The Rundown is back. Every Monday, The Rundown will chronicle the week that was for the Mavericks, as well as let you know what is coming up for the boys in blue, with a unique spin. Simply put, it is your Monday catch-up on all things with the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks completed their brutal stretch of 16 out of 23 games on the road. They didn’t exactly come out of it smelling like daisies. They did come out of it with a roster tweak, though. The week brought new players, fines, late game breakdowns, trade speculation, growth and regression. Through all of that, the week saw a little glimmer of hope. There truly is never a dull moment for the Mavericks. Let’s take a look at the week for that was for Dallas.
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Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — Game Flow
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- It would be incredibly easy to simply chalk this loss up to excellent shooting by the Lakers (48.8%) and horrid shooting by the Mavericks (37%). The shooting played a part, yes, but the Lakers did a phenomenal job of exploiting every single weakness of this Dallas team.
- With Shawn Marion (10 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals) covering one of the league’s best in Kobe Bryant (19 points, five assists), O.J. Mayo guarded Metta World Peace (19 points, six rebounds) and clearly he took his assignment too lightly. MWP hit his first open three with Mayo nowhere in sight, followed that up with a pair of driving layups, and then hit another three Mayo challenged late. World Peace scored all ten points in the first four minutes of the game. That lack of attention to detail set the tone for Dallas for the remainder of the night.
- Dallas cannot find a way to effectively guard the pick and roll as of this point in the season. Recently, Carlisle has opted to have the big man, usually Chris Kaman (four points, three rebounds), show high on the pick and roll to slow down the ball handler. Unfortunately, he does not have the lateral quickness to recover when the opposing screener rolls or slips the screen, forcing a rotation from the baseline which essentially breaks down the entire Maverick defensive structure. When that screener is someone like Pau Gasol (13 points, nine rebounds, three assists) it wreaks havoc on the Dallas defense as there is often not anyone to protect the rim when these defensive rotations occur.
- To be fair to Kaman, he’s not the only Dallas big man who is having this issue. Elton Brand (four rebounds, one assist) and Troy Murphy (two rebounds) are all well past the point to where they can consistently recover on a constant barrage of pick and rolls. Brandan Wright (six points, one rebound) and Bernard James (seven points, five rebounds, four blocks) are each much better about showing and recovering, but Carlisle has been reluctant to use them for larger stretches.
- I’d like to be wrong about this, but it seems as if Darren Collison (two points, four assists, four turnovers) is always shocked when he runs into a screen on defense. One and a half minutes into the game he was knocked down by a Dwight Howard (15 points, seven rebounds, five steals, two blocks) screen that Elton Brand was clearly calling out. Collison seems to get hung up on most of the screens set by opposing offenses. Pair that with the Dallas big men being unable to recover fast enough, and we see Dallas getting exploited in the paint with alarming regularity as of late.
- The Lakers marginalized Collison, as he shot one for ten from the floor and made some silly turnovers in the process. The Lakers limited his ability to penetrate on the right side of the floor with his strong hand where he is most productive. As a result he mostly able to penetrate on the left side of the floor with his off hand where he was often met by Dwight Howard and had to adjust his shot accordingly. Collison’s outside shots were mostly uncontested and they simply wouldn’t fall. Oddly enough, this season Collison has been brutal in the 10-15 foot range, shooting 24%.
- The Lakers picked up the Dallas ball handlers just after half court with intense pressure, seeming to dare the Maverick guards to drive. The result was that Dallas struggled to get into their offense in a timely manner. Collison, Dominque Jones (two points, three assists), and Rodrigue Beaubois (eight points, six assists) all acted as if they hadn’t dealt with half court pressure before.
- Dallas also has an offensive screening problem. I need to see more film, but O.J. Mayo (13 points, three rebounds) does a very poor job coming off screens to get the ball out of initial offensive sets. In theory, one is supposed to run one’s man into the screener by running off him, even rubbing shoulders with the screener if need be. It’s how someone like Ray Allen can play into his late 30′s. Mayo often (but not always) runs without purpose, and the screener is often forced to step towards his man, which is a great chance to pick up an offensive foul. Mayo needs to run his man into the screener so he can have more time once he catches the ball on the wing.
