If last season’s Mavs had one defining flaw, it would be their lack of a team identity. They struggled all season long to define who they were as a team, and with no team-wide, implicit understanding of their collective on-court personality, the 2008-’09 Mavs faltered when faced with a legitimate challenge.
The 2009-’10 season to date has played out a bit differently. One might claim that the Mavs have developed a strong defensive identity, and though you probably wouldn’t know it from watching the second half of last night’s game, they wouldn’t be wrong. One might claim that the Mavs have developed a resilient identity, working tirelessly toward wins despite their shortcomings. But I see something different. Through eleven games, the Mavs have forged a completely new identity from the regular season fires. Your Dallas Mavericks, ladies and gentlemen, are heartbreakers.
Just ask the Milwaukee Bucks, who fought and fought and probably deserved to win. Or ask the Houston Rockets, who ran out to a big lead against a more talented Mavs team. Or ask the Utah Jazz, who…well, you know. These aren’t just big wins or comeback wins. The Mavs are trivializing the spirit of their opponents’ hard work and execution by showing that this team will always be there, ready to break some hearts and play the villain. These Mavs may not have many characteristics that make them inherently hate-able, but if you win enough games that have gone to the wire, opposing teams (and their fans) will not only feel deflated, but resentful.
The Mavs’ long lost offense turned out to be the mechanism that silenced the Milwaukee crowd. Though the Mavs’ O stalled significantly in the second half (37 second half points vs. 66 first half points), it was more of a return to earth than a genuine struggle. The hot shooting in the first half had to stop at some point, and Brandon Jennings, Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Ridnour, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute took full advantage of the sudden cold streak. An 18-point Maverick lead was wiped out completely, and a team whose defense had struggled all game long was now left with cold shooters to contest the oozing confidence of Brandon Jennings.
Let’s take a minute to properly appreciate what Jennings did. He exploded for 13 points in the fourth quarter, and they could not have been bigger in terms of magnitude. These were game-tying buckets, go-ahead buckets, and momentum-shifting buckets, many of which could have gone down as the final scene if not for some Maverick heroics. Jennings simply ran around or shot over every Maverick not named Rodrigue Beaubois, and Carlisle’s shift to a zone in the fourth quarter seemed to be an admission of that. It didn’t help much at all, as Jennings (25 points on 8-22 FG, 7 rebounds, 8 assists) and Ilyasova (19 points, 4-7 3FG, 12 rebounds) were well in rhythm on the threes and mid-range jumpers.
But each time the Bucks made a big shot, the Mavs made an even bigger one. Dirk Nowitzki was especially effective down the stretch, but the Mavs would have been lost (and would have lost) without the clutch contributions of Jason Terry and Drew Gooden. Gooden’s contributions on the night won’t be forgotten (22 points, 14 rebounds), but his tip-in of a missed Nowitzki layup was absolutely tremendous, tying the game with 27 seconds remaining in overtime, and setting up Dirk’s game-winning jumper.
At times, it almost seemed as if the Mavs were trying to lose. Jason Kidd had his best passing game of the season to the tune of 17 assists, but very nearly gave away the game with an unforced turnover near the end of the fourth quarter. Dirk Nowitzki had an excellent night, but committed a horrible loose ball foul that sent the Bucks to the line with the game tied and just 37 seconds to play. Rick Carlisle refused to put Rodrigue Beaubois into the game in the fourth, despite the fact that Brandon Jennings was just 2-11 from the floor while Roddy was in the game. But all of those figures found redemption in the game’s final sequence: Beaubois partially blocked (or at least heavily contested) a Jennings 3, Carlisle draws up a game-winning inbounds play executed perfectly with a pristine pass from Kidd and a sweet jumper from Dirk at the final horn.
Rodrigue Beaubois (12 points, 5-9 FG) needs to be on the floor more, and needs to be on the floor when it matters most. His performance wasn’t flawless, but he really does change the game with his speed and in this game, with his defensive ability. I respect J.J. Barea’s defense more than most, but he was a liability on the court. He couldn’t stop Jennings, and J.J.’s trips into the lane often ended with an awkward floater or a blocked attempt.
Shawn Marion missed the entire second half with an ankle sprain, Erick Dampier was still not with the team (although he seems to be feeling better), and Josh Howard was still out with injury. This was a big win for the Mavs regardless, but even bigger considering the Mavs’ injuries.
I feel sorry for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. He played that last shot about as well as anyone could, but Dirk still got a pretty good look and an even better bounce.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to…Rodrigue Beaubois? Drew Gooden? I’m tempted, but this one just seemed too obvious.
“How beautiful is youth! How bright it gleams with its illusions, aspirations, dreams! Book of Beginnings, Story without End, Each maid a heroine, and each man a friend!”
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Winning isn’t always pretty, but in games like the Mavs’ win over the Pistons, you can always appreciate the little things. The offense was decent rather than miserable. Ben Gordon (5 points, 1-16 FG) was locked in a steel cage and thrown into the ocean. Rodrigue Beaubois made it perfectly clear that he has no intention of staying buried on the bench. Those are the things a fan can take solace in, even if the Mavs let a mediocre Pistons team hang in this game for far too long.
