Ramblin’ Rose

Posted by Ian Levy on April 25, 2011 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-04-25 at 4.50.43 PM

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

After Games 1 and 2, we met two lineups, The Grays and The Longs, and identified the utilization of each as an example of the approach the Mavericks and Blazers were bringing to this series. The part played by each unit changed dramatically over Games 3 and 4, again revealing a lot about the status of each team.

The Longs have essentially disappeared from Portland’s rotation, playing less than a minute together over the past two games. Nate McMillan obviously has some player combinations he likes better. He might want to take a look at these numbers, because despite taking both games in Portland, most of what he’s been trying hasn’t worked very well. The table below shows the five-man units Portland has used for at least three minutes over the past three games.

LineupMinutesPoss. ForPoss. OppPts. ForPts. OppORtg.DRtg.Net
Miller - Matthews - Wallace - Aldridge - Camby53.1791909698105.5108.9-3.4
Fernandez - Roy - Batum - Wallace - Aldridge15.6528273341117.9151.9-34.0
Miller - Matthews - Batum - Wallace - Aldridge19.103233263981.3118.2-36.9
Miller - Roy - Matthews - Wallace - Aldridge11.6322203218145.590.0+55.5
Miller - Matthews - Batum - Aldridge - Camby9.8016172025125.0147.1-22.1
Fernandez - Roy - Matthews - Batum - Aldridge5.2289108125.088.9+36.1
Fernandez - Roy - Batum - Wallace - Camby3.06655550.0100.0-50.0

Over that stretch, only one lineup has consistently hurt the Mavericks. It’s the Andre Miller – Brandon Roy – Wesley Matthews – Gerald Wallace – LaMarcus Aldridge combination, which has outscored the Mavericks by 14 points across 11 minutes. Interestingly enough, this lineup only played 2 minutes and 48 seconds together during the Blazers fourth quarter comeback on Saturday.

The Blazers’ 20-point advantage in that quarter was built mostly by two other lineups. The Rudy Fernandez – Roy – Nicolas Batum – Wallace – Aldridge configuration was +7 over the first 6:28 of the 4th. The Roy – Matthews – Batum – Wallace – Aldridge lineup was +8 over a one-minute, 43-second span towards the end of the quarter. However, those two lineups have played another 18 minutes together across the rest of the series, in which they were outscored by Dallas by 13 points. The Blazers didn’t run away with the fourth quarter because they stumbled into an effective new lineup. Rather, a method they had tried previously began to click. For one quarter, Brandon Roy turned into Jerry West and Jason Terry turned into Darrick Martin, triggering a sudden change in the performance of a familiar lineup.

That the Blazers were able to come away with two wins at home will obscure the fact that they still aren’t playing very well. If we take away Brandon Roy’s magical fourth quarter in Game 4, we find that the Mavericks outscored the Blazers by 13 points over 7 quarters of play. The Blazers are still left with just one lineup that has been successful over a significant stretch in more than one game.

The table bel0w shows the same lineup information for the Mavericks, covering the last three games.

LineupMinutesPoss. ForPoss. OppPoints ForPoints OppORtg.DRtg.Net
Kidd - Stevenson - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler26.134241413797.690.2+7.4
Kidd - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler17.0630323645120.0140.6-20.6
Barea - Terry - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Haywood18.3031314739151.6125.8+25.8
Barea - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Haywood9.7518191814100.073.7+26.3
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Chandler11.0021193119147.6100.0+47.6
Kidd - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Haywood9.0017141913111.892.9+18.9
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Haywood7.551313101276.992.3-15.4
Kidd - Barea - Terry - Nowitzki - Haywood7.201212158125.066.7+58.3
Kidd - Barea - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Haywood4.37891113137.5144.4-6.9
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Chandler4.598771187.5157.1-69.6
Barea - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler5.2391031133.3110.0-76.7

The Grays (the Jason Kidd – Jason Terry – Shawn Marion – Dirk Nowitzki – Tyson Chandler lineup we identified as a key factor in Game 1) have been ineffective to say the least, being outscored by nine points over a span of a little more than 17 minutes. This is one of the player combinations Rick Carlisle relies on in crunch time, which makes it unsurprising that Dallas has struggled late in games (the Mavericks have been outscored by 22 over the last two fourth quarters).

