The Futile Case of Dirk Nowitzki for MVP

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 15, 2010 under Commentary | 10 Comments to Read

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.

PlayerPERadj +/-win sharesWARP
LeBron James31.117.318.525.3
Kevin Durant26.117.815.817.6
Dwight Howard24.121.813.119.2
Dwyane Wade2816.11320
Dirk Nowitzki237.212.211.7
Deron Williams20.615.710.313.2
Steve Nash21.713.49.713.4
Kobe Bryant21.97.89.511.1

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:

  1. LeBron James
  2. Dwight Howard
  3. Dwyane Wade
  4. Kevin Durant
  5. Dirk Nowitzki

Thanks to Basketball-Reference, Basketball Prospectus, and Basketball Value for stats and metrics used for this post.

Dallas Mavericks 97, Miami Heat 91: Abridged

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 21, 2010 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found.
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

  • Just a lovely win. You’d like to see the Mavs really take advantage of a Miami team that’s missing Dwyane Wade, but a quality win is a quality win. After all, these are NBA players. Sometimes all that separates a benchwarmer from a contributor is opportunity, and with Wade out of the picture, the Heat’s lesser talents got a chance to strut their stuff. So what appears to be a clear victory is often hardly so simple. Case in point: Daequan Cook. Cook is averaging 5.6 PPG this season on 32.5% shooting. So naturally, with double the minutes and over double the shots, Cook caught fire and dropped a season-high 22 on the Mavs while shooting 50% from the field. Is part of that poor defense and open opportunities? Most certainly. But to throw away Cook’s performance merely on the basis of the Mavs’ faults is a bit misguided. Yes, Daequan has had a pretty miserable year, and his night definitely qualifies as a bit of a fluke; expecting 22 points from him on a nightly basis would be downright foolish. But that doesn’t mean that every once in awhile the man can’t catch fire, and on this night he did just that and had the freedom to cash in.
  • If the first half of the season was predicated on the Mavs building early leads and holding on for close wins, the post-trade Mavs’ success has been based on staying competitive and winning late with lock-down defense. Dallas used a 9-0 run late in the third quarter and a 7-0 run late in the fourth to keep the Heat at bay, and each wasn’t so much an offensive explosion as an exercise in staying in position, being patient on defense, and forcing turnovers or misses.
  • Jason Kidd was particularly effective defensively, and he’s playing with an incredible amount of energy on both ends right now. Kidd finished with 21 points (5-8 FG, 3-5 3FG), 11 assists, five rebounds, and three steals in what turned out to be a perfect cap for his impressive week. Player of the game, player of the week, and the player most essential to making Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler more comfortable in the offense.
  • Speaking of Haywood and Butler: it the Mavs had played this game pre-trade, there’s no way they would’ve escaped with a victory. With Drew Gooden guarding Jermaine O’Neal (18 points, 9-15 FG, 13 rebounds, four turnovers)? Jermaine drops 25 or 30. With the Mavs having to rely heavily on Josh Howard, considering Jason Terry’s 0-for-10 night? Josh may have scored a bit and played reasonably well, but to say that his offense has come and gone this season would be a gross understatement. Instead, Butler put together his best offensive performance as a Maverick in scoring 20 points on just 13 shots (with 54% shooting to boot!) while rounding out his line with four rebounds and three assists, and Haywood had his first double-double as a Maverick with 11 points and 11 boards. Kidd may have stolen the show, but those two were absolutely crucial to the victory.
  • I don’t know what else to say about Dirk Nowitzki (28 points, 10-21 FG, five rebounds, two assists), aside from the fact that it was one of those nights. Aside from a cold fourth quarter, Dirk was draining jumper after jumper, primarily due to Dirk finding holes in Miami’s defense and Dirk’s teammates (particularly Kidd) finding him at exactly the right moment. The chemistry is already there for those who have been Mavs all season long, and it will get there between Mavs new and old. Those feeds from Butler to Dirk will start getting crisper and crisper, and soon enough, these guys will seem like a part of the family.
  • The Dallas bench scored just six points. That kind of showing makes miserable look good, appalling look appetizing, and insufferable seem, well, sufferable. Dallas isn’t going to win many games with that type of showing from the bench, regardless of who is coming off the pine.
  • Defense is a headache from reading and re-reading scouting reports. It’s a sweet TV spot. It’s technique, athleticism, anticipation, and blind luck all rolled into one. It’s holding a team to 12 points in the third quarter on 5-of-13 shooting with six turnovers.
  • If nothing else, the trade and the All-Star break have given the Mavs a youthful exuberance. Oklahoma City may have trumped Dallas with their energy out of the gate, but since then, the Mavs have been anything but lethargic. Kidd is all over the court and swinging the ball, and Shawn Marion (11 points, 5-6 FG, five rebounds) is running the break as well as he has all season.
  • I’m greatly anticipating the first successful Jason Kidd-Brendan Haywood pick-and-roll lob. It’s coming.
  • I don’t know whether his production trumps what Kris Humphries would have been able to bring to the table, but Eddie Najera is providing some solid minutes at center for a Dallas team with few alternatives. With Dampier out (he’s still sidelined with that nasty open dislocation), the Mavs are leaning heavily on Haywood and Najera to man the middle. Both are doing a terrific job thus far.