Rodney Stuckey (28 points, 12-20 FG) and Will Bynum (27 points, 11-16 FG) proved yet again that this team has trouble containing quick, penetrating guard play. A late shift to the zone seemed to slow down Bynum, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the Mavs put up a solid defensive front. Jason Kidd, in particular, looked a step or two slow in trying to curtail Stuckey. It would have been nice to see a second half response like we did against Aaron Brooks and the Houston Rockets, but the Mavs more or less retained the same defensive strategies in trying to defend Bynum and Stuckey. But whether it was by design (Dirk mentioned post-game that the primary defensive objective was to take Ben Gordon out of the game) or not, Stuckey and Bynum were getting what they wanted when they wanted it.
But the Mavs’ own quick guard had a field day in half-court sets and the transition game alike. Rodrigue Beaubois had a perfect night from the field (14 points, 6-6 FG, 2-2 3FG, 4 assists, ZERO turnovers) and continues to impress with his decision-making abilities. After watching the summer league games, I was expecting Beaubois to be a bit out of control, try to do to much, and be his own worst enemy until he got his sea legs. Well, those sea legs must have been shipped overnight before the season began, because even Rodrigue’s lesser games are graced by a savvy that goes far beyond his years and professional experience. He’s not forcing things, he makes smart passes with a purpose, and he isn’t afraid of anything. Despite the fact that Beaubois has logged only 57 minutes thus far, it’s hard to be anything less than thrilled with his performance. We knew that he would eventually be a contributor, but Rodrigue appears more NBA-ready than anyone predicted.
And it’s a good thing he is. Beaubois’ excellence, combined with solid nights from Drew Gooden (11 points, 11 rebounds, one block) and Shawn Marion (11 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, two steals, and a block), helped the Mavs to survive more poor shooting from Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 11-27 FG, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) and Jason Terry (9 points, 1-7 FG, 6-8 FT, three steals). Dirk and JET still managed to contribute to the game throughout, and they took over in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Between them, Nowitzki and Terry scored 14 out of the Mavs’ final 16 points by hitting big jumpers, getting to the free throw line, and benefiting from some smooth ball movement.
Erick Dampier missed the game due to illness, and was rushed to the hospital. It’s unknown exactly what Damp’s symptoms were.
Kris Humphries deserves mention for providing good minutes in the middle. You don’t want the ball going to Hump with the shot clock winding down, but you have to appreciate his hustle. Kris finished with just 5 points, 2 rebounds, and two blocks, but he played well.
The Mavs may have caught a big break when Rodney Stuckey came up limping in the fourth quarter. He had been tearing it up all game long, and the Pistons could have used him late in the fourth with the game still in the balance.
Weird night for +/- : all the Mavs’ starters were positive, but the reserves were negative. All the Pistons’ starters were negative, but the reserves were positive.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to, for the first time in his career, Rodrigue Beaubois. “Roddy” energizes the offense when he’s on the floor, and his ability to create with the ball in his hands and also thrive off the ball (three cheers for point-guard-to-point-guard alley oops!) should make Mavs fans salivate. Beaubois is the silver lining to Josh Howard’s injury, and he’s making a very compelling case for playing time after Josh’s return.
Drew Gooden has had a pretty rough start with the Mavs, and it could be a bit rougher if these allegations are true. If so, not cool. A source from the Mavs is denying that Drew was actually involved, but it’s worth noting that the team does have incentive to do just that. Regardless, the NBA seems to be trying to get to the bottom of things with their own investigation. I wouldn’t be upset if this was the last I heard of this situation.
Erick Dampier talks about his contributions to the team, including a trip down 2006-’07 memory lane (via Mike Fisher of DB.com): “I hear the talk, but I’ve been through all of this before. …The talk…it’s really not a big deal to me. In (2006-07) they decided I should come off the bench and we started the season winless…then I became the starter again and we ended the season with the best record in the NBA. …I think that means something. …People who have played basketball, people who know basketball, they know what I contribute here,” Damp says. “Some people just want to watch the games to see who scores 40 points. But that’s not all basketball is about. There are a lot of things that go into winning a basketball game, and I help my team do those things. Basketball people know this.’’
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”
The mantra of the Mavs’ off-season was finding more help for Dirk Nowitzki. If you were to evaluate the fulfillment of that goal solely on last night’s performance against the Wizards, I don’t see how the assessment could be anything aside from “huge, embarrassing failure.” But hey, guys, this is the first game of the season. That means we’re grading on a curve, and “huge embarrassing failure” just so happens to round up to “pretty terrible, but I’ll get over it.”
There are far worse things than losing your home opener, and the Mavs’ offensive struggles against the Wizards should not be construed of anything more than a one game aberration. We know that this offense works, and we know that these players are more capable than they’ve shown. Jason Terry is simply better than 4-15 FG, and Shawn Marion is definitely more impressive than his largely invisible offensive performance. Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea should be held responsible for the rest of the crew, as the shots need to come easier for the Maverick bigs. None of that happened, and Dirk was left to his own devices. He didn’t disappoint (34 points on an atypical 10-25 FG, 12-13 FT, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks ), but it was far from enough to stave off a shockingly effective Gilbert Arenas (29 points on 10-21 FG, 9 assists), empowered by the surprise contributions of Randy Foye (19 points on 8-14 FG) and Andray Blatche (20 points on 8-14 FG, 7 rebounds). Dirk isn’t a bad guy to back, even in a one on three shoot out, but the Maverick guards were only slightly more effective perimeter defenders than, say, a chair.
