“I have need of a new Herald…” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
Tonight, Darren Collison debuts as the Mavericks’ starting point guard. I wrote last week about the expectations that burden and bless O.J. Mayo, and in some regards, it’s amazing how similar the fates of Mayo and Collison are. Both had standout rookie years. Both had starting-caliber production, but were moved to bench. And both have been acquired by the Mavericks to “replace” popular guards, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. However, while Mayo will be scrutinized for his ability to reproduce Terry, most people are letting Collison off the hook. After all, we know he’s no Jason Kidd. Shrug your shoulders and move on, right? It’s as if Mavs fans collectively agreed there are only two kinds of point guards — good point guards who play like Jason Kidd and then everyone else.
Darren Collison is not Jason Kidd. Kidd has this ability to make the ball magically appear in the hands of whomever he wants. If Kidd wanted the child in section 111, row M, seat 3 to get the ball, then by god, that child would have the ball. Collison can’t do that. But what Collison offers is, in some ways, just as mythic and powerful: Speed. It’s Collison’s birthright, and crucial to every bit of his NBA success.
From the 2012-13 edition of Pro Basketball Prospectus:
“Collison’s best asset is no secret. The son of two sprinters—his mom was an Olympian in 1984, representing Guyana—Collison might be the league’s fastest player from end to end.”
He carries the ball like Mercury, like Hermes, like Iris. Like a messenger from the gods, Collison can move.
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Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart – Game Flow
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- This game went all the way to the competitive limit, but Dallas’ defense eventually collapsed because of its collapses by design. The Mavericks were content to swarm the Jazz bigs on their interior catches, and although that’s sound strategy considering the personnel and skill sets of both teams, Utah benefited from far too many wide open jumpers. A result this insanely intricate obviously wasn’t decided by those comfortable J’s alone, but if we’re looking for a consistent factor that carried more weight than, say, controversial calls or specific late-game sets, attentions should rightly turn to how so many Jazz shooters found unoccupied real estate. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Gordon Hayward don’t need offensive help, and yet because of the specific gaps in the Mavericks’ defensive matchups, there was little choice for Dallas but to offer systemic help. Look to Jefferson and Millsap’s tough late-game makes, an absent whistle, or Devin Harris’ baffling number of threes, but the Mavs seemed to really lose this game when their inability to create stable offense became juxtaposed with their defense conceding that very thing to the Jazz.
- If nothing else, this game taught us plenty about Rick Carlisle’s desperation for offense, and more specifically, his designs to improve the Mavs’ offensive potential with perimeter shooting. Dirk Nowitzki (40 points, 13-26 FG, nine rebounds, six assists) was predictably spectacular, but no Maverick seemed both interested and capable enough to assist him throughout the bulk of this game. Jason Terry (27 points, 11-25 FG, 4-9 3FG) was absolutely tremendous late and both Delonte West (16 points, 5-8 FG) and Vince Carter (18 points, 5-15 FG, 12 rebounds, four assists) did great work in spots, but had all of their efforts come earlier and more consistently, this game may have been decided in regulation. Dallas was wanting for scoring of any kind beyond Nowitzki, so much so that Carlisle kept Brendan Haywood on the bench for the game’s final 30 minutes in favor of the more offensively capable Ian Mahinmi, and parked Marion — who was unmistakably absent in his time on the floor — for the final 27 minutes in favor of either Carter or West. That’s a pretty lengthy substitution of defense for offense, particularly when Jefferson is so formidable down low and Gordon Hayward was blowing by Jason Kidd with regularity. Yet considering the downward slope Dallas’ defense has taken over the last 20 games or so, an offensive jump-start is an absolute necessity. This isn’t a one-time occurrence; this team’s scoring is in shambles, and the defense is no longer oppressive enough to pull out consistent wins. Substitution patterns this radical may have been too great a cost, but Carlisle’s concern for the offense within the context of this game and the playoffs is rather clear.
Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — Game Flow
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- Rodrigue Beaubois (22 points, 9-15 FG, 3-5 3FG, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks, two turnovers) is such a fascinating player to watch that Rick Carlisle, unprompted, crafted a persona for Beaubois as entertainer. Even with that in mind, this particular performance may be the promising guard’s finest work — as a competitor, as an entertainer, or in virtually any other role you would seek to assign him. It wasn’t Beaubois’ most prolific game nor his most significant, but never has Beaubois created such a profound impact without caveat. There are no “buts” or asterisks; Beaubois was tremendous, as he flashed every angle of his high-scoring potential with impressive drives, cuts, and jumpers. With so many elements of his game tuned to precision, Beaubois finally found his way. Mais il arriva que le petit prince, ayant longtemps marché à travers les sables, les rocs et les neiges, découvrit enfin une route. Et les routes vont toutes chez les hommes. “Bonjour, dit-il.” C’était un jardin fleuri de roses.
- If I may gush further: Beaubois’ full-speed reads on pick and rolls were a thing of absolute beauty. He previously would approach such sequences as strictly a two-man game, but with experience, Beaubois’ scope has widened. He sees the baseline cutter and the open spot-up shooter — the men that, in the flurry of addressing their compromise in coverage, the defense has forgotten. Beaubois may always be a scorer first and foremost, but this was a fantastic passing display on a night when it was sorely needed.
- This game completely exploded in the fourth quarter. Dallas had managed to protect a meager lead prior to the final frame, but Utah was still very much within range of a win due to their effectiveness on the interior. Then, the Mavs snatched the possibility of a Jazz win away without much notice or remorse, and what had once been a very reasonable affair grew into a walk-off victory for Dallas in a matter of minutes. It’s good to see the Mavs close out a game so dominantly, but it’s even better to see a previously struggling offense put together four consecutive quarters of 28 points or more.
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Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
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 memory of Devin Harris as a Dallas Maverick currently floats between two worlds. It’s not as vivid as a yesterday’s events; Harris’ Maverick tenure is lacking in that fresh, day-old texture. At the same time, his time as a Mav hasn’t been bathed in nostalgia’s glow. His seasons in Dallas were good days, but they weren’t the good ol’ days.
That — among other things — makes the prospect of a Harris return to Dallas a bit strange. Such an acquisition couldn’t rightfully be painted as the return of an old friend any more than it could be a celebration of his return from a business day trip. Harris has been gone long enough to remove him from Mavs fans’ immediate consciousness (the KIDD VS. HARRIS dynamic has completely evaporated), and yet time hasn’t been able to scrub clean their familiarity with his weaknesses as a player.
It’s probably a bit silly to talk about Harris possibly returning to Dallas at all. It’s a bit of a long-shot, to say the least, and can only occur if the following conditions are met:
If the Nuggets successfuly execute a Carmelo Anthony trade,
and if that trade also involves the Nets (most likely as a landing point for Anthony),
and if Devin Harris is part of the trade package (which he doesn’t have to be),
and if Harris is sent to Denver, or a similarly positioned team which has little use for him,
and if the Mavs decide they’re legitimately interested in Harris,
and if they can grab him for a reasonable cost,
then Harris may be a Maverick again.
Certainly improbable, but once those dominoes start falling, who knows where they’ll stop. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Mavs looked to Harris — rather than Stephen Jackson or even Andre Iguodala — as a possible wing scorer, and though the idea of playing Harris alongside another point guard seems odd, it could be crazy enough to work.
Of course, by “to work” I mean “to hedge the loss of Caron Butler’s supplementary scoring.” I’m not sure how much acquiring Harris would really boost Dallas’ stock (and of course, the impact of his possible acquisition would depend heavily on the cost), but he could score efficiently at the least (he’s still one of the better foul-drawing point guards in the league), and I’m convinced he could share the court with Jason Kidd in certain situations.
I’ll reserve a more detailed analysis for a later date in an alternate universe when, if, and only when/if the Mavs actually acquire Harris, but here’s my initial thinking on the subject of him meshing with Dallas’ current backcourt.
