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.
- It begins with defense. From season to season, as the Mavericks’ roster changes, grows, and bends, the theme of strong, systemic defensive style remains the same under the tutelage of Coach Rick Carlisle. Despite missing two of the team’s better offensive players in Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman, the team’s energy never waned defensively. Darren Collison (17 points, four assists, 8-12 FG) spring-boarded along the perimeter, harrying Steve Nash (seven points, four assists, 3-9 FG) to a dismal performance. Shawn Marion (5-11 FG, 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists) played like the defensive-focused Hall-of-Famer he is. And Elton Brand (eight points, 11 rebounds, 3-10 FG) served as a constant breath of isolation defense fresh air. Brand bothered Dwight Howard (19 points, 10 rebounds, 8-12 FG, 3-14 FT) at every turn, and managed to limit his and other Lakers’ bigs opportunities to dominate the game for any significant stretch.
- The Mavericks’ offensive cohesion was a surprise of the most pleasant kind. Nine Mavericks’ players had seven points or more, and apart from O.J. Mayo’s late game struggles, almost no player’s production came with a dose of moderate inefficiency. The ball moved with crispness, best exemplified by a late-game play in which Darren Collison passed to a cleverly positioned Elton Brand near the elbow, who in turn quickly passed to a rolling Shawn Marion for a smooth dunk. This transition from a two-man game situation to an immediate matchup advantage, simply through an act of positioning by Brand and the team’s general offensive flow, was a brief, pretty moment of basketball, and one that nicely summed up a night of fun movement.
- Jae Crowder (eight points, 3-7 FG) and Rodrigue Beaubois (11 points, five assists, 4-8 FG) provided a seamless transition between Mavericks’ rotations through their energized play, both offensively and defensively. Crowder and Beaubois are perhaps the two most exciting players on the team until Nowitzki returns, so their success provided a welcome sight of hope for concerned Mavericks’ fans.
- Beaubois’ five assists actually led the team, highlighting a fairly strong performance in only 17 minutes of action.
- It must be noted that this Lakers’ team is not yet fully formed and clearly lacks chemistry at the moment, but it is equally worth noting how much vitality a less-than-healthy Mavericks’ exuded in juxtaposition to the Lakers.
- Eddy Curry (3-7 FG, seven points, four rebounds) and Brandan Wright (14 points, five rebounds, 5-5 FG) must also be commended for their efforts in the place of the injured Chris Kaman, as both filled in admirably in their own way. Wright finished gracefully and efficiently at the rim as he always does (while exceeding expectations, which he also has a knack for doing), and Curry provided a moderately effective defensive presence for stretches of the game.
- An important key to the Mavericks’ victory was how well the team collectively played to its own strengths. Collison and Beaubois used their speed and mid-range game, Marion found space for those oft-used six-foot floaters, Wright demonstrated the advantages of wingspan near the rim, and Brand helped move the ball between the perimeter and key with quickness and alacrity.
- How the Mavericks react to an unexpected victory will be very telling in regards to the team’s continued chances until Nowitzki returns. Rhythm existed on both offense and defense tonight to an almost astounding extent – is the team capable of producing a similar effort on back-to-back nights without the overwhelming talent needed to coast?
Before we begin, let’s all take a deep breath.
From Sam Amick of SI.com:
Orlando PR man Joel Glass calls to inform that D. Howard’s agent now has permission to speak w/ Lakers, Nets, & Mavs about possible trade.
Stop. Right. There.
Stop daydreaming over the thought of Dirk Nowitzki being paired with a frontcourt partner even more productive than he is. Erase the thought that the Tyson Chandler free agent saga — while unfortunate in its own way — could ultimately give way to the greatest era of Mavericks basketball yet. Toss away the notion that the Mavs are currently in legitimate running to net another superstar, be it Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, or Deron Williams.
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In yesterday’s Bullets, Henry Abbott noted the following:
If the Mavericks are really being stingy with Tyson Chandler I suppose that could be taken as a sign the new CBA is having some effect. The Mavericks are like the Knicks and Lakers in how they have spent, historically, but they are not at all like those teams in how they earn, and have lost mighty amounts of money as a result. A stiff luxury tax could, in theory, hurt Cuban more than anyone — as he’s one of the owners already feeling the most financial pain.
It’s true — Dallas has historically been a big-spending team, but without the revenue streams that make franchises like the Lakers and Knicks so insanely profitable. Mark Cuban is likely to be one of the first influenced by the new luxury tax as a result, and we may see the implications of that deterrence sooner rather than later.
