“Greetings, men of Earth, I have been awaiting you.” — Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
Let’s start with a philosophical question: What’s the most important position on the court? Like all philosophical questions, it’s more of a thought experiment than something to directly answer—similar to “if a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Obviously, in regards to the “most important position,” the answer is that it depends. It depends on the players the team has, the type of offense and defense the team runs, and the opponents they face. The discussion is more significant than the conclusion, because it reveals fundamental thoughts on how basketball operates as a team sport. I would suggest that the debate narrows down to the positions of point guard and center. The point guard is often the “floor general,” the person who controls the ball up the court, and sets the offense. The point guard has his hands on the ball, facilitating, more than any other player. The center is closest to the basket. In theory, he has the high percentage shot. He is also the defensive anchor, the last resistance for anyone driving to the basket. His very presence can alter the offense’s decision on whether or not to dare any closer to the rim.
This season for the Mavs, the point guard and center positions have been the most inconsistent and continually in flux.
At point guard, the departure of Jason Kidd may have hurt the Mavs more than they are willing to admit. Then there was the mysterious departure of Delonte West. Darren Collison hasn’t been able to make his case as the starting point guard or even deserving more minutes when coming off the bench. He has had moments of offensive production. But for someone so fast, he hasn’t been able to move particular well—especially on defense. I shudder every time I see Collison attempt a full-court press against another point guard. As he backpedals, playing his opponent close, I can count down the seconds, 5… 4… 3… 2… until a foul is called against Collison. To fill in the gaps of Collison’s gaffs, the Mavs have used Derek Fischer, Dominique Jones, Rodrigue Beaubois, and finally settled on Mike James. James, while not a perfect or even long-term fix, has surpassed expectations. Collison may eventually grow into his role as a starting point guard, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time.
At center, the Mavs have four players all vying for the same spot: Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Bernard James, and Brandan Wright. Each of them have, at times, disappointed. Bernard James, although older than Brandan Wright, is a rookie. He’s the only one who gets a pass. Anything James can produce this season is a boon for the team. However, Brand, Kaman, and Wright are all free agents next season, and they need to be evaluated with more scrutiny.
Several weeks ago I put together a post highlighting the incredible amount of turnover on the Mavericks’ roster and rotation this season, and looking specifically at the effectiveness of different player pairs. At that point, 19 different players had dressed in a Mavericks uniform during the 2012-2013 season, not including Delonte West who was released just before the regular season started. That number has now climbed to 21, despite the team’s slow march towards 0.500 and a potential playoff berth. The larger pieces of the rotation finally seemed to have fallen into place, which means Rick Carlisle can return to tinkering around the edges. Plenty of elements have been difficult to watch this season, but among the most challenging for me has been the trial-and-error…and error method Carlisle has needed to piece together the limited specialists on this roster into a consistently reliable attack. We’ve never seen so much of the error portion of his process in years past, and Carlisle’s previously masterful performance in managing rotations have raised expectations to obscene levels. As Dirk Nowitzki has returned to form and all the new parts have become more secure in understanding how they fit around him, the tumult has eased. It’s an incredible relief to feel that identifying useful player combinations is no longer such a daily battle.
Obviously, I’m still hung up on these player combinations, so I decided to take another look, again using a Tableau Visualization. The chart below shows each different player combination the Mavericks have used this season graphed by their minutes played. I divided the season into six-game segments so each mark displays the numbers for just the previous six games. The color of each line represents the effectiveness of the unit, as expressed by Net Rating; red is good, green is bad. You can use the search filter at the bottom to focus in on any pairing that strikes your fancy.
The overall graph, displaying every combination is an overwhelming amount of information. But in looking at the hornet’s nest as a whole, a few things should pop out. The first is how inconsistent the use of different pairings has been. Injuries have shuffled the cards at different points during the season, but the jagged peaks and valleys adorning most of those lines emphasize what a shifting surface the Mavericks’ rotation has been. The second point is how inconsistent performance has been. Six games is not a huge sample slice by which to be measuring these groups, but most of the pairs, especially those at the top, have been rocketing back and forth between terrific and terrible.
