I was honored to join Rahat Huq (of Red 94) and Tim Varner (of 48 Minutes of Hell) for what we’re hoping will be a bit of a recurring feature: a three-man panel dealing with pertinent, Texas-centric NBA questions. Like it or not, the competitive dynamic between fans of the three Texas teams is very real. The rivalry between the Mavs and Spurs is undeniable, and though the Rockets haven’t butted heads with the Mavs in any kind of formal fashion since 2005, geography alone makes competitive run-ins — among fans and among the two teams — a frequent occurrence.
To have a little fun on that theme, Huq, Varner and myself voiced our picks for the best Texas ballplayer of the last 20 years, the most significant event in Texas basketball over that same timeframe, and the Texas team with the brightest future. Even with the Mavs’ core seemingly on their last legs, the answers to that final question may surprise you:
1. Tim Varner: Dallas. Mark Cuban has the means and the vision to field a competitive team on an annual basis. Cuban is an innovator whose dedication to winning finally brought home a trophy last season. I see that continuing, even after Dirk Nowitzki retires.
2. Rob Mahoney: None of the Texas teams are particularly primed for the long haul, but I’ll go with Dallas. Dirk Nowitzki could contribute in the NBA until he’s 50 if that’s his aim, and the Mavericks have the infrastructure to reboot with relative ease. Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, and Rick Carlisle give Dallas the means and savvy to transition quickly, and it doesn’t hurt that the Mavs also have a few young pieces (Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Corey Brewer) to fiddle around with.
3. Rahat Huq: I’ll say Dallas. You have to get really bad to get good as titles are won through the draft. Mark Cuban is the only boss from any of these teams to have made public acknowledgment on this point (stated last year at the Sloan Analytics Conference) so I trust he’ll tank when it’s time. Meanwhile, the Rockets are on a track to pick 14th every year and we’re not sure what the Spurs are planning.
Follow along to Red 94 for the full post.
Good intentions between player and team are wonderful and all, but J.J. Barea’s NBA future is entirely fluid. His ability to stilt opposing defenses with his dribble penetration gave Dallas’ playoff offense a valuable dimension; his stock skyrocketed with each high pick-and-roll and every improbable layup. Never has the basketball world thought more of this particular undersized scoring point guard than in the months fresh off of his team’s triumph, and though Barea Fever has dimmed slightly since he sliced through the Lakers’ defense in May, he’s still a valued commodity.
Barea is not just a quaint little player. He’s an NBA champion, and on some unknown timeline, an NBA free agent. He’s available for any team that’s interested, so long as they can convince him that he can find the same success with their club as he did in Dallas. The Mavericks are the handicapped favorites to retain J.J.’s services, but Barea is free to explore his options, and ultimately, to leave the Mavericks without any semblance of creation off the dribble in their regular rotation. Neither Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, nor any of the Mavs’ spot-up shooters did much to overtly attack the defense from the perimeter last season by way of their own creation. Terry and Kidd can run basic two-man action with Dirk Nowitzki or another Maverick big, but neither is a consistent threat to get into the lane and score.
Should Barea go, the Mavs would be at a bit of a loss in terms of replacing his contributions with the players in last season’s rotation. Which isn’t, however, to say that they would be completely without the means to replace such skills and production internally. What Barea offers the Mavs is not terribly unique, even if it may seem so in the context of the Mavericks’ regular 2010-2011 backcourt. Other players are theoretically capable of replacing him, and one such player happens to already be in a Maverick uniform, even if he rarely saw the court during Dallas’ title season.
Before we continue, let’s dispel one notion immediately: Rodrigue Beaubois, in the varied forms we’ve seen thus far, is not such a player. Beaubois may be the Maverick most likely to remind of Barea’s footspeed, but he lacks the basic drive-and-kick sensibilities that would make him immediately suited for such a role. Barea is a scorer first and passer second, but he still has a sense of how to use his own drives to set up his teammates. His vision isn’t remarkable, but Barea’s able to execute the kind of basic offense necessary to overcome his other limitations. The lanes and shots won’t always be there for Barea, but he generally — and there are certainly exceptions — has the good judgment to dig himself out of trouble with a kick to the corner.
