The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 121, Oklahoma City Thunder 112

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 18, 2011 under Recaps | 5 Comments to Read

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TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas91.0133.059.646.625.013.2
Oklahoma City123.152.151.430.614.3

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

  • Perfection, thy name is Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk’s Game 1 showing was dominant and poetic, an awkward exercise of mismatch exploitation that can be matched by none. His skill is something to behold in itself, but it was Nowitzki’s versatility that set him apart on Tuesday night; Dirk worked against Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, Buckminster Fuller, Frankenstein’s monster, Joe Montegna, and Rube Goldberg. He varied his approach depending on the coverage — pump faked bigs, backed down guards, shot over the geodesic dome — but the results were always the same. 48 points on 15 shots isn’t a level of efficiency that can be comprehended by the human mind. It’s a transcendent performance, one which we can’t fully grasp by looking at a stat sheet or even watching the game film. Somewhere under the layers and layers of that video is an otherworldly white noise, an aura surrounding Nowitzki that we’re unable to precisely detect but is impossible to ignore. It’s just there, and while puny simpletons like you and I can’t come to a complete understanding of what happened in a game like this one, we’re perceptive enough to know that something special is going on that, frankly, goes beyond our existential pay-grade.
  • This series was branded as a shootout, and lived up to its billing in Game 1. Kevin Durant (40 points, 10-18 FG, 2-5 3FG, 18-19 FT, eight rebounds, five assists, three turnovers) may not have matched Nowitzki shot-for-shot, but he came as close as his own limits (and the Dallas defense, for whatever it was worth) allowed. His was a remarkable performance as well, but feats of basketball strength are forever boosted and obscured by the power of context. On any other night, Durant’s incredible production would have been the story, and the ordaining of a young star in the biggest game of his life would have grabbed national headlines. Those in the know don’t need a strong performance in this series to know that Durant is great, but performances like this one certainly don’t hurt his repute. Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson defended Durant for most of Game 1, but Jason Kidd — primarily through switches on 1-3 pick-and-rolls — got his chance, too. It didn’t matter. Durant was fantastic from all over the floor, and though Tyson Chandler did an excellent job of contesting his attempts in the paint, KD was awarded with enough free throws to keep the Thunder competitive in the face of a Nowitzki onslaught feat. J.J. Barea. Yet Durant’s problem is exactly that which I addressed in the preview; while he holds distinct advantages over Marion and Stevenson, he lacks the means to attack as consistently as Nowitzki. That won’t stop him from putting up huge point totals with efficient percentages, but if the dynamic of this series really is to be centered around Dirk vs. Durant, then the slight limitations of the application of Durant’s offensive game could prove costly.
  • The Mavs’ collective defense against Russell Westbrook went precisely according to the expected plan, with one small change: Stevenson started on Westbrook, and Dallas employed even more zone than one might have thought. Both of those elements worked out swimmingly; while Stevenson wasn’t notably great on the defensive end, he did his job and executed the game plan, while the match-up zone seemed to create some serious problems for Westbrook. The problem isn’t that Westbrook isn’t a “true point guard,” merely that he is particularly vulnerable to defensive coverage that grants him any shot he wants while defending the rim. The results speak for themselves, and though Westbrook is due for a big game at some point during this series (his talent alone should allow for that much), I don’t see how he combats this defensive strategy aside from making more jumpers. Chandler gives Westbrook a lot of problems inside, and while the young Thunder guard was able to compensate for those problems by drawing fouls and getting to the line (he attempted 18 free throws), it’s hard to object with any particular aspect of the Mavs’ defensive execution in this regard.
  • If it hasn’t already become pretty clear, this game turned into a bit of a free throw fest. Dallas’ 46.6 free throw rate is a bit ridiculous, but Oklahoma City’s 51.4 mark is flat-out bonkers. The whistles were quick on both ends of the court (beginning with a bizarre double-technical on Chandler and Kendrick Perkins just a minute and a half into the game), and played a significant role in the efficiency of both Durant and Nowitzki, as well as whatever semblance of efficiency Westbrook was able to muster. I’d expect OKC to continue shooting free throws at a high rate, but it’s no such certainty for Dallas.
  • The fundamental obstructions to the Dirk vs. Durant narrative were a pair of reserve guards. J.J. Barea (21 points, 8-12 FG) was again insanely effective as an initiator of the pick-and-roll, and Jason Terry (24 points, 8-16 FG, 4-8 3FG) continues his run of the gauntlet in an effort to restore his postseason reputation. Both produced as necessary, though the performance of the former may not have the same sustainability as Dirk’s; Barea looked unstoppable running the pick-and-roll with Dirk from the top of the key, but the Thunder are a better defensive team than they showed in Game 1. They may not have an answer for Nowitzki, but they can certainly tweak their approach to contain Barea, as even a single body between J.J. and the rim would limit the impact of that particular sequence. Of all of the areas of adjustment for the Thunder, I’d expect this to be the most significant.
  • Several observers on Twitter wisely pointed out the disconnect between the feel of the game and the scoring margin, and it’s something to consider. Nowitzki was amazing, Barea astounding, and the interior defense excellent, and yet the Thunder were within seven points with just a few minutes remaining. Dallas is good, but this is going to be a fiercely competitive series, regardless of how many games it goes on.
  • On the bright side for the Mavs: Shawn Marion’s performance has plenty of room for immediate improvement. His finishing totals and percentages were pretty decent, but Marion fumbled away many a scoring opportunity in Game 1, with some resulting in turnovers and others mere missed opportunities. If he’s a bit crisper on the catch and off the dribble in Game 2, his slashing and curling around the rim gives Dallas another dynamic offensive contributor.
  • James Harden’s 12 points and four assists weren’t back-breaking, but he did create some problems for the Mavs with his work in the pick-and-roll. I still see this as a directly addressable problem, and though Harden made some terrific passes after getting into the lane, Dallas can do better to prevent that initial penetration. Rest assured: the Mavs are well aware of the problems that Harden can create, and will look to make explicit changes in their execution to account for him.
  • Again: Dallas is the better shooting team in this series, even with both teams’ defenses taken into account. If the Thunder are to win, they’ll need either a sudden drop in the Mavs’ shooting from all over the floor, or a significant advantage on the offensive glass, in the turnover column, or in free throw attempts. They secured modest advantages in two of those areas on Monday, and it still wasn’t enough — Dallas won with a 9.9 efficiency differential.

