Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on September 14, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Gatorade’s “Replay” gives teams that participated in controversial games a chance at a redo. Dwyane Wade (along with Dwight Howard) served as a a coach for the event, which pitted two Chicago schools against each other for a rematch of a hotly contested game from a decade ago. Steve Aschburner of NBA.com had a chance to catch up with Wade on the possibility of replaying one of his more controversial finishes:
    NBA.com: Have you ever had a game that you wanted to replay?

    DW: Every game I’ve lost.

    NBA.com: But you’ve contributed to some that other people would like to replay, too.

    DW: Yeah, I’m sure. So it’s a wash [laughing].

    NBA.com: So it’s OK with you if the Dallas Mavericks want to replay Game 5 of the 2006 Finals in 2016?

    DW: Uh, that would have to be something I’d have to think about.”

  • If you have any doubts about how much the Mavs value Rodrigue Beaubois, read through Jeff Caplan’s piece on ESPN Dallas regarding Beaubois’ recovery from injury. When you’ve got the GM running errands for you, you’re in a good place.
  • Team USA’s success this summer had nothing to do with NCAA-instructed fundamentals, and players like Tyson Chandler (who jumped straight into the league out of high school) stand testament to that. Chandler may have not been a pivotal piece of the gold medal squad, but up and down the roster there is very little college experience, even though the good ol’ principles of fundamental, palatable college basketball were once touted as the solution to the national team’s shortcomings.
  • Rick Carlisle on the Mavs’ depth and flexibility this season (via Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com): “We feel like we have great flexibility with the club. You know, one of the reasons you have training camp is to compete for those positions, compete for minutes. And again, I just think that our ability to use different lineups, use different combinations, is going to be a big key for us. We’re going to be able to go 10-, 12-deep. I have no question about that.”
  • Caron Butler could be all over the place, positionally speaking.
  • Rick Carlisle, in evaluating his seasons as the Mavericks’ coach and what the team needs to do this season to be more successful (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “‘[The last two seasons are] both failures,’ [Carlisle] said. ‘One we got to the second round so maybe it’s viewed as more successful. But we were a better team this past year. We just got beat in the first round. Our mission is to stay the course and keep working on the things we have to work on – defense and getting better at home. That’s the difference between ultimate success and perceived shades of success.”
  • Dave McMenamin of ESPN LA thinks the Mavs have the best shot of challenging the Lakers in the West: “With Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler (who looked like a new man at times during Team USA’s gold medal run), the Mavericks have the size to compete with the Lakers’ length in Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Add in the fact that this might be Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki’s last real shot at a championship and consider that Kobe’s buddy, Caron Butler, will get the benefit of a full training camp under Rick Carlisle’s system and you have a seven-game series battle on your hands.”
  • Carlisle appreciates Tyson Chandler’s ability to run the floor.
  • A little love for Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and Steve Nash in the pantheon of Arizona athletes.

UPDATE:

The New Confederates

Posted by Rob Mahoney on August 22, 2010 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

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As much as the positional revolution is a reflection of basketball progress and modernity, it also symbolizes something very basic and quite fundamental. Positionality is basketball’s existentialism, as looking into the nature of on-court roles is the closest the sport ever comes to pondering how the players as we know them have come to life. When a person steps onto a basketball court they become a player, and more specifically, a shooting guard. Or a center. Or a wing. Or a scorer/D2. They become something else and something more, and trying to understand that transition is a fascinating endeavor.

Fascinating enough, in fact, that the recent swell of discussion over positional freedom has sparked plenty of interesting writing in our little corner of the basketball world.