That ineffectiveness shouldn’t be a huge concern for the Mavericks. Most of their negative differential comes from a roughly five-minute stretch in the fourth quarter of Game 4, when they were outscored by 13 points due to Roy’s hot hand and their own failures to execute on offense. Over that stretch, Roy scored 12 points and assisted on two other baskets, while the Mavericks couldn’t create a single shot attempt for Nowitzki, turned the ball over twice, and attempted five long jumpshots.

Roy’s explosion has changed the series, but that doesn’t mean it’s a permanent course correction. The Mavericks have still been the better team for most of the four games, narrative intrigue be damned. Additionally, his performance could have some unintended side-effects. When Roy was producing less, his role in the Blazers’ offense was defined. Tonight, Nate McMillan will have to decide how much to let what happened in Game 4 change the way the Blazers attack the Mavericks. This could potentially be good news for Dallas; Roy seems unlikely to produce at the same level, but will probably see more minutes and use more possessions. He’s has been a shell of his former self for all but the most recent 15 minutes of this season. He was largely the difference the Blazers were able to even the series, but those 15 minutes are not a large enough sample size to convince me he’s ready to pull that off two more times.

I realize I’m looking at two tough losses with rose-colored glasses; I can’t help it. After two close losses in Portland, everywhere I look I see roses.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 15, 2011 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

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.’”

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The Lion’s Mane

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


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

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

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

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

Chart #1

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

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

Chart #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chart #3

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

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

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

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 118, Utah Jazz 99

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 24, 2011 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Screen shot 2011-02-24 at 11.12.03 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin…except this time, only kind of, and not really.

  • Deron Williams is one of the best point guards in the league, and his absence for the Jazz — as he currently resides in trade limbo and will soon make his debut for the New Jersey Nets — significantly changed the way this game progressed and the way we should view it. If Utah had their complete roster (with Devin Harris and Derrick Favors) to work with, the Mavs would have faced significantly more resistance. However, a team with Earl Watson running the show is just a bit different than one with Williams or Harris at the helm. The Jazz had been pretty inconsistent this season with their team more or less intact, but to take away their best player and starting point guard — while Utah transitions into life after Jerry Sloan, no less — remove some of this win’s significance.
  • Still, a game is a game, and there is some insight to be gleaned from 48 minutes against any team out there. Dallas had some trouble early on offense (primarily due to their eight turnovers in the frame, which were more their own doing than Utah’s), but really cranked up their production as the game went on. It’s the balance of this team that continues to surprise me; again, the Mavs had an impressive number (seven) of double-digit scorers to complement Dirk Nowitzki’s 23 points on 15 shots. The starters played well enough to keep their minutes down, and the reserves were rewarded with some extra playing time. High fives all around.
  • The temptation to read too far into wins like this one is always present, and should put an asterisk on any conclusions you or I try to draw from this particular game. That said, I can’t help but wonder if the Mavs have finally found an offensive formula that really works. They don’t have that second star on-par with a Pau Gasol or a Paul Pierce, but by adding Rodrigue Beaubois (10 points, 4-6 FG, four assists) and Peja Stojakovic (18 points, 7-9 FG, 4-5 3FG) to the rotation while benefiting from more impressive contributions from J.J. Barea (13 points, 5-8 FG, five assists), Dallas has created an interesting scoring framework. I’m not sure all of Dallas’ scorers can be contained on a nightly basis, and though it’s not entirely necessary for opponents to systematically seek and destroy every scoring threat on the floor, there’s comfort in knowing that the Mavs will have most teams beat in scoring depth.
  • Another interesting wrinkle to that idea is that it makes the Mavs much more difficult to scheme against. The San Antonio Spurs, for example, teched specifically against Jason Kidd and Jason Terry in last year’s playoffs. Their plan worked to great effect; the offense stalled when the pressure increased on Kidd, and San Antonio ensured that Terry wouldn’t provide Nowitzki with the scoring complement he so sorely needed. However, the Spurs looked positively puzzled when trying to defend Beaubois, and Caron Butler was able to explode for a few big scoring nights. Teams can try to take away certain elements of the Maverick offense, but if any team invests too heavily in trying to stop any player aside from Dirk, Rick Carlisle can call an audible and shift the offensive flow.
  • Interesting note: Dallas shot 50% from the field or better in every quarter, and 57.9% from the field overall. That total is a season high.
  • Stojakovic is a much better fit with this team than I imagined he would be. Considering his age and injuries, I expected Stojakovic to be a relatively stationary element of the offense; he seemed destined to be tethered to a corner and spot up ad infinitum. But what’s impressed me most has been Stojakovic’s movement. He’s not content to rely on others to create shots for him — he actively looks to create new passing angles and new open zones from the floor. His release is much quicker than that of, say, DeShawn Stevenson, and thus he’s a much better catch-and-shoot option than Stevenson when he’s running around screens or coming off a curl cut. Stojakovic is more than just a spot-up option, and his movement in the offense adds a pretty interesting dimension to this team.
  • You’ll have to forgive me: the trade deadline beckons, and this installment of The Difference will have to be cut well short of its point-differential quota. Just imagine there are 12 more bullet points here, each a tribute to one of Brendan Haywood’s 12 on Wednesday. The guy is playing his best basketball of the season, and instilling new confidence in the non-starting end of the Mavs’ D5 rotation. Tyson Chandler, a motivated Brendan Haywood, and Ian Mahinmi — it doesn’t get much better than that.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 112, Phoenix Suns 106