Without Fear

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 17, 2011 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

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It didn’t take much of a discerning eye to pick out the one name conspicuously absent from the full Mavs-Thunder series preview. James Harden is a legitimate NBA difference-maker, and yet he was swept under the rug in the preview treatment, set aside as a virtual non-factor in a battle of supporting casts that I believe Dallas is set to win. On the surface level, that’s a pretty clear disservice to Harden’s skill and production; he’s not a player that should be discounted without reason, and he’s been instrumental to the post-Jeff Green Thunder’s success.

Yet in this series, I just don’t see where Harden moves the needle.

Potentially, Harden has the capacity to act as something of a mediator for OKC — a Manu Ginobili to the occasionally disrupted balance of the offense created by the Durant-Westbrook dynamic. He doesn’t need to ever reach Ginobili’s level of production or efficiency in order to function effectively in this role, but merely provide the skill set in order to bring everything to a stylistic middle; he can spot up to space the floor, initiate the offense and find the open man, and slash down the lane for easy scoring opportunities. Creating an offensive flow centered around the perimeter positions may not be ideal to most coaches, but it can — and has — worked for the Thunder, and has the potential for further growth as Harden, Durant, and Westbrook mature as players. Essentially, Harden can actually be the player that Sam Presti had hoped Jeff Green would turn into, only with greater individual skills and a better fitting game.

He’s just not quite there yet. The Thunder offense is potent, but the equilibrium between OKC’s top perimeter players isn’t perfect. When Harden handles the ball, Westbrook is often reduced to a non-factor, stuck in the no man’s land of exiled point guards who can’t shoot but lack control of the possession. When Westbrook handles the ball, Harden is strictly a cutter and a shooter, an effective role but one that doesn’t encompass the entirety of his abilities. The balance can work for stretches, and sometimes the two-man approach of Westbrook-Durant or Harden-Durant is so effective that the third wheel hardly matters, but the lack of a fully actualized attack makes the Thunder very beatable. There are elements that need to be considered and countered, but a score doesn’t seem imminent on every possession.