The Indiana Pacers were well aware of the fact that the Dallas Mavericks were one game away from shaving their beards. Indiana manhandled Dallas en route to a 103-78 victory. This was the worst loss for the Mavericks since their first matchup against the Houston Rockets to start the month (suffered a 136-103 loss on Mar. 3). Pacers forward Paul George tallied a game-high 24 points to go along with eight rebounds, a team-high six assists and three steals in 38 minutes.
Dirk Nowitzki totaled a team-high 21 points and seven boards in 33 minutes against Indiana on Thursday. He scored 20-plus points for the sixth time in his last nine games (15th time this season). Nowitzki is averaging 20.7 points on 54. 1 percent shooting (.419 3FG) over his last 10 games. Dirk is averaging 19.1 points and 8.3 rebounds since the All-Star break. He is shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 44.4 percent (24-of-54) from beyond the arc since the break.
Fortunately for the Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Milwaukee Bucks. That means Dallas didn’t lose any actual ground to Los Angeles in the standings. By being two games under .500 now, the earliest they can shave is now Apr. 2, They would be able to do so by beating the Chicago Bulls and…the Los Angeles Lakers.
Some notes before the quotes:
- With the total being 55-34, Indiana clobbered Dallas on the glass. Nov. 24 against the Lakers still remains the largest rebounding deficit the Mavericks had this year (-22).
- After the game was tied at 41 at halftime, Indiana outscored Dallas 34-17 in the third quarter. Dallas shot 7-of-20 (35.0 percent) from the field in the third quarter. Indiana shot 14-of-20 (70.0 percent) from the field.
- Dallas shot 38.6 percent from the field in the loss. Dallas had shot above 40 percent in 31 straight coming into the game. That was their longest streak since 41 in 1987, and the franchise record is 72 from Jan. 1986 through Dec. 1986. Minus Dirk’s 10-of-20 shooting line, the Mavericks shot 22-of-63 (34.9 percent) from the field.
- Dallas is now 5-26 on the year when they score less than 100 points, 3-26 when they shoot below 45 percent from the field.
- The 78 points scored by the Mavericks ties their second-lowest scoring output for the season. The 74 they scored against the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 14 marks their lowest total for the year.
Here is the quoteboard for Dallas’ dud against Indiana.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Despite the relentless turmoil and mediocrity that preceded the break, the post All-Star Mavericks inspire belief. They contain a transcendent star, several valuable wing players, and an eccentric (but effective enough) center rotation. They’ve won 11 of 18 games against a somewhat difficult schedule, and rarely seemed daunted by their opponent – notwithstanding an awful blowout loss to Houston on March 3rd, every game has been at least competitive. The current Dallas’ squad does not necessarily proclaim greatness, but it does provide an undeniably strong case as being quite good. With a win tonight against the faltering Jazz, it’s becoming increasingly possible to believe in a Mavericks’ playoff berth, and whatever unlikely glory might come with it.
Tonight’s bizarre/typical iteration of ,”Who is the most effective Mavericks’ center?”, is a prime example of the simultaneous versatility and uncertainty the Mavericks face at the position on a game-by-game basis. Brandan Wright (3-11 FG, seven points, four points), the team’s best center of late, struggled as the contest began and progressed, and so Elton Brand (5-5 FG, 10 points, five rebounds) returned to the rotation after a game-long absence and provided a much needed offensive and defensive spark. Chris Kaman (2-3 FG, four points) made a curt, eight-minute appearance that brimmed with moderate effectiveness. Tonight, Elton Brand was the Mavericks’ best ‘center’ (an arbitrary term typically used to describe any Mavs’ frontcourt player not named Dirk Nowitzki), but next game, that title could easily shift.