Heard It Through the Grapevine 4-2-09

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 2, 2009 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • If it worked against Wade, then why not Kobe?  The Mavs’ aggressive double-teams late in last night’s game completely took Wade out of the game, and you have to wonder how that would work against L.A.’s star among stars.  From Tim MacMahon of the DMN Mavs Blog: “If the Mavs can’t climb out of the 8 seed, that might be a wise strategy against Kobe Bryant during winning time. Or maybe not. ‘I think Kobe’s got better teammates,’ Dirk said last night. ‘We had to scramble and [Udonis] Haslem was open, [Michael] Beasley was open, a lot of their guys were open. I don’t think we can do that with the Lakers. They’re just too good.’”  Tim comes to the conclusion that he’d rather have Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, or Derek Fisher taking the big shots than Kobe, and on that note I agree.  But I don’t know if I’d rather them shoot wide open shots, which seemed an inevitability last night even with the Mavs doing their best to rotate.  You just don’t give Fisher open threes with the game in the balance, and Gasol combines a nice spot-up shot with good court sense and an ability to finish around the rim.  It’s definitely an approach worth considering, but it’s an entirely different ballgame with the Lakers.
  • Eddie Sefko shares an anecdote of an exchange he had with Assistant Coach Terry Stotts on the DMN Mavs Blog: “…first, he handed me a sheet of paper. It had points in the paint for each NBA team, with all the playoff teams highlighted. The Mavericks, of course, are ahead of only three teams in that department. But one of the teams they are ahead of is San Antonio. ‘There’s more than one way to win games,’ Stotts said.”
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wants to remove all doubt regarding Josh Howard’s crucial defensive play: “…yes, it most definitely was a charge. A text-book charge. Case closed.”
  • I don’t wanna say I told you so, but I told you so.  From the post-game quotes at Mavs Moneyball:
    “14 points in 22 minutes last night, 20 points in 29 minutes tonight.  What do you attribute you getting back into the groove so quickly too?
    [Josh Howard]: Darrell Armstrong.  That’s who I’ve been working out with. He’s just a great guy for our locker room and off the court.  He keeps me going and keeps this locker room going.”
  • Rick Carlisle on Dirk, via Jimmy Shapiro of “He’s a great player, he’s a great player. I can’t begin to tell you what he means to our team, I just know I’ve been around some great players in my career. I got a chance to play in Boston in the mid-80’s when Bird was MVP 3 consecutive years and McHale, Parrish and Bill Walton were Hall of Famers; Dennis Johnson should be a Hall of Famer. Now I have a chance to work with two – Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd…It’s amazing to me that a guy like Dirk is underappreciated. He’s a 25 point scorer and if our record was better right now, he’d be in the conversation as a possible MVP candidate or in the top 5 or 6 at least.”
  • I hope this is the very last that I hear of Howard’s wrist this season, or we could have troubles in paradise yet again.
  • Remember that quote a month back or so from Devean George about the Mavs defensive failures being linked to a lack of communication?  I certainly do, and couldn’t help but smile a bit when I read this (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “‘Great team defense,’ Howard said. ‘Guys communicated, and it was great to see us flying around like that with a lot of energy, a lot of life.’”

