Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy
If you’re anything like me, this week for the Mavs didn’t “feel” very good. They got rocked by the Thunder (a team they have consistently played very close in years past, even when the Thunder are much more talented), which left a dark underscore on an otherwise successful week. And objectively speaking, it was a successful week: when you’re the 2012-2013 Mavs and you’re several games below .500, a 2-1 week is success. Relatively speaking, anyway.
1) Shawn Marion
Since Dirk Nowitzki returned to the lineup, people have suggested that it’s very difficult for him, less than two years removed from an NBA title, to suddenly be surrounded by this current cast of Mavericks. That’s probably true. But if that’s true of Dirk, it’s also undoubtedly true of Shawn Marion, the other remaining rotation player from the Mavs’ 2011 title team. If Marion is carrying that disappointment, though, he’s not showing it on the court. Every night, the man affectionately known as The Matrix is playing his tail off for the blue and white, and his numbers this week show it. He started the week by dropping a double-double in his former stomping grounds in Phoenix (12 points, 11 rebounds); in Oklahoma City, he contributed 23 points on 10-of-14 (71%) shooting and also blocked two shots; finally, against Portland last night, he notched yet another double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds), his 11th of the season. And of course, all those stats accompany Marion’s usual, well-above-average individual defense. Glasses up to the Matrix — a true pro’s pro.
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Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
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 prevailing storyline of this game should be — and is, for the most part — centered around the Mavs’ defense. Dallas’ first quarter D was embarrassing, and particularly so on pick-and-rolls and in transition, which just so happen to be the most elemental aspects of the Phoenix Suns’ offense. Rodrigue Beaubois had quite possibly his worst defensive showing of the season, and his blunders in defending the pick-and-roll were enough to erase the memory of him bothering Monta Ellis. Tyson Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki were hardly excused from blame though, and honestly it’s hard not to fault any Maverick on the floor. The Suns shot 13-of-23 (13-of-19 if you exclude their three point attempts) for the frame, and Steve Nash had seven assists in that quarter alone. Dallas turned it around, though. They put a lot more pressure on Nash as the game wore on, and actually rotated effectively beginning with the start of the second quarter. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Mavs’ D was in top form. The ball was taken out of Nash’s hands, and each attempt by Grant Hill, Jared Dudley, Aaron Brooks, or Vince Carter to create was met with a strong defensive front. The Mavs will still have plenty to talk about in the film room, but overall the defensive turnaround was pretty astounding.
- Related reading: Sebastian Pruiti’s breakdown of the Mavs’ pick-and-roll defense on NBA Playbook.
- If only the offense were on-point. Although both Nowitzki and Jason Terry hit some big shots in the fourth, the Mavs struggled on offense to a truly ridiculous degree. Dallas alternated fits of turnovers with well-executed sequences ending in errant shots. The only savior? Offensive rebounding. The Mavs grabbed a rebound on over 32 percent of their misses, which when paired with their trips to the line and occasional makes, came up with just enough points to top the Suns. It’s only natural that when the defense starts functioning again the offense loses its luster.
- One more saving grace: Jason Kidd. The Mavs may not need Kidd to be a scorer nightly, but when he’s committing turnovers and not really setting up his teammates, they do need him to do something. On Sunday, that something was scoring (and timely scoring at that, as Kidd made two huge catch-and-shoot threes last in the fourth) and defense. There’s no magic number of assists or points, but Kidd has to find ways to be productive when he’s struggling in other areas.
- See what happens when Tyson Chandler can stay on the floor for 38 minutes? He had a sub-par first quarter, but ended up with 16 points and 18 boards, all while anchoring Dallas’ defense through the final three quarters. Chandler’s more than occasional foul trouble is a pretty big problem for the Mavs, and if they had to worry about his availability in addition to their other issues, it’s likely that Dallas would have lost this one. Brendan Haywood played reasonably well in his limited court time (he had four rebounds in a block in seven minutes), but Chandler is just in a different class.
- As good as Chandler was, Marcin Gortat (20 points, 8-13 FG, 15 rebounds, four turnovers) had himself a game. Of course, most of his damage came off of pick-and-roll action in the first quarter; Gortat dropped 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the opening frame. From that point on, Gortat attempted just four field goals and committed four turnovers, which really speaks to the defensive work the Mavs did on Nash in the final 36. Limiting Nash’s options cuts off access to finishers and perimeter shooters, and though Gortat had a nice array of open layups and dunks in the first quarter, Dallas saw an end to that with ball pressure and sharper rotations.