Harris has played alongside Jason Terry before, and the two proved to be an effective offensive and defensive duo. JET wasn’t exactly a plus defender in those days (not that he’s much more than passable now), but Harris’ solid on-ball defense against quicker perimeter threats allowed Terry to defend the lesser of an opponent’s evils.It worked, at least well enough to propel the Mavs to the Finals in 2006 and to the league’s best record in 2007.
Seeing how Harris might work with Kidd would be the more interesting facet of a potential integration process. Harris is accustomed to running an offense and needs the ball in his hands. He has a decent mid-range game, but he doesn’t work all that well to get open (or at least to get open and into scoring position) without the ball, and isn’t much of a catch-and-shoot player. For a minute, it seemed as though his three-point shooting might come around, but Harris has never been a legitimate threat from beyond the arc, and this season he’s shooting just 30.8% from distance. He’s no proxy for Terry or Rodrigue Beaubois, but he’s also not the passer that Kidd is. That makes Harris a poor fit for some fantasy Dallas starting lineup, as letting him run the offense would negate Kidd’s playmaking, but playing him off the ball would make him an inefficient jump-shooter.
There is another intriguing possibility, though: what if Harris’ use as “a wing scorer” put the ball in his hands during most of his time on the court, and enabled him to run the second unit in lieu of J.J. Barea? The Mavs have hopes that Beaubois will grow more comfortable as a point guard sooner rather than later, but Barea is the initiator off the bench until that responsibility is ripped from his hands. Harris is talented and productive enough to do so instantly should he actually become a Mav. Dallas has struggled to score without Dirk Nowitzki on the floor, and the moments when Terry or Caron Butler acted as only productive on-court scorer acted as a breeding ground for opponents’ momentum. The Mavs may be a deep team, but only in the sense that they have many players which can achieve similar ends. Anchoring an offense is not one of those ends. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, and the Spurs have the Manu Ginobili-Tony Parker-Tim Duncan triumvirate. Dallas doesn’t have a scorer that can run the show when Nowitzki is out of the game, but Harris could potentially take on that responsibility. He’s not an all-world scorer, but Harris’ stop-and-go drives provide him with a consistent avenue for efficient scoring.
I don’t think Harris would be crazy about coming off the bench, but a role behind Ki — I’m going to pause for a minute. It’s amazing just how much ado can come from nothing. Devin Harris isn’t a Maverick, and odds are that he’ll never be one again.
If there’s a point to any of this aside from indulging whimsy, it’s to open up your mind. Harris is a point guard. Kidd is a point guard. Yet they’re still very different players who could succeed in very different situations. The Mavs lost Caron Butler, but their means for improving shouldn’t be limited to those of similar body types to Caron or even similar skill sets. If Donnie Nelson, Rick Carlisle, and Mark Cuban deem Iguodala or Jackson the most suitable replacement available, then power to them. But it would be foolish to disregard Harris on the grounds of position or stature alone, and if trading for him provides the best path toward improvement, the Mavs would be wise to at least trot down it to take a peak around the bend.
Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
You know the drill. The Difference is a quick-hitting (or in this case, day after) reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- The lead rose and fell, but this one went pretty much according to script; there was a bit of a hiccup in the second act, but that’s just the way these things go. Every team makes a run, and the Nets made theirs, trimming what was once a 21-point lead for the Mavs into a measly five-point difference. That much is expected, but the fourth quarter response is where the Mavs put their signature on this thing. Dallas’ late-game performance may not seem all that special after 11 straight wins cooked up with the same recipe, but the Mavs are managing to win games convincingly even if they don’t put them away all that early.
- Want more proof that all went according to plan? Dallas shot well from the field, kept their opponent’s eFG% down, kept their turnovers to a reasonable level, but took a hit on the offensive glass. Sound familiar?
- Dallas’ 31 assists was a season high, and the ball movement was as good as the box score makes it look. J.J. Barea (six points, 13 assists) was fantastic in finding his teammates for open buckets all over the court, and he was aided by a lax New Jersey defense and some proficient shot-making. Jason Kidd added eight assists of his own, and together, Barea and Kidd successfully out-assisted the entire Nets’ squad. It’s also worth noting that I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Mavs find so many open men directly under the basket for uncontested dunks. Smart cutting, sure, but all high fives and subsequent pats on the back should be forwarded to the New Jersey Nets’ locker room.