I’ve really enjoyed the way O.J. Mayo (4-7 FG, 2-3 3PT, 10 points) has adjusted his game upon Dirk’s (7-13 FG, 2-4 3PT, 17 points, six rebounds) return to offensive dominance. Since the All-Star break, Mayo is attempting about three field goal attempts less per game (and averaging one less turnover per game), and it’s helped aid a slight return to form for him. Mayo’s still scoring about 10-15 points nearly every night at a reduced usage, but he’s doing so as a secondary, efficient option in flux within the ebbs and flows of Dirk’s nightly performances. When the Mavericks need Mayo to score and deliver, he’s done so, but he’s also managed to adjust and recede his game in a renewed, potent offense.
Despite the misleading allowance of 108 points, this was one of the better defensive games of the 2012-2013 Mavericks’ recent history. The Jazz scored 28 points in the final 5:26 after the game had reached a seemingly finished stage, but before that mental (and almost costly) lapse, the Mavericks had limited the Jazz’s interior presence nicely. The Jazz starting frontcourt typically scores willfully and appears at first glance to pose a significant matchup problem for the Mavericks’ nebulous range of post defenders, but Brand and company did a very good job of limiting Jefferson and Millsap to a quiet total of 30 combined points.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the stellar night of somewhat maligned veteran guard Mike James (7-10 FG, 3-4 3PT, 19 points, five assists). On his best nights, James is a dangerous spot-up three-point shooter and a capable distributor, and tonight was surely one of those nights. As a parting note, I believe this is the highest I’ve ever seen Chris Kaman jump, and thus, Marvin Williams (1-6, 2 points) fittingly missed his dunk.
With a 113, 108 victory over the Utah Jazz, the Dallas Mavericks moved to two games below .500 for the first time since Dec. 20. The victory now has Dallas is now tied with Utah for 9th in the west, two games back of LA for the 8th spot in the West with 12 games to go. Mike James tallied a season-high (game-high) 19 points to go along with three rebounds and a team-high-tying five assists in 32 minutes against the Jazz on Sunday (previous high: 14 points vs. Oklahoma City Mar. 17). It was his highest scoring game since Feb. 20, 2009 at New Jersey (19 points), as a member of the Washington Wizards. He scored in double figures for the seventh time in his last 12 games (ninth time this season). James is averaging 12.2 points and 5.0 assists over his last five games. By going 3-of-4 from 3-point range, James has shot 54.2 percent (13-of-24) from deep over his last five contests. He has made at least one 3-pointer in each of his last 13 games and is shooting 48.3 percent (29-of-60) from beyond the arc in that span.
Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 11 points and five rebounds in the opening half. He finished with 17 points and six rebounds on the night. He did all of his damage in just over 26 minutes of action. He rested the entire fourth quarter.
Some notes before the quotes:
- The Mavericks had seven players in double figures in the victory over the Jazz on Sunday: Mike James (19), Dirk Nowitzki (17), Shawn Marion (15), Vince Carter (15), Darren Collison (13), O.J. Mayo (10) and Elton Brand (10). It marked the fourth time this season that Dallas had seven players in double digits (also Dec. 12 at Boston, Jan. 20 at Orlando and Mar. 8 at Detroit). The Mavericks did not have one game with seven players in double digits all of last season.
- After a scheduled game off, Elton Brand went a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and managed 10 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 18 minutes. He scored all 10 of his points in the first half. Brand’s second block at the 4:32 mark of the fourth quarter was the 1,700th block of his career. He became the 24th player in NBA history with at least 1,700 rejections.
- Dallas shot 54.3 percent (38-of-70) from the field in the win over the Jazz on Sunday. The Mavericks improved to 17-3 this season when they shoot at least 50 percent from the floor.
Here is the quoteboard for Dallas’ much-needed victory over Utah.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
This could easily be called “The Brandan Wright Game” (23 points on 11 for 16 shooting, eight rebounds). Though his best offensive game as a Maverick was exciting to watch, I remain impressed by his growth as a help defender and rebounder. Early in the season he would challenge anything within 15 feet of the bucket, often leaving his man for the offensive rebound. Wright’s much more selective in his challenges as of late, and it has helped improved the Maverick’s rebounding ability. His on ball defense has improved as well. In the fourth quarter, Wright made a brilliant strip/steal of Jeff Green on a fast break attempt that he passed to Darren Collison as he was falling out of bounds. Collison drove the length of the floor for a pull up jumper. That strip/steal is not a play Brandan Wright makes at the start of the season.
