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.
Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.
The MVP debate has heated up with detailed defenses offered for several players, as well as plenty of commentary on the amorphous, shifting, and individualistic parameters used to define this award. Earlier this week, I shared my opinion on the MVP race at Hickory-High; my thought is that, with no consensus on the criteria for determining an MVP, there can be no definitive right or wrong answer. The discussion itself is then the crux of this whole affair. People from all sides seem to be wailing at the heavens over potential injustices yet to be meted out, instead of enjoying an opportunity for a rich and passionate exchange of ideas.
Towards the end of my piece, I admitted that I’m still not sure who I would vote for, were I lucky enough to be a part of the official process:
I don’t have a problem with Rose winning MVP. I’m not entirely convinced he’s the best choice, but it’s certainly not a travesty if he wins. I do have a problem with the vocal minority who have been arguing it’s a travesty if he doesn’t win. There is a reasonable argument to be made for Rose. I think there is also a reasonable argument to be made for Dirk, LeBron and Howard.
Argue your belief, passionately and completely. However, acknowledge that someone else may do the same and reach a perfectly reasonable, albeit different conclusion from your own. Enjoy the discourse and exchange of ideas. There is no wrong answer in this discussion. Except, of course, for Kobe Bryant. That guy is terrible.
Putting my money where my mouth is, I’m going to shamelessly pander to this audience and argue the case for Dirk Nowitzki. Respecting the spirit of my previous statements, I’m not here to say he is THE Most Valuable Player, rather that he is one of many valuable players with a legitimate claim at being the Most. I’ll lay out his case, and you can decide for yourself.
MVP profiles seem to fall into one of three categories, or occasionally, an amalgamation of some of the three. The first is a player with an overwhelming statistical profile (Think Shaquille O’Neal’s 29.7 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 3.0 BPG campaign in 2000). The second is a player who represents the defining storyline of the season, (Think Steve Nash and the “Seven Seconds or Less Suns” of 2005). The third is a player who, in apparent single-handed fashion, drags a collection of sub-par teammates to a spot among the league’s elite. The best recent example of this third type of candidate would be Allen Iverson in 2001.
Nowitzki’s season definitely doesn’t fit into the first category. The table below shows his per game averages from this season compared to the averages for the last 20 MVPs:
Average MVP 1991-2010
Dirk Nowitzki 2011
Looking at these numbers, Nowitzki gets his foot in the door, but just barely. Clearly his MVP claim can’t be based on individual statistical achievements alone.
Nowitzki also isn’t going to win the award this season for sentimental reasons, or the nature of his narrative. Voters hungry for compelling storylines will find more sustenance with LeBron James struggling to overcome the negative backlash of his move to Miami, Derrick Rose pushing his game and his team to new heights and Dwight Howard holding the Magic together through a merry-go round of roster and lineup changes. I’d even wager that, a decade from now, more fans will remember what Kevin Love accomplished this season than the play of Dirk Nowitzki.
Nowitzki’s claim then, is based on the way he has pushed the Mavericks to achieve this season. In this regard, he is, at worst, on par with any other player in the league. The most commonly quoted statistic accompanying any mention of Nowitzki as an MVP is the team’s 2-7 record in the nine games he’s missed this season. Preferring instead to look at things in a positive light, I’ll rephrase that statistic and point out that the Mavericks have gone 51-17 with Nowitzki on the floor. That’s a win percentage of 75% — the highest win percentage of any of the MVP candidates’ teams in games they’ve played in.
Dirk Nowitzki – 75.0%
Kobe Bryant – 72.7%
Derrick Rose – 72.3%
LeBron James – 72.0%
Dwight Howard – 65.3%
Chris Paul – 57.3%
Every one of those players makes a huge impact for their team, but by win percentage, Nowitzki’s impact would seem to be the largest.
That’s not the only statistic that shows him as the most valuable to his team’s success, out of that group of players. The Mavericks have outperformed their Pythagorean Win projection by 5 games this season. The Spurs are the only other team in the league to outpace their Pythagorean Projection by at least 5 games. This fact is a testament, in part, to Nowitzki’s ability to make plays when they matter most. If I may indulge in an incomprehensible arrangement of words, Nowitzki’s performance in clutch situations has helped the Mavericks outperform their performance.
Nowitzki also has the second best Unadjusted On/Off Net Rating (the difference between the team’s Net Rating (ORtg-DRtg) when Nowitzki is on the floor vs. when he’s off the floor) in the league this season. In this category, he trails only Paul Pierce, but has a significant edge on each of the players we mentioned above.
