. I’d like to approach this same problem from a different angle: namely, how much value are teams getting out of the salaries they pay their players? Instead of looking at WARP, I’ll focus on win shares, another metric of player value. While Pelton’s methodology assumes that the overall NBA salary market is priced correctly (therefore attaching a value to each WARP a team pays for), my method makes no assumptions about overall pricing accuracy and instead seeks to evaluate relative player salary and performance.
At a basic level, my goal is to quantitatively evaluate the best and worst contracts in the NBA. To do so, I construct a simple metric that I call the “value ratio.” This is defined as: (Player Salary/Median Salary)/(Player Win Share/Median Win Share). In effect, I am comparing the amount over (or under) which a player is being paid vs. the median NBA player with that player’s production over (or under) that of a median player. Comparing salaries and win shares with median values serves as a way of normalizing these metrics and making them more readily comparable to each other. A simple way to think about this metric is the following: if the ratio is less than 1, the player is undervalued; if the ratio is greater than one, the player is overvalued; if the ratio equals one, the player is properly valued. In short, the most valuable players will be those with the smallest value ratios.
To get a more full picture of player production, Wang used a three-year average of a player’s Win Shares. To compensate for the fact that salary is not consistent in every year of a contract he averaged the per year salary commitments of this year and each remaining year on a player’s contract. There are several holes in his method, which he acknowledges at the end of his post, but if you know the context for specific players and specific teams, the stories told by his numbers become much richer.
Several Mavericks showed up in different places in Wang’s results. With a value ratio of 0.131, Elton Brand’s contract provided the 7th greatest value of any player who has played at least 500 minutes this season. At a value ratio of 0.259, Darren Collison’s contract provided the 10th most value of any player who had played at least 1,150 minutes this season. Driven by curiosity, I pulled together his results for all of the Mavericks to see how the team’s current crop of contracts rated in value.
This has been an incredibly turbulent season for the Mavericks from a player personnel standpoint. They faced their first 27 games without Dirk Nowtizki, and with just five other returning players on the roster. An NBA roster has 15 slots, but the Mavericks have already used 19 different players this season, not including Delonte West — with whom the Mavericks parted ways before the season began. Each week it seems there is a new addition to be welcomed to the fold, bringing with them the warm tidings of hope.
Since he took over in Dallas, Rick Carlisle has proved repeatedly that managing personnel is one of his greatest coaching strengths. He has been innovative and progressive in managing his lineups and always seems to pull the most from each of his players. This season however, putting the pieces together has been a constant challenge. No matter how he arranges them, they don’t seem to fit together quite as uniformly as they have in the past, and the image never becomes totally clear. I’m personally of the opinion that it’s because these pieces don’t all come from the same puzzle, and that no matter what five-man unit Carlisle runs out onto the floor, some part of it will be a hasty Spackle job trying to hold back the rising tide of flood waters. However, I thought it might be interesting to look at the different lineup foundations he’s tried by examining his success (and lack thereof) with various two-man combinations.
The visualization below lets you look at all the different two-man combinations the Mavericks have used for at least 100 minutes this season. Unfortunately, to create all the combinations I had to place several players on both axes, which can make for a slightly confusing view. The size of each square represents the number of minutes that pairing played. The color represents that pairing’s Net Rating, or point differential per 100 possessions. If you hover over any of the squares you can also see that combination’s Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating. The filters below let you include or eliminate pairings based on any of those variables.
The three least efficient areas to shoot from are inside the paint (but not in the restricted area), from mid-range and straight ahead three-pointers. Altogether, 63.7% of this lineup’s shot attempts come from those three areas. Going back to my shot-selection metric from two weeks ago, the shot selection of this lineup gives them an XPPS of 0.988, where the league average is 1.047. They feature above-average mid-range shooters, but are using that weapon to a fault. Above-average ability isn’t manifesting in above-average success, and their Actual Points Per Shot is an even lower 0.936. From an outsider’s perspective, this group seems like they may be fundamentally incompatible offensively, even with Nowitzki’s eventual improvement taken into account.
Although you never like to see anyone injured, Kaman’s concussion offers the possibility for an interesting experiment. Kaman has had a solid individual season putting up 18.8 points per 36 minutes, the second highest of his career, on a TS% of 53.3, his highest since 2008-2009. However, his rebound percentage is the lowest since his rookie season and the Mavericks have generally struggled when he’s on the floor. Dallas’ defense is 3.6 points worse per 100 possessions with Kaman in the mix, a margin that’s ultimately not all that surprising. However, the Mavs’ offense is also 2.9 points worse per 100 possessions with Kaman involved. Turning back to the visualization above, we see that Kaman is featured in 12 different pairings, only two of which have outscored the opposition. Those two — with Brandan Wright and with Jae Crowder — have played a combined 343 minutes, 44 of which are overlapped.
Much of Carlisle’s rotation work this season has felt like tinkering around the edges. As long as they’ve been healthy, the foundational pieces of Kaman, Nowitzki, Mayo and Marion have been largely cemented in place. With Kaman out, Carlisle will be forced to manipulate his foundation, and there is an opportunity for Brandan Wright and Bernard James to find their way back into the regular rotation in a significant way. Both Wright and James have been featured in several successful (albeit scarcely used) pairings, and I can’t help but feel that they are under-utilized assets. Neither player is comfortable away from the basket on offense and each would give the Mavericks a very different look than with Brand or Kaman alongside Nowitzki. When we talk about spacing issues we are usually referring to a team with a lack of outside shooters, allowing the defense to clog the paint. In this case I think the Mavericks can actually improve their spacing by removing overly-willing outside shooters; the insertion of James or Wright will force the defense to expand their focus and defend more of the floor, more vigorously.
