The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 100, Oklahoma City Thunder 87

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 2, 2012 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2012-01-02 at 10.54.34 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas87.0114.951.921.327.513.8
Oklahoma City100.043.526.028.614.9

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 game was a prime demonstration of Vince Carter (14 points on nine shots, three assists) as a post-up option. It’s not about the buckets scored, but the opportunities created; Dallas ran their offense through Carter on the block in the second and third quarters, and VC was able to respond by drawing fouls, getting to the rim, and attracting plenty of defensive attention. Carter was such a convincing post threat that the Thunder left Dirk Nowitzki wide open in the opposite corner in order to blitz him down low. That kind of rotation barely seems possible, but mismatches like the ones Carter was able to create often force opponents into drastic measures.
  • Nowitzki (26 points, 10-16 FG, 1-5 3FG, six rebounds) may not have matched last year’s playoff performance in magnitude, but Monday night was a return to normalcy. The last time these teams met, Dirk looked rushed and uncomfortable. He hesitated before shooting open jumpers, and didn’t put much effort into establishing position at “his spots” on the floor. This performance was “vintage” Nowitzki, if they do indeed make months-old vintages. His footwork, ball fakes, and spins were all in playoff form, and though Dallas didn’t lean on Nowitzki’s offense as heavily as they did in the postseason, he was every bit as efficient as the Mavs could have expected him to be. I hope you enjoyed the first of what will undoubtedly be many brilliant showings for Nowitzki this season.

Read more of this article »

They’ve Gone To Plaid

Posted by Ian Levy on May 21, 2011 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-05-21 at 1.39.23 PM

The Mavericks’ series against the Thunder presents a number of striking contrasts-youth and experience, isolations and ball movement, and of course fast and slow. The Thunder have played at the 4th fastest pace in these playoffs, averaging 90.8 possessions per game. The Mavericks have played at the 3rd slowest pace, averaging just 85.6 possessions per game. Conventional wisdom says the team that controls tempo, forcing the game towards their preferred speed, should prevail. By my count, each team has been averaging 89.3 possessions through the first two games. Although this shades towards the Thunder’s faster speed, it falls in between their two averages and fitting conventional wisdom, we have a 1-1 split.

We usually think of pace as a marco trend, a statistic which is discussed in the context of a team’s season long numbers. However, pace is anything but static. The speed at which a team plays will fluctuate, game to game, quarter to quarter, even minute to minute. The pace number we assign to a team, is really an averaging out of all those small variations. Shaking off the mantle of typical, I wanted to look at pace as a micro trend to see how much of an impact it’s having.

To break Games 1 and 2 into blocks of time, I used Popcorn Machine’s GameFlow charts. These charts conveniently identify runs for each team, as well as the chunks of time in between. For each block of time, I used play by play logs to calculate the pace as well as the score change from the Mavericks’ perspective.

SecondsGame TimePossessionsPaceScore ChangeGame
3513:19-9:101977.9-121
16141:01-43:4212107.3-101
9913:15-14:547101.8-102
22441:01-44:451170.7-92
12225:41-27:43782.6-71
729:58-11:105100.0-62
18724:00-27:071184.7-62
9830:41-32:19573.5-62
7518:19-19:34596.0-51
3733:31-34:083116.8-51
1200:22-2:22784.0-52
5422:28-23:22380.0-52
2489:10-13:1819110.3-41
996:49-8:287101.8-42
25318:15-22:281479.7-22
6246:58-48:006139.4-22
27035:31-41:0122117.3-12
12434:08-37:1210116.1-11
12438:57-41:01892.9-11
13145:49-48:0011120.9-11
670-1:07486.001
13327:43-29:56886.601
3543:42-44:17282.301
3823:22-24:003113.702
12511:10-13:15892.202
13216:07-18:19887.311
6832:23-33:31484.711
220:00-0:22165.522
12723:34-25:41779.421
10244:17-45:59798.851
908:28-9:58580.052
13344:45-46:58775.862
1321:07-3:19776.471
10537:12-38:57796.071
21427:07-30:411174.082
16913:18-16:07976.791
19232:19-35:311182.592
14729:56-32:2311107.8101
20114:54-18:151393.1102
2672:22-6:4919102.5132
24019:34-23:341378.0151

Across the first two games of the series, 46.3 minutes consisted of chunks of time with the Mavericks being outscored by the Thunder. 47.8 minutes were chunks where the Mavericks either outscored the Thunder or played them even (I obviously lost just under a minute in my rounding somehow). For the time the Mavericks were in the negative, the average pace (weighted by the length of each time block) was 94.96. For the time the Mavericks were in the positive, the average pace was 86.76. When they’ve been able to keep the pace reasonably slow they’ve generally been ahead. When they start to let it get away from them, they fall behind.