But if the Mavericks fail to re-sign Tyson Chandler this summer, it will have little to do with the tax or the new collective bargaining agreement. The Mavericks will likely pay the luxury tax this season, but at a dollar-for-dollar rate with a lower overall payroll than last season (largely due to Caron Butler’s salary being off the books), Cuban would get a bit of a financial break relative to his team’s title campaign even if he and Donnie Nelson chose to keep Chandler around. The Mavs’ defensive centerpiece could be had for a sizable financial investment and only a par-for-the-course luxury tax penalty, if only Cuban willed it so.
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The lockout hasn’t even reached its official end, and yet all eyes are fixed on the summer of 2012. Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and Deron Williams have dominated media outlets with their rumored gravity toward various teams and markets, and though basketball fans are likely queasy already from the trade rumor overload, the hype is legitimate. Those three superstars are hugely impactful players, and while the NBA world would be a better place without the rumor mill’s nonstop churning, to ignore teams’ awareness of next year’s free agent class would be naive. Franchises around the league are working hard to be in a position to take part in the free agent fun, and the Mavs are no exception.
In that vein, Chris Broussard and Marc Stein of ESPN.com dropped a fairly startling report yesterday:
In a surprise development on the first day that NBA teams and agents could start talking about new contracts, Tyson Chandler came away convinced that his time with the Dallas Mavericks is coming to an end.
“I really think I’m going to be on a new team come training camp,” Chandler told ESPN.com in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “I’m really taking a hard look at all of my options, trying to see what best suits me.”
…Chandler maintains that staying in Dallas has always been his first choice, but he expressed disappointment that the communication between the sides was minimal from the end of the NBA Finals in mid-June and the June 30 deadline for extensions. On Wednesday, when teams and agents were allowed to commence free-agent negotiations, NBA front office sources listed New Jersey, Golden State, Houston and Toronto as the teams chasing Chandler hardest.
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Tyson Chandler made a radio appearance yesterday with Mason & Ireland of ESPN Radio in Los Angeles, and gave his own respectable, respectful take on the lockout and its proceedings. It’s exactly the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from a thoughtful player like Chandler, and his lockout comments are worth a listen (or a read, via Sports Radio Interviews).
Yet what interested me about Chandler’s radio spot was his tackling of a fairly routine question posed to him by the show’s co-hosts, regarding his determination of the league’s best player. Here was Chandler’s response:
“I would go with Dirk. It’s funny, I tweeted about it and I’ve been catching the same flack about it. But I feel it’s proven by what he did last year, what he did to the Lakers, what he did to Oklahoma City, what he did in the Finals, throughout the whole playoffs Dirk just became a man possessed. He went to a whole other level offensively. People talk about what he did defensively, but he actually stepped it up better during the playoffs last year and became a better team defender. And my whole thing is if you outscore the guy defending you by 10 to 15 points, then you’re playing pretty good D.”
Is Dirk Nowitzki the best player in the NBA? Not quite. LeBron James — even after a disappointing series in the Finals — should still rank as the NBA’s top contributor, and Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul all have legitimate claims over Nowitzki. Generally, the #ESPNRank project was right on the money in its assessment of the top five NBA players; Nowitzki still showed incredibly well at No. 5, but he’s still a bit removed from status as the league’s absolute best.
That said, Nowitzki is dominant enough that Chandler’s opinion isn’t considered absolutely absurd. One would expect Chandler to get his teammate’s back here; I doubt I need to remind anyone that Dallas recently won the NBA title, largely due to Nowitzki’s ability to anchor the offense and contribute on defense. Considering Dirk’s playoffs performance — the most recent NBA basketball we’ve seen, mind you — Chandler’s perspective is completely understandable. The logic isn’t flawless, mind you, but Nowitzki is in an elite class that can be noted as the NBA’s best without being met with incredulity. Dirk is that good, and with trophy in hand — a foolish reason to finally acknowledge Nowitzki’s success, but alas — the entire basketball-loving world has finally recognized it.
But my question in light of Chandler’s response is this: at what point is a great player’s teammate not “obligated,” (in some sense of the word) to throw out their colleague’s name in these discussions? I’m sure plenty of Mavs would cite Dirk as the league’s best considering the postseason he just had, just as I’m sure that many Magic players would name Howard, many Hornets players would glorify Paul, or virtually every Bulls player would cite Derrick Rose. The same would undoubtedly be true for Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. But would a Clipper really introduce Blake Griffin into this discussion? Would a knick put Carmelo Anthony toe-to-toe with the best in the business? Who exactly can be included in this group worthy of coworker endorsement, and where is the brightline for teammate stumping? Or, to put it another way: which players are worthy of being in the “best NBA player” discussion, even if only as a function of reasonability?
Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.