Discretion isn’t exactly the backbone of Barea’s game, but he does have enough of it to thrive in his role for the Mavericks. If Beaubois were asked to fulfill a similar one, I worry about his ability to create for others. We know that a healthy Beaubois can hit from outside and drive to the rim. What we haven’t seen from him is a successful evolution of his passing game — even to Barea’s level. Beaubois’ basketball instincts guide the ball through the net, but only with his fingertips acting as the direct vehicle; his playmaking demonstrations have been rough up to this point, and unless he’s spending the off-season by drastically improving his passing and re-crafting his playing sensibilities, Beaubois would remain ill-suited to act as a Barea replacement for the immediate future.
Dominique Jones, on the other hand, could be up for the task. Jones’ cameo last season wasn’t exactly a resounding success, but his college career and NBA trial give plenty of reason to have more faith in his ability to create than Beaubois’. Jones would struggle in the NBA as a primary playmaker, but he’s more than capable of executing the same basic reads that made Barea a dual scoring/passing threat. The contrast would come in style more than substance; rather than darting around or between defenders, Jones combines bursts of speed with a solid frame and great positional strength. Not only can he finish after contact (or, could he finish after contact — the NBA learning curve made completing his drives a bit more difficult than it should have been last season, a flaw I anticipate will be corrected), but also effectively bull through defenders and draw in the entire defense’s attention. Jones would definitely bring a different approach to the same role, and unlike Beaubois, currently has all of the tools to pull it off.
This isn’t to say that Jones’ integration would be easy; retaining Barea provides the simplest way to preserve this type of overt offensive weapon, and throwing a second-year player into the fire so soon — particularly after playing so little during his rookie season — always comes with implicit risk. But should Barea leave, Jones would be the most natural internal replacement, and possibly even the most sensible one when cast alongside potentially pricey free agent alternatives.
The Dallas Mavericks have an odd history with the draft, largely due to their needs as a team failing to coincide with their position in the first round. That’s the price paid for being a perennial playoff team always on the brink of contention; Dallas has been very competitive over the last decade or so, but in exchange for that success, they’ve only selected a player earlier than the 21st pick (or acquired a player selected on draft night with a pick higher than No. 21) one time since 2000. It’s tough to find immediate help late in the first round, and though it can certainly be done (Josh Howard and Rodrigue Beaubois are two convenient in-house examples), those success stories will always be the exceptions to the norm.
Beyond the inherent difficulties in finding contributors late in the draft, Dallas has also long been a team without easily rectifiable weaknesses. The Mavericks have never been perfect, but their problems were more complex than mere positional defect; picks in the 20s (or even the late lottery) weren’t likely to produce players better than Devin Harris, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Erick Dampier, or DeSagana Diop with the immediacy needed. The lineup was set, it just hadn’t been quite good enough.
That much has changed with the whole winning the championship thing, but the Mavs, as is the case with any defending champion, still need to find ways to improve. This particular draft is not a sufficient means to achieve that improvement. There are some serviceable players in the bunch (along with a pinch of debatable star power up top), but the 26th pick won’t give Dallas a piece that will amount to anything within the context of their current rotation. So long as free agency isn’t an abject disaster, this 26th pick will be temporarily irrelevant; the Mavs have a chance to draft a player to stash away overseas or to bring along slowly, but the potential for an immediately capable contributor so late in this draft is virtually nonexistent.
Yet Dallas, possibly more than any other champion in NBA history, is ready to improve regardless of any additions to the team. Caron Butler’s return to the court — provided that he re-signs to the Mavs as is expected — is a big reason why; Dallas won the title without their second best scorer and one of their top perimeter defenders playing a single playoff minute, and plugging in his production in place of that of DeShawn Stevenson/Peja Stojakovic should result in a rather significant gain. Beyond Butler, though, Dallas has three capable young players who watched the Mavs’ unbelievable playoff run unfold from their courtside seats. Rodrigue Beaubois remains a prominent piece in the franchise’s future, even if he never could quite find the right gear during his sophomore campaign. Dominique Jones is an effective slasher, a capable ball-handler, and a physical on-ball defender. Corey Brewer is a bundle of energy that simply cannot be contained, and his defensive effort has a funny way of making good things happen for his team, even if his jumper is still a work in progress.