The crisp offensive execution which has pushed the Mavericks to the Western Conference Finals, the pick-and-rolls, ball movement, cuts and screens, take time. When the Mavericks are goaded into an up-tempo burst offensively, it can take them away from what they do best. It limits them on the defensive end of the floor as well. They don’t have the athletes to keep up with Oklahoma City in transition, and a quicker pace makes it much more difficult to implement the zone they’ve used in spots.

The Mavericks can maintain control in a few ways. The first is by limiting their turnovers, which they’ve done very effectively. In both games the Mavericks turned the ball over on around 14% of their possessions. The second is by patiently running the sets, and scoring efficiently. When the Mavericks are calmly working through their offensive progressions, it slows the pace. Made baskets keep the Thunder from runnning, allowing the defense to set, and creating lengthier possessions for the Thunder offense.

In Game 1 the Thunder’s runs, with more than a five point advantage, lasted an average of 126 seconds. In Game 2 those same runs lasted an average of 150 seconds. It took the Mavericks a little bit longer to re-assert control and bring the pace into their comfort zone. They struggled to make shots, going 20 of 55 on attempts not at the rim, which gave the Thunder that chance to push the ball. Interestingly, the Thunder’s 11-2 run mid-way through the fourth quarter was played at a very slow pace, 70.7. Their second unit plays a much slower game, mostly due to the trade-off of Eric Maynor for Russell Westbrook. The tempo was right in the Mavericks wheelhouse. But they couldn’t take advantage and their offensive execution fell apart, with three missed jumpshots and a turnover.

This is something of a chicken-egg discussion. Pace is a reflection of a lot of factors. There is a fine line between the game speeding up because the Mavericks struggled, or the Mavericks struggling because the pace sped up. Regardless of which is the cause, a faster tempo seems like it will go hand in hand with a Thunder advantage. Composure, patience, awareness, attention to detail; all the thing which helped the Mavericks brush aside the Lakers, will be crucial over the next two games in Oklahoma City.

Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

The Difference: Oklahoma City Thunder 106, Dallas Mavericks 100

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

Screen shot 2011-05-21 at 1.36.53 PM

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas85.0117.649.426.332.614.1
Oklahoma City124.760.730.028.116.5

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.

  • The most glaring problems in this game for Dallas weren’t that Jason Terry finished with just eight points, that Shawn Marion shot 4-of-13 from the field, or even that the Mavs had trouble at times getting the ball to Dirk Nowitzki in his most comfortable spots on the floor. This one’s on the defense. Terry and J.J. Barea had particular trouble containing the dribble penetration of Eric Maynor and James Harden, but Dallas’ trouble containing aggressive drives goes well beyond those players. When the Mavs defend, they’re the superior team in this series. If Dallas plays defense like they have in the first two games of this series, then every contest in these Western Conference Finals will be a shootout — or worse. Dallas can still win under those circumstances, but why lean so heavily on the offense when given the choice to diversify? Why allow Oklahoma City to post an effective field goal percentage of 60.7 when this defense is clearly capable of being much more limiting?
  • Nick Collison and Eric Maynor did a much, much better job of containing the Barea-Nowitzki high pick-and-roll, effectively neutralizing that sequence in Game 2. Nowitzki and Barea obviously found other ways to generate buckets, but Collison and Maynor did a great job of denying Barea those free drives to the rim while still deterring a pass to an open Nowitzki. Defending these two at the top of the floor can be pretty brutal for opposing defenses, but the Thunder adjusted well to take away this particularly effective aspect of the Mavs’ Game 1 offense. This is a bit more in line with what we should expect from Barea for the remainder of the series; he’s capable of contributing double-digit scoring, but the Thunder’s pick-and-roll D is much better than they let on in the opening game of the Western Conference Finals.
  • How Kendrick Perkins was able to play even 24 minutes is legitimately curious to me. The notion that trading for Kendrick Perkins would make the Thunder into contenders was understandable, but in this series he has no practical role whatsoever. Perkins can’t effectively defend Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs’ only interior scoring threat. He can’t stick with Tyson Chandler, as evidenced by TC’s frequent alley oops in transition, semi-transition, and even in a half-court setting in Game 2. Perkins doesn’t rebound particularly well, isn’t defending an Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol type, and is legitimate dead weight on offense, despite what his bizarre make on a contested mid-range J in Game 2 would have you believe. He’ll likely maintain his starting role, but as this series trudges on, I’d expect Perkins’ minutes to diminish even further in favor of Collison, Serge Ibaka, and the small lineup OKC ran for stretches in Game 2.
  • DeShawn Stevenson and Jason Kidd have done the best work defending Kevin Durant in the first two games of this series, but I’m sure we’ll continue to see plenty of Marion matched up against KD, if only because the other options are so horrible.
  • James Harden is doing an incredible job of exploiting whichever defender is put in front of him, and making me eat my words in the process. He’s been significantly better off the dribble than I thought he’d be (or really, Terry has been significantly worse in defending him off the dribble than I thought he’d be), but it’s the pick-and-roll play and flat-out shot making ability that have elevated Harden’s production. He’s been completely fantastic, and I’ve been completely wrong about his potential to make an impact in this series.
  • Appreciate your patience — been a weird past few days. Ian will be taking care of recapping duties for Game 4, and I’ll be back to regular posting after the weekend.