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 18, 2011 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR

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

  • Kudos to the Mavs for not letting their focus stray during these final two games before the All-Star break, but the defense is clearly already on vacation. First, the Mavs allowed the Kings (sans Tyreke Evans) to put up some competitive offensive numbers, even if they sprinted away during the third quarter by getting a few stops. Then on Thursday night, the Mavs surrendered 110.4 points per 100 possessions to the Suns. Phoenix is, of course, a very good offensive team. Even without Amar’e Stoudemire, Steve Nash has this club clicking with the seventh best offense in the entire league. That said, Dallas is due for a good defensive win. The D has wavered in the last two months or so, and though the Mavs are still defending well enough to win, they’re likely not defending quite well enough for the coaching staff to sleep well at night. Pats on the back for another victory (the 40th this season), but this team needs to come back after the break with a focus on improving its defense to those early-season levels.
  • Dirk Nowitzki (35 points, 13-18 FG, 3-3 3FG, four rebounds) has never been a kind matchup for the Suns, but this wasn’t just another exploitation of a mismatch. If there were any lingering questions concerning Nowitzki’s health, they were promptly dismissed each and every time Dirk graced the net with his jump shot. This was a far more focused Dallas offense in terms of scoring production (as opposed to the community effort against Sacramento), but even then, five Mavs (Nowitzki, Terry, Marion, Stojakovic, Chandler) scored in double-figures. It’s hard to evaluate this team properly over their last two games given the quality of defenses faced, but there are some great omens in the box score entrails.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois (nine points, 4-10 FG, 1-4 3FG, two assists, two turnovers) again played around 20 minutes of action, but wasn’t quite as productive this time around. Carlisle threw Beaubois into the starting lineup, which could certainly be interpreted as a positive sign. However, in addition to the conditioning issues which will limit Beaubois in the immediate future (as well as any minute restrictions he may be under), it’s worth keeping an eye on his foul totals. Beaubois was known to get a little foul-happy last season, though his foul troubles were unique occasions rather than part of a trend. So far this season though, Beaubois is averaging 8.1 fouls per 36 minutes. He totaled five on Thursday night while playing less than half the game.
  • Somehow, Steve Nash (15 points. 6-10 FG, 14 assists, five rebounds, three turnovers) has entered that strange phase in his career where people have a general conception of how good he is and used to be, but generally refuse to acknowledge him due to his team’s perceived irrelevance. Nash is playing as well as ever despite Stoudemire moving on, and truly hasn’t been lauded for that fact enough. He was as irrepressible as ever on Thursday; the impossible passes in traffic, the absurd layups that make Nash seem like a scholar in geometry, and the jumpers that — like that of a certain Maverick — seem to have no business going in. “Freeing Steve Nash” would be great and all, but I’m perfectly content to watch a great player be great, no matter the area code or win percentage.
  • J.J. Barea missed the game with the flu, so Beaubois and Jason Terry (16 points, 5-12 FG, seven assists, three steals, two turnovers) each took care of the ball when Jason Kidd (six points, 2-8 FG, 12 assists, eight rebounds) rested. The offense overall returned to order, as Kidd transformed back into a primary playmaker, and the Dallas offense calmed down from their turnover-happy performance against Sacramento. The Mavs have always done well offensively by maintaining control, and Thursday night’s 12.5 turnover rate is much more in line with the expectation for this team.
  • Another great game for the Mavs’ big-man tandem: Tyson Chandler (12 points, 5-8 FG, 12 rebounds) resumed his season of offensive import, while Brendan Haywood (seven points, five rebounds, one block) capitalized on the Suns’ poor interior rotations in limited minutes (11). That said, Carlisle elected to go small for significant portions of this game, and utilized both Nowitzki and Shawn Marion (12 points, 6-10 FG, eight rebounds) as the primary big. Against Phoenix, that’s not much of a problem, and Dallas had some success in those configurations, particularly with a Kidd-Terry-Stevenson-Marion-Nowitzki lineup that made a 9-0 sprint late in the third quarter.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 116, Sacramento Kings 100