The Mavs were clearly confused by the pick and roll, as Arenas and Brendan Haywood abused the Mavs for almost the entirety of the first half. Haywood responded with three thunderous first quarter dunks, resulting in a giant metaphorical wagging finger in the general direction of Erick Dampier. Damp knows better and the rest of the Mavs know better; if Dampier was too busy preventing Arenas from taking a quick jumper, someone else (ANYBODY else) should have stepped up to prevent Haywood from waltzing down the lane, untouched. That kind of defense is just unacceptable…unless, of course, you’re playing in the regular season opener and shaking off an inch-thick coat of rust.
Gilbert deserves more praise than the cursory treatment I’ve already given him. Considering everything he’s been through physically and mentally, he was a revelation. He fully compensated for the absence of Antawn Jamison with a deadly pull-up jumper, and Gil’s forays into the paint emanated both creativity and resolve. Plus, Arenas had a way of answering every would-be Maverick run with a huge play of some kind, either with a dagger of his own or a perfectly placed pass. Maybe he wasn’t yelling “HIBACHI!”, but Gilbert Arenas was back in almost every other sense. As a basketball fan, that excites me. As a Mavs fan, not so much.
There were a few bright spots to help mask a pretty disappointing effort. For one, J.J. Barea was a key reason the game didn’t get out of hand sooner. He dominated the second quarter, creating scoring opportunities off the dribble against an opposing team clearly unable to combat his speed and craftiness. Also, the Mavs were set on getting to the basket to start the game. The result was 23 first half free throw attempts, which is just an ungodly amount for the Mavs.
But if you absolutely must take away something from the Mavs’ flub against the Wizards, take this down and circle it: The Mavs were just…off. Dirk Nowitzki hit an unexpected dry spell in the first half, when he shot just 3-12 from the field. Jason Terry’s jumper went half-way down on more than a few occasions. Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden were just slightly out of position to receive an entry pass or challenge a shot. The team defense, the rebounding, and just about everything else was a step slow and a bit flat…and yet the Mavs were still within a stone’s throw of winning this game. Had Foye and Blatche not channeled their inner demi-gods, we could very well be celebrating one in the win column. The Mavs still have a lot of work to do, but they also have nothing but time.
The only Mavericks to post a positive +/- were Quinton Ross and Kris Humphries.
It wasn’t a great day for the newcomers. Shawn Marion biffed a dunk attempt and horribly airballed a corner three. Drew Gooden airballed a midrange jumper, and found most of his attempts ended up clanging off the rim.
Marion’s night wasn’t nearly as miserable as Gooden’s, though. Shawn was able to post up Caron Butler in on the block, and easily converted a few flip shots turning over his left shoulder.
In the second quarter, the Mavs surrendered three consecutive and ones to the Wizards, courtesy of Blatche and Fabricio Oberto. Yeah, that sucked.
DeShawn Stevenson had no place being on the floor. His three point stroke was miserable, and he could not stay in front of Jason Terry.
Rather than the expected small ball lineup, the Mavs fielded a unit of Barea, Terry, Kidd, Marion and Dirk with mixed results.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Dirk Nowitzki,who was unquestionably the best Maverick on the floor. Not only was Dirk the offense’s only net positive, but he was also aggressive on the defensive end, competing for rebounds and blocking a few shots. We even saw glimpses of a few new toys, as Dirk busted out his running hook (it was very short) and a hesitation move off the dribble that froze Brendan Haywood where he stood. A great all around night for Dirk, who managed to salvage a poor start with a fine second half performance and a parade to the free throw line.
This is a part of the multi-part season preview, Once More, With Feeling. To read an explanation, click here. To read Act I (the Network preview), click here. To read Act II (the Four Factors), click here. To read Act III (the Coach), click here.
Defining and maintaining a rotation is a bit of a delicate process for some folks, and a simple measure of brute strength for others; it’s either a continued exercise in tinkering and ego-stroking or a desperate attempt to jam fifteen square pegs into one giant round hole. As I discussed in the last segment, Rick Carlisle usually opts for the finesse approach.
But on top of the difficulties that come with appeasing the egos of professional athletes, Rick Carlisle also has the distinct privilege of fitting many multi-positional, versatile players into a series of coherent lineups. What is Josh Howard’s true position? Or Shawn Marion’s? Or Drew Gooden’s?
It doesn’t matter. The designation doesn’t matter so much as their contextual place within lineups and within the rotation. With a team that boasts such an atypical power forward and superstar, we shouldn’t expect each player to fall into neat little roles based on the expectations of their position. The reasons why Dirk Nowitzki is so brilliant are exactly because he’s not what you’d expect from a power forward. So when I say that Josh Howard will have no problem filling in as the starting shooting guard, I want you to grasp my full meaning. I don’t think that Josh Howard will be able to fulfill the ball handling and distributing responsibilities normally assigned to a 2 guard, but in my mind that doesn’t mean he can’t start alongside Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, and either Drew Gooden or Erick Dampier.
Photo via ESPN.com.