Dallas Mavericks 98, Miami Heat 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by AP Photo/Tim Sharp.

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It’s truly spectacular, no other words.
-Stephen Robinson

You want vindication, Mavs fans?  There’s your vindication.  We can talk Warriors and catharsis all day long, but what brings more emotional closure than beating Dwyane Wade at his own game?  The Mavs and the Heat traded big shot for big shot for what seemed like days, but this time around, Dallas got the edge of a beneficial whistle and a nice shiny dagger.  Trophy-less revenge never seemed so sweet.

I’d be lying to you if I said that I just knew it would end up that way.  Even with the Mavs clutching a small lead, the big Wade shot seemed inevitable.  But a strange thing happened, and I’d like to think that this is at least one area improvement since the original letdown of ’06: it never game.  Jason Kidd denied, denied, denied, and when Wade did get the ball, the double-team came immediately and Kidd went into an all-out frenzy to swipe the ball away.  The result?  Dwyane Wade’s last real shot attempt (excluding his last second heave from the three-point line) went up with 5:03 left in the fourth quarter, and his last actual points with nearly 6.  Somehow the Mavs denied one of the best players in basketball from getting a shot up for five straight minutes, and in the process yanked the crutch out from under Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, and Udonis Haslem.  Instead, the late game heroics came from Wade’s 2003 draftmate Josh Howard, and his Olympic teammate Jason Kidd.  Wade has only gotten better since 2006, but on this one night in April you never would have guessed it.

It’s only fair that we start with Josh Howard (20 points on 6-12 shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks).  Josh’s first quarter explosion is par for the course, but seemingly from the opening tip you could tell that he was playing with a different energy.  It was an extension of his play against Minnesota; a cornucopia of runners, post-ups, and floaters, with his favorite step-back jumper sprinkled in with discretion.  If two games qualifies as a legit trend, then Josh has done what I previously thought impossible: he’s reinvented his game, and reverted back to what earned him a special place in the hearts of Mavs fans all those years ago.  This isn’t new era Josh, the weapon that had forgotten how he carved out a place among the elite for the Mavs and doomed them to failure.  This was throwback Josh, but with all the perks (better jumper, craftier around the basket) of the new model.  His trademark first quarter was dynamite, but his second half performance was equally stunning.  He didn’t mimic his point-per-minute pace, but he gathered huge rebounds, made huge defensive plays on the weakside, and spaced the floor for the offense to open up.  It was equal parts delicious and nutricious, and 29 minutes of effort and excellence were exemplified by Howard’s drawn charge on Mario Chalmers with two seconds left and the Mavs up just one.

How great was Jason Kidd in this game?  His denial defense over the last half quarter was superb, but he played solid D on Wade throughout.  Antoine Wright shared the defensive billing at times, but the reason Wade was held to a pedestrian 23 points (9-20 FG), 6 assists, 4 turnovers, and just 6 free throw attempts was because Kidd barely gave him room to breathe.  And somewhere in there, he managed to rack up 11 assists and hit one of the biggest shots in the game, a three pointer that pulled the Mavs within one with just five and a half minutes to go.  Howard may have prevented Chalmers from getting an honest look at a game-winner, but Kidd got a hand on the ball before Wade could throw up a prayer in the corner at endgame.

Brandon Bass was the center of the night (10 points on 4-6 shooting,  8 rebounds, and 1 block in 22 minutes), and he was absolutely superb.  There are nights where Bass gets look after look from the elbow, and that I don’t mind.  He makes that shot at a great clip.  But you know what I love even more?  When every time he touches the ball within eight feet of the basket, he takes a ridiculous leap and tries to throw it down with the ferocity of a pack of tiger-eating sharks, or shark-eating tigers.  The rim was never the same again.  Bass had 8 points and 4 rebounds on perfect shooting in the second half, and led his counterpart, Udonis Haslem, scoreless in the fourth.  He was an unstoppable force inside during crucial stretches of the third and fourth quarters, and the energy he provided on both ends was tremendous.