The visualization also makes it seem that there could be potential benefits in increased roles for Vince Carter and Jae Crowder. Carter has done tremendous work in keeping the second-unit offense afloat, but maybe it’s time to let him work long more court time with Nowitzki. His ability to work inside and out, particularly as a post-up threat, seems like it could also alleviate some of the one-dimensional reliance on the mid-range jumpshot. It would be a difficult pill to swallow, but perhaps Mayo would be better off swapping places with Carter. Moving to the bench might feel like a step backwards for Mayo and could have significant impacts on team chemistry, but at this point the Mavs’ current rotation isn’t doing much for the team’s present or future.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
The Mavericks’ win on Sunday night could be described as a story of beginnings and endings (and that’s how I’ll describe it).
The starting unit began the game well, on the heels of precise ball movement and an active Shawn Marion (9-19 FG, 18 points, nine rebounds, five assists), and finished equally adeptly, as Dirk Nowitzki (7-14 FG, 18 points, seven rebounds) closed out the fourth quarter with the scoring precision of, well, Dirk Nowitzki.
Bernard James (1-2 FG, two points, three rebounds, 11 minutes) started the game at center for the Mavericks and performed well enough, though James’ 11 minutes may be indicative of the move’s dual purpose as a means of motivating Chris Kaman (2-4 FG, six points, five rebounds, two turnovers, 11 minutes). Neither James or Kaman served as part of the best pairing with Dirk, however.
That distinction lies with Elton Brand (6-10 FG, 12 points, three rebounds, 17 minutes), as it has much of the time in recent weeks.
I’d be remiss to write any further without mentioning that Dirk passed Allen Iverson for 18th all-time on the NBA’s scoring list. Well done, Dirk.
And hopefully his ascension towards further tiers of that list continues.
Though their numbers weren’t gaudy, the Mavericks’ guards deserve credit for a job admirably done. O.J. Mayo (4-9 FG, eight points, six assists), Darren Collison (3-7, eight points, five assists), Dahntay Jones (4-5 FG, 11 points), Vince Carter (5-8 FG, 2-3 3PT, 15 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals), and Rodrigue Beaubois (3-7 FG, eight points, three assists, three rebounds) collectively played quite well, and their overall decision-making radiated excellency.
That excellent decision-making propelled the Mavericks to 26 assists and only 13 turnovers, good for an aesthetically pleasing 2:1 ratio.
All 13 active Mavericks earned playing time, which in this case was indicative of a comfortable win.
Another key to the Mavericks’ victory was how well they spaced the floor.
Guards were able to make post passes into feasibly-sized windows, and areas of the floor were often carefully sectioned off for the sake of Shawn Marion, Dirk, or cutting guards (Mayo, Beaubois, etc.) on their way to the basket.
That element of movement and spacing is absolutely crucial for a team that’s been frequently mired in offensive stagnancy.
Four Mavericks’ centers played significant minutes tonight, which give some insight into the current revolving door of Mavericks’ center minutes.
Brandan Wright (1-3 FG, four points, three rebounds, three assists) was the fourth center used tonight. He first saw minutes in the fourth quarter and helped spark a momentous run with keen passes near the basket and an important finish.
Wright was also the only Maverick to make less than 42% of his shots, another mark of a thoroughly efficient offensive performance.
For the first time in awhile, things are looking up in Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki is healthy, and the Mavericks are on a four game win streak. In their wins over Sacramento, Memphis, Minnesota and Houston, Dallas put up points at the scorching rate of 112.4 points per 100 possessions. This is a tremendous bump for what has been the 18th most efficient offense in the league this year and, at just 100.9 points per 100 possessions, the least efficient Mavericks’ offense of the past 13 seasons.
Offensive firepower of great variety has been the defining characteristic of Mavericks’ basketball for more than a decade, so watching the team struggle so mightily this season has been somewhat disconcerting. The absence of Dirk Nowitzki has certainly made things difficult, but the problems have been so systemic it’s hard to lay them all at the feet of one giant German. Across the entire season the Mavericks have wilted in each of the offensive Four Factors. They rank 8th in the league TO%, but 13th in eFG%, 16th in FTA Rate and 27th in ORB%.
The eFG% is especially troubling. Making shots is what Mavericks do, and under Rick Carlisle in particular, the team has shown a razor-sharp focus on the craft of creating quality open looks. This season however, their miraculous ability to manipulate and manufacture open space has largely fizzled. As dark as things have been, some fragrant Four-Factor-blossoms bloomed in their three most recent wins. They posted an eFG% of just 45.3% against Sacramento but pushed the bounds of offensive efficiency with just nine turnovers and 35 free throw attempts. Against Memphis and Minnesota, Dallas scorched the nets with eFG%s of 55.6% and 66.3% respectively. Against Houston, shooting was again a problem but 10 turnovers and 43 free throw attempts did the job. Those eFG% numbers are exciting to type; they feel like a thick, down sleeping bag with the potential to fend off the long winter weeks still to come. But I’m not sure they are truly a reflection of problems solved.
In an effort to keep the discussion going, I sought out ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon for his opinion on pressing issues for the Dallas Mavericks. You can view MacMahon’s coverage of the Mavericks at ESPNDallas.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @espn_macmahon. Periodically, we are going to touch base and discuss topics with our own unique point of view.
MacMahon likes to call it like he sees it. That perspective can hover on the other end of the spectrum from my optimistic viewpoint on things. You could say it’s a classic case of good cop, bad cop. Our different perspectives should make for an interesting conversation on hot topics revolving around the Mavericks. Here is the first batch of bloom and doom.