The Maverick offense is fairly unique in that even though it’s come along way since the plodding isolations of the Avery Johnson era, wing players have rarely had a role of the playmaking part of the offense. Aside from Jason Terry’s two man game with Dirk, the 2 is a position of scoring through cuts and jumpshots. Wings still create shots in one-on-one situations or the additional drive and kick, but the majority offense goes through the expert management of Jason Kidd or the high post savvy of Dirk Nowitzki.
With that in mind, why would Josh Howard and Shawn Marion be unable to coexist peacefully on the perimeter? Each is able to both shoot and slash, but in ways complementary of the other; Josh would rather shoot than slash, and Shawn would rather slash than shoot. But both are (at least) passable from three point range and fine finishers around the basket, which offers the Mavs a plethora of options in the half-court offense. Rare are the teams with two capable perimeter defenders, meaning in most cases either Howard or Marion will have free rein to do what they do best.
The other big question for the Mavs comes on the inside. Carlisle has opted to go with Dampier and Gooden as “co-starters,” with matchups determining the starter at center. That, more than anything, is reflective of the underlying theme of this year’s Mavs: flexibility. Gooden and Damp not only afford the Mavs a versatile approach to the inside game, but their unique contracts (Gooden’s unguaranteed contract and Dampier’s virtually expiring contract) will ultimately dictate the Mavs’ roster changes over the next year.
But while they’re both in Dallas, Gooden and Dampier will give the Mavs two very different looks in the middle. We know what to expect from Dampier: rebounding, on-ball defense in the post, the occasional dunk. But Gooden is more or less a wild card. We know that he’s a more gifted offensive player than Damp, but how will Drew fare on the defensive end? Determining when Gooden is the appropriate matchup will be Rick Carlisle’s first big test of the season, and assessing his offensive contributions relative to his expected defensive limitations. I’m not convinced that Gooden will give up all that much at center, but only time will tell how he will function within the Mavs’ scheme.
Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images.
You have to love the depth that comes with the Mavs’ new additions. Shawn Marion will fill many of the minutes as the Mavs’ back-up power forward, particularly in the rumored small ball lineup featuring the top five players in the rotation (Dirk, Kidd, JET, Howard, Marion). Quinton Ross also gives the Mavs a defensive stopper on the wing, either to neutralize particular perimeter threats or possibly to fill in as a starter for the injured Howard. Kris Humphries is poised to build on his solid preseason by playing as either big, and James Singleton/Tim Thomas fill the role of utility big based on specific need. I’d be remiss not to mention the excellent J.J. Barea, who proved against the Spurs that he’s capable of being a big-time difference maker. Rodrigue Beaubois will get some burn as the third point guard and occasionally as an off-guard, but he won’t get enough minutes to appease the Roddy-hungry MFFLs. I’m already salivating while we wait for Beaubois to actualize his potential, but for now we should all take deep breaths and try to be comfortable with the idea of limited minutes and some DNP-CDs for Rodrigue. All of his hopefully translates for more opportunities to thrive for the big names in Dallas. It’s so much easier to succeed in the NBA when surrounded by a decent supporting cast, and Dirk, Kidd, JET, and Josh have quite the ensemble.
I’m interested to see just how reliant the 2009-’10 Mavs are on the small ball approach. Putting Dirk at center certainly has its perks, but he does give up a bit defensively. We won’t really know for sure until Josh Howard returns from injury, but if last year was any indication (where Brandon Bass was a part of the Mavs’ most effective lineups), it could be Dallas’ trump card.
This is a part of the multi-part season preview, Once More, With Feeling. To read an explanation, click here. To read Act I (the Network preview), click here.
Dean Oliver, in his book Basketball on Paper, isolated four factors that determine NBA success:
That’s it. An entire game of nuance and complexities boiled down to four bullet points.
Of course it’s never really that simple; behind these four headings lies each team’s offensive and defensive numbers boiled into a few metrics. They’re a step beyond your run-of-the-mill counting statistics, but still a bit of a reach from your more advanced measures. But they give tremendous insight into the particular successes of a basketball team, and they’re well worth your attention.
Let’s break it down, now.
Original photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images.
You’ll find that Oliver’s four factors are determined on an offense vs. defense basis. So when I say shooting, what I (and Oliver) actually mean is the comparative shooting success between a team and their opponent.
In terms of their own shooting, the Mavs are certainly above average, but not quite elite (.504 effective field goal percentage or eFG%, 11th league-wide, .004 better than league average). The culprits of a normally potent’s offense decline into near-mediocrity? Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard. Dirk and Josh are good scorers and efficient scorers, but their reliance on two-point jump shots is impossible to ignore when calculating effective field goal percentage, a measure that weighs three pointers appropriately with their additional value. When your primary offensive weapons are shooting jumpers, their eFG just won’t measure up to the league’s premier interior or 3-point shooting outfits.
Keeping the Mavs afloat were the dunkers, Erick Dampier, James Singleton, and Ryan Hollins, and the three point shooters, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd.
In theory, new additions Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden would seem to fit right into that bunch. But their affect on the team’s eFG may be much more difficult to quantify. Shawn Marion was a dynamo during his time in Phoenix, with his eFG topping at .561. But much has happened since Marion’s run-and-gun days, and though Rick Carlisle and the Mavs are vowing to push the pace more than ever this year, it’s a line we’ve heard many times in the recent past. The good news is that last year’s much less effective Marion still managed a .491 mark, which matches J.J. Barea and bests Josh Howard.