It certainly wouldn’t hurt if Dallas were picking earlier in the draft, but Brewer and Beaubois are studs compared to the talent in this year’s class, while Jones would likely figure in as a late lottery pick. That’s an astounding amount of talent waiting at the kids table, and more versatile as a group than any one particular prospect from this year’s lottery would be.
There’s a lot to celebrate in the wake of winning the NBA title, but Mavs fans have the luxury of not only living in the moment. Sip on that champagne. Rewatch Game 6. Scoop up all of the commemorative memorabilia that your arms can carry. But know that even without the draft, these Dallas Mavericks are in a position to be even better than the team that won the title in 2011.
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.
- Nothing like playing against the Cavaliers’ defense to get the offense going sans Nowitzki, Butler, and Beaubois. Dallas did their part to execute, but there’s no question that playing against a defense without shot-blockers or capable defensive bigs did wonders for the Mavs’ inside game. Lots of productive cutting, driving, and ball movement, which generated good looks both inside and out. The offense was simple, but that’s fine against the Cavs, especially without Anderson Varejao in the lineup. It wasn’t a dominant offensive performance — and those expecting anything of the sort in the Mavs’ current circumstances best be scanned for brain damage — but Dallas held modest advantages in each of the four factors.
- The defense was another story. A win is a win is a win is a win, but the back line of the zone was sloppy, and the pick-and-roll coverage was generally a mess. Defensive breakdowns are inevitable, but the frequency of open Cleveland dunks and layups in their half-court offense was pretty depressing. Definitely not one of the Mavs’ finer defensive performances, and I’m not sure injuries provide a valid excuse.
- A possible caveat, though: because of Nowitzki and Butler’s injuries, plenty of Mavs are playing out of position in the zone. Those that had been manning the top of the zone are now on the wing in some cases, and while the principles are the same, the execution is different. Even those changes shouldn’t have resulted in so many open looks at the rim, but it’s something to consider.
- Butler’s absence ushered Jason Terry (18 points, 8-14 FG, four assists) back into the starting lineup, where Shawn Marion (22 points, 11-16 FG, five rebounds) also stood in for Nowitzki. Kidd-Terry-Stevenson-Marion-Chandler is a very weird offensive lineup, but JET found his jumper at the bottom of his travel bag, DeShawn Stevenson (21 points, 6-13 FG, 5-12 3FG, four assists, three rebounds) was absolutely tremendous from deep but was far more than a spot-up shooter, and Marion moved well in the Mavs’ half-court offense and on the initial and secondary break. Toss in double-digit scoring efforts from Jason Kidd (10 points, 3-13 FG, eight assists, four rebounds, four turnovers) and Tyson Chandler (14 points, 6-6 FG, 14 rebounds, three turnovers), and you have a one-game, completely unsustainable blueprint for makeshift success.
- Mavs fans should already be quite aware of Antawn Jamison’s (35 points, 14-22 FG, 3-6 3FG, 10 reobunds) scoring savvy, but games like this one bring Jamison’s creativity around the basket to the forefront, if only for a moment. Jamison has been pegged as a “stretch 4,” but I’m not quite sure why; he’s an interior player with range, not a Rashard Lewis or Troy Murphy-like talent that works from the outside in. Reducing Jamison to a perimeter threat erases the dimensions of the game in which he’s been the most successful, and as he showed against the Mavs, Jamison is still plenty capable of piling up points with an array of flips, hooks, counters, and tips.
- Dominique Jones (nine points, 2-10 FG, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks) was recalled from the Legends after Butler’s injury status became grave, and played 21 minutes as a creator/scorer. Rick Carlisle actually ran a decent amount of the offense through Jones, who proved himself a capable drive-and-kick player if nothing else. His vision isn’t transcendent, but Jones is unselfish and capable of making all kinds of passes. Jones still struggles to finish after getting to the rim — odd considering how strong of a finisher he was in college and at Summer League — but that limitation seems nothing more than a temporary hurdle. Jones will be a quality driver/slasher in time, and for now, he’s showing the quickness to get around his man, the vision and willingness to make smart plays, and a veteran knack for drawing contact.