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 17, 2011 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-02-17 at 1.41.35 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR

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

  • Dallas won by a wide margin, but Dirk Nowitzki scored just 13 points. Jason Kidd was the Mavericks’ leading scorer. J.J. Barea and Brendan Haywood were the only Mavs with double-doubles. This game was interesting for reasons that stretched far beyond the return of Rodrigue Beaubois (13 points, 6-13 FG, six assists, three steals, three turnovers), and the Mavs’ dominance was far greater than the impact of their young hope. Beaubois’ return was noteworthy for his individual efforts, but the Mavs played a pretty dominant offensive game overall. We can pick nits — the turnovers got a bit out of hand at times and Dallas rarely got to the line — but it’s hard to ask for more than eight double-digit scorers and a 62.8 effective field goal percentage. Bellissimo.
  • Barea has was easily the Mavs’ most impressive player. The 10 assists don’t mislead in the slightest; Barea’s vision was truly special in this one. He made phenomenal feeds to cutters, to shooters, to open dunkers — this was a remarkable playmaking performance unlike anything we’ve seen from Barea in recent memory. He’s done fine work as an efficient scorer in the last few weeks, but this showing was of an entirely different grain.
  • Another funny thing about Barea’s fantastic game? He wasn’t even supposed to show up to work on Wednesday. Barea had been held out of practice because of a groin injury and a case of the flu. Ain’t no thang, apparently.
  • 20-point performances from Kidd are always notable, as are games where any player — Kidd or otherwise — goes 6-of-7 from three-point range. And surprising though it was that Kidd was such so accurate, it was just as unusual that he kept firing away. Kidd took six three point attempts in the third quarter and though it’s a good thing for the Mavs that he did, that’s not a frequency in shot attempts that can be found on a game-by-bame basis.
  • Dallas’ final defensive numbers turned out just fine, but overall this was not one of their finer outings on that end. There were some notable individual efforts — Tyson Chandler, in particular, did a great job on DeMarcus Cousins (16 points, 6-19 FG, 12 rebounds, four assists, seven turnovers). It just didn’t add up to anything more. The offense was in gear for most of the game, but this was far from a complete game.
  • That’s one reason why Jermaine Taylor rattled off a career-high 17 points on just 12 field goal attempts, with five assists as the cherry on top. The Mavs aren’t far removed from the team that used to allow opposing wings to have career nights like Taylor’s on a frequent basis, but this season that’s been a bit of a rarity. Dallas’ defense hasn’t been air-tight throughout the year, but it’s certainly been more effective in limiting those singular, explosive performances.
  • The Mavs’ rotation looked as deep as ever. Not only did Beaubois’ return give Dallas a solid scoring boost, but Haywood’s (12 points, 5-8 FG, 10 rebounds) activity level was off the charts relative to his usual performance this season. His righty hook might still cue an arena’s worth of winces, but when he’s moving on offense and rebounding this consistently, Haywood gives his team a huge boost.
  • The Mavs made the most significant run of the game — a 9-0 spurt at the tail end of the third quarter — came with Dirk Nowitzki sitting on the bench. Nothing quite like fresh air, eh?
  • We’re still feeling out how Peja Stojakovic (12 points, 5-11 FG, 2-5 3FG, four rebounds) will function as a member of this team, but the early signs are pretty positive. His defense has been fairly competent for the most part, or at least competent enough that it hasn’t caused significant problems. His shooting stroke seems to be coming around, and this type of performance gives even more reason to hope for improvement. I’m not sure how the shot distributions will shake out once Beaubois becomes a regular, but if the ball winds up in Stojakovic’s hands for about 10 attempts a night, the Mavs could gain plenty from his contributions.
  • Keep in mind, though, that Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki only attempted 10 field goals apiece in this one. Those numbers are going to rise, and though more shots can be reallocated from other places, the offense can’t be expected to be quite so balanced nightly.