The MVP debate has heated up with detailed defenses offered for several players, as well as plenty of commentary on the amorphous, shifting, and individualistic parameters used to define this award. Earlier this week, I shared my opinion on the MVP race at Hickory-High; my thought is that, with no consensus on the criteria for determining an MVP, there can be no definitive right or wrong answer. The discussion itself is then the crux of this whole affair. People from all sides seem to be wailing at the heavens over potential injustices yet to be meted out, instead of enjoying an opportunity for a rich and passionate exchange of ideas.
Towards the end of my piece, I admitted that I’m still not sure who I would vote for, were I lucky enough to be a part of the official process:
I don’t have a problem with Rose winning MVP. I’m not entirely convinced he’s the best choice, but it’s certainly not a travesty if he wins. I do have a problem with the vocal minority who have been arguing it’s a travesty if he doesn’t win. There is a reasonable argument to be made for Rose. I think there is also a reasonable argument to be made for Dirk, LeBron and Howard.
Argue your belief, passionately and completely. However, acknowledge that someone else may do the same and reach a perfectly reasonable, albeit different conclusion from your own. Enjoy the discourse and exchange of ideas. There is no wrong answer in this discussion. Except, of course, for Kobe Bryant. That guy is terrible.
Putting my money where my mouth is, I’m going to shamelessly pander to this audience and argue the case for Dirk Nowitzki. Respecting the spirit of my previous statements, I’m not here to say he is THE Most Valuable Player, rather that he is one of many valuable players with a legitimate claim at being the Most. I’ll lay out his case, and you can decide for yourself.
MVP profiles seem to fall into one of three categories, or occasionally, an amalgamation of some of the three. The first is a player with an overwhelming statistical profile (Think Shaquille O’Neal’s 29.7 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 3.0 BPG campaign in 2000). The second is a player who represents the defining storyline of the season, (Think Steve Nash and the “Seven Seconds or Less Suns” of 2005). The third is a player who, in apparent single-handed fashion, drags a collection of sub-par teammates to a spot among the league’s elite. The best recent example of this third type of candidate would be Allen Iverson in 2001.
Nowitzki’s season definitely doesn’t fit into the first category. The table below shows his per game averages from this season compared to the averages for the last 20 MVPs:
|Average MVP 1991-2010||26.6||8.7||5.4||1.5||1.3||50.6%||79.2%
|Dirk Nowitzki 2011||23.0||7.0||2.5||0.5||0.6||51.8%||88.9%
Looking at these numbers, Nowitzki gets his foot in the door, but just barely. Clearly his MVP claim can’t be based on individual statistical achievements alone.
Nowitzki also isn’t going to win the award this season for sentimental reasons, or the nature of his narrative. Voters hungry for compelling storylines will find more sustenance with LeBron James struggling to overcome the negative backlash of his move to Miami, Derrick Rose pushing his game and his team to new heights and Dwight Howard holding the Magic together through a merry-go round of roster and lineup changes. I’d even wager that, a decade from now, more fans will remember what Kevin Love accomplished this season than the play of Dirk Nowitzki.
Nowitzki’s claim then, is based on the way he has pushed the Mavericks to achieve this season. In this regard, he is, at worst, on par with any other player in the league. The most commonly quoted statistic accompanying any mention of Nowitzki as an MVP is the team’s 2-7 record in the nine games he’s missed this season. Preferring instead to look at things in a positive light, I’ll rephrase that statistic and point out that the Mavericks have gone 51-17 with Nowitzki on the floor. That’s a win percentage of 75% — the highest win percentage of any of the MVP candidates’ teams in games they’ve played in.
- Dirk Nowitzki – 75.0%
- Kobe Bryant – 72.7%
- Derrick Rose – 72.3%
- LeBron James – 72.0%
- Dwight Howard – 65.3%
- Chris Paul – 57.3%
Every one of those players makes a huge impact for their team, but by win percentage, Nowitzki’s impact would seem to be the largest.
That’s not the only statistic that shows him as the most valuable to his team’s success, out of that group of players. The Mavericks have outperformed their Pythagorean Win projection by 5 games this season. The Spurs are the only other team in the league to outpace their Pythagorean Projection by at least 5 games. This fact is a testament, in part, to Nowitzki’s ability to make plays when they matter most. If I may indulge in an incomprehensible arrangement of words, Nowitzki’s performance in clutch situations has helped the Mavericks outperform their performance.
Nowitzki also has the second best Unadjusted On/Off Net Rating (the difference between the team’s Net Rating (ORtg-DRtg) when Nowitzki is on the floor vs. when he’s off the floor) in the league this season. In this category, he trails only Paul Pierce, but has a significant edge on each of the players we mentioned above.