- Marion scored 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting in 15 second-half minutes. Those buckets weren’t exactly tide-altering (though the final margin was less than impressive, the Mavs’ offense kept them in control throughout), but valuable nonetheless, particularly with such talented scorers riding the inactive list.
- None of us should expect Rick Carlisle’s rotation to be constant given his current personnel, so take the significance of Brendan Haywood’s return to semi-prominence with a grain of salt. Haywood could end up glued to the bench again by midweek, but for now, he’s playing right behind Tyson Chandler once more.
- Sneakily absurd performance of the night: Ramon Sessions finished with 19 points (9-13 FG), 12 assists, and seven rebounds. Sessions benefited from the confused Dallas defense on more than a few occasions, and got up for a couple of dunks. Still, the full volume of Sessions’ production escaped me, and the fact that he nearly registered a pretty impressive triple double seems crazy, even if it shouldn’t.
- Mark Cuban’s sage concern, expressed prior to the Mavs’ loss last night (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “Some parts of what we do have gotten better (during the streak). I think we’ve let up a couple times instead of really focusing on what it takes to be a championship team. We try to say this is what it takes to win this game. That’s my biggest concern with this team. We try to win games instead of focusing on executing for 48 minutes so that we’re championship caliber. That’s just my concern.”
- Sebastian Pruiti broke down the Mavs’ final play from last night’s game over at NBA Playbook. It would have been tough to overcome a four-point deficit with less than 11 seconds remaining regardless, but Dallas didn’t do themselves any favors by botching the play. The primary culprit looks to be Jason Terry, though it can be tough to tell without the clipboard in hand.
- Rick Carlisle’s evaluation of last night’s game (via Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas): “They kicked our ass. I don’t know any simpler way to say it.”
- Jeremy Schmidt of Bucksketball: “When things looked their bleakest during the game, it was usually because Dirk Nowitzki was doing something awesome. Dirk scored 30 points on 12 of 24 shooting (3-6 3FG 3-3 FT) and it looked for a second like he was about to take the Bucks back in a time machine. His impossible looking fadeaway jumper beat the Bucks in overtime last season and he had an even better look to tie the game with :11 to go in regulation this season, but failed to convert on the 8-footer. The defense was there, but Dirk was shooting over and around every Buck all night. This time though, all he had left was a blank. For once.”
- Frank Madden of BrewHoop gave praise to Keyon Dooling, the sadly forgotten man from my recap. Damn the limits of my own self-imposed bullet format. “We easily could have gone with the more efficient CD-R here, but I’ll give the nod to Dooling, whose 16 points (4/10 fg, 3/4 threes, 4/4 ft), four assists, and no turnovers included a number of big plays that helped the Bucks stick around and eventually put the game away. His three with less than two seconds remaining in the first half kept the Bucks within nine at the break, and he followed it up by drawing a transition foul on Dirk near the third quarter horn to boot. When Nowitzki got a tech for bickering he turned it into a three point play that gave the Bucks the lead, and he later sealed it with two free throws that provided the final margin.
- Statistically speaking, the Mavs had only a 0.3% chance of successfully executing their late 12-game winning streak. Never tell them the odds.
- Apparently, the Mavs are set to win the title. Good to know.
- Andrew Unterberger is on a quest to visit every NBA arena in 60 days, and has been keeping record of his journey at The Basketball Jones. He caught the fantastic Mavs-Jazz game in Dallas this past weekend, and this bit might resonate with those who have been lucky enough to catch Mavs games at the AAC this season: “‘Do they talk up defense as much at other stadiums?’ Mat asked me at some point during the third quarter. No, not really — the AAC called out its fans to get the ‘DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!’ chant going just about every time the Mavs trotted back on their heels downcourt, even though no one but a group of young girls in attendance seemed to pay it any mind until the fourth quarter. You gotta use that sh*t in moderation, Mavs PA guy.”
- Here’s how the $100,000 Mark Cuban gave to the city of Dallas is being used.