  • Plenty more to come on Beaubois’ evening a bit later, but something should be said of his patience. Beaubois’ attempts were high-percentage looks. He took threes, but only open ones. He didn’t settle for mid-range jumpers, instead opting to put pressure on the Kings’ defense. He attacked the basket frequently in transition, often triggering the one-man fast break a la Tony Parker and Devin Harris. For a player facing heavy expectation on his first day back, it’s commendable that Beaubois stuck so steadfastly to efficient offense.
  • In terms of actual skill, Beaubois barely showed any rust at all. He phased out on defense at times, but he was guilty of that during his rookie season as well. Conditioning was certainly an issue, albeit a temporary one. As Beaubois works up to NBA speed, he’ll become more effective on both ends and — one can hope — a candidate for more significant minutes. Still, 21 minutes in his debut is a pretty great sign for Beaubois’ place in Carlisle’s rotation.
  • It’s hard to pinpoint the exact nature of the Mavs’ turnover problems (five different Mavs had three turnovers apiece), but the easiest diagnosis is simple sloppiness. Some plays were overly ambitious, others lazy. Overall it’s not too much to worry about, but even veteran teams with experienced point guards running the show can fall into these ruts for games at a time.
  • That said, the same willingness to share the ball that burned the Mavs on many occasions is also what pushed the team to a total of 34 assists despite Kidd functioning as a gunner.
  • Another notable thing about Beaubois’ return: Rick Carlisle wasn’t shy in the slightest about putting the ball in his hands to trigger the offense. Even with Kidd on the floor, it was Beaubois who ran the pick-and-roll, initiated plays, and brought the ball up-court.
  • On the New York Times’ Off the Dribble blog, I outlined why starting in the NBA isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and cited DeShawn Stevenson as a part my explanation. Stevenson starts, and the role he plays on the Mavs is important. However, getting that nod at the beginning of games doesn’t mean much concerning the worth of Stevenson’s game, nor the quantity of his minutes. As of Wednesday, Stevenson had started 20 games in which he played fewer than 15 minutes. Make that 21, as Stevenson logged just 13 and a half minutes of action last night. Beaubois may eventually usurp Stevenson from his starting role, but regardless, DeShawn’s moment has passed. He made some threes for the Mavs, but his minutes will likely continue to hover around the 12-13 mark as long as the rest of the rotation remains intact.

A Bear Ration

Posted by Ian Levy on February 10, 2011 under Commentary | 11 Comments to Read

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

Have you ever had an afternoon, or even an entire day, where everything went totally smoothly?  With every normal disaster avoided? The girl at Starbucks doesn’t notice your fly is down as she hands you your coffee. The important meeting for which you’re completely unprepared is canceled at the last minute for a bizarre and unexpected reason. You turn on the fake tears and the state trooper lets you off with a warning.

Well, DeShawn Stevenson has had about 90 of those days in a row.

Stevenson is shooting 41.3% on three pointers this season, well above his career average of 34.7%. This fact becomes even more impressive when you consider that he shot 21.8% and 27.8% his last two NBA seasons. If he was a cyclist and made that sort of single season improvement in one area, hundreds of technicians would be poring over vials of his urine in laboratories around the world.

If we look at Stevenson’s three point percentages for each season, we’ll see this is actually not the only towering peak:

Stevenson 3PT%

He also shot 40.4% on 183 attempts in 2007 and 38.3% on 413 attempts in 2008. What Stevenson is doing this season is not unprecedented for him personally, but it does put a spotlight on an amazing pattern of inconsistency. As I mentioned above, between this season and the 2007 and 2008 campaigns, Stevenson shot 21.8% and 27.8% on a total of 216 attempts. Before the 2007 and 2008 seasons he had made 52 of 202 three pointers for his career, a 26.2% clip. Still, the jump this season over his career average is his greatest increase yet.