Considering how hard I’ve been on the shot selection of Mike James this year, I feel it’s important to note that this may have been his best game as a facilitator of the offense. Though he recorded only six assists (and one turnover) in his 25 minutes, he drove the lane looking to pass instead of shoot and many Mavericks, particularly Vince Carter, couldn’t seem to convert the nice set ups provided by James. Hopefully, the pass-first Mike James is here to stay for the remainder of the season.
Though Coach Rick Carlisle downplayed Dirk Nowitzki’s small number of shot attempts over the last three games, the Dallas announcers made it a point of discussion throughout the first half. Though it’s good that something as basic as shots doesn’t become an issue in the locker room, the Maverick players seemed to respond to the rumblings, looking to actually get their best player the ball. Dirk had 11 field goal attempts in the first half and finished with 22 points and seven rebounds.
The Vince Carter circus was in full effect against the Celtics, as he took and made a few shots that only a player of his talent can make. Arguably, his best play was a miss in the fourth quarter. Carter drove from the right side, faded towards the middle of the lane and in an attempt to draw contact he threw the ball up on the rim. It took a number of bounces and came off the left side of the rim. None of the Celtics bothered to box Brandan Wright out, who swooped in from the left side of the base line, caught the ball as it was coming down and emphatically dunked the ball as three Boston defenders looked on in frustration.
Though it feels silly to point this out every time it happens, some instances are so egregious they must be discussed. On the final Maverick possession of the third quarter, Darren Collison and Dirk ran a high screen and roll with Collison driving left. Collison stopped just past the elbow for a great shot fake, which got his man up in the air and pulled Dirk’s man in his direction. At this point, Dirk was at the top of the key with no one within five feet of him. Collison has to see him and pass him the ball. Instead, he missed a long jumper. That play is why Darren Collison will not be a starting point guard in the NBA. You have to know where your best player is and what his strengths are at all times.
In July of 2009 I remember being thrilled at the signing of Shawn Marion (the best free agent signing of the Dirk Nowitzki era). I also remember thinking that there was no way he’d be effective or worth his salary by 2013-2014. Now? Outside of Dirk’s he is the second most important Maverick. Against the Celtics, he put up 11 points and 13 rebounds, five of them offensive. Dallas went 5-3 in his absence, yet one can reasonably wonder how his presence would have changed the two close losses to the Spurs and Thunder. Is he worth $10 million next season? I’m glad I don’t have to assign a monetary value to his contributions because they’ve been nearly priceless the last four years.
Watching Avery Bradley play man to man defense is incredible. I’d like to think that every basketball player can be taught to play defense in this fashion but the truth is what Bradley does is a gift. Watching his feet and the angles he takes on ball handlers, it’s clear Bradley is operating on a different defensive plane.
Marion’s return meant at least one Maverick would be seeing less floor time. That ended up being Jae Crowder, who had played admirable basketball over the last eight games. That said, Crowder would be best served by being locked in a room all summer with game tape of Shawn Marion and early career Josh Howard. Crowder is an athletic specimen who is also pretty good at basketball. Unfortunately, he doesn’t use his athletic gifts near enough on the offensive end, often content to stand and shoot. Shawn Marion’s simple baseline cut and dunk off of a Mike James pass in the first quarter is a prime example of a basic basketball play that Crowder could make if he learned to better move without the basketball.
On Thursday, Andy Tobolowsky at Mavs Moneyball wrote “AAC welcomes home one of its best, one of its brightest. The hero, the personality. The only guy who never knew, no matter the circumstances, that the game, the Mavericks, the dream of a ring were over years ago. Jason Terry, the only one of us who turned out to be right.” As the season has marched on, one thing that’s occasionally missing from the Mavericks seems to be confidence. Too often, Dallas tightens up when the game gets close late. Terry gave the Mavericks, and all of us, the belief that they could and would come through in any situation.