- Dominique Jones is a little dinged up.
- Is the intentional fouling of Brendan Haywood (a.k.a. Hack-a-Haywood) a legitimate concern? I see it as probably being a situational problem, but find it hard to believe that this is a strategy we see all too often. The combination of coaching strategy and opportunity make this a situational tactic at best, and while it may be unfortunate every now and again, it’s no epidemic.
- Zach Lowe names his award candidates with a quarter of the season in the books over at SI’s The Point Forward, and the Mavericks are well-represented.
- Tyson Chandler on Jason Kidd (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): ““J-Kidd, he surprises me all the time. He keeps digging into that tank and pulling out tricks. One night he’s making every single pass. (In Utah), he’s making every single three. (Against Sacramento), he’s making every single defensive play. The guy’s amazing.”
- Dirk casts his vote for the Mavs’ MVP.
- Sam Amick profiled Tyson Chandler for NBA FanHouse, and hit on some of the familiar themes of Chandler’s season: his tremendous defensive impact, his recovery from injury, his time with Team USA, and his leadership.
- Speaking of Chandler, he may end up missing tonight’s game with a stomach bug.
- Anthony Tolliver, currently of the Minnesota Timberwolves and formerly a D-League staple, threw some praise and took a bit of a shot at current Texas Legend Rashad McCants (via Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune): “I knew he could score, but…He’s amazing, really, really good. It kind of lets you know if you’re super talented and don’t do the right things, you still won’t be in this league. You have to be a professional.”
- An idea, courtesy of Noam Schiller of Both Teams Played Hard: Should Tyson Chandler be considered for the league’s Most Improved Player award? That likely depends on your interpretation of the meaning of the award, but if we’re going strictly by a difference in production between this year and last year, Chandler has to be up there. Then again, by that same logic, so does Blake Griffin.
- John Schuhmann of NBA.com used a simple — very simple — measure to look at the Most Improved Player race, and Chandler’s name also came up. Also, among the “Most Regressed” players? Brendan Haywood. Burn.
- Hey, remember that Jeremy Lin guy?
- Fantastic diagrams illustrating the diversity of the league’s top assist men, including the Mavs’ own Jason Kidd.
- tcat75 of Mavs Moneyball went back through the Mavs’ win over the Utah Jazz and classified every defensive possession by the top of D (man or zone) that Dallas played for comparative purposes. The final verdict: Dallas forced a ton of turnovers in a relatively small number of possessions while in the zone, but completely suffocated the Jazz while playing man-to-man.
- See how the Dallas bench measures up in terms of cost, minutes used, and production.
- It looks like Dominique Jones will continue to play for the Legends, and this is a great, great thing. This is a crucial part of the system, and exactly the kind of thing Dallas needs to use their affiliate for.
- Shawne Williams has made 10 of his first 12 three-pointers as a member of the Knicks. What?
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
You know the drill. The Difference is a quick-hitting reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Rick Carlisle announced after last night’s game that Dominique Jones would enjoy a luxurious stay with the Texas Legends, but held one minor detail close to the vest.
Rodrigue Beaubois will be joining him. Kind of.
The Mavericks announced today that both Jones and Beaubois have been officially assigned to the Legends, though Mark Cuban clarified that Beaubois’ involvement with the Mavs’ D-League affiliate is for marketing purposes only. It’s an interesting way to put people in seats for the Legends’ game against the Austin Toros, but I’d be curious to know if having make a public appearance to support the Legends really necessitates including him on the actual roster. Couldn’t he just show up for an advertised appearance at the games? Sign autographs, shake hands, pose for photos holding a peace sign?
I guess we’ll have to wait and see exactly what it is Beaubois does with the Legends, but I’m a tad disappointed the Mavs aren’t utilizing the D-League as the next step in Beaubois’ recovery, and a bit perplexed as to why this endeavor is worthwhile in the first place.