Oklahoma City 121, Dallas Mavericks 116: Abridged

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 3, 2010 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

More men fail through lack of purpose than lack of talent.
-Unknown

  • As much as I’d like to congratulate the Mavs for mounting an impressive fourth quarter comeback, this is not a win that deserves celebration. The Thunder were a team with something to play for, and play they did. Dallas had a real chance to spoil (or at least delay) Oklahoma City’s playoff celebrations, but to call what they did defensively “execution” wouldn’t exactly be accurate. It shouldn’t take an 18-point deficit and 41 minutes to suddenly instill a playoff team with a sense of urgency, yet that really seems to be a reality with these Mavs. It’s been the story throughout most of the season, regardless of who it was hitting the floor in a Maverick uniform.
  • Jason Kidd chimed in with a harsh reality for a wannabe contender: “It’s not that we don’t have talent. We’re one of the deepest teams in this league. I think we all need to take this nice little break we have and figure out who we want to be, and that’s sad to say with only five games left.”
  • The most effective center for the Mavs was Eddie Najera (11 points), and that’s a problem. Erick Dampier (four points, six rebounds, two blocks) was fairly meh, but Brendan Haywood (nine points, three rebounds) was the big disappointment as he struggled defensively and managed to fumble the ball away three times despite limited touches. When the Mavs traded for Najera, they were expecting a veteran, an end-of-the-rotation guy, and a solid energy player. When the Mavs traded for Haywood, they were expecting a “franchise center,” sayeth Mark Cuban. It’s not good when the former outperforms the latter, especially when the former manages to play 13 and a half minutes without grabbing a single rebound.
  • Seeing Dallas play well only during crunch time is something of a cruel tease. In many cases, they manage to pull out a win after only really playing a quarter or half a quarter of good basketball. That’s impressive, sure, but it only serves as a constant reminder of how good this team could be if they executed more consistently, and makes one wonder how many of these close games would be walk-off wins. This team has had time to gel, and now it’s time to perform.
  • Jason Terry, undoubtedly frustrated, making sure that the guys at the head of the Maverick bench get their due: “Our play is sporadic. Sometimes we play good D, sometimes we don’t. It falls a lot on the players, but I think everybody is held accountable.”
  • Caron Butler and Jason Terry combined for 12 points on 5-of-21 shooting. Beautiful.
  • On the frustrating side of things, the Mavs actually played pretty good defense on Kevin Durant. If they did one thing well defensively tonight, it was that; the Durantula scored 23 points on 7-of-18 shooting with five turnovers, though he also had five assists, five steals, and five rebounds. And the Thunder win by five. It was fated to be. Shawn Marion was matched up with KD early, and that responsibility shifted to Caron Butler after Marion left the game with a strained left oblique. Butler did a decent enough job and his teammates were able to pressure Durant well when he had the ball in his hands. The only problem is that the Mavs didn’t rotate well to compensate.
  • That left guys like Nick Collison (17 points), Eric Maynor (14 points, four assists), and James Harden (11 points, three assists, three turnovers) wide open. The problem wasn’t Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Jeff Green, even though they combined for 62 points; the real trouble was that Dallas gave uncontested threes and open layups to the Thunder’s role players. There’s typically going to be some price to pay when traps and double-teams figure prominently into a team’s defensive strategy, but giving up 17 to Nick Collison? Letting OKC, a team 13th in the league in offensive efficiency, go completely hog-wild and drop 121 points? That stench isn’t trouble a-brewin’, but trouble fully and thoroughly brewed and only now starting to really stink.
  • Then again, plenty of it wasn’t overaggressive defense, just bad defense. With 7:26 left in the fourth quarter and the Mavs down by 16, Collison drove right down the center for an easy layup…against a zone defense. Not good, guys.
  • Dirk Nowitzki (30 points, 10-19 FG, 13 rebounds, five turnovers) actually had a pretty terrific scoring night, and it’s a shame that it will be completely obscured by the Mavs’ defensive shortcomings. Despite OKC having two good defensive options for Dirk in Serge Ibaka and Jeff Green, he performs well against them for some reason (excluding tonight’s game, Nowitzki has averaged 30.3 points per game on 53.5 % shooting against the Thunder). Dirk was a huge reason why the fourth quarter comeback was so successful, and he hit some huge shots. Or really, what would have been huge shots had Dallas’ late-game efforts not been all for naught.
  • Dallas also wasted a great scoring night from Jason Kidd (24 points, 10-15 FG, six assists), who was the sole reason the game wasn’t completely unwinnable by the end of the third quarter. Kidd had 13 points in the third, half of the Mavs’ total for the frame.
  • The Mavs actually out-shot the Thunder, both in terms of effective field goal percentage (56.2% to 54.9%) and raw field goal percentage (53.1% to 51.9%), and outrebounded them (39-34), yet still lost. I’m not positive that this is the case, but it could have something to do with forgetting to play defense in the first half and surrendering 67 points over the first 24 minutes.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois (seven points, two turnovers) got the first minutes as the back-up point, but J.J. Barea (10 points) ultimately outperformed him when he provided a spark for Dallas in the fourth.
  • Nick Collison, via Twitter (@nickcollison4), regarding Oklahoma City’s playoff-clinching win: “Got 1 “congrats” text from my wife and one from her dad. Just realized I accidentally replied “thank you baby, love u” to her dad. Awkward”