Dirk Nowitzki: +16.00
Chris Paul: +12.77
LeBron James: +10.62
Dwight Howard: +7.87
Kobe Bryant: +5.62
Derrick Rose: +1.90
This statistic is certainly influenced by the quality of competition and the abilities of teammates and backups. Nowitzki is a starter and plays the majority of crunch-time minutes, so a bias based on quality of competition is a non-issue. The matter of the his teammates’ contributions actually seems like it helps Nowitzki’s case. The common argument against this type of measure is that a player’s numbers can be inflated by the play of inferior teammates. However, if Nowitzki’s numbers are inflated, it should only serve to decrease our opinion of his supporting cast — and make what Nowitzki has done this season that much more remarkable. Helping the Mavericks accomplish what they have with less than ideal help from teammates should increase our opinion of Nowitzki’s importance.
The arguments against Nowitzki are fairly obvious; people who favor individual statistical achievements or compelling storylines in their MVP evaluations will dismiss Nowitzki out of hand for not fitting into either. Additionally, those who disagree with Nowitzki’s candidacy (even based purely on impact) will argue that almost all of his damage is done at the offensive end of the floor. It’s a common refrain. It’s also wrong, and a bit irrelevant. Nowitzki wouldn’t be the first MVP — nor the last — whose contributions come primarily at one end of the floor. Plus, Nowitzki’s offensive contributions are among the most valuable in the league, and the idea that he is a non-factor at the defensive end is raking an extremely narrow view.
There are 13 players with a usage rate of at least 28% this season. Among them, Nowitzki has the lowest turnover rate, a full percentage point below Kevin Durant, at 9.2%. This means a greater portion of his possessions are used on scoring opportunities than anyone else in this group. That’s a good thing for the Mavericks, because he also leads this group in true shooting percentage (TS%) at 61.4%. In fact, Nowitzki is the most efficient offensive player of this group overall. I used the totals from Basketball-Reference to calculate the points per possession average for each player. The table below shows that information alongside each player’s usage and TS%:
MVP Offensive Efficiencies
Nowitzki has turned in an elite offensive campaign, possibly the league’s best this season. That alone has been good enough, in some years, to lock up an MVP.
I also find this idea that Nowitzki’s contributions are one-sided completely absurd. Dirk is obviously no Dwight Howard, but he’s also not a Bargnani-like sieve. The Mavericks’ defensive rating is 6.23 points better with Nowitzki on the floor. He doesn’t offer much in the way of blocks or steals, but he still has the 17th best DRB% among forwards who have played at least 2,000 minutes despite some age-related decline. I’m willing to accept that Nowitzki doesn’t provide a ton of help at the defensive end, but we also need to acknowledge that the Mavericks’ have built a scheme around him, where his shortcomings don’t hurt them all that much either. His length, experience, and understanding of the system hamper the opponent’s ability to score, even if he isn’t swatting shots into the twentieth row. Perhaps, instead of thinking of Nowitzki as a one-way player, it’s most fitting to think of him as a one-and-a-half-way player.
The one other unavoidable piece of this discussion is the fact that Nowitzki has already won an MVP. He took home the award in 2007 and I’ll save Mavs fans the reminder of how exactly that particular season ended. Suffice it to say that events which took place four seasons ago have a bearing on his chances this year. There are certainly people who have allowed Nowitzki’s — and the Mavericks’ — performance in the playoffs that season to color their opinion of his regular season accomplishments. This strikes me as unsavory for two reasons, both of which revolve around the one piece of this MVP debate that does seem to be defined by the league. The MVP award covers the accomplishments of one, and only one, regular season. This is hardly the first time the entirety of a player’s career has bled into the MVP voting, but the Mavericks’ prior failings seem to be the one piece which clearly has no place in this discussion. It likely won’t get this far, but should it come to it, I feel confident in saying that what happened in 2007 would act as a final barrier, preventing Nowitzki from winning this season.
Like each player under consideration, Nowitzki’s case for MVP has strengths and weaknesses. As I noted above, the glory of this discussion is that each individual gets to decide their own definition of the words “Most Valuable,” and specify the optimal technique for measuring that definition. If your definition includes an elite offensive player, who has done as much as anyone in the league to push their team to exceed its limitations, then Dirk Nowitzki just might be your man.
The three players most commonly linked to the Mavs are all wings: Kevin Martin, Andre Iguodala, and Caron Butler. The Mavs’ interest is said to flow in that order, meaning that acquiring Butler may very well be a back-up plan. It’s definitely an option, but hardly the option.