Gooden, on the other hand, has posted a much lower career eFG (.474 compared to Marion’s .511), but may be poised for a bump. The only time in Gooden’s career where he has played alongside an above average playmaker was his time in Cleveland. The passing prowess of LeBron James brought Gooden’s eFG all the way up to .511. Jason Kidd shares James’ penchant for assists, and his helpful passes (along with some skilled teammates to relieve defensive pressure) will likely give Gooden more open looks around the basket than he’s ever had before. Hopefully that would at least shoot him in Damp’s direction in terms of eFG, but I’d settle for something right around last year’s team average of .504.
In terms of shooting defense, the Mavs were better than you might think (.493 eFGA, 10th, .007 better than league average). We’ll find the true source of the Mavs’ defensive woes in other areas, but in terms of forcing opponents into difficult shots, the Mavs weren’t too shabby. Though the now departed Antoine Wright’s eFG allowed last season was actually better than Marion’s, the Mavs hope that familiarity with the system as well as his teammates will help return Marion’s production to its previous highs. That isn’t a misguided notion; though familiarity and comfort level matter a great deal on the offensive end, they’re an absolute necessity for operating effectively in a defensive system. Marion needs to know where to rotate and when, and that’s a tough thing to do when the only constant in your life is Marcus Banks. Shawn Marion and Josh Howard are the keys defensively, and if the Mavs are going to transform into a top-notch defensive squad, the improvement will have to come on the wings. If not, there will be nothing to offset Jason Kidd’s lead feet or the Mavs’ lack of help-side shot blocking, and we’re looking at yet another year of average-ish defense.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.
The Mavs are not a good offensive rebounding team (.266 offensive rebounding percentage or ORB%, 16th, .001 worse than the league average). It’s an ugly truth that comes along with playing a perimeter-oriented power forward, talented though he may be; If Dirk is fading away at the elbow, he’s not going to be in position to hit the boards.
That leaves the primary offensive rebounding duties to fall on the shoulders of the Mavs’ centers, and for the most part, they’ve stepped up to the task. Erick Dampier, Brandon Bass, and Ryan Hollins were among the team’s leaders in ORB% last season, and though they didn’t perform at All-NBA standards (actually, Dampier did nearly match Dwight Howard in this ORB%), each performed admirably when acting as a one-man boarding crew.
It’s no big. Offensive rebounds are tremendously important and help create possessions out of thin air, but it’s hardly a requirement for team success. Though the Blazers and Lakers were near the top of the league last year in offensive rebounding, six of the top fifteen teams didn’t even make the playoffs. The Magic and Spurs were worst and next to worst in the league, respectively. I don’t feel too bad about the Mavs’ mediocre ranking in that department for exactly this reason, and though we should probably expect more of the same in 2009-10, it’s hardly a reason to panic.
That’s only because the Mavs are a competent defensive rebounding team (.746 defensive rebounding percentage or DRB%, 8th, .013 better than average). Dirk more than makes up for his poor offensive rebounding numbers with his work on the defensive glass, and he’s helped by Erick Dampier and the best rebounding point guard in the game, Jason Kidd. This is another area where the additions of Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden will pay dividends, and if each rebounds at a rate equal to their career averages, they would immediately be two of the top three defensive rebounders on the team. And, if the preseason is any indication, Kris Humphries should be a contributor on the glass as well, supposing he can carve the minutes from Dampier, Gooden, and Nowitzki’s hands.
Even if the Mavs don’t improve in rebounding by rank, they should at the very least improve in terms of rebounding percentage.
Photo by the AP.
In the days before Jason Kidd’s return to Dallas, the Mavs were a low assist, low turnover franchise. It got them all the way to the NBA Finals, and created a team ethic after the departure of Steve Nash. Typically, with the return of a true point guard comes the return of the high turnover numbers. Yet somehow, the Mavs have maintained their status as elite ball protectors despite Kidd’s sometimes reckless (yet effective!) passing style (.121 turnover percentage, 3rd, .016 better than league average).
That’s largely because Dirk, JET, and Josh Howard are all unusually careful with the ball. When your team’s (qualified) leaders in usage rate are also the most careful, that translates to some pretty impressive team numbers. Kidd can throw lobs and full-court bounce passes all he wants because at the end of the day, the Mavs’ big possession stars are handle the rock with care.
Now, if you’re an endless optimist, this might be the part where you turn away, cover your ears and eyes, and sing “LA-LA-LA-LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.” Even though the Mavs low turnover numbers are worthy of your awe, their opponent’s almost equally low turnover rates are at the very least worthy of an exasperated sigh (.123, 25th, .010 worse than the league average). The Mavs are not very good at creating opportunities by forcing turnovers, and their lack of speed on the perimeter has brought on-ball pressure to a grinding halt. So much emphasis is put on staying in front of a man rather than trying to exploit him, and though that might be a necessity on a team that lacks a lockdown defender on the outside, it also results in a painfully low amount of opponent’s turnovers.
Though the addition of Shawn Marion (and, to a lesser extent, Quinton Ross) would theoretically improve upon this weakness, I’m not quite so optimistic. I do think that Marion will find success in Dallas, but it’s impossible to argue against the fact that he’s lost a step. And as Shawn gets older and older, his utility as a defender will certainly dwindle. I still think he’s a capable defender in many ways, but Marion has less athleticism to compensate for gambles, leaving in a position to play more “honest” defense than ever. If less aggressive perimeter defense translates to less forced turnovers, then Marion will likely fall in line with the more defensively conservative Mavs.