It’s pretty sick that Dirk had 30 (9-17 FG, 2-5 3FG, 10-10 FT), and he still gets fourth billing.  It was Dirk’s 22nd 30-point game this season, and his explosion was as quiet and likely underappreciated in the game as it is in this recap.  I like to think that I give Dirk more love than most, if for no other reason than non-Mavs fans typically don’t fully understand his game outside of stereotypes and generalizations.  That said, I’m still guilty of discounting his Herculean feats of jumpshooting strength from time to time, and for that I apologize.  Josh was greThe Two Man Game › Edit Post — WordPressat, Kidd was great, and Bass was great, but Dirk was Dirk, and that’s on a different level entirely.

Props to the team as a whole for not letting this game get away from them.  The Heat hung around in the first half with some hot shooting from the perimeter (4-5 on threes in the first frame), and looked to be running away with it when their lead hit double-digits in the second half.  The Mavs’ shots weren’t falling, the turnovers were piling up, and the whistles started turning against them.  It would have been a perfect time to cave and give in to defeat.  Instead, the defensive intensity went up another notch, and the Mavs got out on the break.  The Mavs did plenty of things that I wouldn’t mind seeing on a more regular basis, but that kind of resiliency has to be at the top of that list.

Random thoughts:

  • Erick Dampier looked like he was going to be a factor early, and he was causing Jermaine O’Neal some real trouble.  The Heat brought in O’Neal to clear up the logjam at forward and improve their interior defense, but I have to ask: if O’Neal has trouble guarding Damp, who doesn’t exactly have a premier back-to-the-basket game, how could you possibly expect him to guard the centers that can really cause problems?
  • Chris Quinn is a great match-up for J.J. Barea.  Typically, playing Barea concedes something either at point guard or otherwise, simply because J.J. doesn’t have the size to contend with a lot of players.  But not only can J.J. guard Quinn, but Quinn doesn’t have much of a chance against Barea’s speed.  Happy happy, joy joy.
  • Just in case you were curious how we’ve gone this far without a JET mention, Jason Terry did play basketball on Wednesday night.  He even scored 13 points.  But he shot 5-13, and didn’t quite seem himself.  Just one of those days.
  • Jamaal Magloire had one more dunk in this game than I think he ever did in a Maverick uniform last season.
  • How good would James Singleton be if he could just hit that spot-up three from the corner?
  • A cool stat shared by the Mavs’ broadcast team: the Mavs are tied for the most wins in the league when trailing at the half.  Not bad, comeback kids.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Josh Howard, for the second straight night.  Nothing more need be said.

Dallas Mavericks 111, Miami Heat 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 1, 2009 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Photo from AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee via ESPN.

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Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.
-Maria Robinson

It may not come with a ring, but we’ll take it.

The Mavs took this game by the throat early and dominated it offensively, registering 60% shooting on the night and almost 44% from three.  The Heat aren’t exactly the Warriors, either; Miami ranks 8th in the league in defensive efficiency.  That ranking is a tad misleading given the absence of Shawn Marion, but it doesn’t change the fact that Dallas was clicking on cylinders they didn’t even know they had.

Dwyane Wade matched Dirk point for point, but the big surprise came with Devean George’s defense in the first quarter.  George drew the short straw after , and was given the assignment of checking Wade early…and managed to do a damn good job with it.  Wade attempted just four shots (making two), had three turnovers, and crowded Wade into a -9 point margin in his first quarter apperance, and that’s including Wright’s — let’s just say imperfect — defense.  Not too shabby at all, especially in the context of Wade’s brilliance so far this season (Rick Carlisle on how to defend Wade pregame: “Hope that he misses.”)  Of course Wade eventually got his on his way to 30 on the night, but he did so without catching fire; he scored well and fairly efficiently, but there was never a feeling that he was going to take the game over.  I’m sure a lot of the credit for that goes to the Mavs team defense, who had obviously done their homework.  The box score may be a bit misleading, considering the Mavs went with subs for almost the entire fourth quarter, but Dallas’ D on the night was pretty rad.  I may even stop waking up, startled, in the middle of the night and in a cold sweat, muttering “Pick-and-roll, pick-and-roll, pick-and-roll…” as I rock back and forth, curled up in a ball.  (That was one hell of a run-on.)