As my ESPN.com colleague Chad Ford wrote Thursday, Washington’s preference is moving Butler ahead of team statesman Antawn Jamison, who has been chased hard by Cleveland since last season and with particular vigor since the Cavs lost out to Charlotte in the trade race to acquire Stephen Jackson.
On the surface, a Jamison-to-Cleveland trade would seem somewhat irrelevant to the Mavs; a team in the opposite conference would get stronger by preying off of another team in the opposite conference, with none of the Mavs’ rumored targets directly compromised. But consider this: Cleveland is supposedly aggressively pursuing Antawn Jamison via trade, while the Mavs supposedly have something of a Josh Howard-Caron Butler swap on the back-burner. Though Washington may prefer to move Butler, they may not be in a position to move both Butler and Jamison. Trading away all of the talent opens up quite the can of worms, and the Wiz will have a rough go of it drawing season ticket holders and free agents alike if there are no ballers of note left in D.C. by summer.
If Jamison is indeed item 1-A on the Cavs’ agenda, it could put the Mavs in a tough spot: either Dallas strives for a possibly more attainable target in Butler (remember, Sacramento is still unwilling to move Kevin Martin and Andre Iguodala likely has Samuel Dalembert tied to his ankle as a salary anchor), or could miss out entirely if the Mavs’ other plans fall through and Cleveland scores Jamison. It’s a bit premature for the Mavs to jump on a deal for Butler, but there’s definite reason for the decision-makers in Dallas to have their ear to the ground for tremors out of Cleveland.
Now that trade season is officially upon us, I’ll be revving up the rumor dissection and analysis. But to take it a step further, we’ll be checking in with the Mavs’ rumored targets of choice periodically to keep tabs on their recent production. So keep your eye on the prize, no matter your prize of choice.
’09-’10 hasn’t been a great year for Caron Butler, but you’d never know it based on his dismantling of the Orlando Magic on Friday night. Butler poured in a season-high 31 points against Orlando’s stable of swingmen, and colored within the lines on a game-winning play:
Butler didn’t go rogue with the game on the line, but stuck to the game plan and was rewarded with a clean look. It’s also amazing what not having Shawn Marion in your face will do for your offensive game. To go along with his tidy 31 points (on 50% shooting with eight free throw attempts), Butler rounded out the box score with nine rebounds and two assists.
Kevin Martin’s night at the office was a bit abbreviated, but for all the wrong reasons. Phoenix absolutely ran Sacramento off the court Friday night (the Suns scored 39 in the first quarter alone), and Martin logged just 27 minutes as the starters turned in a bit earlier than usual. Not that Martin’s 27 were particularly productive — K-Mart scored just five points on 2-9 shooting. Perhaps worst of all: Martin was -31 on the night.
Andre Iguodala is the image of versatility, and his statistical contributions typically indicate as such. That was certainly the case on Saturday night, when he led the Sixers to a 102-95 victory over the Rockets. 14 points on 37.5% shooting is hardly awe-inspiring, but 10 rebounds? Six assists? Two three-pointers? All against a team of stellar perimeter defenders? Not too shabby.
The 76ers are limited offensively, and depend heavily on Iguodala to make everything go. Teams in that vein will always be fighting an uphill battle against Trevor Ariza, Shane Battier and the Houston Rockets, making 14-10-6 a pretty impressive line. Not to mention the fact that Ariza had just nine points on 33.3% shooting.
Via @mavstats: “[Jason Terry] has six 20+ pt games in last 11 (only eight 20+ pt games in first 34 of the season).”
John Krolik explains, with myriad reasons, why Drew Gooden was one of the “most ridiculous” rotation players to play alongside LeBron James. He’s probably not wrong. And Krolik sums up Drew’s Cavs career nicely with this anecdote: “Around the beginning of my Sophomore year, I realized that the magnetizing strip on my student ID card had worn out. This meant that it wouldn’t work sometimes in some places, and would never work in other places. It was often a hassle, but it would work just often enough so that I didn’t feel the need to replace it. It wasn’t making my life impossible, and I had too many other things to do to worry about replacing the card. You know when I ended up replaced that card? Yesterday. It took me just over a year and a half to get sufficiently fed up with my barely adequate card. That story is how I would explain the Drew Gooden era for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s hard to realize that something that works needs replacing, even when it doesn’t work very well.”
Rick Carlisle lets Erick Dampier off the hook for Andrew Bogut’s big night (seriously, Bogut’s post-work was a thing of beauty). Via Tim MacMahon: “Damp was playing really on a leg that was not right and he made three monstrous defensive plays in the last few minutes that put us in position to win the game…Give him a lot of credit. He’s been struggling. It’s been a tough go here the last three weeks, but he’s giving us what he can.”