Photo by the AP.
Dirk shoots jumpers. JET shoots jumpers. Josh Howard shoots jumpers. Jason Kidd, Tim Thomas, and Matt Carroll all shoot jumpers. Even Marion and Gooden dabble. That’s almost an entire offense predicated on successfully making jump shots, and while it’s not exactly conventional, it is successful.
That doesn’t mean we should expect many free throw attempts.
The Mavs are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the league in terms of percentage, but most fans probably wouldn’t know that because of just how rarely the Mavs go to the line (.224 free throw attempts per field goal or FTA/FG, 22nd, .012 worse than league average). That’s not likely to change in the Dirk Nowitzki era, barring the acquisition of a big-time offensively skilled center. And I’m pretty sure MFFLs stopped holding out hope for that years ago.
The TrueHoop Network banded together like a rag tag group of unexpected heroes to conquer the most sizable of foes: a season preview of both considerable scope and depth. Having blog representation for every team grants the project some tremendous perspective. So Act I of Once More, With Feeling will feature my contribution of the Mavs’ official season preview:
The 2009-10 Dallas Mavericks
Crystal Ball The consensus win total prediction of the TrueHoop Network bloggers … and the best hopes of The Two Man Game.
Yes We Can! The sun is out. The seas have parted. The basketball gods are shining upon us!
Team changes are often thought to exist on a continuum. On one end, “rebuilding” teams seek financial flexibility and the acquisition of young, productive assets. On the other, quality squads amass veteran talent, no matter the cost, in pursuit of a title. Defying all logic, the Mavs have simultaneously moved in both directions, an off-season strategy that bears the best of both worlds.
Dallas still has a lot to prove before we place them in the top tier, but the Mavs’ moves this summer have them planted firmly among the second group of would-be contenders. Headlining those moves was the acquisition of Shawn Marion, another offensive weapon for Jason Kidd to work with and a decorated perimeter defender. Though Marion’s odometer and price tag have understandably made some wary, it’s hard to see how adding Shawn to an already successful roster doesn’t work out for Dallas in the short-term. Historically, Marion has worked best with other scorers to play off of, and with skilled point guards capable of finding him at his favorite spots on the floor. Dallas certainly has both, though only time will tell if Marion’s down year in 2008-2009 was an aberration or indicative of real decline. In addition to Marion, Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas, and Quinton Ross will bolster the Maverick reserves, each bringing varying levels of talent, reliability, and veteran know-how.
In spite of all of that spending, the Mavs find themselves with financial flexibility in spades. Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden in particular provide the Mavericks with unusually valuable trade chips, as each can provide a potential trade partner with unique financial benefits. Given the window-shopping going on in anticipation of 2010 free agency and the current economic climate, that’s powerful. And while the Mavs are very flexible financially, they’re perhaps even more flexible on hardwood. By adding various players capable of playing multiple positions, the Mavs can offer a variety of looks and lineups to either befuddle or adjust to opponents. The desired result is a more explosive offense and more versatile defense, though the Mavs might be one more move away from fully actualizing their potential on either front.
And of course, the Mavs’ biggest guns are those returning from last year’s squad. Dirk Nowitzki is still an All-World talent, and his unique skill set will be supplemented by the better-than-you-think Jason Kidd, reigning Sixth Man Jason Terry, and a hopefully healthy Josh Howard. While that core may not measure up to the true championship contenders, it’s still stacked with enough talent to make the Mavs a dangerous element in the West.
All-a-Twitter A 140-character insight into the soul of the team.
“Samuri Jack is back on cartoon network gotta watch” – Shawn Marion (@matrix31), who incidentally discovered the perfect metaphor for his career arc. The eponymous Samurai Jack is unwillingly thrust into the future via wormhole, and his longing for the comforts of simpler times echoes Marion’s own pining for his days in Phoenix. Though both battle an ambiguous, seemingly unconquerable adversary (be it incompatible offensive systems or the demon Aku), their true enemy is time itself. Just as Jack adjusted to a futuristic dystopia, so must Marion to the limitations of an aging athlete.
On the Record Single best quote concerning the team during the last 12 months.
“Everybody was in attack mode after we got stops…We didn’t have to grind it all out all the time.”
–Dirk Nowitzki, following the game 3 playoff win over the Spurs
Last season’s Mavs suffered from an easily diagnosed, but difficult to cure ailment: the defense just couldn’t keep up with the offense. A lack of defensive stability left the 2008-2009 Mavs looking like an elite team one minute and a merely average one the next. That made the Mavs both mortal and dangerous, a combination that bore both a win over the Spurs and a loss to the Nuggets in the 2009 Playoffs.
The 2008-09 Almanac Some key stats from last season.
Despite the flaws of a system predicated on shooting jumpers, Dallas still boasted a top-notch offense handicapped merely by their inability to wreak havoc defensively. Shawn Marion and Quinton Ross were added for this reason, and, along with a healthier Josh Howard, they’ll ship up the sloppy perimeter. As for the free throws…well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Play Down a single point with 9.2 seconds to play in a must-win game. What’s the play?
