Jet Setting

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 8, 2010 under xOther | 7 Comments to Read

Goodness. Gracious. The preseason offers game after game of filler, but wade through the minutes and you may just find a gem like this one.

Disarmed

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 20, 2010 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

Three-point shooting is a huge part of what makes the San Antonio Spurs the San Antonio Spurs. They’re a pedestrian 11th in the league in three-point attempts per game (18.9), but in terms of approach, floor spacing is nothing short of crucial. Not only because having shooters on the floor gives Duncan the room he needs to operate in the post or Ginobili the lane he needs to get to the basket, but because without that spot-up threat, the number of useful players on the Spurs’ roster is woefully, woefully small.

Consider this: the Orlando Magic shoot far and away the highest number of three-pointers per game (27.3), and playing four shooters along with Dwight Howard is Stan Van Gundy’s schematic design. They swing the ball along the perimeter, work it in to Dwight almost as a distraction, and exploit aggressive defensive coverage against Howard (or on the pick-and-roll) by milking the added point value of the long ball. It’s a strategy that can be insanely effective, and one of the reasons why the Magic are among the most successful teams in the league despite a slightly unconventional roster.

Still, if you take away Orlando’s three-pointers by chasing them off the line — and good luck pulling that off — the players are still versatile and effective. Vince Carter, despite all of his faults, is still Vince Carter. Rashard Lewis is far more versatile than he gets credit for. Even J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, and Mickael Pietrus are far more than just designated shooters.

That’s just not the case with San Antonio. There are role players for whom this is less of an issue: DeJuan Blair obviously isn’t too reliant on the long ball, Richard Jefferson is theoretically a jack of all trades, and a healthy George Hill can put the ball on the floor and get to the basket (even if his ability to run an offense is largely overstated by his positional alignment). Other than that, who is San Antonio really relying on for supplementary offensive production? Keith Bogans (61.4% of scoring production from threes)? Roger Mason, Jr. (52.3%)? Matt Bonner (60%)? Those are one-trick ponies. Bogans is a fine defender, Mason can kind of handle the ball, and Bonner is another body to throw at Dirk, but these are not players that can contribute much offensively outside of the strict framework of the Spurs’ system. If you push them off the corners, what scoring are they really going to provide? The most reliable shot (after being chased off of the three-point line) any of those three is able to hit is probably a step-in two-point jumper, which would indicate a hugely successful defensive possession for the Mavs.

Richard Jefferson and George Hill are the two players that could make a significant difference without having to rely too heavily on threes. Unfortunately for the Spurs, it’s hardly so simple. Hill was a complete non-factor in Game 1, as his ankle injury and the Mavs’ defense on him removed any potential for a positive impact during Hill’s abbreviated night. Jefferson, on the other hand, is just stuck. He hasn’t been able to perform offensively all season long, and though one would think that he has the size, athleticism, and versatility necessary to be a significant piece for this Spurs team, he hasn’t lived up to his own name or his rather substantial contract.

That said, even Hill and Jefferson are less effective when chased off the three-point line. Check out the data for all five the aforementioned Spurs role players in strictly spot-up situations:

Player3FGAs/FGAsPPS (3FGA)PPS (2FGA)%TO Chased%TO Spot-Up
Bonner69.6%1.210.943.30%0.00%
Mason72%1.130.931.90%0.50%
Bogans85.6%1.060.745.90%0.00%
Hill60.6%1.350.92.70%0.50%
Jefferson51.50%1.040.755.80%0.00%

Data courtesy of Synergy Sports Technology.

3FGA/FGA – Percentage of used spot-up possessions that end in a three-point attempt

PPS (3FGA) – Points per three-point shot attempt

PPS (2FGA) – Points per two-point shot attempt

%TO Chased – Percentage of spot-up plays that end in a turnover after the player is chased from their spot

%TO Spot-up – Percentage of spot-up plays that end in a turnover without the player being chased from their spot (drop ball out of bounds, foot on the sideline, etc.)