Erick Dampier was nice on the defensive end.  Offensively, notsomuch.  Par for the course with Damp, but the numbers won’t do his defensive impact justice.

Josh Howard’s shooting seems to be coming on.  He “only” shot 7-13 from the field, but he was nailing his spot-up attempts and he’s definitely a better shooter from the corner than any other wing on the roster.  On the other side of the court, his defense wasn’t exquisite, but it also wasn’t lacking in effort.  You can take this one of two ways: cue one up for the “Josh Howard is only Josh Howard when the game is already decided” camp, or see it as a step in the right direction going forward.

I’ve always been one for nostalgia: 14 fouls against the Mavs in the first half, just 5 against Miami.  The Heat shot 20 free throws in the first half, the Mavs shot just 5.  This time it was a little different, though: Dwyane Wade attempted just 4 free throws.

I want to take this opportunity to gush a bit about Jason Eugene Terry.  At the 7:30 mark in the second quarter, Terry dribbles around a pick at the three point line, only to see a double-team on the other side.  Then, in one fluid motion, he spins around the second defender, squares up his shot, and launches a three.  When the net splashes up like a droplet rippling in a puddle (as a product of a smooth dance of muscle memory and instant calculation), you know you’ve got a special shooter.

The Heat tried their hand playing a zone against the Mavs, and it left me wondering: why would you play zone against Dallas?  Ever?  The Mavs don’t rely on heavy penetration, and they don’t have a dominant big man.  Jason Terry, Josh Howard, and Dirk Nowitzki are all good shooters from midrange and ideal “zone-busters.”  Brandon Bass and Erick Dampier are both excellent at hitting the offensive glass, which is problematic for the scheme’s inherently weak defensive rebounding.  Aside from changing things up for the sake of changing things up, what do opposing coaches hope to do by going zone against a team that’s already too reliant on shooting jumpers?


The Gold Star of the Night goes to, surprise, Dirk Nowitzki.  30 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists might be enough to get it done on some nights, but his excellence was elevated to an outrageous level by his efficiency; Dirk went 12-13 from the field (the box score reads 12-14, but Dirk insists one of those attempts was actually a ball batted by Michael Beasley) including 1-1 on threes, was perfect from the line in 5 attempts, and had 0 turnovers.  Yeah.