Jason Terry collects the inbound pass at the 3-point line on the right side of the floor. Dirk sets a high screen, which opens up myriad options. Terry could have an open shot, or room enough to drive to the basket. Dirk will likely have the space to operate after drifting to the elbow. Just in case JET and Dirk are swarmed, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, and Shawn Marion lie in wait. That’s hardly ever the case, though; Terry and Nowitzki make beautiful music together in the two-man game, and their harmonizing versatility begs for comparisons to Pet Sounds. They simply move together in step and in time, creating an idyllic sequence with an impressive, undeniable finished product.
The People’s Choice The fan favorite the crowd will be chanting for to see some action.
Mavs fans will be chanting for rookie point guard Rodrigue Beaubois…as soon as they can conjure up an appropriate French-themed nickname for the young Guadaloupean. Beaubois has three pretty significant assets working in his favor: he’s a young first round draft pick, he’s a point guard with some flash, and his lack of exposure makes him a figure of intrigue.
If You’re Watching the Bottom Line, You’re Watching This The single biggest spreadsheet issue hanging over the team.
Erick Dampier’s contract has cast a dark cloud over the organization for quite some time, but that cursed agreement could reap some serious benefits this season. Damp is technically under contract for the 2010-2011 season, but some creative salary structuring makes Dampier a living, breathing, eight figure expiring contract (next season’s salary is not guaranteed). But wait! There’s more! Beneath the hard, inflexible candy exterior of the aforementioned expiring contract lies a hidden treat: Erick Dampier can be traded for equivalent salary value late into the 2010 off-season, providing this trade chip with an unusually long and beneficial shelf life. The timing and returns are yet to be determined but Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have a wonderful toy to fiddle with.
First, a programming note: Rather than sweetly serenade you during the week leading up to the regular season opener, I’ve decided to completely blitz all of my readers with a pretty substantial multi-part preview leading up to Tuesday’s launch date. So clear your schedules on Monday and Tuesday, because we’ve got an appointment to get PUMPED UP.
SI.com released their scouting reports for every NBA team, and I’m honestly shocked with how accurately the Mavs are portrayed. I see no devil in the details, just understanding and experience with the Mavs’ personnel. Kudos, SI.
The replacement refs, as one of their final acts in office, called takesies backsies on a Drew Gooden ejection.
The panel of ESPN experts have released their predictions for the NBA’s regular season awards. Rick Carlisle received 3 votes (which puts him in a tie with Flip Saunders and Phil Jackson for the most votes) for Coach of the Year, Shawn Marion netted a mention for Most Improved, and Jason Terry, somewhat inexplicably, only received a single vote for the Sixth Man Award. Look, I love Marquis Daniels. But I can’t even begin to explain how Daniels topped Terry in votes.
Picking up where we left off with Part I, new Mavs stat guru Roland Beech (of 82games.com fame) and I discuss a few Mavs-related items.
Rob: Obviously, it doesn’t really behoove you, me, or the team if you tell us explicitly the kind of work that you’re doing with the Mavs, but in terms of generalities, what would you say is your emphasis in your work with the team?
I think one of the problems with a lot of guys doing stats stuff is that they don’t really, fully see the full day-to-day reality of what goes on with the team: the coaching, actually what goes into what happens on the court. It’s really eye-opening for me to get this experience, and I’m getting lots of ideas. But the jury is still out on what I’m going to contribute to the team. You might want to ask me this a few months from now.
There’s a tendency with a lot of stats guys to be very opinionated, very…almost one-dimensional in what they’re looking at, and I think the game is much more complex than people make it out to be. So being here gives me an opportunity to learn all that and see all that and I’m hoping that from that there will be some good things.
According to your statistical “school of thought,” (your “pet” metrics and your own research) are there any Mavs players you consider to be under appreciated?
That’s a tricky one. I think we have really good players, I think the roster is really, really good, we’ve got a lot of depth and yeah, I think a lot of guys in the NBA generally have blind spots, things people don’t see. A guy like Dampier, for example, is really good at setting screens, but you’ll never really hear about that. It’s not like that’s in the public domain, a guy that sets screens that people don’t want to go through.
It’s not going to lead the AP recap or anything.
Right. So I mean a lot of guys have really undervalued qualities and characteristics. I can’t really speak too precisely [as] to [which] guys, but that’s kind of my hope for being here, being able to quantify some of that stuff better, as to the unseen parts of the game right now. Hopefully from that will arise some benefit to the team.
Okay, you’ll have to bear with me, this is kind of a long-winded question. But I dug up a 2004 piece in San Francisco Weekly that featured you, and, oddly enough, our good friend Erick Dampier. At the time, you cited Damp as being somewhat of an offensive burden back with the Warriors, and to an extent that has been true of his time with the Mavs as well. At the time you said that Damp was “one of these guys…who would seemingly be positive players, but for some reason aren’t.” I think that same perception is very applicable to the newly acquired Drew Gooden. Should it worry Mavs fans that their center rotation will primarily consist of these statistical anomalies, these players with solid numbers that don’t necessarily translate to team success?
Well first of all I disavow a lot of what I said in 2004. I really think I’ve learned a lot over the last few years and I still have a lot to learn to get to where I want to be. But as I recall, mainly the thing I remember about Dampier was his plus/minus, his on/off stuff, wasn’t that good with the Warriors, even when he was having what some people said was a career year. Ironically, I think the other piece of that article was about Brian Cardinal, who barely played but actually does have a pretty good plus/minus through the years.