Elton Brand received his first “Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision” of the season against the Celtics. As TMG’s own Bryan Gutierrez notes, Carlisle is not above sending a message to his players, as he’s done time and again with literally the entire team. Brand’s had a rough go as of late, and this is hopefully just Carlisle’s way of letting Brand know he demands more. Expect Brand to respond well the next time he gets an opportunity.
Kirk is a member of the Two Man Game family. Follow him on Twitter @KirkSeriousFace for ranting about Dallas basketball, TV, movies, video games, and his dog.
The Dallas Mavericks started their six-game homestand with another disturbing loss, this time at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets. Brooklyn closed the game on a 22-8 run en route to a 113-96 victory. The game was tied at 51 at halftime before Brook Lopez and Deron Williams took control of the game. The two combined to score 46 of the team’s 62 points in the second half. As a team, the Dallas Mavericks scored 45 points in the second half. Lopez finished with a season-high 38 points, matching the 38 he scored last season in the American Airlines Center. Williams tallied 31 points and a team-high six assists in 41 minutes. Reggie Evans pulled down a game-high 22 rebounds to go along with four rebounds in 32 minutes. It was his sixth game with 20-plus rebounds this season.
Dallas was “led” by Dirk Nowitzki with 16 points, but he once again had a game where he was unable to hoist up a shot in a quarter (third quarter) and only took 10 shots. In the team’s last two losses, Dirk has only had 10 shots. He’s averaged 10.3 field goal attempts over his last three games. After going 12-0 to start his career, Dallas has lost their last two games when Dirk shoots at least 80 percent from the field (minimum 10 field goal attempts). Mike James had the most field goal attempts for the Mavericks with 14.
Some notes before the quotes:
- Dirk Nowitzki recorded his 9,000th career rebound at the 11:26 mark of the fourth quarter against the Nets on Wednesday. He became the 46th player in NBA history with at least 9,000 boards. Nowitzki also became one of only 10 players in NBA history with at least 24,000 points and 9,000 rebounds (joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Garnett and Patrick Ewing).
- Mike James went 4-of-8 from beyond the arc and scored 12 points in 27 minutes against the Nets. He added a season-high-tying seven assists (also had 7 at Milwaukee Mar. 12). James is averaging 9.6 points and 4.3 assists over his last 11 games. He has shot 49 percent (25-of-51) from deep in that span.
- Dallas suffered only their third loss of the season when they shot at least 50 percent from the field (16-3 record).
- The Mavericks allowed 52 points in the paint to the Nets. They have now allowed 102 points in the paint in their last two games.
- Dallas is now 3-15 when an opponent scores at least 110 points against them.
- The team announced that guard Roddy Beaubois had surgery to repair his left second metacarpal fracture. The surgery was performed by Dr. T.O. Souryal and Dr. Scott Oishi at Texas Sports Medicine. No timetable has been set for his return.
Here is the quoteboard for Dallas’ loss to Brooklyn.
In a game that was up for grabs, the Dallas Mavericks once again couldn’t find a way to close the game out as they suffered a 107-101 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Clearly, Dallas got the getting while the getting was good. The Mavericks are 1-11 against the Thunder since beating Oklahoma City in the 2011 Western Conference finals, including last season’s sweep in the first round of the playoffs. Dallas has lost their last 10 games against their northern I-35 rivals.
Oklahoma City’s stars shined brightly against Dallas. Russell Westbrook totaled a game-high 35 points to go along with six rebounds, a game-high six assists and two steals in 37 minutes. Kevin Durant scored 19 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter. He added nine boards and two blocks in 39 minutes.
Dirk Nowitzki made his first eight shots of the game (including his first three 3-point field goal attempts) and recorded 23 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes against the Thunder. He scored 20-plus points for the seventh time in his last 13 games (10th time this season). Nowitzki finished 8-of-10 (.800) from the field. With the loss, the Mavericks moved to 12-1 all-time when Nowitzki shoots at least 80 percent from the field (minimum 10 field goal attempts). The story of the game will be the fact that Dirk didn’t take a single shot from the field in the entire fourth quarter. His last field goal attempt came with 2:25 left in the third quarter. He wasn’t calling for the ball on every possession, the Thunder tried to blanket him and no one on the Mavericks really could deliver him the ball.