Heard It Through the Grapevine 2-1-09

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • David Moore points out that although the Mavs just finished their worst January run in a decade, they finished the month in style.  Who knows where the Mavs will go from here, but in these last two games they’ve looked awfully good.
  • One of the true Achilles’ heels of this (and any other) Mavs team is pick-and-roll defense, but last night, the Mavs had a bit of a breakthrough.  Sure, the Heat don’t exactly have a stable of premier finishers at the rim, but they do have this one guy named Dwyane Wade.  I hear he’s pretty good.  Mike Fisher of Dallas of saw exactly what I saw, and that’s Dirk Nowitzki playing some excellent, aggressive pick-and-roll defense: “Miami tried to run pick-and-rolls that would victimize Dirk, and maybe even set Nowitzki up as having to guard the Heat star. But time after time, Dirk bodied into the screen, gummed up the works of the play, avoided allowing either one of the Miami players to get open, and provided time for Wade’s man to recover. He didn’t get picked for an eighth straight All-Star appearance on the strength of his pick-and-roll defense. But he’s going to get a little credit for it here.”
  • There has been one significant change that has been a flawless 2-0 so far: Kidd has taken over playcalling responsibilities.  The relationship between a head coach and a starting point guard is a strange beast, and one that I’m not sure Avery Johnson really got a handle on.  I’ve said that one of the primary differences between Avery and Rick Carlisle, despite Carlisle’s similarities to Avery in the past, has been Rick’s willingness to adjust and to compromise.  From David Moore of The Dallas Morning News: “Several players estimate that Carlisle called 70 to 80 percent of the plays in the first three months of the season and Kidd took the rest. That ratio has been reversed the last two games. “He’s orchestrating what goes on, and I’ll help out a little bit here and there,” Carlisle said. “He’s doing a great job of leading the guys who are out there on the court. We really need him in that role as a leader, as a guy calling the shots out there.” “
  • Marc Stein names Jason Terry to the “All-Harper Team” (named partially in honor of former Mav Derek Harper), an honor bestowed to the best active players to never have made an All-Star team.
  • Just like a lot of teams Dallas is playing against these days, the Heat seem poised for a rebound while the Mavs seem doomed to fade with their aging core.  David Moore of The Dallas Morning News doesn’t sound very optimistic: “Riley determined the Heat was in need of an overhaul soon after it won the title nearly three years ago. Only three players remain from that championship roster. That’s a stark contrast to the approach taken by the team that lost to Miami in the Finals. The Mavericks have doggedly clung to the belief that the franchise has a team that can win the championship. The only significant change made in its nucleus over the past 2 ½ seasons is Devin Harris and two first-round picks for Jason Kidd. The result is an aging core and team that appears to be marking time until another early playoff exit. Miami might not do any better than the Mavericks two months from now, but it has made the transformation to a young team on the rise.”
  • Despite criticisms and rumors, Josh Howard doesn’t want to anywhere.
  • Holger Gerschwindner, the man largely credited with picking Dirk out of the relative obscurity of German handball and throwing him headfirst into basketball, is apparently in the States and will be chilling with Dirk and the guys.  I can feel Avery scowling from here.
  • ‘Shock journalism’ is generally frowned upon, and one of the biggest, easiest criticisms of the blogosphere is that it relies too much on cheap entertainment that strives to be contrarian rather than insightful.  Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, as ridiculous as they may be, but as Jan Hubbard of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram points out, we may need to draw the line when Gary Payton tries to pick Al Jefferson over Tim Duncan for the All-Star team (especially when, umm, David West is sitting pretty as the resident faulty pick).  Some interesting questions are being asked, and the theme among them: has basketball analysis and telejournalism become so obsessed with its own perverse idea of entertainment that they’re forgetting what it’s all about?: “But why does Payton have to concoct such a ridiculous issue? Why does Mark Jackson have to say that Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan? Why does Jeff Van Gundy have to say that Dirk Nowitzki is not one of the top three power forwards in the game because of questions Nowitzki has honestly answered about former coach Avery Johnson? How does an opinion limit your basketball skills? These guys are all experts. They are smart basketball men. They were excellent players and coaches. What we need from them is expertise, not silliness.”
  • Just in case you were having a good day, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel decides to rub 2006 in your face.

No Game Is an Island: Rhytidectomy

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 31, 2009 under Previews | Read the First Comment

The Dallas Mavericks visit the Miami Heat
7:30 CST

It’s pretty coincidental that the NBA schedulers saw it fit to make the Mavs go head-to-head with the Warriors and the Heat in the same week.  They’re similar demons, from Dallas’ point of view.  Both make us re-think the things we take for granted, and re-evaluate the effects of the mental and emotional edge.  Maybe the Mavs were guilty of self-defeat.  Maybe they were outmatched.  By this point it’s irrelevant, but those types of questions do bring up a pretty significant point going forward.

Baron Davis may no longer be the face of the Warriors, but Dwyane Wade is still synonymous with Miami Heat.  There is absolutely no mistaking that, and no Stephen Jackson to complicate the equation.  If he, and to a lesser degree, Dirk, I guess, truly represent the Mavs’ implosion, does the Miami facelift effectively help to extinguish those fires (at least partially)?  There is no Shaquille O’Neal.  No James Posey.  No Jason Williams.  No Gary Payton.  No Antoine Walker.  No Alonzo Mourning.  I could go on and on.  Those pieces that were very much a part of the Maverick downfall have been replaced with respected Mavs’ nemesis Shawn Marion, fun-loving Michael Beasley, and draft steal Mario Chalmers.

It’s obvious that both the team and the fans are still suffering from a Finals hangover.  It’s no longer a throbbing headache; just a general sense of queasiness.  I guess what I’m really trying to poke at here is this question: was the 2006 blunder Mavs v. Heat or Dirk v. Wade?