Based on this data, you can glean a few things. Most notably, that every single one of these players is predictably less efficient once they’re chased from the three-point line (and in spot-up opportunities within the arc) than when they’re allowed to fire after spotting up. Particularly surprising is that George Hill, who would easily seem to be the best ball-handler of the bunch (save Mason, maybe), exhibits the most dramatic drop in points per shot between three-point spot-ups and other plays. Those other plays not only include spot-up opportunities for two-point jumpers (which are Hill’s most likely sandbag), but consist mostly of possessions in which George is run off of the three-point line by a closing defender. 2.7% of those chase-off possessions alone ended in turnovers, and even when he didn’t turn the ball over, Hill was a far less effective scorer.

Also worth noting is how similar Keith Bogans and Richard Jefferson turned out to be statistically-speaking in these situations. Both were markedly more efficient as spot-up three-point shooters (1.04 PPS vs. 0.75 PPS for Jefferson, 1.06 vs. 0.74 PPS for Bogans), to an almost identical degree. They also both turned the ball over nearly six percent of the time after being chased from the perimeter, in part due to traveling violations on their first step. That’s an aspect of scrambling defense that’s vastly overrated; the far right column of the chart, which represents the percentage of spot-up opportunities ending in turnovers if the player was not chased from their spot on the three-point line, displays drastically lower turnover rates than if the player puts the ball on the floor even for a single dribble. There’s not much opportunity to turn the ball over if a player is simply catching and shooting, and scrambling to contest three-point shooters seems to cause a fairly significant (and understandable) bump in turnover rate.

Taking away spot-up threes for these kinds of role players isn’t quite the equivalent of taking out the Spurs’ legs from under them. It’s more like cutting off both arms. They’ll still be able to function in the same basic ways (Duncan will still work the post, Parker will still attack off the dribble, etc.), but things get awfully difficult when the actions start to get a bit more complex. Open a door? Tough, but okay. Brush your teeth? Very unnatural but manageable. Pour yourself a glass of milk? Incredibly difficult, very gross, and remember not to cry. Use the bathroom? Ay, caramba.

If the Mavs can reduce the Spurs’ offense to the production of three players — even three great ones –  they’ll stand a very good chance of taking the series. Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker were responsible for 71 of the Spurs’ 94 points on Sunday night. Jefferson, Hill, Bonner, Mason, and Bogans combined for just nine points, and a single made three-pointer (on just four attempts). Dirk credited the Mavs’ ability to scramble defensively after the game, and he was right to do so. If Dallas continues to rotate quickly not only on the pick-and-roll but to open shooters as well, this series could be fun, hotly-contested, and extremely short-lived.

Game 1: Dallas Mavericks 100, San Antonio Spurs 94

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 18, 2010 under Recaps | 9 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter – a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.
-Henry Matisse

[ED. NOTE: This post has been updated with additional analysis.]

Every time I watch Dallas and San Antonio play, I feel that they were made to do this. The Spurs’ mission statement may be to win championships and the Mavs’ destiny may lead them toward continued yet flawed excellence, but how can you witness another incredible game between these two and not feel that their purpose on this planet and in this league is simply to out-do one another for our own amusement? Basketball fans are treated to a gladiatorial game in which both competitors occasionally lay defeated, but neither ever die. Two elite teams — both alike in dignity — forced by fate, and chance, and playoff seedings to play each other over and over for their playoff lives, and the fruit that competition bears is brilliant, even if the basketball is not.

Neither the Mavs nor Spurs were particularly proficient in their execution. The pair combined for 32 turnovers, and even some of the successful possessions were busted plays, second-chance points, or lucky bounces. That didn’t stop San Antonio from matching Dallas almost step-for-step until the fourth quarter, where Dirk Nowitzki (35 points on an insane 12-of-14 FG, seven rebounds, one turnover) capitalized on a Spurs defense that was finally paying him the attention that he deserved.

There aren’t many nights where Nowitzki’s performances are the concerns of Mavs fans. Those problems seem to arise periodically, and they’re typically variations on the same themes: perimeter defense, contributions from the centers, reliable supplementary scoring. Little of that involves Dirk, as he’s not only the most productive Mav, but the most consistent as well.

