“I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.”
Positional certainty has never been a luxury the Dallas Mavericks could afford during the Dirk Nowitzki era. Yet year after year, the team’s flaws are diagnosed according to the standards of a conventional lineup. Dallas needs a better center. A better shooting guard. A better point guard. Hell, anything that isn’t power forward. Dirk has been the one constant, and despite his unconventional and unique talents, the success of his team is ultimately measured by way of an antiquated tradition.
No longer. Or at least as minimally as possible in this space.
It may be naive to think that the mainstream basketball audience will soon abandon the five conventional positions, but that doesn’t mean those of us in this corner of the universe can’t strive to be better, smarter basketball fans. I’m ready to take a hop (more than a step, but well short of a leap) in the way we classify players. With that, I’ll cue Drew Cannon of Basketball Prospectus:
But what do you really need from a lineup?
On defense, you need to be able to guard your opponents. This means you have to be ready for speeds and heights of all kinds. You need to have a player capable of guarding each of the five traditional C-PF-SF-SG-PG positions. We’ll call the players capable of defending each position “D1” through “D5,” respectively, with speed/athleticism on the x-axis and height/strength on the y-axis:
And on offense what do you need to be successful? You need to be able to make shots (from the field or free throw line), avoid turnovers, and clean up the offensive glass–at the very least to the point where you aren’t handing over points by doing the opposite. This means that you need someone who can take care of the ball, someone who can put it in the basket, someone who can get the ball to that guy, and someone who can get the ball back when someone misses. We’ll call these four characters the Handler, the Scorer, the Creator, and the Rebounder.
Quick point. The Creator and the Handler have to be the same guy. Because you can’t have your Creator losing the ball all the time before he can feed your Scorers, and you can’t have your Handler with the ball all the time but unable to get it to the Scorers.
…It boils down to this: On defense, you have to be ready for whatever the offense throws at you. But on offense, you really just need to rebound and protect the ball enough to let your scorers go to work (or protect the ball just enough that your dominant rebounding can keep putting points on the board despite below-average scoring, etc.). Really, how you put points on the board is your business. The defense is just reacting.
This is more than just a quaint idea.
I’m sure Cannon’s model isn’t a perfect one, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a start, and nothing more. Just as the traditional formula yielded point-forwards (or even point-centers…word up the the Antoine Walker experiment), combo guards, and other atypical cogs, I’m sure that this framework will allow for a few more offensive player designations yet. What matters is that we move away from a nondescript and misleading method of classifying players in favor of something — anything — that actually manages to advance basketball discourse.
To those still clinging to what they know, I’d ask this: what’s a power forward? What characteristics link Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Rashard Lewis, Lamar Odom, Reggie Evans, Tyrus Thomas, and J.J. Hickson? Not rebounding. Not scoring. Not skill set. Not height relative to their teammates. Not even the spaces they occupy on the floor. I’m at a total loss as to the criterion that would group that bunch together, which makes the assessment “Player X isn’t a real power forward” pretty much worthless. I think I know what it means, but without the ability to define the contemporary power forward, how could I really know for sure?
Conceptually, this is nothing new. Players like Dirk have been bending positional bounds for years, and the basic tenets of fluid positionality have been preached by a number of NBA scribes. Yet this system makes enough intuitive sense to work, and gives the thought a more practical and literal application.
If you’d like to join me on this little adventure, I’d love the company. If not, that’s fine, too. This post isn’t meant to convert, but primarily to do two things:
- Inform as to what the hell I’m talking about when I write that “Jason Kidd is a D2,” in the future.
- Bring the idea to the forefront. Even if you’re not ready to buy into an overhaul of positional classifications, I hope this at least gets you to think about what those classifications mean (or don’t mean).
This could be fun, but I’m going to need a lot of help. Here are the initial offensive and defensive positions for all of the current Mavs according to my own assessment, but they’re not infallible. Are there offensive profiles that aren’t represented? Is it fair to list Shawn Marion strictly as a rebounder? Or Jason Terry as a D2? Let me have it. Rip this idea to pieces. Tear it down so we can build it back up with stronger and smarter ideas, making our collective analysis that much better in the process.