- J.J. Barea had a strange night. No Mav could match his dribble penetration, and Barea typically found a quality shot attempt for himself or a teammate at the end of his drives. Yet he ended up shooting 3-of-13 from the field, even though nearly all of his attempts were within reason. His five assists are nice, but that shooting percentage doesn’t quite do Barea’s play justice. It was just one of those nights where the shots — jumpers, layups, runners, everything — weren’t falling for him, even though his decision-making was sound.
- I have no idea how Josh Childress ever fell out of the Suns’ rotation. It’s not just a nice, tidy 12-point, three-rebound, two-assist, two-block showing in this game, either. Childress is a player any team would be lucky to have, and though his unconventional offensive game makes him more difficult to fully utilize than a typical three-point marksman, slasher, or post-up threat, his combination of skills, smarts, and defensive ability make him a terrific addition.
Photo by P.A. Molumby/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; credible we must be truthful.”
-Edward R. Murrow
For the purposes of this recap, the fact that the Mavericks lost is almost certainly a good thing.
I find it a bit difficult to rail on a team for winning. The explicit goal of playing in the NBA is to win games, and though there are millions of ways to accomplish that feat, the end result reads the same in the standings. All wins are obviously not created equal, but in a game where the Mavs are the victors, their weaknesses and limitations are easily disguised. The shoddy defense, the offensive impotence, the poor rebounding, the lack of consistent execution — all shoved into boxes in the corner of the garage, covered with a sheet, and forgotten.
Until a night like tonight. The defense we’ve come to expect from the Mavs’ strong start has been nonexistent in their last two contests, and any offensive momentum the Mavs have built in the past week was exhausted in the first three quarters against the Phoenix Suns. By the time the fourth came around, Dallas’ offense could do little other than sputter.
I have no intention of denying the Suns their due. They were relentless in their activity and ball movement, and were a huge part of the Mavs’ offensive collapse in the final quarter. They held the Mavs to just 16 points in the fourth on 6-21 shooting. Grant Hill (seven points, five rebounds) played terrific defense on Dirk (19 points, 5-11 FG, five rebounds) throughout, but of course he didn’t do it alone. The Suns’ ability to deny Dirk the ball late in the fourth quarter was absolutely tremendous, and that’s a team-wide effort. That’s Channing Frye cheating over a bit to help in the post. That’s Jared Dudley denying a pass. That’s Steve Nash (yes, that Steve Nash) making the entry pass just a little bit more difficult. This is how you phase your opponent’s best player out of the game, and the result speaks for itself.
Of course it didn’t exactly help matters that Phoenix was getting to the basket at will. The Suns had 22 attempts at the rim compared to the Mavs’ 12, mostly due to poor rotations in the paint; Erick Dampier’s (12 points, four rebounds) minutes and mobility were limited and Drew Gooden (eight points, three rebounds) looked suspiciously like Drew Gooden. And on the perimeter? The Mavs were lost, doubling Amar’e Stoudemire (22 points, one rebound, five turnovers) in the post at the wrong moments and scrambling to account for Steve Nash (19 points, 11 assists). The mayhem left plenty of shooters open from behind the arc, where the Suns’ collection of marksmen nailed nine of their 15 attempts. 38 of Phoenix’s 73 attempts came from highly efficient spots on the floor, and they added 31 free throw attempts just for the hell of it. That’s three very efficient ways of scoring for the Suns, contributing a total of 82 points on 51 estimated possessions.
Needless to say, that’s not exactly championship caliber defense. And the offense that scored just eight points in the final seven minutes? Well, that’s not even quasi-contender quality. The Mavs are past the point where they “need to figure these things out,” and on to “they really should have figured these things out by now.” Things should be getting easier on the offensive end, and the defensive game plan should be second nature. That hasn’t happened. And though it seems like centuries between now and the playoffs, the post-All-Star stretch will fly by. The Mavs are far from a lost cause, but if they’re to peak at the right time, they should probably get started with their marked improvement relatively soon.
- Jason Terry (21 points, 8-15 FG, five assists) looks to be in an offensive rhythm. One can only hope that this is more than a mirage, and that the productive, efficient JET is here to stay.
- Josh Howard’s (seven points, 3-10 FG, six rebounds, two turnovers) presence on the court was pretty damning. I so badly want to defend Josh’s play because I think he’s putting in the effort, but his performance is hardly worthy of significant floor time. He’s losing his man on defense, he can’t convert on jumpers or in the lane, and he’s stopping the ball. Rick Carlisle’s in a tough place in managing Howard’s ego, playing time, and trade value, but something has to give.
- The Mavs looked great working against the zone, as they moved the ball to the open area of the floor, drew in the D, and kicked it out. The Suns tried their hand at zoning up for just two possessions early in the game, and two Jason Kidd jumpers later (one two-pointer and one three-pointer), they were back to man-to-man.