Thus far this season, Stevenson is shooting 6.6 percentage points higher than his career average.  In the past 20 years there have been 291 instances of a player shooting better than 40.0% on three pointers for a season with a minimum of 200 attempts, two marks Stevenson should easily surpass barring injury or a gigantic slump. Of those 291 instances I could only find 22 cases where a player shot over 40.0% on three pointers and it represented an increase of 6.6 percentage points or more over their career average. Ray Allen’s jump this season from a career mark of 39.8% to 46.2% just barely misses our cut.

PlayerTeamSeason3PTA3PT%3PT% Career3PT% Change
Tim LeglerWAS1995-199624552.2%43.1%+9.1%
Al HarringtonIND/GSW2006-200729343.3%35.8%+7.5%
Brent BarrySEA2000-200122947.6%40.5%+7.1%
Brent PriceWAS1995-199630146.2%38.7%+7.5%
Donyell MarshallTOR2004-200536341.6%35.0%+6.6%
Earl WatsonDEN/SEA2005-200627240.4%33.0%+7.4%
Glen RiceCHH1996-199744047.0%40.0%+7.0%
Jason KaponoMIA2006-200721051.4%43.9%+7.5%
Jason KiddDAL2009-201041442.5%34.9%+7.6%
Joe JohnsonPHO2004-200537047.8%36.9%+10.9%
Jon BarryDET2001-200225846.9%39.2%+7.7%
Kevin JohnsonPHO1996-199720244.1%30.5%+13.6%
Keyon DoolingNJN2008-200923542.1%34.8%+7.3%
Lindsey HunterDET1999-200038943.2%36.0%+7.2%
Mark JacksonIND1999-200022140.3%33.2%+7.1%
Mehmet OkurUTA2008-200920244.6%37.7%+6.9%
Michael JordanCHI1995-199626042.7%32.7%+10.0%
Richard JeffersonSAS2010-201120342.4%35.8%+6.6%
Rodney RogersPHO1999-200026243.9%34.7%+9.2%
Steve SmithSAS2001-200124647.2%35.8%+11.4%
Tony KukocCHI1995-199621640.3%33.5%+6.8%
Troy MurphyIND2008-200935845.0%38.1%+6.9%
DeShawn StevensonDAL2010-201119641.3%34.7%+6.6%

Looking at things in this way certainly favors the freakishly flukey. Historically great three-point shooters like Steve Kerr, Dale Ellis, Reggie Miller, Dell Curry and Wesley Person don’t make our list because they consistently shot a high percentage each season.

There are a few other oddities with this list. The first is that Stevenson is not the only player showing such a dramatic improvement in their three point shooting this season. I mentioned Ray Allen above, but Richard Jefferson is also on pace to match Stevenson’s improvement over his own career average. The second is a fellow Maverick: Jason Kidd’s performance last year earned him a spot on this list as well. Kidd, a career 34.9% three point shooter, made 42.5% of his three pointers last year, an improvement of 7.6 percentage points. Unfortunately, Kidd hasn’t been able to sustain that improvement this season.

There are only two pairs of teammates who appear on the list for notably improved performances in the same season. The first pairing is Toni Kukoc and Michael Jordan for the 1996 Bulls. Not that you needed any convincing from me, but things went really, really well for the Bulls that season. Brent Price and Tim Legler also made the list for the 1996 Washington Bullets. I’m not sure what was happening in our nation’s capital that winter but it was apparently a glorious time to be an undersized, athletically limited, one-dimensional shooter.

The biggest single season improvement over a career average I could find was Kevin Johnson’s 1997 campaign for the Suns. Johnson was a career 30.5% three point shooter but knocked down 44.1% that season. Looking at the Suns’ 40-42 record gives the impression that it was a fairly unremarkable season for them. However, that team was one of my all-time favorites to watch. In the early stages of that season, the Suns traded Sam Cassell to Dallas for a talented young point guard named Jason Kidd. The rest of the season they started a three-guard lineup of Kidd, Johnson and Rex Champman, with Wesley Person and a young Steve Nash coming off the bench. That team was an early predecessor of the run-and-gun Suns that would rise to prominence several years later.