Alexis Ajinca – D?, Large body
J.J. Barea – D1, Scorer-Creator/Handler
Rodrigue Beaubois – D1, Scorer
Caron Butler – D3/D2, Scorer
Tyson Chandler – D5, Rebounder
Brendan Haywood - D5, Rebounder
Dominique Jones – D2/D1, Scorer
Jason Kidd – D2/D1, Creator/Handler
Ian Mahinmi – D5/D4, Rebounder
Shawn Marion – D3/D2/D4, Rebounder
Dirk Nowitzki – D4, Scorer-Rebounder
DeShawn Stevenson – D2, Abe Lincoln tattoo
Jason Terry – D2 (I guess?), Scorer
Chris Paul is brilliant enough as a player that teams have to indulge his whimsy. He’s the top point guard in the game — no, that is not up for debate — and depending on how you slice it, either a top-three or top-five player overall. He’s not the kind of player you dismiss out of hand. He’s the kind of player you send fruit baskets to, and offer a shoe polish if he ever steps through the door. His game absolutely, positively demands your attention, and there’s no use arguing around that.
Still, there’s no point in playing the trade game until the rumors start to get a little more serious. Yes, Chris Paul has the Dallas Mavericks listed among the teams he’d prefer to be traded to, and that matters. Still, the Hornets, if they even decide to trade Paul at all, can ship their star point guard wherever they’d like. They can shop him around to every team in the league in search of the most attractive return package, and say “To hell with him and his list.” It’s certainly relevant that Paul wants to be traded in the first place, because it’s likely in the Hornets’ best interest to cash out now if they’re unable to pacify him. However, it matters less and less where he’d like to end up, because if New Orleans does make the move, they’re going to do so on their terms.
If the Hornets insist on receiving young talent in return for Paul (which only seems logical), the Mavs’ chances are dead in the water. With all due respect to Dominique Jones, Rodrigue Beaubois is the only young asset on the roster worth having, and he just so happens to be a positional duplicate to either Darren Collison or Marcus Thornton. That should be enough to cut down any possible intrigue Rodrigue may have held for New Orleans. Plus, even if Beaubois were enticing to the Hornets, a deal of this magnitude would take more than one young, talented player. New Orleans won’t ever get equal value for Chris Paul via trade, but they’re also not going to entertain a low-ball offer centered around just one young asset.
However, if New Orleans is instead focused on clearing cap to start again, the Mavs are in business. Dallas has $29 million in expiring contracts to play around with, and a Paul-less Hornets team will have a few expensive contracts to dispose of. If Tyson Chandler’s expiring deal were to be involved, a trade couldn’t officially go through until September 13th due to trade restrictions on recently acquired players. If not, the Mavs may have trouble putting together an attractive enough deal to steal the Hornets’ glance.
The most palatable offer from Dallas would likely be Tyson Chandler’s expiring contract, Caron Butler’s expiring contract, DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract, Rodrigue Beaubois, two first rounders, and a trade exception for Chris Paul, Emeka Okafor, and James Posey. Okafor and Posey are the two contracts that are likely to be moved along with Paul, as their departure (Okafor is owed $52 million over the next four seasons while Posey is owed $13.4 million over the next two) would help to facilitate the franchise reboot incited by Paul’s trade demand.
I have a hard time believing that such an offer would be competitive with the types of deals that will be thrown against the wall. Almost every team in the league will be after Paul, and while few teams can compete with the long-term savings the Mavs can offer, Dallas is likely still a few good, young players short of making a deal work.
Everything rests with the Hornets. Before it’s even worth it to fully analyze the Mavs’ trade potential, we need to know that New Orleans is seriously entertaining the option of moving Paul. Right now we don’t. So table your trade machine wizardry until things get a tad more serious, but with the tiniest bit of focus on what it could mean for Dallas to add one of the top talents the NBA has to offer.
- Jason Terry on LeBron, Wade, and Bosh uniting in Miami (via Rey Moralde of The No Look Pass): “They gotta come through Texas first. We’ll see what happens. I’m still mad about the ’06 Finals. LeBron just walked into a fire he doesn’t know about.”
- Udonis Haslem, to whom the Mavs had reportedly offered their MLE, will re-sign with the Miami Heat for a significantly lesser salary. Hard to blame him, especially when he’s choosing both loyalty to the franchise/fan base and a better shot at a title over the extra coin.
- Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas makes an interesting note about Ian Mahinmi’s future development with the Mavs: “One issue with Mahinmi: He’s played two years in the D-League already, so he can’t be shipped to Frisco. That means he’ll have to develop without getting many minutes.”
- Mark Cuban doesn’t seem too happy with the way the Superfriends assembled.
- The Mavs are apparently growing more amenable to the idea of parting with Erick Dampier’s contract to acquire Al Jefferson…as long as Minnesota is willing to also take on DeShawn Stevenson’s $4.2 million expiring contract and the $11.7 million left on Matt Caroll’s deal. If anything goes down regarding Jefferson and the Mavs, it will almost certainly a package of draft picks headed Minny’s way (likely with a few first rounders). However, Marc Stein reported a bit later that the Utah Jazz have moved to the front of the pack to acquire Al, which puts quite the damper on the Mavs’ plans.
- Dirk will officially sign with the Mavs later this week.
- Rick Carlisle on John Wall’s debut (via Kevin Arnovitz): “He has fantastic ability and tremendous upside. He’s a different version of Derrick Rose, a little different kind of player, a little different body type and a little different style of play. They both have a great ability to defend. As they learn more, they’ll both get better and better. Wall is a little longer athletically and maybe a little more of a scorer.”
- Mark Deeks/Sham Sports parses through the Mavs’ Summer League roster.
Al Jefferson wouldn’t have been a suitable replacement for Brendan Haywood, nor is he a particularly wise usage of Erick Dampier’s instantly expiring contract. But what if he could be had for something far less? That’s apparently what the Mavs are asking of the Timberwolves, according to Marc Stein of ESPN Dallas:
Dallas, meanwhile, is determined not to ship out Dampier’s fully unguaranteed $13 million contract just to take back someone else’s long-term deal. The Mavs are telling teams that they have to furnish a clear roster upgrade if they want the ability to acquire Dampier, cut him instantly and wipe $13 million off the books.
Sources say Minnesota has been urging Dallas to part with Dampier’s contract and draft considerations in exchange for Al Jefferson, who has three years left on his contract at $42 million. The Mavericks keep telling the Wolves that they won’t surrender Dampier’s contract in a Jefferson deal because they have it earmarked for a Gasol-type trade, such as a theoretical sign-and-trade arrangement for James or as the centerpiece of Dallas’ longstanding pursuit of Paul. The problem? It’s a steep drop in terms of difference-makers that might be available after LeBron and his good buddy CP3.
The Mavs’ hard-line stance could always change if they miss out on their other summer targets. For now, though, look for them to take a measured look at their options on the trade market for the next month or so, disappointing as it would be if they can’t turn their best asset into tangible help for Dirk Nowitzki after so much hoopla. Just to be clear, though: Sources say Dallas does remain interested in Jefferson if the Wolves prove amenable to a deal that does not involve Dampier’s contract.
The Mavs would understandably want to pick up Al Jefferson for expiring contracts and Matt Carroll while holding on to their most valuable trade chip, it just seems awfully unlikely that Minnesota would ever agree to such terms. Al’s contract is rather large for a player with such glaring holes in his game, but he’s not enough of a burden that he warrants unloading for cap savings alone. If Dallas really wants to add Jefferson, it’s most likely going to take Dampier. Expecting anything less is just a part of the negotiation, but hardly worthy of anything more than a rumor.
There are only a few core deals that the Mavs could use to trade for Al Jefferson without using Erick Dampier’s contract, assuming that the only player coming to Dallas is Jefferson:
- DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract, Matt Carroll, and Eduardo Najera (with his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) for Al Jefferson
- DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract, Matt Carroll, and J.J. Barea for Al Jefferson
- Jason Terry (and his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) and Matt Carroll for Al Jefferson
- Jason Terry (and his partially unguaranteed 2011-2012 salary) and DeShawn Stevenson’s expiring contract for Al Jefferson
Terry and Stevenson make the most sense for the Wolves, but only if their intent is to clear as much salary as possible. They would trade Jefferson’s $13 million salary for $5 million guaranteed if they opt to waive Terry, and Dallas could include cash and draft picks to sweeten the pot if they so choose. Would all of that be worth it to earn the right to pay Jefferson over the next three seasons? Perhaps, but only if the Mavs don’t intend to force him into an uncomfortable role: playing center alongside Dirk Nowitzki.