- The fault doesn’t purely lie with Mayo, however. Outside of Bernard James, the current Dallas bigs are not excellent screeners. This is one area Dirk does not get near enough credit for, and one area where he’ll help immediately upon his return (that he’s able to roll, slip, and flare for the league’s prettiest jump shot also helps in that area).
- Not to keep picking on Mayo, but his inability to operate out of a pick and roll where he is the primary ball handler is confusing. Though he only accounted for two turnovers, I counted four separate occasions where he attempted to split a hedge trap from the Lakers, only to fall over, dribble off someone’s foot, or make a bad pass.
- Part of this can be attributed to the Laker defense and some can be attributed to Mayo trying to force the issue since Dallas was down big. But this isn’t the first game I’ve seen this. I was confused by the “hero ball” in the Golden State overtime loss; Mayo scored all of his points in transition or playing one on one, there was no chance of a two man game. Mayo will have to get better at working out of pick and roll opportunities in order to thrive in Carlisle’s offense.
- It’s a bit odd that Vince Carter(16 points on ten shots) has become a stabilizing influence off the bench. There were times last year where I’d cringe as he’d enter the game. Carter helped make the game seem manageable in the first quarter with five points coming within the flow of the offense. He was the only guard who had no trouble dealing with the Laker defensive pressure early in the game.
- The Laker defense was tremendous, particularly in the paint. Though Dallas actually committed fewer turnovers than Los Angeles (15 to 19), Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol changed so many shots in the paint they effectively became turnovers. Go look at the shot chart again. The Mavericks had to earn every point in the lane.
- Elton Brand’s lack of shooting touch is bordering on “Lamar Odom in 2011-2012″. Last year, Brand shot about 45% from three feet all the way to just inside the three point line. This year he’s struggling from the ten feet to three point line range, shooting just 13-46 for the year.
- He missed two free throw jumpers early in the first quarter, each wide open. If Brand is able to hit those shots, he changes the way the Lakers defend. Without Dirk, the only player who has shown himself capable of hitting that 15 footer is Brandan Wright (of all people), and he usually does so while moving towards the bucket. I really do think Brand figures it out, but it’s so painful to watch and he’s an offensive liability at the moment.
- Speaking of liabilities, there has to be some sort of explanation as to why Troy Murphy saw fourteen minutes tonight. He did not match up well with any member of the Lakers front court defensively and Pau and Antawn Jamison (19 points, 15 rebounds) simply owned him. The theory on offense is that he adds some aspect of a stretch four. While he has hit 10 three’s this season, seven of those came in two games; the other seven games Murphy is 3-19 from deep. Until Dirk comes back, we should start seeing more Wright and Sarge and less Murphy.
- Jae Crowder (15 points, four rebounds, four steals) was one of only four Mavericks to not post a negative plus-minus. Considering all thirteen Mavericks saw at least ten minutes, this is fairly impressive when one factors in the blowout. His spot up shooting has been solid, but I’m more impressed by the way he attacks the rim. Most of the Dallas players seemed to dreading contact tonight whereas Crowder seemed to relish in it.
- I’d be curious to know if Crowder’s shot selection is by design. As you can tell from the shot chart, he takes most of his threes from the free throw line extended area. It’s challenging for teammates to establish position for offensive rebounds as missed shots from that angle can go a variety of places even if its an on target shot. Given that corner threes are the most efficient three point shot, I’d expect to see him taking more in those locations.
- Chris Kaman is the lone Maverick who can consistently score with his back to the basket. Tonight as the game wore on, he clearly became frustrated by the Laker defense and drifted farther and farther away from the goal. Five of his eleven shots came from 15 feet or more from the rim. Kaman has to force the issue and get to the foul line against talented front lines if Dallas hopes to establish consistent offense.
- While you can count me among those who think Brandan Wright needs more playing time, its clear why he doesn’t get time. In his thirteen minutes, he grabbed one rebound. Wright tries to block some shots which he won’t get to, thus putting himself completely out of rebounding position. In the fourth there were a couple of occasions where he wildly tried to block a shot only to see his man get an offensive rebound and put back.