Oh, and I think the Mavs are playing the Heat today.  Not really sure how that’s going to go, though.

Heard It Through the Grapevine 1-31-09

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • Jason Terry goes out of his way to credit Rick Carlisle with credit for his mind-blowing season off the bench.  He’s been unbelievably consistent and efficient, and it makes sense that Carlisle’s sets and system should get some credit for that.  Terry also talks ‘State of the Season,’ and points to the Boston Massacre as the rallying cry for the season.  From Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: “Terry has a realistic view about the Mavericks. But he’s also an optimist. He doesn’t believe the Mavericks have played to their potential this season. “We’re the eighth seed, and that’s not good enough,” Terry said. “I feel we’re a championship team and we should be way up toward the 1, 2, 3 seed right now. That’s not where we’re at. But we’re optimistic we can be by the end of the season.” “
  • Breaking news: According to Jeff Caplan of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Mavs have a hard time locking down Dwyane Wade.  Hard-hitting stuff.  Still, Caplan has some good quotes from the team, and goes through the changes of the Heat and the Mavs since 2006.  Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News also has a piece on championship wounds.
  • Jake from Mavs Moneyball believes that a team should only exist in one of two stages: elite or rebuilding.  On a theoretical level, I agree.  But where is the brightline?  Is “elite” a championship contender regardless of seed?  Is “rebuilding” a true salvage mission of the Maverick core?  Plus, with the contract situation and the 2010 dream still ahead, is it not possible to exist somewhere in between without cashing in?  It was mentioned briefly in the comments on this post and it’s something that Cleveland has been facing every day: the big dogs in the 2010 free agent class will want to play for teams, not necessarily markets.  I’m sure the market helps, on some level, but if the team doesn’t have the makings of competence without them, why would they waste their time, and likely, their prime?  Having young players is important, but barring a sure-thing youngin’ in a swap for one of the Mavs’ pieces, I just don’t know if it would be worth it.  Something else to think about: the Mavs have no 2010 first-rounder; why not have another go at it, trades come what may, and value each win as a sweetening of the pot for a big-name free agent?
  • What’s in a number?  Sometimes they don’t tell the story, sometimes they mislead you, and sometimes they tell you exactly what you wanted to know.  In this case, it’s something that all Mavs fans have needed to hear.  From Eddie Sefko’s game preview in The Dallas Morning News: “Josh Howard may be rounding into form. He’s averaging 19.5 points over the last four games and has hit 29 of 60 shots in that span.”

Heard It Through the Grapevine 1-29-09

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 29, 2009 under xOther | 16 Comments to Read