The Mavericks defenders need to be aware of Harden’s presence, but the lack of overwhelming synergy between Durant, Westbrook, and Harden opens a window for him to be addressed directly. When Harden controls the ball, Dallas can treat him as they do Westbrook, albeit with more respect for his jumper. He doesn’t have Westbrook’s explosiveness, which allows the Mavs to play him closer on the bounce while still having Tyson Chandler as a safety net at the rim. When he’s playing off the ball, he’ll have to contend with Dallas’ strong close-outs. The Mavs are among the best in the NBA at getting a hand in the face of spot-up shooters (they ranked sixth in that regard during the regular season, and currently boast the second best points per possession allowed on such attempts in the postseason, per Synergy Sports Technology), and they’ll run at Harden (and Durant, for that matter) in particular to contest his three-point opportunities. Harden still has the capacity to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket or make a play in those instances, but Dallas holds the capability to take away Harden’s spot-up opportunities and much of what he accomplishes off the dribble. There’s no certainty that Harden will be kept under wraps for the entirety of the series, but his influence will likely be limited.

Harden is a fantastic player, but he won’t see the same opportunities in this series that he did against the Grizzlies. Dallas is a far more conservative defensive team, and while that results in less direct pressure on ball handlers and the like, it also keeps those playing off the ball in check, forcing them to convert a difficult shot from a neutral position rather than constructing every possession as a distinct scenario of advantage vs. disadvantage. Memphis is fantastic at jumping passing lanes and attacking the dribble, but the result is either a forced turnover or an open man on the weak side. Dallas grabs steals from time to time, but their system puts emphasis on denying the paint and contesting already difficult shots rather than forcing turnovers with aggressive ball pressure. The style of the Mavs’ defense just isn’t as accommodating to players like Harden, and while he still demands attention in the scouting report, the preventative means are in place to contain him.

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.

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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”

Oklahoma City Thunder 99, Dallas Mavericks 86

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 17, 2010 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images.

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“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.
-Leo Tolstoy

WORST. TRADE. EVER. I mean, did you see how out-of-sync Caron Butler looked? How many botched put-back attempts he had? How Serge Ibaka made a baby hook over Brendan Haywood?

Well, get used to it. Until the Mavs, new and old, have sufficient time to get acquainted, we’ll likely see more of the same. But you’ll also see Caron Butler charging baseline for a one-handed throwdown. You’ll see Brendan Haywood finishing a contested layup on the move after a feed from Jason Terry. In terms of what Butler and Haywood brought to the table in the first game of the rest of our lives, there was a lot to like, and a lot to make you cringe. That’s just the way of things when you’re incorporating new pieces into the rotation, especially with players as significant as these; the old Mavs are trying really hard to integrate the new ones, the new Mavs are trying really hard not to overshoot and alienate the old ones, and everyone out there is just a bit anxious to prove that the trade is as good as it sounds.

The result was some awful shooting, defensive failings, and finding ways to either move the ball too much or move it too little. Dallas Mavericks as pick-up team are not good enough to beat a team as skilled and successful as the Thunder, but that doesn’t say much at all about how good the Mavericks will be when they play like themselves.

On the other hand, you have to applaud the Thunder’s performance. Kevin Durant’s 25 points an 14 rebounds is impressive, but it took him 28 shots to reach that total. On most nights, the Durantula has to carry OKC’s offense. But last night it was his counterparts — Jeff Green (17 points, six rebounds, two steals, two blocks) and Russell Westbrook (17 points, eight assists, six rebounds, just one turnover) — bearded wonder James Harden (17 points on 5-7 shooting, five rebounds, six assists), and the cavalry of Thunder role players that got the job done. The Mavs had a particularly tough time stopping the Thunder’s transition game, in which Westbrook drove it down the throat of the defense before finishing at the rim or kicking it out to an open shooter. For a night, he was a more explosive Tony Parker, and the cast of OKC’s shooters were gunning from the corners in the Spurs tradition.

Fouling also turned out to be a huge problem, as the step-slow Mavs defense ended up hacking the Thunder to the tune of 30 free throw attempts. Most of OKC’s struggles have taken place on offense, and giving them that many free points is just asking for a loss. Know your opponent.