- Dirk Nowitzki: +16.00
- Chris Paul: +12.77
- LeBron James: +10.62
- Dwight Howard: +7.87
- Kobe Bryant: +5.62
- Derrick Rose: +1.90
This statistic is certainly influenced by the quality of competition and the abilities of teammates and backups. Nowitzki is a starter and plays the majority of crunch-time minutes, so a bias based on quality of competition is a non-issue. The matter of the his teammates’ contributions actually seems like it helps Nowitzki’s case. The common argument against this type of measure is that a player’s numbers can be inflated by the play of inferior teammates. However, if Nowitzki’s numbers are inflated, it should only serve to decrease our opinion of his supporting cast — and make what Nowitzki has done this season that much more remarkable. Helping the Mavericks accomplish what they have with less than ideal help from teammates should increase our opinion of Nowitzki’s importance.
The arguments against Nowitzki are fairly obvious; people who favor individual statistical achievements or compelling storylines in their MVP evaluations will dismiss Nowitzki out of hand for not fitting into either. Additionally, those who disagree with Nowitzki’s candidacy (even based purely on impact) will argue that almost all of his damage is done at the offensive end of the floor. It’s a common refrain. It’s also wrong, and a bit irrelevant. Nowitzki wouldn’t be the first MVP — nor the last — whose contributions come primarily at one end of the floor. Plus, Nowitzki’s offensive contributions are among the most valuable in the league, and the idea that he is a non-factor at the defensive end is raking an extremely narrow view.
There are 13 players with a usage rate of at least 28% this season. Among them, Nowitzki has the lowest turnover rate, a full percentage point below Kevin Durant, at 9.2%. This means a greater portion of his possessions are used on scoring opportunities than anyone else in this group. That’s a good thing for the Mavericks, because he also leads this group in true shooting percentage (TS%) at 61.4%. In fact, Nowitzki is the most efficient offensive player of this group overall. I used the totals from Basketball-Reference to calculate the points per possession average for each player. The table below shows that information alongside each player’s usage and TS%:
MVP Offensive Efficiencies
Nowitzki has turned in an elite offensive campaign, possibly the league’s best this season. That alone has been good enough, in some years, to lock up an MVP.
I also find this idea that Nowitzki’s contributions are one-sided completely absurd. Dirk is obviously no Dwight Howard, but he’s also not a Bargnani-like sieve. The Mavericks’ defensive rating is 6.23 points better with Nowitzki on the floor. He doesn’t offer much in the way of blocks or steals, but he still has the 17th best DRB% among forwards who have played at least 2,000 minutes despite some age-related decline. I’m willing to accept that Nowitzki doesn’t provide a ton of help at the defensive end, but we also need to acknowledge that the Mavericks’ have built a scheme around him, where his shortcomings don’t hurt them all that much either. His length, experience, and understanding of the system hamper the opponent’s ability to score, even if he isn’t swatting shots into the twentieth row. Perhaps, instead of thinking of Nowitzki as a one-way player, it’s most fitting to think of him as a one-and-a-half-way player.
The one other unavoidable piece of this discussion is the fact that Nowitzki has already won an MVP. He took home the award in 2007 and I’ll save Mavs fans the reminder of how exactly that particular season ended. Suffice it to say that events which took place four seasons ago have a bearing on his chances this year. There are certainly people who have allowed Nowitzki’s — and the Mavericks’ — performance in the playoffs that season to color their opinion of his regular season accomplishments. This strikes me as unsavory for two reasons, both of which revolve around the one piece of this MVP debate that does seem to be defined by the league. The MVP award covers the accomplishments of one, and only one, regular season. This is hardly the first time the entirety of a player’s career has bled into the MVP voting, but the Mavericks’ prior failings seem to be the one piece which clearly has no place in this discussion. It likely won’t get this far, but should it come to it, I feel confident in saying that what happened in 2007 would act as a final barrier, preventing Nowitzki from winning this season.
Like each player under consideration, Nowitzki’s case for MVP has strengths and weaknesses. As I noted above, the glory of this discussion is that each individual gets to decide their own definition of the words “Most Valuable,” and specify the optimal technique for measuring that definition. If your definition includes an elite offensive player, who has done as much as anyone in the league to push their team to exceed its limitations, then Dirk Nowitzki just might be your man.
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.
- What a blast. Two very capable offenses went to work, and while the defensive effort wasn’t necessarily lacking on either side, they just couldn’t keep pace with either team’s offensive execution. It wasn’t always the prettiest ball, but there’s an obvious appeal to a game where both teams light it up from the outside. 23 total three-pointers between the Mavs and Magic, who combined to shoot 41.8% from deep. Caron Butler (4-6 3FG), in particular, continues to impress with his range. Butler has only been even remotely successful from behind the three-point line in two of previous nine NBA seasons. This year, Caron is hitting an impressive 40.4% of his threes, his career-high by a wide margin. I want to believe that this is legitimate improvement. I want to believe that we’re beyond the warning period for flukes, and that Caron, the corner gunner, is here to stay. So why is it still so hard to believe that Butler could have settled into a Kidd-like comfort zone from the perimeter?