The injury bug once again landed on Roddy Beaubois. After a nice string of games leading up to the game against the Thunder, Beaubois exited the game after fracturing the second metacarpal in his left hand during the second quarter. He is out indefinitely. If the injury is a season-ending one, with free agency looming, this could be the last time Roddy wears a Dallas uniform.
Some notes before the quotes:
- Mike James recorded a season-high 14 points to go along with three rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes (previous high: 13 points vs. Milwaukee Mar. 12). He went 2-of-3 from 3-point range and has now made at least one trey in each of his last nine games. James has shot 18-of-39 (.462) from 3-point range over his last nine games. He is averaging 9.4 points and 4.1 assists in that span.
- With a steal (his 955th career) at the 7:23 mark of the first quarter, Nowitzki passed Jason Kidd (954) for second place on the Mavericks’ all-time steals list. Nowitzki intercepted a pass thrown by Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and then finished with a dunk on the fast break (from O.J. Mayo). Derek Harper is Dallas’ all-time leader with 1,551 career thefts.
- Elton Brand made his 17th start of the season (847th career) against Oklahoma City on Sunday. It was his first start since Feb. 1 at Phoenix. The Mavericks’ starting lineup on Sunday featured Jae Crowder, Dirk Nowitzki, O.J. Mayo, Mike James and Brand. Dallas used its 21st starting lineup of the season against the Thunder.
Here is the quoteboard for Dallas’ loss to Oklahoma City.
You can look at what the Mavs have to do if team X, Y and Z have a certain record over their last remaining games. You can do that, but all that really matter is what the Mavs do on their own over the last 20 games of the season. Win as many games as you can and the rest will sort itself out. Dirk Nowitzki is firmly back and showing signs he can be the old Dirk that everyone remembers. O.J. Mayo has shown that he actually can be a creator and facilitator, despite what his coach said just over a week ago. Shawn Marion is still known as the defensive stopper for the team. Elton Brand is going to do his part to be the defensive anchor and a presence off the bench. Despite the team’s record, Vince Carter is going to continue to be a massive bargain for the Mavs by showing he’s one the league’s best reserves off the bench.
Dallas has an elite coach, veteran leadership and pride that they will rely heavily on as they make their final push for a playoff spot. There is one player though that could really put them over the top and really put their push into overdrive.
“Victory must now be mine or Galactus shall not fight again.” — Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
Last week I wrote about Dirk Nowitzki, his legacy and his future. Do the past two years represent the sudden decline of Nowitzki? Should fans recalibrate their expectations? Or are these two years statistical outliers with a bum knee to blame? Like most things, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Regardless, there is no denying that the future inevitable departure of Nowitzki has been a concern as fans watch the season unfold. And as much as we’d like to put everything on Nowitkzi’s shoulders, he isn’t the only factor in making the Mavs a great franchise. When looking at the long-term health of this franchise, I would suggest that there are four ingredients.
1. Young talent
2. Reliable veterans
3. An All-Star “Go To” Player
4. Trustworthy management, ownership, and coaching
In the young talent category, the jury is still out. For players born in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, the Mavs have: Rodrigue Beaubois, Darren Collison, Jae Crowder, Jared Cunningham, Bernard James, Dominique Jones, O.J. Mayo, Anthony Morrow, and Brandan Wright. Young players aren’t just the replacements for the old team. They are valuable trade assets. They offer the greatest potential for improvement and growth. I believe in O.J. Mayo, and I’d be happy if he signed a long-term contract with the Mavs. The question is money, but I can’t imagine shooting guards are in such high demand that another franchise would overpay for him. Darren Collison? I just don’t know. When you look at his advanced stats, he’s actually slightly better than O.J. Mayo. However, I don’t trust him to run an offense. The rookie class isn’t too bad. Crowder and James are encouraging. This isn’t Cunningham’s year, but who knows how he’ll do once given a chance? Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones are a disappointment. I believe Brandan Wright is a better player than his minutes and stats suggest.