The Mavs were far too hesitant on offense to counter, as efforts to include Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood were often met with turnovers or a short shot-clock. Jeff Green and, oddly enough, James Harden, played some pretty terrific defense on Dirk (24 points on 9-22 shoot, nine rebounds, six assists), with Green in particular hounding Nowitzki out of any late-game heroics he may have had up his sleeve. Dallas couldn’t manage much at all in the way of scoring, as Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Caron Butler (the only other Mavs in double-figures) combined for 39 points shooting 12 of 41 from the field. The Mavs played poorly enough offensively to fall short of a lot of teams in this league, and their lack of purposeful ball movement and poor shooting were exacerbated by the hyper-athletic, impressively active Thunder defense.

It certainly wasn’t the Mavs’ finest hour, but hardly their darkest. Give it time.

Closing thoughts:

  • The Mavs’ third quarter was miserable. Just miserable. They shot 3 of 21 from the field and scored just 11 points. Sigh.
  • J.J. Barea leap-frogged Rodrigue Beaubois in the rotation last night, which makes sense. Though Roddy may seem like a nice defensive match-up against Westbrook, Rick Carlisle was much more concerned with integrating Butler and Haywood into the offense. That’s something that Barea, the more experienced point guard of the two, is able to do…at least theoretically. Barea didn’t exactly have a terrific night, but that doesn’t make the logic any less sound.
  • I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many terrible misses from a Maverick team. Butler and Haywood whiffed some of their attempts, which you could easily chalk up to nerves. But how about Dirk? Kidd? Terry? There were some truly miserable attempts that caught nothing but air or backboard, making last night not only one of worst nights of the new year in terms of offensive production, but certainly the worst in terms of offensive aesthetic.
  • DeShawn Stevenson did log some playing time, though he only contributed one turnover and one missed shot.
  • To the Mavs’ credit, they hit the offensive boards hard. Butler led the team with four, but Marion, Nowitzki, and Haywood each had three, followed by Erick Dampier’s two. Then again, the Mavs missed so many shots around the basket (they were somehow 9-24 at the rim, compared to the Thunder’s 17-25) that they afforded themselves plenty of opportunities to snag boards.
  • Does anyone on this planet not love watching the Thunder play basketball? I enjoy watching just about every team in the NBA, but watching OKC is a pretty sublime experience.
  • With the game on the line, Rick Carlisle went with a lineup that he was comfortable with: Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, and Erick Dampier. It didn’t really help; the Thunder still closed out the game with authority, holding the Mavs at arm’s length the whole way.

When Taking a Shot in the Dark, Aim Up

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 15, 2009 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

The Mavs have been linked to the Wizards and their number 5 pick in the draft for sometime now, with Jordan Hill’s name making the rounds.  Most indications point to Hill being a solid basketball player, but he’s hardly bound for stardom; Hill’s strengths are matched by sizeable limitations, indicators that Hill may be a contributor on the next level but won’t sniff the glory his price tag suggests.  If the Mavs can snag Hill for a combination of expiring deals, that’s spectacular.  But with Washington poised to make a run at the playoffs with a healthy Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood, how does that even seem like a remote possibility?  Dumping the contracts of a player like Etan Thomas may seem like an attractive possibility, but does a pure salary dump really make any sense with the Wiz over the cap for the foreseeable future and almost certainly above the luxury tax line?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the incentive from a financial perspective.  For Abe Polin and the Wiz’s ownership, saving a dollar is saving a dollar.  But does it really make sense to sell out the 5th pick for only the slightest of profit margins?  Unless Josh Howard or Jason Terry are involved, a swap for the no. 5 just doesn’t seem to make much sense at all for Washington.

Beyond that, what sense does it even make for the Mavs?  Hill will be able to play immediately, but he can’t be expected to be an especially effective starter.  Playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, and Jason Terry would seem beneficial to any rookie, but we still can’t expect Hill to make a tremendous amount of noise during his rookie campaign.  Maybe the thought process is that he doesn’t have to for the Mavs to be successful.  I wouldn’t be too sure.  If the Mavs move either Terry or Howard for Hill, it’s certainly a step down.  If they move Erick Dampier for Hill, it’s likely a lateral move for the first year at best.  The only exception would be a salary dump deal centered around Jerry Stackhouse, but that seems like an impossibility given the value of such a high pick (even in an off year).  Jordan Hill isn’t the type of talent that’s worth setting the team back, especially during the later stages of Dirk, Kidd, and JET’s careers.  He’s likely not going to turn into an otherworldly force that could justify that commitment and that sacrifice, and trading members of the current core for him would be a pretty big mistake.