- Dwight Howard (26 points, 23 rebounds, three steals, two blocks) was fantastic. The Mavs’ bigs, to both their credit and discredit, did a great job of contesting Howard’s shots without fouling, but Dwight showed off a nice array of moves with both hands to score over and around them. Howard shot just four free throws all night (and made all four!), but his 11-of-19 mark from the field kept him — and the Magic — efficient. Howard was effective on defense as always, even if his impact was negated a bit by the Mavs’ hot shooting from the outside. His presence was probably most felt when he was on the bench. As soon as Howard caught a breather, Tyson Chandler (16 points, 7-7 FG, four rebounds) went on a rampage. Orlando is aching for a proper backup center now that Marcin Gortat is a Sun, and Chandler took full advantage of that weakness in the rotation.
- On a related note: Butler seems to have rounded a legitimate corner in his possession usage. He still gets caught pump-faking and jab-stepping into infinity on a possession or two, but 20 points on 14 shots? With just one turnover? This is the dream. This is the sidekick the Mavs have been looking for, and as is the case with his three-point shooting, all Dallas can hope for is a little sustenance.
- Jason Kidd (13 points, 12 assists, six rebounds) had one of his best games in awhile. He wasn’t the best Maverick on the floor, but had a total impact in a way he hasn’t in some time. It’s nice to have the complete Kidd back, hitting threes, setting up his teammates, fighting for rebounds, and scrambling for defensive advantage.
- Of note: Hedo Turkoglu’s defense on Dirk Nowitzki (17 points, 4-13 FG, eight rebounds, five assists) was surprisingly successful. Maybe Stan Van Gundy really does bring out the best in Turkoglu’s game. There was just something extra in his effort against Nowitzki that we haven’t seen from Turkoglu in Phoenix or Toronto. He looked right at home in a Magic uniform again, and though he did damage to both teams on the offensive end, his D on Dirk shouldn’t be discounted. Golf clap for the man.
- Not much separated the Mavs and Magic in this one. Dallas was a bit hotter from outside, had a bit more scoring versatility, and got to the free throw line just a tad more often. Orlando was within striking distance, and Jason Richardson (10 points, 4-13 FG, five rebounds) made things interesting late after Hedo Turkoglu’s (nine points, 2-11 FG, eight assists, four turnovers) hilarious attempts to take over the game failed miserably. I wouldn’t say this game was quite as balanced as yesterday’s match-up with Miami, but it was competitive to say the least.
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images.
This year’s MVP Award is about as open-and-shut as it gets. It’s not so much a ‘race’ as it is an ordaining, with LeBron James securing the second of what should be many MVP honors with another absolutely dominant season. Other names are thrown around to artificially generate some conversation where there should be none, and as something of a consolation prize to every NBA superstar not named LeBron.
As far as individual accolades go, that’s what these guys have to play for: second place, runner-up, honorable mention. James has reached such a stellar level of individual production that claiming to be his equal is as foolish as it is false, and thus the highest individual honor another player can receive is simply to have a place at his table.
That’s essentially what the MVP “conversation” has devolved to this season, and in the name of giving Dirk Nowitzki his due among the next tier of stars, I’ll simply point you toward Dirk’s body of work this season.
|Player||PER||adj +/-||win shares||WARP
Nowitzki is truly elite. His numbers compare favorably to even the best in the league. However, while the metrics are fairly kind to Dirk, there is yet another divide that exists between Nowitzki and some of his contemporaries. At the absolute pinnacle of the game is James, who should start clearing out a shelf or six in his trophy case. On the second tier are Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant, three spectacular talents that are somehow only getting better. Below them sits Nowitzki, as well as Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Deron Williams, as well as a few other stars that either aren’t performing quite up to their usual levels of excellence or haven’t experienced enough team success to be considered viable MVP candidates.
Dirk lies at the impressive intersection of those criteria, and his individual ability to impact a basketball game is obviously directly related to the Mavs’ 54-win mark. He is Dallas’ unquestioned offensive anchor, and though Jason Kidd also has a profound influence on how Dallas operates on that end, this is Dirk’s show. His ability to operate out of the high post is unmatched, and he’s a far more accomplished low post scorer than many are willing to admit. He’s ultimately a more productive player than Nash (which is partially attributable to their different roles), both more productive and more efficient than Williams, and posted a better overall season than Bryant.
I would argue that Nowitzki warrants prime placement on MVP ballots among that third group of stars. I’ve always interpreted the MVP as an award for the player with the most outstanding season, and with that as the basis for selection, I fail to see how you could choose any other third tier candidate. It’s not that Nash, Williams, or Bryant are inherently flawed choices; each is having a fine season and is near the top of their profession. Dirk has just been a bit better this year.