- Amar’e Stoudemire had a weird game. He grabbed just one rebound in 27 minutes. He sat out the entire fourth quarter. He floated. He scored .0.84 points per minute. He could get moved, and after the game he was all smiles. If you can make any sense of those events, then by all means.
- Dirk Nowitzki’s last field goal attempt came with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter. Yikes. To steal a line from Hedo Turkoglu on what could have helped Dirk contribute more down the stretch: Ball.
- I’m convinced that Jared Dudley may be the perfect role player. He works hard, he rebounds, and he completely overcomes his limitations by playing smart defense, limiting his shots to where’s he’s most effective, and moving without the ball.
- Goran Dragic (13 points, 4-6 FG) isn’t a “completely different player” from last year, but he’s skipped a step in his evolutionary process and become an instant contributor. He was much more of a scorer than a playmaker last night, but Dragic is capable of doing both playing either guard position. He continues to find ways to make himself more and more useful.
- Obligatory mention to Louis Amundson (12 points, 5-7 FG, two blocks), whose play kept Amar’e off the floor.
- The Mavs shot .500 from the field, Marion chipped in 15 points and 8 rebounds, Dampier added 12 points, Jason Kidd notched 13 points and six assists and J.J. Barea scored eight points on just five shots to go along with four assists. Combined with Terry’s production, that’s about all you can ask from the supporting cast. Makes you wonder what could have been offensively if the Mavs hadn’t completely fallen apart in the fourth quarter, doesn’t it?
- Black eye on Shawn Marion’s game: Marion missed a fairly basic look from short range with the Mavs down three and under a minute remaining. Dallas then gives up a layup to Steve Nash (not Marion’s fault), and is forced to go into fouling mode (only kind of Marion’s fault).
- Just for fun, look at the contrast between this picture from Tuesday and this picture from last night.
Shot distribution data courtesy of HoopData.
The Mavs don’t have a very good track record when it comes to finding value late in the draft, though selecting Josh Howard with the final pick in the first round back in 2003. But the stakes have never been higher, with the Mavs’ few young assets weighing their options in free agency and the Mavs’ 2010 pick in the hands of the New Jersey Nets. This one counts big time, and it’s up to the management and the scouting team to find the diamond in the rough.
It’s tough, but hardly impossible. Quality players pass right under the noses of many a team year after year, leaving latent value late in the draft. The Mavs pick at 22, which is just a shade closer to the lottery than to the Mavs’ customary position at the draft’s tail.
Here are the picks at 22 this decade:
2008 – Courtney Lee
2007 – Jared Dudley
2006 – Marcus Williams
2005 – Jarrett Jack
2004 – Viktor Khryapa
2003 – Zoran Planinic
2002 – Casey Jacobsen
2001 – Jeryl Sasser
2000 – Donnell Harvey
Three of those players (Courtney Lee, Jared Dudley, Jarrett Jack) have shown rotation player chops. Lee is the most notable as the starting 2 guard of an impressive Orlando team just one win away from the Finals. In fact, if the Mavs could magically re-draft Lee this year, they’d be in pretty good shape.
Just for fun, here are picks in the late first round (20+) :
Courtney Lee (22)
Nicolas Batum (25)
Wilson Chandler (23)
Rudy Fernandez (24)
Aaron Brooks (26)
Renaldo Balkman (20)
Rajon Rondo (21)
Kyle Lowry (23)
Shannon Brown (25)
Jordan Farmar (26)
Jarrett Jack (20)
Nate Robinson (21)
Francisco Garcia (23)
Jason Maxiell (26)
Linas Kleiza (27)
David Lee (30)
Jameer Nelson (20)
Delonte West (24)
Kevin Martin (26)
Boris Diaw (21)
Travis Outlaw (23)
Kendrick Perkins (27)
Leandro Barbosa (28)
Josh Howard (29)
Tayshaun Prince (23)
Nenad Krstic (24)
John Salmons (26)
Brendan Haywood (20)
Gerald Wallace (25)
Jamaal Tinsley (27)
Tony Parker (28)
Morris Peterson (21)
It’s certainly worth noting that even the 2005 draft, predicted to be a weak draft class among pundits and largely looked at as a failure in comparison to its contemporaries, still produced productive players late in the first round. Blake Griffin is no Tim Duncan and the consolation prizes may have their flaws, but that doesn’t mean true commodities can’t be found late in the first.
Next week I’ll start examining potential picks for the Mavs, starting with those rumored and confirmed to have scheduled workouts with the team. Some of those players seem poised for success on the pro level, and others may not even be top competitors in the D-League. As fans, we can only hope that MGMT not only makes the right decision in assessing the talent of a potential pick, but also in picking talented players to fill holes in the Mavs’ rotation.