They Smell Like the Future: Eric Maynor

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 24, 2009 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images.

VCU Senior
6′3.25”, 164 lbs. (Combine measurements)
22 years old
Point guard
Projection: Late 1st round

Eric Maynor is not a sexy pick.  He’s seriously lacking in the star power department, he doesn’t have the intrigue of a Jeff Teague or the pedigree of a Ty Lawson.  In many regards, Maynor is an inferior prospect to the other point guards in the draft.  But with the Mavs sitting pretty at #22, Maynor’s starting to look like an awfully nice player.

One of the reasons why Maynor doesn’t have the buzz or the hype of other prospects is because he lacks the one defining, marketable characteristic.  Ricky Rubio: flash; Tyreke Evans: size; Ty Lawson: champion; Stephen Curry: shooter.  What is Eric Maynor?  Well, he’s a point guard.  He can score, he can shoot, he can make plays, and he can D up a little bit.  But he’s not the best shooter in the draft, nor is he the best playmaker, or the best defender at the point.  Considering where the Mavs are in this draft, expecting otherwise would seem unreasonable.

What Maynor lacks in singular excellence he more than makes up for in overall sturdiness.  While it may be difficult to pinpoint an aspect of the game in which he stands above all else, it’s also tough to single out specific weaknesses.  He’s merely an average defender, and his shooting could definitely improve.  But given what he can bring on the offensive end (playmaking, savvy, creativity, scoring), aren’t those acceptable shortcomings?

The key for everyone outside the top 5 (if that) in the 2009 draft will be to find bonafied players, guys who can fill their spot in a rotation, become a contributor, and not be a burden.  Maynor may be the patron saint of the safe pick.  There is no way that he’ll pan out as anything less than a solid back-up at point guard, which is likely what the Mavs would expect from a prospect with a bigger name.  He won’t lead your team to the promised land, but Eric Maynor may very well be the guy to lead an offense, night-in and night-out, for the next decade.

Pro-level Projections:

I’ve asked Jon Nichols of Basketball-Statistics.com to use his Box Score Prediction System (BSPS) to project career numbers for Maynor.  The values given are career averages per 36 minutes, considering that per minute statistics at least partially eliminate variables such as abnormal playing time, lack of opportunity, etc.  The projections are based on Maynor’s four-year career at VCU.  For comparison’s sake, I’ve dug up some other players who have averaged similar numbers over their careers (click here for an enlarged chart):

(Note: the years indicated in the chart refer to the last year of the season played.  For examples, the 2004-2005 season will be marked 05.)

J.J. Barea pops up as a comparison yet again, and this time it’s actually encouraging.  Maynor essentially has the attribute that Barea desperately needs to legitimize his run towards starterdom: height.  Would Barea not be a fine heir apparent if he had Maynor’s size?  The Kirk Hinrich comparison also seems kind to Maynor, effectively balancing out the Beno Udrih snipe.

For what it’s worth, Maynor is projected as having the highest FTAs of the lot, and the lowest turnovers.  His percentages are solid, and his projected assist numbers are about what you’d expect.

There’s nothing wrong with going with the “safe” pick, especially if its Maynor.  The Mavs desperately need their draft picks from this point forward to pan out, and going with a sure thing like Eric Maynor, while not trendy, may be a step out of the Nick Fazekas/Maurice Ager darkness and into the light.