Even if surrounded by a generally unimpressive list of players who have accomplished this feat, Stevenson’s improvement is still something to be recognized. But where did this scorching stroke come from? I took a look at the data from Synergy Sports to compare what type of offensive possessions his three point shots came out of this season and last season.*

*For some reason, only the data from his time in Washington was available for last season, though he didn’t attempt many shots at all for Dallas. Stevenson took 87 three pointers last year and 63 of them came with the Wizards, so a significant chunk of last season’s performance is represented here.

Three Point Distribution

Possession3PTA (2010)3PTM (2010)3PT% (2010)3PTA (2011)3PTM (2011)3PT% (2011)
Off Screen010.0%61540.0%
PnR Ball Handler010.0%22100.0%
Hand Off1250.0%010.0%

It would be nice to have some data from earlier seasons for a point of comparison, but we’re stuck with what we have: publicly available data. The trend from the past two seasons would seem to indicate that Stevenson is a reluctant and inefficient shooter when it comes to taking three-pointers off the dribble. He is taking roughly the same percentage of his three-pointers from each area as he did last season, but in situations where he can just catch and shoot (off screens, transition, spot-up) he has seen a remarkable improvement.

Last season in Washington, Stevenson made just 20.8% of his spot-up three pointers compared to 43.4% this season. Obviously an offense run by Jason Kidd with Dirk Nowtizki as a primary offensive threat is going to generate more open looks than one run by Randy Foye with Andray Blatche as the “weapon of choice,” but I don’t think all of his miraculous shot making can be attributed to better teammates or better coaching. You can call it skill, luck, fate or an aberration. I just think Stevenson has been having one of those days . . . again and again and again.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 109, Los Angeles Lakers 100

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 20, 2011 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Los Angeles120.558.07.322.212.0