Steve Nash is an absolute wizard when it comes to running an offense, and he’s one of the most efficient shooters in the game. But he’s also one of the league’s worst defenders (not an exaggeration) and most of Nash’s edge in scoring efficiency can be chalked up to his notably low usage. Once that’s accounted for, Steve’s alarming turnover rate (21.3%!) starts to hedge his offensive value, if only a bit. Nowitzki, on the other hand, is positively stingy in his protection of the ball; Dirk’s turnover rate is about a third of Nash’s, despite a significantly higher usage rate. I think it would be difficult to argue that Nash was more productive this season on offense than Nowitzki to begin with, but Dirk’s added scoring volume, defensive edge (Nowitzki may not be great, but he’s still far better than Nash), and rebounding push him well over the top.
The nature of Dirk’s comparison to Deron Williams is quite similar, though with a few exceptions: Nash is a far more efficient scorer than Deron and a slightly more prolific passer, but Williams is a significantly better defender and less prone to turn the ball over. The net result of a comparison between Dirk and Deron is thus more of the same: Nowitzki’s impressive combination of high volume and high efficiency (despite his high usage) just makes too convincing of a case.
As for Kobe Bryant, I’m going to put this in a way that’s sure to inspire some reactionary commenters: where is it exactly that Kobe is supposed to have the advantage over Dirk? Bryant’s points per minute edge over Nowitzki is negligible. Kobe doesn’t get to the free throw line more often, he too turns the ball over more than Nowitzki, and faces a sizable deficit in shooting percentage (despite having superior teammates, a legendary offensive system, and a masterful coach). He creates for his teammates more often than Dirk does, but not to a particularly dominant degree (23.8 assist rate vs. 12.8). The only significant advantage that Bryant has over Nowitzki is his defense, but he also has a few things working against him:
- The Lakers are struggling badly, and team leaders — like Bryant — are held accountable for those struggles. There’s no excuse for L.A. not to put fear in the hearts of men, and yet they only seem particularly intimidating on paper. Los Angeles is still the favorite to win the West, as they should be, but the fact that their conference supremacy is even slightly in question is a blemish.
- Clutch play, typically regarded as a Bryant strength, is actually advantage: Dirk. And this is one of Kobe’s most impressive clutch seasons ever.
- Efficiency matters. It really, really does. Basketball isn’t so much a game of how much you score but how you go about doing it, and the fact that Nowitzki can nearly match Bryant’s scoring production by using less of his teams possessions means quite a bit.
Just take a little glance up at the chart that’s posted above. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Even looking at the metrics where defense is accounted for (adjusted +/-, win shares, wins above replacement player), Bryant claims no advantage. His biggest victory among those four measures is a +0.6 edge in APM, while Dirk’s win shares are notably higher and his PER marginally higher.
It’s likely that if you consider Bryant to be an All-NBA defender, he makes your hypothetical MVP ballot. I don’t. He’s a good defender and a great one when he’s interested, but the Lakers’ troubles this season didn’t exclude Kobe and they weren’t solely restricted to the offensive end of the floor. The lack of focus and effort applied to Bryant as well. I’m sure part of that was natural letdown, part of it frustration, part of it having Ron Artest around to lock down on the perimeter, and plenty of it injury. All understandable, but they don’t reconcile the drop-off even if they do excuse it.
If you ask me who is the better player between the two, I’ll tell you it’s Kobe. If you ask me which of the two has had a better season, I’ll tell you it’s Dirk. The MVP rewards a player for having the most outstanding season, not necessarily for being the best player. That’s why things like games missed due to injury and consistency aren’t just arbitrary criteria. They legitimately matter because the award goes to the player with the greatest performance rather than the greatest potential to perform.
That player is LeBron James. But a few pegs down is Dirk Nowitzki, and he’s not too bad, either.
For kicks, my MVP ballot, if you haven’t discerned it already:
- LeBron James
- Dwight Howard
- Dwyane Wade
- Kevin Durant
- Dirk Nowitzki
Thanks to Basketball-Reference, Basketball Prospectus, and Basketball Value for stats and metrics used for this post.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“Yeah. That went well.”
-Captain Malcolm Reynolds
As much as we’d like for the Mavs to down the Magic on a night like this, it’s not reasonable to expect it. For one, the Magic are far and away the superior team. Plus, it’s the second night of a back-to-back for the Mavs, and they’re coming off an overtime finish and a plane ride home, no less. I know the Mavs don’t need any excuses at this point, but the realities of the NBA regular season do influence performance from time to time, and this one was off those times.