Jones’ assignment is a bit more straight-forward; he’ll stay in the D for a spell (Carlisle mentioned three games as a possible duration), primarily to continue to work on his game and see the court for some extended minutes. The only thing we can definitively say about Jones’ game is that he’s struggled as a scorer. His most NBA-ready skill may not be quite so NBA ready after all, as he’s been able to get to the rim but has had trouble finishing for the Mavs. His journeys into the paint have no scoring destination, and while that’s given Jones an opportunity to show off his playmaking abilities, rookies who miss layups don’t tend to stick in Rick Carlisle’s rotation.
There’s nothing really wrong with Jones’ ability to complete layups and dunks in traffic or with contact, he just has to get his bearings as a pro player. The D-League affords him an opportunity to do just that, while also working on ways to improve his physical individual defense into a more versatile defensive arsenal. Once Jones tightens up his drives and learns to become a better team defender, he’s a lock for regular playing time in the NBA.
So one more serious addition, and one superficial one for the Legends, who can now boast that they have “seven first-round picks” on their roster.
Now that the Mavs’ defense has begun to regress to the expected mean (though the case is hardly closed; Dallas is still a top-five defensive outfit, and that ranking will either be affirmed or negated in the coming weeks), we turn our attention to something even more distressing: turnover rate. Dallas has long been among the best teams in the league in protecting the ball, but a single off-season has dismissed their discretion. A team that once passed and drove carefully is now playing a bit too loose, and while the Mavs have been getting better looks on offense as a result, the Mavs’ O isn’t prolific enough to overcome such a substantial setback in the turnover column.
This is where the Mavs’ defense becomes more relevant than ever. Even when we try to look though to Dallas’ other weaknesses, the defense inevitably rears its moderately-and-hopefully-not-deceptively-attractive head. The D influences everything, and in this case, the Mavs’ possible saving grace — their ability to force turnovers to balance their own — turned out to be a dud. Overall, the Mavs have gone from fifth in the league in turnover rate differential last season to having the fourth worst differential this season. The Mavs have, for the most part, been forcing their opponents into tough looks, but the lack of an aggressive defense has made the turnover battle a futile affair.
With no defense to hedge the Mavs’ sudden turnover woes, the increases in turnover rate up and down the roster have been rather damning. Last season, Erick Dampier was the only Maverick with a turnover rate higher than 14.0. This season, there are four Mavs who exceed that mark: Tyson Chandler (26.44), Brendan Haywood (26.65), Dominique Jones (19.04), and the most troublesome, J.J. Barea (19.75). The impact of Chandler, Haywood, and Jones’ turnover rates are limited by low usage rates and/or minutes played, but Barea is playing almost 18 minutes a night and using 22.32% of Dallas’ possessions when on the court. Both Barea’s usage and turnover rates are substantially higher than last season, and the result has been a dreadfully inefficient second-team offense. Jason Kidd has been excellent this year, but his value to the Mavs peaks when Barea is turning the ball over so frequently.
The Mavs’ turnover problems don’t all rest with J.J., though. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Caron Butler are all turning the ball over at a notably higher rate this season. Brendan Haywood is committing turnovers more than twice as often as he did last year. Tyson Chandler is (and has always been) far less careful with the ball than Erick Dampier was. Shawn Marion is the lone Maverick contributor that isn’t turning the ball over more often, which suggests something that can’t all be lumped in Barea’s lap.
There could be something systemic to blame for all of this, to which I have a simple and direct response: be patient.
Dallas obviously has added some new elements to their offense, and I’m sure they are partially to blame. The Mavs are also a tad rusty, and while that hasn’t made a huge impact on their shooting numbers, it’s bound to show in other areas. The season is young and the numbers available are current trends rather than predictive tools. Dallas has turned the ball over plenty in the past two weeks. It’s lost them some games and only hindered their winning efforts in others. But without strong anecdotal evidence — and as far as I’m concerned, all we’ve seen is a team struggling with fixable errors, and ones they’ve proven able to fix in the past, at that — the numbers aren’t indicative of something we should worry about; they simply point us in the direction of a potential area of concern. If Dallas is this turnover-prone throughout the season, that struggle is worthy of a more detailed causal analysis. For now, it just is.
This year’s Mavericks are turning the ball over at an inexplicably high rate. Here’s to hoping that problem solves itself, if not for the team’s sake, then only to ease the burden on our neurotic, overly analytical minds.