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

  • Before we all get too riled up about last night’s events, let’s go over one thing, first: the Lakers played pretty poor defense. Good on the Mavs to capitalize, but the story of last night wasn’t Dallas overcoming a titan, but claiming victory over a powerhouse that was a bit off their game. The Mavs deserve credit for their defense in the third quarter, but it’s best not to get carried away with praise for their overall defensive execution, either. Both teams shot and scored well, and the Mavs shot and scored more. A valiant and much-needed win, but no one should be giddy over allowing 120.3 points per 100 possessions. Dallas won against an excellent team, and that’s fantastic. But the defense needs to be better.
  • And it will be. As Dirk Nowitzki continues to work himself back into game shape and be more and more comfortable on that wobbly knee, his defense will improve. When Tyson Chandler is playing a full game with a clean bill of health (he battled flu-like symptoms last night, and sat out for a portion of the second quarter), the back-line rotations will be crisper. When the team (sans Caron) is back into a rhythm, the elite defense will resurface. These are the kinds of lulls that happen to every team in the regular season, only the Mavs’ recent injuries have acted as a catalyst for their defensive troubles.
  • Jasons Kidd and Terry combined for 43 points (on 17-of-27 shooting, and 9-of-14 from three, no less) and 17 assists (with just one turnover). L.A. seemed content to leave Kidd open from three, and for the first time in a millennium, he drained his open looks. Terry was more forceful; he curled away from Derek Fisher, sprung for threes in transition, and triggered his trademarked pull-up game. Sustainability always comes to mind when anyone but Dirk springs for a huge scoring night, and this is hardly the kind of production to which Mavs fans should grow accustomed. That said, it was exceptionally well-timed and hopefully acts as a precursor to a progression toward the mean for Kidd and Terry both.
  • Rick Carlisle elected to have Shawn Marion reprise his role coming off the bench, which left an opening in the starting lineup on the wing. He had tried Terry in that slot in the past, with mixed results. J.J. Barea isn’t an option because he needs to run the point for the second unit. Dominique Jones should be in the running, but Carlisle apparently wasn’t too pleased with his play in the wake of Caron Butler’s injury, and has relegated him to mop-up duty. So naturally, the newest Maverick — Sasha Pavlovic, on the last day of his 10-day contract — was thrown into the starting lineup. Crazier, still: it worked. Pavlovic looks good. He defends well, and last night he mad five of his seven shots from the field to finish with 11 points. He doesn’t have any explosive potential, but Pavlovic is a steady, low-usage vet that the Mavs would be wise to keep around.
  • As heavily as Carlisle has leaned on Alexis Ajinca and Ian Mahinmi this season, he clearly isn’t ready to give either burn against such a productive front line. DNP-CDs for both of the bench bigs.
  • Though, as I mentioned before, I think the Mavs deserve credit for their third-quarter run, the substantial turnaround wouldn’t have been possible without Shannon Brown (two points, 1-4 FG, one turnover) and Luke Walton (zero points, 0-5 FG, one turnover). Both players kept the ball away from more capable scorers, and took shots that the Dallas defense was more than willing to give them.
  • Shawn Marion (22 points, 10-13 FG, four rebounds) played a fantastic game, but he was more reliant on the Lakers’ lax defense than anyone. Marion exploited the Lakers’ interior D with cuts and post-ups off of switches, and while he should still be able to do the same on most nights against typical opponents, a finely tuned defense can take away those looks far more easily than Terry’s pull-up game or Kidd’s three-pointers. Marion’s presence is still important; defense will be forced to account for him when he dives into the lane or sets up on the block against a smaller opponent. This kind of box score production isn’t Marion’s regular, but his intangible impact can be just as profound on a nightly basis.
  • A bit of an oddity: both teams shot so well from the field (62.5 eFG% and 58 eFG% for the Mavs and Lakers respectively) that neither got to the line all that much. Contrary to popular belief, L.A. doesn’t attempt a lion’s share off free throws (they’re a below average team in free throw rate). Still, they get the free throw line about three times as often as they did last night. Defense, officiating, whatever the cause — a bit strange.
  • Kidd, Pavlovic, and DeShawn Stevenson (as well as Jason Terry on some zone possessions) all did an admirable job on Kobe Bryant, but it doesn’t matter. He shoots over you, he drives around you, and he finds his teammates. Then he finishes the night with 21 points on 18 shots along with 10 assists, and probably has nightmares about those eight shots he missed and his few giveaways. You don’t need me to tell you, but the man is damn good at what he does.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 102, Indiana Pacers 89

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

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

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

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

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

The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 99, Dallas Mavericks 95

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 7, 2011 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Oklahoma City113.849.920.531.411.5

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 healthier team won, even if they were able to skate by having only played a quarter and a half of solid defense. Dallas is trying. They really are. They’re just outmanned and handicapped offensively, so much so that a win against a competent team should come off as a pleasant surprise. The Thunder are certainly competent, so this is the kind of outcome we can come to expect for the time being. Slice and dice it for moral victories if you’d like, but the Mavs couldn’t win this one, even if they played hard enough for a W. I wish there were more delicate analysis required, but the outcome of this game was rather blunt.
  • I’m not sure you can bottle up this kind of Shawn Marion (25 points, 12-17 FG, three rebounds) performance for repeat consumption, but it’s always to see Marion cutting and driving to a huge night. I don’t know whether the Thunder have a particular problem with Marion’s style or if it’s just a coincidence that his runners happen to fall to spite Jeff Green, but this seems to be a kind of strange situation trend for Marion. Regardless, a nice scoring effort on a night when it was needed, but all for naught.
  • Tyson Chandler (14 points, 3-5 FG, 18 rebounds) is a monster. This was a nice encore performance by Chandler on the offensive glass, where he generated six extra offensive possessions while his team struggled a bit in their half-court sets. Plus, Chandler was able to milk free throw attempts out of some of those rebounds, converting an effort play directly into a point-scoring opportunity. No one could accuse Chandler of not doing his part in Dirk’s absence; he’s been superb in all facets of the game.
  • DeShawn Stevenson (14 points, 5-12 FG, 4-8 3FG, ) cannot guard Kevin Durant. He does his best to stay in front of him, but Stevenson is in that strange defensive place where he can neither effectively halt Durant’s drives nor successfully alter his shot. Stevenson’s a nice defensive asset on most nights, but Durant — a tough match-up for any defender in the league — is a particularly poor fit for Stevenson’s defensive abilities.