- On ESPN Insider David Thorpe characterized Bernard James as “a legit shot-blocking specialist” after a series of games where Sarge saw time and made an impact. James blocks shots from guards which are made in an attempt to avoid a shot blocker entirely. His timing and effort were fantastic and he was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise horrible night.
- That the Lakers were able to put up 115 points without Steve Nash is impressive. The Lakers got 107 points out of their top eight rotation players. Antawn Jamison in particular dominated, with 19 points and 15 rebounds. His 12 defensive rebounds were two less than the entire Dallas starting five.
- Dwight Howard played an impressive game and yet he still looks fairly slow. Well, slow for him. With Andrew Bynum out until further notice, the gap between Dwight Howard and any of the other league’s centers is so wide it doesn’t matter if Dwight is only at 80%. I expect Howard will continue to regain his explosiveness as the season moves along. If that happens and D’Antoni actually opts to use Dwight in pick and roll situations the league is in trouble.
- The clear difference in the first match up between these teams was the free throw shooting; Dallas shot 14 of 18 while LA managed 12 of 31. The Lakers managed to nearly double that number tonight, shooting 23 of 34. The Mavs, on the other hand, struggled mightily, shooting 12 of 22. Particularly strange was the Jae Crowder-Dominique Jones combo shooting zero for seven from the charity stripe. Both players have earned minutes in the rotation, but not hitting free throws is one way back to the bench. Dallas has to hit their free throws against top tier teams.
- It was nice to see Roddy Beaubois contribute, even in a blow out. He’s not seen much time as of late, and to dish out six assists and eight points in around eighteen minutes is a good sign, particularly after not playing in two of the last three games.
- Why Laker fans insist on wanting to trade Pau Gasol is beyond me. He’s easily one of the best pivot men of a generation. Outside of Dirk, there is not another modern European player who has been better. He’s been slow to get going, but I fully expect Pau to have an All-Star caliber season.
Kirk is a member of the Two Man Game family. Follow him on twitter @KirkSeriousFace
LeBron James had become death, the Shatterer of Worlds. If July 8th, 2010 was the date that the bomb dropped, the NBA’s Manhattan Project had started long before. It has been said that while all three of Miami’s Superfriends were affable since their arrival in the 2003 draft class, it was the 2008 Olympics where their cabal was created and real plans forged. All of them passed on full contract extensions, went into free agency where any team could have them for the right price, but ended up with Pat Riley, who just happenstancely had decided to rebuild in the middle of Dwayne Wade’s prime and had the money to pay all three available. Jeff Van Gundy prophesied they’d win more than 72 games and the era of player-created teams began.
Mere days after the Decision, Carmelo Anthony’s wedding brought together many of basketball’s young superstars. It was there that Chris Paul declared to form his own “Big Three,” supposedly referring to Amare’ Stoudemire, Carmelo, and himself. For all those that had foreseen apocalypse in The Decision, it was now undeniable: the end was nigh. Small markets and less desirable locales would be destroyed by pillars of fire, prayers went up that Michael, Larry and Magic would be raptured before having to see a future where would-be rivals were teammates. These upstarts would rule the Earth soon enough, friendship and collusion would hold the basketball world in an iron grip. And the next shoe did drop shortly behind the first: Amar’e signed with New York in the off-season with Carmelo following in a mid-season trade.
Not all that was foreseen came to pass. Miami failed to live up to its immediate expectations and there was talk of Spoelestra being fired (not that anyone would be silly enough to fire a coach shortly after adding two star players…). The Heat lost in the Finals their first season after adding James and Bosh. As quickly as it had been declared they would set a new record of wins, their loss in the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks brought about declarations that LeBron would never win a championship.
Praise was heaped on the Mavericks from every direction as all those who had foretold the demise of their beloved sport instead were reassured in the success of the previous status quo. The Mavericks won their sole championship on the back of a slow build through draft, trade and free agency, and the continuation of the trusted method of paying the luxury tax to win. Dallas had provided a reprieve with which to review how the NBA’s greatest teams of 2011 had been formed: OKC’s drafted nucleus, Dallas’ free agent and trade, Miami’s player-as-GM foray. One team was noticeably absent.
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Box Score – Play-by-Play – Shot Chart — Game Flow
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
- 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.