Last night wasn’t merely a night where Dirk’s play wasn’t a concern, though; Nowitzki performed at a phenomenal level. The kind of night where a Spurs fan can’t help but shake their head, because what else is one to do when Dirk is nailing turnaround after turnaround, banking in jumpers while fouled, and brutalizing every defender placed in front of him? You can pick apart Gregg Popovich’s gameplan all you’d like, as Pop chose to do a complete 180 from his strategy in last year’s series, and played Dirk almost exclusively with a single defender. There were double teams on occasion, but for the majority of the contest Nowitzki faced up and shot over Antonio McDyess (who looked absolutely silly biting on pump fakes), Matt Bonner (who loved to send Dirk to the free throw line for extra points) and Keith Bogans (who for all of his defensive strengths, is still 6’5”).

That was clearly a mistake, as Dirk missed two shots in total out of 14 field goal attempts and 12 free throw attempts. By the time Pop finally started throwing additional pressure on Dirk when he set up at the elbow, Nowitzki displayed an incredible willingness — who gives up the ball when they’re 12-of-14? — and skill to find open teammates cutting down the lane or setting up at the three-point line. You’ll find just one assist on the stat sheet for Dirk, but the offense ran through him during winning time, and win he did.

No recap of this game would be complete without a thorough and explicit praising of Jason Kidd (13 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds, four steals, four turnovers). Kidd actually had a rough go of it at times, and stepped outside himself to make some uncharacteristically sloppy plays in the half-court offense. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around however, Kidd’s power was in full effect, and not only was he finding his teammates with greater accuracy and consistency as the game progressed, but he established a flow to the offense that ended up being the deciding factor down the stretch. You could point to a number of things that won this game for the Mavs: Dirk’s incredible play, Erick Dampier’s defense on Tim Duncan, the Mavs’ ability to chase the Spurs’ three-point shooters off of their spots, etc. None of those things had as much of a literal and obvious impact as Kidd’s fourth-quarter orchestration. Nowitzki undoubtedly deserves player of the game honors, but Kidd is a worthy asterisk and footnote.

The Mavs also fall way short without Caron Butler, who finished with 22 points. Butler wasn’t efficient (19 shots to get to 22, five turnovers) so much as he was productive, and he was the go-to offensive option for the Mavs with Dirk on the bench. He drove to the basket and milked his mid-range game, but I was most impressed with Caron’s work on the block. He posted up Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson for some beautiful turnaround jumpers. Pop opted not to double-team Nowitzki for most of the game, but he wasn’t shy about throwing doubles Caron’s way. That’s…odd. Maybe his thinking is that Butler is more easily flustered than Nowitzki and that unlike Dirk, Butler doesn’t have the height to see over the double teams. That’s reasonable, but it doesn’t make doubling a far more inefficient scorer the right move on a night where Dirk is going crazy from the field.

Butler’s contributions were made even more valuable by Jason Terry’s extended silence (five points, 2-9 FG, three assists), as the Spurs keyed in defensively on JET. Terry (as the ball-handler) was blitzed on many a screen-and-roll, and to his credit, he made the right play. Only a few of those shots were forced, and though he made little impact on the game as a whole, he didn’t turn the ball over once and was an essential part of the late-game offense as per usual. Terry ran two beautiful sequences late in the fourth with Dirk as the screener, in which he once found Jason Kidd for a wide open three when Tony Parker had cheated off of him and also hit Damp right under the basket to draw a foul. Then with 1:54 left in the game, the Spurs pressured Dirk to give up the ball, and he responded with a pass out to the open Jason Kidd on the perimeter. Kidd pump faked to draw the rotating Parker and then kicked it to Terry in the corner, who connect on just his second field goal make of the game. That three put the Mavs up 100-88, and they coasted to a victory.

Only talking about the offense wouldn’t be giving the Mavs the proper credit, though. Erick Dampier did a terrific job of defending Tim Duncan. TD still had 27 and eight on 60% shooting, but that’s just about the most difficult 27 points on 60% shooting that I’ve ever seen. For whatever that’s worth. Damp forced Duncan to work for every inch of positioning down low, but his night was perhaps best captured by two spectacular plays. With 7:03 left in the first quarter, Dampier flat-out stripped Duncan as Tim faced up. He just swiped the ball away from Duncan at the hip and even chased down (lumbered toward?) the loose ball to complete the play. Equally impressive was Damp’s play at the 6:18 mark of the third quarter, when he blocked Tim Duncan’s jump hook at its apex. Duncan still got his throughout the night, but Dampier did plenty.