It’s no surprise that the Mavs stuck with the Magic before slipping in the second half. I didn’t quite expect them to post an effective field goal percentage as low as 40.7%, but that’s what happens when everyone’s shooting turns a bit wild. The only Mavericks who could score were Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 24 but took 22 shots to do so, and Jason Terry, who finished with similar efficiency in scoring 16 points on 16 shots. They “carried” the offense, but only because the first half was so low-scoring that even an inefficient night from the Mavs’ two primary scorers kept them close. Decent defense from both sides DOMINATED the first 24 minutes, provided your understanding of defensive domination includes both teams missing open jumpers, committing unforced turnovers, and lacking any kind of offensive cohesion.
In the second half, members of the Magic just took turns exposing various aspects of the Mavs’ defense. Orlando utilized its numerous perimeter alternatives on the pick-and-roll, exploiting the Mavs’ tendency to double down on Howard following his strong start to hit three after three. Mickael Pietrus (24 points, 7-8 FG, 6-6 3FG) was especially dangerous in that regard, and he was absurdly effective from the corners. Jameer Nelson (14 points, seven assists, six turnovers) joined in on the fun to hedge the damage of his dismal first half, and his ability to hit from mid-range and his patience in the pick-and-roll was a big reason why the Magic’s third quarter offense was so effective. Then, Vince Carter (19 points, 8-17 FG, seven rebounds) beefed up his production in time to cushion Orlando’s lead, and Pietrus finished with nine of the Magic’s final 10 points to protect it from a late Maverick rally.
It was just a matter of time before Orlando’s defense came around. Dwight Howard (18 points, 20 rebounds, five blocks) is one of the league’s most influential defensive forces, and every block (and even goaltend) made the Mavs more and more nervous around the basket. Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood passed up looks at the rim due to Howard’s very presence, and many more Mavs faked themselves out of a rhythm as they approached the basket. There are certain award races this season that have discussions or arguments involved. Defensive Player of the Year is not one of them. No player in the league has a more profound impact on the defensive end, and that’s just as obvious in what he does do (block shots, get mad rebounds, show aggressively on screens) as what he doesn’t (deter opponents from coming in the lane, alter shot selection).
Otherwise, there’s not much to say. The half-court offense was stymied by an elite defense, the Mavs blew plenty of their opportunities in transition, and the better team won. Dallas looked off, was forced into too many tough shots, and couldn’t convert their easy ones. That’s not exactly a winning formula on any night, much less one where the opponent is a true contender and one of the hottest teams in the league.
The closest thing Dallas had to a hero was J.J. Barea (16 points, 7-9 FG, two steals), who put on something of a one-man comeback in the fourth quarter. Barea, the very man so many Mavs fans are desperately trying to bury as an offering to Rodrigue Beaubois, scored 14 points in the fourth quarter alone, including Dallas’ last seven. As much as we’d all like to carve out minutes for Beaubois, Barea still deserves to play. He’ll have nights where he’ll struggle to keep the offense in control or where his shot is a bit errant. That’s why he’s a reserve and not a starting-caliber guard. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t deserve to play or even rightfully deserve the back-up point guard job. It’s crucial that Rick Carlisle keeps his options open, and more important than cementing the back-up PG role is doling out minutes based on the merits of each players’ recent performance. On this night, for example, Rodrigue finished with just two points on 0-of-3 shooting and two turnovers. He may have the potential to produce in greater volume than J.J. (hello, 40-point night), but Barea was by far the more productive player against the Magic. The debate should never have been about getting more minutes for Beaubois, but rather for getting more minutes for the players that deserve them.
- Brandon Bass (eight points, two rebounds) doesn’t always crack the rotation for the Magic, but he played well in 12 minutes. His defense was a mixed bag (some things never change, right?), but offensively he was a nice boost.
- Caron Butler (three points, 0-4 FG, three rebounds, three turnovers) is really struggling right now. On the bright side, his poor shooting isn’t shifting him into chucking mode, but he really needs to establish his value on the offensive end. Otherwise, he’s probably not worth the minutes. I’m not saying Butler should frequently try to take his man one-on-one, but what is Caron providing on the floor during these stretches where only Dirk or JET is clicking on offense? Part of that is the tendency to milk the hot hand, which is fine. It’s after the hot hand cools off that the problems begin to surface, and ideally that’s where you’d like to see Caron chip in.
- Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood combined for 10 points and 18 rebounds, which is alright, I suppose. Both were clearly upstaged by Dwight (as is to be expected), but the defensive effort was there even if neither could properly hold Howard down. The Mavs began their coverage of Howard with a variety of double-teams coming from different angles at different times, but to no avail; Dwight showed off a variety of post moves (including a beauty of a lefty running hook) and found his open teammates on the perimeter. He’s such a tough cover in this system, and that was before the Magic’s outside shooting really started clicking.