All that said, what if Hill really isn’t the apple of the Mavs’ eye?  What if, in a bit of pre-draft shenanigans, the Mavs are insistent upon raising a Jordan Hill smokescreen?

Blake Griffin will be off the board, and Ricky Rubio and Hasheem Thabeet could likely be as well.  The Kings have been linked to Rubio, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Jonny Flynn, and Alf.  So who exactly may be left at 5?  Better players than Jordan Hill, that’s for damn sure.

Personally, I’d like the Mavs (supposing a trade up in the draft can actually be had) to take one of two players.

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

The first is James Harden.  Harden is essentially what the Mavs crave in a shooting guard, but he’s way out of their league pick-wise.  Harden’s a surefire top 5 pick in my eyes, combining a tenacious ability to score from long-range or around the basket with tough, physical defense and good size (6’5”, almost a 6’11” wingspan).  He’s as close to NBA-ready as any prospect in the draft, especially those on the wings, and in my opinion he’d have a seamless plug-in into the starting lineup alongside Kidd and Josh Howard.  He’s not lightning fast and he’s not oversized, but Harden’s style offensively and defensively and his size would make him an ideal candidate for a franchise 2-guard to succeed Terry.

Photo from BrandonJennings.net.

The second, and to me the more intriguing, is Brandon Jennings.  It’s dubious as to whether or not Jennings will even be available at 5 (although the same is true of Harden, who has been linked to the Thunder and even the Grizzlies), but Jennings being gone at 4 means that one of the other top prospects (Rubio, Thabeet, Harden…not Griffin) would have to fall to the 5 spot.  Good news, meet good news.

Jennings is a real deal, fast as hell point guard.  He’s confident, he’s skilled, and he once rocked the high top fade.  He’s bold (even brash) and clearly a willing risk-taker.  Jennings could be exactly the type of athlete that could usher in a new era of Mavs’ success, and I’m not alone in thinking he’ll be something truly special.  He’s got the bravado and the skills to bring some serious star power to the franchise, and it’s time the Mavs start planning for life after Kidd.  Whether or not that life begins this summer or in summers to come is up to the Mavs and Jason to decide, but assuming he can’t keep playing forever, a realistic successor needs to be waiting in the wings.  He has the potential to be one of the league’s best point guards, and a playing style that would make him a killer off the bench in the short-term.  Others may see the risk in Jennings, but from the tape I’ve seen of him, he’s a sure thing.  This guy could be absolutely stellar as a NBA point guard, and I can only hope the Mavs can leap up the draft to nab him.

With either Jennings or Harden likely available, the logic behind picking Jordan Hill doesn’t stick.  If you want an instant contribution, Harden is the man.  He’s a cure-all at the 2, bringing the shooting that Antoine Wright lacks, the defense missing from JET’s game, and the size Barea can never fully compensate for.  If you want star power, Jennings has it in spades.  His game is tremendous, he’ll sell jerseys, and he’ll be your point guard for the next decade.  There’s plenty to like in either candidate, and plenty to prefer over Jordan Hill.  Can Hill be productive in the NBA, and, can he even compete at the center position?  The Mavs already have enough of a minutes problem at the 4 with Dirk and Brandon Bass, and if Hill doesn’t pan out as a good enough interior defender (the evidence, but statistical and anecdotal, doesn’t go in his favor), the Mavs are put in quite a pickle.  It’s one thing if Hill is simply a Brandon Bass insurance policy, safeguarding the team from a compensation-less departure from Bass.  But it’s another entirely if the Mavs plan on making Dirk, Bass, and Hill coexist peacefully in the minutes column and on the defensive end.  Why take that chance when there are better prospects available?  Why force Hill to play out of position when a natural 2-guard and the point guard of the future are right at your fingertips?  The answer lies either in a smokescreen or under layers of psychosis in a Mavs front office deluded into false prophecies of Hill’s success alongside Dirk.  Some of that success may be found, but at what cost?