Just as impressive was the Mavs’ ability to cover three-point shooters. San Antonio averaged 18.9 three-pointers per game, including 4.7 per game from Manu Ginobili. That means that on average, the Spurs’ designated shooters (Bonner, Bogans, Hill, Mason, Jefferson) shot 14.2 three-pointers per game. Last night that group combined for just four three-point attempt and converted just one. Dallas was scrambling like crazy in their rotations, and the Mavs’ ability to cover every shooter on the floor was a big reason why the pick-and-roll defense was so successful. Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair each broke free on the pick-and-roll for impressive dunks, but for the most part Dallas was able to keep San Antone’s screen game in check by showing hard on the pick, recovering quickly, and relying on lots of rotating help from Mavs on the weak side.

There are a few ways you can look at this game. On one hand, the Mavs played better than the Spurs throughout, even though the margin of victory was close. They won without much scoring help from Jason Terry, and they survived 71 combined points from San Antonio’s big three. The Mavs shot 34 free throws and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, which helped to counter the Spurs’ 50% shooting night.

Then again, look at everything that went wrong for San Antonio, and they were still within striking distance for the entirety of the game. George Hill and DeJuan Blair, the purported x-factors of the series, combined for four points and five rebounds. They turned the ball over an uncharacteristic amount, lost the battle on the boards, and still shot 50% to nearly win this thing. Game one is in the books but this series is far from over. Just stay tuned for the next gripping installment.

Closing thoughts:

  • In the second half, Gregg Popovich employed the “Clamp-a-Damp” strategy (trademarked by Russ Bengtson), in which Roger Mason intentionally fouled Damp three times in a row as a way to get the ball out of Dirk’s hands. That’s certainly one way to deny Nowitzki the ball. Damp converted four of his six attempts during the stretch, and with the way Dirk was shooting (and getting to the free throw line), that was probably two points less than the Mavs would have gotten otherwise. Win?
  • Rick Carlisle actually swapped out Dampier for Shawn Marion with a little more than two minutes left in the fourth quarter just to avoid Pop from employing the strategy again. Carlisle indicated that he thought Pop was calling for another intentional foul on Dampier, and quickly pulled Damp for a short period before the final two-minute “safe zone.”
  • J.J. Barea did not play well, but this is hardly the time to throw Rodrigue Beaubois into the fire at point guard. Beaubois could be a bit of a wild card (in the good sense), but he’s not reliable enough running the point to warrant going away from Barea right now.
  • George Hill played just eighteen minutes, because Pop “didn’t like what he saw.” Not sure whether that was regarding Hill’s ankle (which George insisted was fine) or his play (which was poor and ineffective), but either way I’d expect him to play more minutes and more effectively on Wednesday.
  • Hands down the best in-arena atmosphere all season. The intensity of Mavs fans at the AAC comes and goes, but that place was rockin’ last night.
  • The down side to Erick Dampier’s big defensive night: Brendan Haywood played just 18 minutes. He played very well in those 18 and put up 10 and six (including three offensive boards), but his limited minutes (and situational matchups) didn’t give us a good opportunity to gauge his defensive abilities against Duncan.
  • Not a great night for Shawn Marion (nine points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks), but he helped. Shawn’s effectiveness will ultimately be determined by how efficiently Ginobili is scoring, as that’s Marion’s primary focus. On the bright side is that Manu only took 17 shot attempts when he could have done much more damage, and though Marion (and Jason Kidd, who played excellent defense on Manu in the fourth) couldn’t stop Ginobili from shooting a good percentage from the field, he was influential in causing some of Manu’s five turnovers.

Nearing the End of the Free Agent Bazaar

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 23, 2009 under Commentary | 28 Comments to Read

It’s nearing that time, kids.  The time when regrettable mid-level deals are forged and signed with blood, when fits-like-a-glove veterans are snatched up for pennies on the dollar, and when the yearly projects (Oh, hi Gerald.) find their new temporary home in which to fail to make the jump.  Late summer is truly a magical time for basketball fans.