Dirk is a unique cat, and his game isn’t easy to build around. It takes a particular set of players that can complement his strengths while making up for his weaknesses, and in that regard Jefferson disappoints. They’re not comparable, just familiar; even if Nowitzki and Jefferson aren’t the same in form, they are in function. It’s a neat diversion, but wouldn’t work as a starting pairing.
Now, a big rotation of Dirk, Brendan Haywood, and Al Jefferson? $13 million is a lot to pay for a big off the bench, but yeesh. Diversion turns to full-time fancy, and concerns about fit are obliterated. It would likely be painful for Mark Cuban to absorb both Jefferson’s deal and the tax implications, but considering it’s salary the Mavs would have been paying out to benchwarmers (and possibly Terry) this season anyway, the financial difference this season would be rather negligible. It’s all about how optimistic the Mavs are in their ability to move under the tax line (and conceivably the cap) in the coming seasons. With Nowitzki, Haywood, Marion, and perhaps another player yet to be determined all eating up space until 2014 at least, it may not be as financially liberal as it seems to throw in Al.
- Mark Cuban isn’t the only owner to be fined for his comments regarding LeBron James, even if the price of Cubes’ CNN Money spot remains the most substantial. The Hawks’ Michael Gearon Jr. was fined $25,000 by the league for tampering, and according to Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, it was due to this remark made by Gearon to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “If somebody came to us tomorrow and said you can have LeBron for max money and it puts you in the luxury tax, I’d do it in a a heartbeat. But am I going to do that for Ilgauskas? Am I going to do it for Jermaine O’Neal? I don’t think so…”
- Question of the day: should it be considered tampering if Dwyane Wade, a free agent himself, discredits an entire franchise that just so happens to be a player this summer? How about if he sits down to have a discussion with other free agents? The NBA isn’t exactly the thought police, even if they’d like to be, and it’s always going to be an impossible task to control what players do in their spare time. That said, which has a bigger impact: Cuban’s comments on the record with CNN, or Wade having a heart-to-heart with LeBron and Joe Johnson?
- If so, is this tampering?
- I’m way late on linking this fantastic write up by Kelly Dwyer on Dwane Casey, but give it a read if you haven’t already. It’s not always easy to determine the value of a specific assistant coach, unless that coach has an outrageously public or specific role (think Boston’s Tom Thibodeau). That said, if you think the Mavs losing Casey to the Hawks wouldn’t be a loss, you’re sadly mistaken. This is a coach that’s well-deserving of a head gig somewhere, and Dallas has the luxury of having him as an assistant. That’s going to change at some point and it could be this summer. Casey deserves a team of his own, and while all Mavs fans should be happy for him should he finally get such a team this summer, it’d also be a notable off-season loss.
- Kris Humphries on Mark Cuban, to Paul Allen (no, not that one) of 1130 AM in Minneapolis: “(Mark Cuban) is so into it and so on the refs. It’s human nature, if a ref doesn’t like you, you’re not going to get calls. One thing that was funny to me is one time during the game, Mark’s riding the ref. He sits literally right on the baseline by the bench. He’s riding the refs and Dirk turns over to him and he’s like in a few choice words basically, ‘Be quiet because they’re just going to screw us more.’”
- A third baseman for Oklahoma said that his team “doesn’t want to be the Dallas Mavericks.” Ouch.
- Kiki Vandeweghe went the way of Del Harris in New Jersey, in similarly abrupt fashion.
- Slipped through the cracks here, probably because it was a given: DeShawn Stevenson picked up his $4.15 million player option for next season.
- Annnd we’re back. A little delay following the Mavs’ playoff exit due to my non-blog commitments, but look for things to get slightly closer to normal starting today. Obviously there isn’t a ton going on aside from free agent speculation at this point, but there’s still plenty to go over in analyzing the roster, breaking down off-season strategies, etc. The summer may be slow on news, but that doesn’t mean it has to be slow on analysis.