- Shawn Marion (18 points, 8-10 FG, six rebounds, four steals, three turnovers) played some tremendous ball. He was cutting hard to the rim on offense, making quick moves off the dribble, and running the break intuitively. There are nights when it all looks so easy for Marion, and this one certainly qualifies. That’s part of the danger in undervaluing Marion; his style makes some pretty difficult plays look far simpler than they are, and yet here he is, as one of the Mavs’ top contributors. Dallas didn’t have to lean on Dirk Nowitzki much at all, and Marion was a big reason for that.
- Not that Dirk (21 points, 8-10 FG, 10 rebounds, two turnovers) didn’t do his part. Nowitzki just hung around and drew some defensive attention. Then, every once in awhile, he’d drop a jumper here, a jumper there. Eighty-percent shooting. No big deal.
- Dallas did a much better job of looking for Brendan Haywood (nine points, eight rebounds, one block) around the basket than they do on a typical night. Haywood played well. It’s hard to dissect the causality there, but we know that the Mavs’ big man had more touches and was more active on both ends, a welcome surprise given his play against Golden State on Tuesday.
- Devin Harris injured his left shoulder on an impressive defensive sequence in the first quarter, and sat most of the game with what was diagnosed as a left shoulder sprain. Don’t think for a second that this win would have been quite as straightforward had Harris been present.
- Caron Butler (15 points, 7-11 FG, four rebounds, four assists, three turnovers) is routinely grilled (in this space, among others) for each of his inefficient outings, and it’s with that spirit in mind that I offer him some due praise. The Mavs’ offense was largely propelled by their small forwards throughout most of the game, and while neither Marion nor Butler were creating in isolation per se, it was their movement in the half-court offense and lane-running on the break that put them in position to succeed. A lot of credit still goes to Barea and Kidd for finding their teammates, but every assist needs a finish, and Butler was more than happy to provide a few. He’s not efficient every night, but Butler seems to be settling in. In the last seven games, Butler has made 46 of his 88 field goal attempts (52.3% FG). Think that might at least warrant a golf clap?
- Fouling is still Tyson Chandler’s religion.
- Speaking of, here’s something I never would have predicted for Chandler, given his status as team savior: Rick Carlisle actually sat TC as much as possible late in the game, instead using Ian Mahinmi for nine minutes. Mahinmi could have played more, too, if not for a few bad fouls, though overall his minutes on the floor were very productive. I’m not sure there’s much playing time to be had on a nightly basis behind Chandler and Haywood, but Mahinmi deserves playing time somewhere.
- I’m very impressed with Jason Terry’s (15 points, 7-16 FG, two assists, two steals) driving this season. JET doesn’t attack the basket as much as some of the league’s more dynamic guards, but he does have a nice floater and can draw contact well. All of that disappeared when Terry was made a non-factor in last year’s playoffs, and here’s to hoping that his driving instincts don’t again disappear when faced with staunch defense.
- On a similarly pro-JET note: Rick Carlisle is absolutely right in his assessment of Terry’s improved defense. JET still has his defensive weaknesses, but his effort is unquestionable. You could make a highlight reel of him closing out on the perimeter, and in this game in particular, Terry chased Anthony Morrow — one of the deadliest shooters in the league — off of the three-point line, which forced Morrow into a long two-pointer. The three is one of basketball’s most efficient shots, and the long two it’s least efficient. You do the math.
- Kris Humphries’ revenge: 16 points, 13 rebounds. Wouldn’t mind having Hump around, but Dallas still wouldn’t be able to give him the minutes he deserves. Also, consider this: Humphries was moved for Eduard Najera, who became part of the trade package that eventually snagged Tyson Chandler. Thanks for that, Hump. The ladies of D/FW still miss you.
Basketball is an industry. Goods are bought and sold, players are reduced to commodities, and there is money to be made on every conceivable level of the operation. Some of those (professional athletes hiring agents) are more palatable than others (college athletes receiving an envelope under the table), but regardless of varying perceptions of the ‘student athlete,’ there seems to be a general distaste for the exploitation of minors.