The Gortat Incident seems years in the past, and while that episode may have trampled some hope for the upcoming season, there are still some serviceable free agents out there.  Most of them can be had on the relative cheap and still provide meaningful production.  Some of them can even do so in ways that would maximize a Mavs’ investment.

The biggest questions should be centered around how these potential Mavericks could change the team’s outlook towards the free agent Mavs in limbo: Ryan Hollins, Gerald Green, and James Singleton.  It’s no secret that the Mavs have some, shall we say, “issues” in the middle.  There’s Erick Dampier and a whole lot of nothing.  Will Dirk shift over?  Are any of the relative unknowns on the roster ready to body up in the paint?  Hard to say.  But the lack of “real” centers (whatever that means anymore) on the roster is a definite point of concern.  Ryan Hollins isn’t quite the remedy we had in mind when the off-season started, but locking him up for next season should be viewed as a necessity.  Brandon Bass won’t be around to log minutes at the five and muscle up on the inside, so a combination of Hollins and makeshift 5s will likely have to do the job.

That is, unless the Mavs are particularly enamored with one of the centers still swimming around in the free agent pool.

It seems like the Mavs have seen just about all they need to see from Gerald Green.  If circumstances were different, like if the Mavs were desperately trying to fill their roster rather than trim it, I could see everyone’s favorite/least favorite slammajamma prospect stick around for another year.  But there’s really no incentive to make an obligation to G-Money.  He wasn’t dynamic or even singularly effective enough last season to warrant special consideration, and given what the Mavs already have to work with, committing additional dollars and a roster spot to the Green dream seems pretty foolish.

Singleton’s place with the team is even more ambiguous.  James hustled his way into Maverick hearts last season and proved to be a rebounding machine.  It’s questionable how much floor time would be available to Singleton with Shawn Marion being worked into the mix, but James is an ideal guy to fill out a roster and bring energy off the bench.  But again, with the roster crunch the Mavs are in at the moment, it could be tough to bring Singleton back.  Doing so would likely require a trade or a waiver, which may be more trouble than a 10th man is worth, especially if another free agent option is deemed superior.

With that in mind, let’s take to the list of the remaining free agents that should interest the Mavs:

1. Lamar Odom, F (unrestricted) – Lamar is the big fish.  He’s plump from chomping on that Championship gold, and is a long shot (at best) to land with the Mavs; Even if Odom isn’t feeling the love from the Lakers, the Heat would likely one-up the Mavs in terms of both fit and personal preference.  Oh, bother.

You also may notice that Odom is about as bad of a fit as you can get given the current core.  LO can is a forward, and both of his natural positions are waist-deep in talent.  Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, and Josh Howard form one mean forward rotation, and finding room for Lamar Odom in that mix would definitely be tricky.  But Odom is unique and talented enough that those concerns come later.  If you can grab Lamar Odom as a free agent, you do it.  Period.  He’s as versatile as players get in this league and now championship-validated, which is a rather powerful thing to add to a resume.

2. Rasho Nesterovic, C (unrestricted) – I know what you’re thinking.  Yes, Rasho is big, he’s white, and he’s lumbering, but this guy is definitely better than you think he is.  I can’t think of a single facet of Rasho’s game that would warrant calling him a beast, but supposing the Mavs are truly looking to fill minutes at the 5 with free agent imports, I see them doing no better than Nesterovic.  Offensively, he won’t provide much.  Strictly a garbage buckets, open dunks and layups kinda guy.  But on the defensive end, that’s where Rasho is valuable.  Having two serviceable centers who can play D is a luxury few teams have in today’s NBA, and though Erick Dampier and Rasho Nesterovic are neither big names nor offensive juggernauts, together they could go a long way towards slowing down the league’s back-to-the-basket types.