Jason Terry on the Beaubois-Barea on-court pairing (via Jeff Caplan): “They play well together, they’re quick…That’s a unit that you say, ‘Wow, they just bother the heck out of people.’ If you look at them, they’re all over the place.”
JET throws in a vote for Andrew Bogut as an All-Star. He was better than merely an All-Star last night, though.
Dirk Nowitzki tied Brad Davis for the most games played as a Maverick (883) last night.
via @benandskin: “Marc Stein feels like Mavs like Kevin Martin best of all names being thrown around[.]“
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)
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.
“Things do not change; we change.”
-Henry David Thoreau
How much do you read into a solid offensive performance against the worst defensive team in the league? Hopefully not too much. The Mavs did nasty things to the Kings’ defense all night, and didn’t even buy them a drink. But just because we shouldn’t go hog wild with a win like this doesn’t mean we can’t find a few things to be proud of and a few things to take away from this one.
This win starts with the rebounding. If you hadn’t guessed, Sacramento isn’t what you would call a “good rebounding team” — they rank 29th in the league in rebounding rate. Dampier just killed it on the glass, taking advantage of Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes, and everyone on the Sacramento frontline. The rest of the team did their part too, to the tune of a 47-28 rebounding edge. I like. Half of being a good team is beating the teams that you should, and likewise, half of being a good player is schooling the players that can’t match you in size, strength, or skill. Hawes and Thompson are good players, but they don’t have the muscle to fight down low with a bear like Damp.
The Mavs offense didn’t miss a beat in JET’s absence. Antoine Wright, who usually averages 5.5 shot attempts and 1.2 free throw attempts, shot 14 times and went 6-6 from the line. He attacked the basket, he made his open jumpers, and he generally played like he wasn’t Antoine Wright. If this new offensively gifted, awesome, sexier Antoine is here to stay, life after Terry is going to be a breeze…or we can stop living on Fantasy Island and assume that Wright’s 23 points came from a solid effort, a great all-around game, a weak defense, and a bit of good fortune. Big ups for Wright’s night, but I’m not penciling him in for 20 points a game. Josh Howard upped the ante as well, finally filling up the box score (23 points on 14 shots, 1-1 on threes, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, one steal, and one block) in the way we’ve come to expect. Howard, Wright, and J.J. Barea’s production (10 points, 5-7 shooting with no turnovers) gave the Mavs plenty of breathing room in the second half. Dirk didn’t even have to go bonkers for the Mavs to get rolling, and personally, I don’t mind seeing a few wins with merely mortal performances from Nowitzki, no matter the opponent. Watching Dirk have one of “those nights” brings a special kind of joy to my heart, but having those 40+ point performances as a crutch can’t be good for the team’s long-term offensive stability.
Rick Carlisle got his first extended in-game look at Matt Carroll, but Carroll wasn’t all that effective in his 18 minutes. His 4 points on 2-4 shooting were meh, but the far more damning number was Carroll’s -17 point impact on the Mavs while he was in the game. If Carroll’s shooting mojo doesn’t find its way back home soon, I’m starting up the official FREE GERALD GREEN movement.
How good was the Dallas offense in this one? I’ve gone this far without even mentioning Jason Kidd, who was great in his own right. Kidd posted up on Beno Udrih, caused a lot of problems with his ability to get into the lane, and of course created for Howard, Wright, and the like both in the halfcourt and on the break. In the spirit of Kidd doing wonders for this team and still going relatively unnoticed, I’d hate to break with tradition and suddenly shower him with praise. So good job, champ; let’s move on.
Things weren’t all smiley last night, though. The defense, especially in the first quarter, was pretty awful. Kevin Martin and John Salmons had the basketball equivalent of a Turkish Delight in the first quarter, partaking in all sorts of delicious treats that were handed to them by the Mavs on a silver platter. Carlisle managed to screw everybody’s heads on straight with an early timeout, but the idea that we didn’t even come to play against the Kings isn’t a comforting one. Still, it should be mentioned that the game never felt out of control. I never got the impression that the Kings were really going to run away and win this thing. The third quarter turned out to be a dominant performance for the Mavs, keyed by a 20-6 run and a defense that handcuffed Sacramento into shooting 20% from the field. There was little room for doubt thereafter.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to Antoine Wright. 8-14 FG, 1-3 threes, 6-6 free throws for 23 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 steals. Wright gets a lot of tough love around here, but he had a helluva game. Kudos to you, sir.