That’s pretty much the modus operandi of the old world AAU, the world guys like our own Jason Terry are trying to eradicate. JET, among a number of other players including Jason Kidd and ex-Mavs Devin Harris and Brandon Bass, have begun to repave the roads that have become so treacherous since their basketball upbringing. Controlling the perils of the AAU system is a great way to start cleaning out the muck resting in the game’s lining, the shadows behind the game that allow for all sorts of unseemly profiteering.
There will always be a never-ending stream of “professionals” waiting to siphon money whenever and wherever they can, but limiting their access points to athletes (especially at a young age) is important, and not just to JET. As long as we can appreciate these efforts for their intent, commitment to change, and progress (even if it is minor) toward a cleaner basketball system, their value is not lost on us. Obviously there are no absolutes here; some players could just as well use the AAU system for their own personal gains, be they monetary or otherwise. Still, guys like JET ooze a genuine enthusiasm for the nobler aspects of running a program, and that should be celebrated.
From the Associated Press:
Jason Terry has all sorts of fond memories from his AAU basketball days, like finishing fourth in the national tournament as an eighth grader and taking his first plane ride to get to other games. So when his oldest daughter was ready to play organized basketball, he wanted her to have a great experience, too. He just wasn’t sure AAU could provide it.
…Its most high-profile efforts are in boys’ basketball, sanctioning teams, tournaments and camps that give top players a chance to show off their skills outside of their school programs — and, according to critics, also provide a fertile feeding ground for shadowy middle men to steer top young players to a particular agent, college program or athletic equipment company. AAU basketball has changed since Terry’s days in the early 1990s. With NBA salaries skyrocketing from around $1 million then to more than $5 million, the organization is much more of a juicy target for people who want to latch onto kids in hopes of getting a piece of the action.
Terry knew about those problems and more — players jumping squads during a tournament, kids lying about their age, parents who encourage such things — because besides playing for the Dallas Mavericks, he helped train four players who recently came through the AAU system. So of course he was leery about signing up his daughter. Then he had another idea. Why not start his own AAU program? Terry is now among dozens, perhaps hundreds, of current and former NBA players with their own clubs, guys like LeBron James, Lamar Odom, Devin Harris and Mike Bibby.
Their motivation is simple: Giving back to the program that helped turn them into multimillionaires, while trying to improve things for the next generation — which, for guys like Terry and Bibby, includes their own children…”Once it gets to high school, it starts to get tainted — kids are trying to get scholarships and you’ve got agents and stuff involved,” Terry said. “By the time they get to ninth grade, we’ve already alerted them of what to expect.”
…Kidd became hooked by talking to Terry and Robert Hackett, the Mavericks’ strength and conditioning coach and a dad-coach in Terry’s program. Instead of starting a program, Kidd came up with a concept: Gathering every eighth-grade-and-under AAU team run by current and former NBA players for a weekend packed with tournaments for kids, seminars for parents and brainstorming sessions for the NBA guys. With Hackett’s help, Kidd secured a Dallas-area facility in July, a few weeks after the national AAU tournament. During pregame warmups, Kidd, Terry and Hackett sidled up to friends on opposing teams and asked if they had an AAU team or knew who did.
Bibby, Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin and Brandon Bass were among the verbal commitments. Even if only a handful of local teams show up, it’s a start. “As the years go on,” Kidd said, “we’ll get it bigger and bigger.”
…The fifth-graders became the first tournament winners. Although Terry missed it, a picture of the kids and their trophy hangs in his Mavs locker. He was there a few weeks later when the sixth-graders won their first title, rallying from 18 points down against a team they’d lost to by 40. “Jason sprinted around the court like he’d just won an NBA championship, he was just so proud of the girls,” said Christie Foy, whose oldest daughter has been involved from the start. “I get goose bumps thinking about it. To have a coach — whether he’s an NBA player or not — have that much faith in you and support for you and enthusiasm in what you’re doing, it’s gone a long way with them.”