3. Carlos Delfino, SG (restricted) -Delfino is a baller.  His game is smooth and he’s a fine shooter (.490 eFG on jumpers), but unfortunately one who is decidedly average from behind the arc (.356 for his career from three).  Delfino offers a prototypical look that would allow the Mavs to run slightly more conventional lineups from the bench.  He slashes, he hits his midrange looks, and he’s a solid defender; Carlos Delfino is a player just waiting for the right opportunity, and I feel like the Mavs could be a great fit.  Delfino would blossom with some offensive talent around him, and with all the loaded guns the Mavs are packing, he should have no problem getting open looks.  The two-way shooting guard that the Mavs have craved may be a vagabond Argentine…or at worst, he slides in as a rotation wing with a diverse game.

4. Von Wafer, SG (unrestricted) – Von Wafer is a ruthless scorer.  He’d cut the throat of a kitten for a bucket, but that same drive makes him a bit of a black hole.  For what it’s worth, he also had trouble getting along with Rockets’ coach Rick Adelman, perhaps the most players’ coachy of players’ coaches.

Wafer may never tighten the screws that keep his head on his shoulders, and that’s likely the red flag that has kept the Mavs away.  If Wafer can’t learn to play nice with his coach and his teammates, he’ll never be able to thrive in the shot-in-the-arm role that best suits his game.  I don’t think Wafer has the talent or potential to pan out as a top-level scorer, but he would rock it as a punch off the bench.  The Mavs already have that covered with a cat named Jason Terry.  You may have heard of him.  But if Von has trouble finding a home and re-enters the market for bargain value, the Mavs would be stupid to pass up the depth…unless Wafer’s even more troublesome to a locker room than I give him credit for.

5. Ike Diogu, PF (unrestricted) – Diogu may not seem like a fit at first glance, but he could be incredibly useful as a post threat on the second unit.  Ike would slide into Brandon Bass’ role as an undersized PF/C, though his game is more drop steps and less money jumpers.

Diogu’s counting stats won’t wow you, but he’s never really had an ample opportunity to strut his stuff.  His career high in minutes is just a shade under 15, and as such his career averages are decidedly pedestrian.  But when you scope out Diogu’s efficiency numbers and per-minute numbers, they’re truly stellar.  Behold, Ike’s stats per 36 (via Basketball-Reference.com.  Click here to see a larger version.):

That’s typically not the level of production you pick up late in free agency.  And more often than not, you don’t find these players pining away on the wrong end of a rotation for the first four years of their career.

6. Leon Powe, PF (unrestricted) – Leon Powe could turn out to be a great investment, but the returns will be delayed.  He’s currently rehabbing from a torn ACL, which is injury-speak for no bueno.  Logic and precedent tell you not to offer a guaranteed contract to a man with jelly knees, but logic and precedent aren’t staring down a short frontcourt rotation that could use a quality big.  Sheesh, the nerve of those two.

Hinging the frontcourt rotation on Powe’s knee could be a gamble, but if the Mavs aren’t satisfied with what they’ve got (Ahmad Nivins included.  He looked like a player in summer league, but you never know what to expect from a team with a full roster.), then they could opt for a low-salary, option-based deal with Powe.

7. Rashad McCants, SG (unrestricted) – He’s young, he’s available, and he’s a scorer.  Unfortunately, he’s not much else.  McCants is a mouth with a jumpshot, but enough of both that he could inject some swagger and balance the court with his range.  As long as the deal is within reason, McCants could be the extra gun arm needed to shoot the lights out.  He also just so happened to work out with the team a few weeks back, so he’s got that on his side.

8. Keith Bogans, SG (unrestricted) – Bogans is one of those defensive-stopper types who grabbed the label through lack of alternatives.  Bogans doesn’t have much going for him offensively, but he’s a good option as a spot-up shooter on the perimeter.  Luckily for the Mavs, that’s pretty much what they’re looking for in a shooting guard.  With the offensive talent the Mavs have, sometimes optimizing the offensive flow is as simple as spacing the floor and going to work.  When the double teams come, shooters are in position, and if they don’t, you’re looking at a high-quality shot for one of the Mavs’ offensive weapons.  It’s hard to say exactly where such a player would fit in minutes-wise, but if the Mavs are looking for back-up plans in case playing Howard at the 2 goes South, they could do worse than Bogans.  Itty bitty problems: Bogans is no spring chicken, so what you see is pretty much what you get, and there are definite redundancies in the games of Keith Bogans and the newly-signed Quinton Ross.