- Jason Kidd was sick during the playoffs, has no (public) problem with Rick Carlisle, and has not spoken with LeBron James recently. Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas clears up a few things in a Q&A with Kidd.
- Basketball Prospectus’ Bradford Doolittle, in a measured response to the venomous criticism of LeBron James’ Game 5 performance last week, declared the embarrassing 88-120 Cavalier loss the most stunning playoff result aside from Golden State’s series-clinching win over Dallas in 2007. The Mavs-related analysis is only a blip compared to Doolittle’s excellent analysis of LeBron’s night, and the post is really worth noting for that coverage above the Dallas stuff.
- According to Tom Haberstroh, the smallest lineup fielded by any team in the NBA this season was a Beaubois-Barea-Terry-Butler-Marion unit trotted out by the Mavs against the Warriors. The average height of that lineup? 6’3.2”.
- There’s nothing wrong with building around a power forward.
- Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade offers a purely hypothetical scenario in which the Mavs swap J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson (or really, DeShawn’s expiring contract) for Marcin Gortat. Dallas’ courtship of Gortat ended somewhat tragically, although if the Mavs end up with Brendan Haywood locked up long-term, was it really a net loss? Regardless, I don’t see that package as being attractive enough to entice Otis Smith; back-up point guard play hasn’t really been a concern this season for Orlando, and the sample size really wasn’t big enough for Brandon Bass this season to get an accurate take on his potential to play back-up center. I just don’t see it.
- A short interview with Rodrigue Beaubois from the PanCan/Dallas Mavs ping ponging pancreatic cancer benefit.
- A big, delayed welcome to the newest blog in the TrueHoop Network, A Wolf Among Wolves. I’m expecting great things from Myles and Ben, so hit them up via RSS, bookmarks, or whatever.
- Just a friendly reminder that even when the Mavs are eliminated from the playoffs, you can continue to read my work (and watch my videos) at Hardwood Paroxysm and ProBasketballTalk, and you can follow my assorted NBA (and non-NBA) ramblings on Twitter @robmahoney.
- The Spurs hope George Hill will be ready for the first round series vs. the Mavericks, and Jesse Blanchard of 48 Minutes of Hell breaks down why he’s the key to the series for the Spurs, and Gregg Popovich’s favorite player.
- While watching the game last night, I, like many of you, started wondering why Marion shoots so many floaters around the basket, even though it seems like he never makes them. I looked up his At-Rim FG% at HoopData, and surprisingly, he’s at 62%, 1% higher than the league average. I’m still of the opinion that he needs to lay off that floater.
- Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas writes about the respect the Mavs have for this Spurs team: “The Mavs simply have too much respect for Gregg Popovich’s team to get their britches in a bunch about Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili taking off Game 82. Plus, the Mavs are much more concerned about preparing for Game 1. “
- Angry Trey shared this video with us Mavs fans, from the 16th President of the United States
- And in case you were wondering, my first round predictions (in the West) are Lakers in 6, Jazz in 5, Suns in 6 and Mavs in 6…..which isn’t very brave of me at all.
Grapevine cont’d, by Mahoney:
- Rick Carlisle has been named the Western Conference Coach of the Month according to a release from the team. It’s the first time a Mavs coach has won the award since Avery Johnson nabbed it in February of 2007.
- From Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) on Twitter: “Ed Stefanski interviewed Dwane Casey twice last year and source close to Sixers GM says ‘He loved him.’ Philly may have to move fast should it want to hire Casey this time, because sources say he’s moved to top of Clippers search. OKC almost hired Casey over PJ Carlesimo.”
- Shawn Marion manages to crack out the “that’s what’s up” “it’s on” and “it is what it is” trinity. Not in one scrum, but one after another in a single sentence.
- Yahoo’s John Ludden has an excellent piece in Manu Ginobili: “Looking back, maybe it was foolish to question him. Through his eight years in San Antonio, Ginobili had lifted the Spurs through all those end-of-game, pressure-cooker moments. Resurrecting himself might have been his greatest comeback yet. It took five months, but he has again made believers of them all, and that explains more than anything why the Spurs decided to give him a contract extension that will pay nearly $40 million over the next three years. When Ginobili’s healthy, when he’s playing as he has over the past couple months, isn’t anything possible?”