- Though the Mavs often looked a step slow, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Dallas really competed in this one, and kept fighting to trim the lead even when a comeback seemed impossible. The loss still hurts (especially in the standings), but the fight is important.
- Orlando finished 14-of-24 from beyond the arc. Ouch.
Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”
-Louisa May Alcott
- In light of everything that’s happened over the last two months (the Josh Howard Witch Trials, The Depression of 2010, and Tradeapalooza, in particular), this win should give Mavs fans a greater sense of optimism than any other this season. We’re starting to see how Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood fit in with this Maverick team, and the early returns are definitely promising.
- The story of the game is, without a doubt, the Mavs’ 19-0 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth. Even more impressive: the last 12 points of that run came without Dirk Nowitzki on the floor, as a lineup of Kidd-Terry-Butler-Marion-Haywood rattled off 12 uncontested in a little over three minutes. It was also an incredibly balanced run, as JET, Kidd, and Haywood chipped in five apiece and Dirk added four.
- Without such a terrific team-wide performance late in the game, the Mavs would’ve been doomed to a loss. Orlando put the pressure on the Dallas early by dropping 33 points in the first quarter (on 65% shooting) to the Mavs’ 23, including 20 points in the paint based on Howard’s strong start.
- Dwight Howard (29 points, 11-16 FG, 16 rebounds, five blocks) was incredible, but Brendan Haywood’s defense was nothing to scoff at. Dwight did a lot of damage in the first quarter against the Mavs’ inferior post defenders, and though Howard ended up with some pretty incredible totals, Haywood really did bother him with his length and strength. Howard had 10 touches against the rest of the Mavs, and either scored or drew a foul on eight of those possessions. But against Haywood? On 26 touches, Howard only scored or drew a foul on 11 possessions. I know it’s not rocket science to declare Haywood the Mavs’ best post defender, especially with Dampier absent, but those numbers are indicative of not only how well Brendan plays on-ball defense in the post, but also how well he denies position and the ball to opposing centers.
- J.J. Barea played just eight minutes, all of which came in the second quarter. But in those eight minutes, he did a surprisingly effective job of buoying the Maverick offense at a time where it looked to be in peril. The Mavs were doing a much better job defensively in the second quarter than they did in the first, holding the Magic to just 14 points in the quarter. The only problem? Dallas couldn’t score. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry combined for five straight misses over the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, and aside from an Eddie Najera three with 7:03 on the clock, Barea had the only points of the first five minutes. Never underestimate the impact of a couple of buckets when a team is completely unable to score.
- Another game with a short rotation for the Mavs — only seven players played 10 minutes or more, and only eight played at all. For contrast, the Magic played ten players overall, nine of which played 10+ minutes. This could change when Erick Dampier comes back from injury or as Rick Carlisle sees more situational opportunities for Rodrigue Beaubois, but given the personnel the Mavs now have, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Carlisle run a tight rotation from this point forward.
- The key for Dallas was, again, balance; five Mavericks finished in double-figures, including 15 points on 10 shots for Haywood, 16 points on meh shooting from Butler, and a tidy 16 points, seven rebounds, and four assists from Terry.
- Caron Butler has not shot well in any of his first three games as a Maverick, but he is showing improvement. Right now he’s showing some skill in creating in one-on-one situations, but that’s where most of his looks are coming from. Butler’s having some trouble finishing around the basket (per HoopData’s Tom Haberstroh, “Caron Butler is a crisp 3-14 on layups since he joined the Mavericks.”) and is taking too many long jumpers (six of his eighteen attempts came between 16-23 feet away from the basket, and three of his attempts were threes), but as he gets more and more comfortable with the offense, his teammates will find him in positions more conducive to scoring efficiently. Think about the way Dirk plays. He gets the ball in most efficient spots on the floor, and then capitalizes by using his height and footwork and by relying on optimal court spacing. Right now, Butler’s left to pump fakes and crossovers, and while it’s getting him some points, he isn’t nearly as efficient as he could be.
- Re: above, it’s essentially the same for Brendan Haywood and defense. He’s playing well in one-on-one contests right now, but he clearly gets a bit lost in the rotations and in more complex coverages. It’s not a hole in Haywood’s game, just lack of familiarity with a defensive system he stumbled into barely a week ago (if that).
- The Magic, who are 8th in the league in three-point shooting percentage at 36.3%, shot a miserable 16% (4-25) from beyond the arc. Part of that is good shooters going cold, but the Mavs also appeared to be chasing the Magic off of the three-point line by design. Many of Orlando’s shooters, however, simply refused to be chased. Credit them for their perseverance, I guess, but the result was a lot of tough, contested jumpers.
Shot distribution data from HoopData.com.