Again, I think that Damp has a lot of real strengths as a player, and is probably a pretty underrated guy nowadays in terms of what he brings as a center. And Drew likewise. You know again, I don’t really believe that guys have a constant value, so if you put them in the right situation, at the right juncture, and the right plan, they can be good. And if you get a good player in the wrong situation, that can hurt them. That’s probably what we’re seeing with Durant’s early years. Y’know, if he had been drafted by the Lakers or something, his plus/minus would not be a problem.
But I think we’re looking solid, and we’re very comfortable with our roster.
How do you think the Mavs measure up with the rest of the Western Conference this year?
It’s a very tough conference, obviously. There are a lot of strong teams. But we think we’re definitely one of the good teams. We’ll see in the next few months where people are stacking up, but yeah, there are some real powerhouse teams in the West. We feel like we’re up there, as a team, with the rest of the top guys.
A huge thanks to Roland for taking the time to talk with me,
Drew Gooden is many things. Scholar. Gentleman. Jayhawk. Connoisseur of fine facial hair. And at least “co-starting” center for your Dallas Mavericks.
It’s going to take some getting used to. For me and Erick Dampier, both.
Say what you will about Damp, but he’s a serviceable starting center. Right around average, as far as I’m concerned. He can’t be counted on as a reliable scoring threat, he’s not the fastest guy in his defensive rotations, and he could never, under any circumstances, be called a dominant force, but the Mavs could do much worse.
Which is why it’s a bit surprising that the training camp ribbon had been cut, Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle were already whispering of Gooden as the Mavs’ starter at the 5. No big, really, considering the number of truly terrifying centers that go bump in the night are few and far between, and Gooden’s propensity to float on defense probably isn’t any worse than Damp’s heavy feet.
Of course, there’s a bit of an unexpected wrinkle in all of this: should the Mavs be more worried about maximizing the talent that they have, or manipulating the match-ups to fit their competition? Or essentially, if Erick Dampier performs better as a starter than he does as a reserve, is it worth it to grant him the title on face in exchange for his marginally better production?
It’s about as fine as lines come. Luckily for us, we have a small sample size that should give us a bit of a window into Damp’s potential production as a back-up. In the good ol’ days of 2005-2006, Dampier was relegated to the bench in favor of DeSagana Diop. Damp’s minutes didn’t change much, but his production was a bit different. Roll the ticker tape.
First up, let’s see how Dampier’s collective averages in seasons as a Mavs’ starter (2004-2005, 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009) compare to his 2005-2006 numbers:
Per Game (Seasons as Starter)
Per Game (2005-2006)
Or for a bit more refinement, here’s how the per 36 minute numbers compare:
Per 36 Min (Seasons as Starter)
Per 36 Min (2005-2006)
And just for kicks, a comparison in terms of a handful of more advanced metrics:
Seasons as Starter
All statistics from Basketball-Reference.com.
Supposing that the one season sample isn’t misleading or flukey, there’s plenty to talk about here. Unfortunately for our purposes, plenty doesn’t necessarily mean conclusive.
For whatever reason, Dampier has been a much more effective scorer as a starter. His straight up scoring numbers are superior, but where Starter Damp really shines is in the percentages (FG% of .617 vs .493, TS% of .663 vs .531). It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong in 2005-2006. Maybe it was just an off year for Damp, or maybe he really does have trouble getting into the rhythm of the game off the bench.
The latter of those hypotheses is damaged by a critical note: Bench Dampier is a notably better rebounder. His per game numbers, per 36 numbers, and possession-based percentages were all better in 2005-2006 during the rest of his tenure in Dallas. So even though Dampier did score at a less efficient rate, he also created more possessions via markedly superior offensive rebounding numbers. Those numbers run opposed to the notion that Damp comes off the bench in a funk, as a “pure effort” stat like offensive boards would at least hint that his head was in the game.
Regardless of his status, Dampier maintained a consistent number of shot attempts/minute.
It’s hard to predict based on just one season if Dampier is due for a drop in offensive effectiveness. But if benching psychology really was a factor in Damp’s 2005-2006 drop-off, it’s reasonable to believe that a “co-starting” gig may hedge the losses. Having Jason Kidd as your point guard certainly couldn’t hurt, either.
I guess what I’m supposing is the keeping of an open mind going forward. If Dampier somehow falls off a cliff when Gooden takes the reins, then perhaps he should be the starter, if in name only. Starter doesn’t have to mean finisher, and it doesn’t come with minute commitments. But some people need that comfort to know that they begin the game for their team, even if the nod is but a token. Damp’s a sensitive guy, and if stroking his ego helps to prevent his field goal percentage from sandbagging, then let him rack up the starts. Obviously the same applies for Gooden as well, which finally brings me back around to my point: the distinction between the starters and the bench will be blurrier than ever. Some games will inevitably end with at least one starter riding the pine, and Jason Terry comes off the bench despite being the Mavs’ second scorer. So be wary of putting too much weight in starting lineup analysis, regardless of how strong (or weak, if you’re one of those) you believe Kidd-Howard-Marion-Nowitzki-Gooden to be on paper.