  • What a difference a defense makes.  Well, and a lackthereof for Golden State.  But should you be at all surprised that Don Nelson, in a showing of accountability and egotism, made it all about the Warriors?  From Tim MacMahon of The Dallas Morning News Blog: ” “You can credit their defense if you want,” Nellie said, “but I would think it’s our lack of movement and execution and a whole bunch of other things.” “
  • Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie seems to agree: “Kudos to the Mavs for putting up 117 points in their first game after a tough road trip, but that was a freakin’ lay-up line.”
  • If you merely say that the Mavs are inconsistent on defense, you probably aren’t doing them justice.  Their defensive efficiency over the course of the season reads like a seismograph.  But Jeff Caplan of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram chimes in with a bewildering stat: “Mavs coach Rick Carlisle consistently emphasizes the most glaring statistic of the season to underscore his team’s defensive inconsistency. No team in the league owns a greater disparity in the points it allows in wins vs. losses. When the Mavericks are victorious, they give up, on average, fewer than 92 points. When they lose, it balloons to nearly 110.”
  • One of the things I love about Rick Carlisle’s system as opposed to Avery’s is that it’s more of a meritocracy.  Dirk, JET, and Kidd are largely going to get their minutes.  But otherwise, if you’re working hard, in a rhythm, and playing smart (in practice and in games), you’re going to get some burn.  But if you’re turning the ball over, not playing defense, and making mental mistakes, you’ll get a comfy seat on the bench.  What did this mean for last night’s game?  It means Carlisle gives Dampier a chance to play his game against teams going small.  Sometimes it works (Warriors), and sometimes it doesn’t (Knicks).  But the important thing is that he’s getting that chance, and based on Damp’s performance last night, it can make quite a difference.  From Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: ” “When they go little, make them play on the inside and see what happens,” said Dampier, explaining that it’s just as important to make a small-ball opponent match up with you, rather than vice-versa. “One of their little guys is going to have to guard me. I just tried to be a presence with rebounding and defense.” ”
  • The Mark Cuban-Don Nelson court proceedings are still drawing headlines.  Yuck.
  • Would you believe me if I said the Mavs have won four of their last six games?
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News talks about re-signing Kidd in a Q&A: “I’d say there’s a decent chance that Kidd signs a one-year deal with the Mavericks for $10 million or $12 million. That leaves the 2010 cap space unchanged and gives the Mavericks a point guard to hold the fort until Dwyane Wade gets here. Oops, I’m sorry. Did I write that out loud?”I’ve been wondering about Wade myself.  He’s a phenomenal talent, one of the best players in the league in fact, but assuming that losing a Finals series is a sore wound that never really goes away, how does everyone feel about the idea of going after Wade?  Are the Mavericks in enough of a hole that any great player will do?  Or are there still those among us willing to “stick to their principles” and stick their noses up at the concept of attaining that “flopper?”  Personally, I think anyone would be crazy to turn down a player of Wade’s caliber, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a Mavs fan with a long memory disagree.
  • The Mavs are a good team.  That’s where you have to draw the line, though.  So when the Mavs’ front office refuses to throw in the hat and blow up the team on a gut response to a big loss, they’re probably in the right.  Stepping away from the message board fodder, Nelson and Cuban have made us all aware that they don’t intend to rebuild, don’t intend to cash in on Dirk, and don’t intend to ship out Josh.  The Mavs are among the eyes looking towards 2010, and until then it’s more about adding small pieces than making a big splash.  From Jim Reeves of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram: ” “I don’t want to take that card away from Mark in 2010, because he’s shown he’s capable of pulling a rabbit out of his hat.” That’s why the Mavs will approach deals with caution this season, especially when it comes to adding big-money contracts. It’s why they’ll just as carefully think long and hard about whether to re-sign Jason Kidd when his contract expires, or exercise their 2010-11 option on Josh Howard’s contract. What the Mavs won’t do — not while the Dirk Window is still open — is step back into a rebuilding phase.”
  • Jeff Caplan of The Forth Worth Star-Telegram, from Assistant Coach Armstrong: ” “I thought it would be a great opportunity for not only myself, but for guys that I played with [for me] to come up here and hopefully motivate them and push them to another level,” Armstrong said. “One thing about it, I was a leader on the floor when I played. I was a leader in the locker room and a leader on the bench. Avery [Johnson] gave me a lot of leeway to say things and the guys always responded…That was a good sign, not only for me, but for our team and for our players. That’s why I decided to come back and take on this opportunity and this challenge.” “
  • EDIT: Forgot one.  Austin Burton of Dime Magazine declares the Mavs one of five “Fake Contenders.”  I don’t know who he’s been talking to, but I haven’t heard the words “contender” and “Mavs” in the same sentence (barring negatives and/or expletives) in what seems like a long time.  From Dime: “Kidd can’t guard Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Deron Williams, Brandon Roy (when Portland goes big) or any other fast point guard in the West. Howard isn’t as good as he was even two years ago. Dirk has his postseason demons. They don’t even use Jerry Stackhouse anymore, one of their better clutch scorers. Since winning Game Two of the ‘06 Finals, the Mavs have gone 3-12 in the postseason.”

    I refuse to respond to the Stack comment, but I do have one question: if the Mavs are a “Fake Contender,” how is Portland not included?  Their defense is pretty porous as well, and though Kidd can’t guard Chris Paul, neither can Steve Blake.  Their power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge, has a tendency to linger just out of the paint, nailing it from midrange.  Joel Przybilla is good for interior D, and Oden is going through the ups and downs of a rookie year.  I dare not poke Brandon Roy with a stick, because I think he’s great, but what makes Portland so much more legit than Dallas?