  • Last week, Jesse Blanchard of 48 Minutes of Hell honed in on the D1. After all, is any player in the league really capable of keying in on an opponent’s premier, quicker, point guard-type player? While I think the same could be said of the elites at every position, Blanchard’s point is well-taken, and his alternative system — which focuses on three different defensive styles (disrupt, deny, contain) — provides some delectable food for thought. Something to consider, though: Do Blanchard’s defensive positions really signify defensive function? Or are they merely stylistic descriptors? Does that even matter? Those classifications are a terrific exercise regardless, even if they aren’t best served as positions.
  • Matt Moore, writing at NBA FanHouse, chose to examine the revolution with Tyreke Evans as one of its foci: “An example? Tyreke Evans. Evans can attack the basket, snare rebounds, has terrific length and instincts defensively, and knows how to find his teammates (despite calls he’s a terrible passer, he averaged five assists his rookie campaign, with little to no weapons on the Kings). But because he’s tall and has better scoring ability than passing ability, he’s “not a point guard” which automatically makes him a shooting guard. Except he’s not a shooting guard. He’s best with the ball in his hands, setting up and creating within the offense. Hence our problem…So what’s so important about this discussion? At the scouting level, it means that players that could be very real assets for teams are either ignored or devalued based on their inability to fit our more traditional 1-5 positions. Unless they are super-freaks like LeBron James, we struggle with how to really implement them into systems (and even James has positional problems due to him consistently playing the small forward position, which has restrictions). From an evaluation standpoint, we assign negative values to players like Tyreke Evans, who are incredible stars, simply because they don’t fit our traditional model.”
  • Bethlehem Shoals took Moore’s take and ran with it, not only echoing the valuation of Tyreke Evans’ significance, but asserting that “point guards are the gateway to positional change.” The point guard designation carries with it the most specific and sacred responsibilities, so it’s no wonder that Shoals — and Blanchard, and Moore, and myself — see it as such an elemental part of a potential shift.
  • Kevin Arnovitz’s take, inspired by Kobe Bryant’s endorsement of positional evolution, preaches pragmatism. Not necessarily in the way that we talk about players or positions (in order to even engage in this discussion, your head needs to be at least brushing with the clouds), but in the way that a post-position (or at least post-traditional positions) world would need to function: “In short, pro basketball is ripe for a positional revolution — but like every revolution, those challenging the status quo must be ready to govern once they take control.”

Ay, there’s the rub. All of these scribes — and the many others who have tackled the revolution in the past and will hopefully continue to do so in the future — agree that we need a change, but what then? The point of our union is obvious, but moving from ideological consensus to actual implementation comes with a million hang-ups along the way. The easiest part of the transition is in the works: more and more people are beginning to understand and think about how terribly limiting traditional positions can be. From here on out? It gets exponentially more difficult. There are already numerous ideas for various positional frameworks (including the Scorer/Rebounder/Creator — DX system that will tentatively be utilized here), but determining their utility, viability, and all the while creating a system that is somehow new, informative, and accessible is no simple task. Yet as a collective of thinking fans, it’s our task.

———-
Lost? Start here, turn left there, and make a slight right here. Keep going.

Looking Outward

Posted by Rob Mahoney on August 19, 2010 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

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Basketball positions are the names by which we call any player. Just as a rose by any other name would swell as sweet, a lanky 7-foot German would shoot as sweet by any other positional designation. They’re terms and notations that matter to others, but should hardly matter much to the players themselves. After all, it shouldn’t matter much to Chris Paul what position someone thinks he plays, as long as he’s busy doing what Chris Paul does: dominating basketball games.

Then again, it’s foolish to ignore just how loaded positional terminology can and has become. Part of the reason why re-defining positions is so alluring in the first place is the ability to clear the air of positional expectation. ‘Point guard,’ carries with it an arbitrary set of expected, predefined abilities, and our (our meaning the collective who creates, consumes, and reflects on the sport in just about any capacity) willingness to malign players who don’t color within the lines of those designations is nonsensical.

For those who have followed along through the first two posts, this line of thinking is nothing new. However, the weight of positional expectation adds another interesting party to these discussions: the players themselves. While positions shouldn’t theoretically matter to the players, the fact that their position is so often used as an evaluative criterion gives them reason enough to be interested. I’m not saying that Jason Terry is going to stop by the comment section for a chat, but the opinions of the players have a place in this process, and it’s a mishmash of perspectives that’s hard to encapsulate.

That said, one NBAer has emerged, serving as a temporary spokesperson. From Dime Magazine (via Matt Moore of FanHouse):

Kobe Bryant has seen the future, and it is … him. Or something close to him. Speaking to the media during his World Basketball Festival appearance at Harlem’s Rucker Park last weekend, Kobe said the influence of international players in the NBA has helped create a “hybrid” culture, where players of all sizes possess skills in all areas and can conceivably play any position on the floor.

“That’s the one difference I’d like to see us kind of shift to,” Kobe said.

Bryant’s vision of a world with positional nebulousness is nice. Beautiful, in fact. A universe where all ballers can play in perfect harmony, stand as equals, and worry not over the endless criticism regarding their positional performance. That’s the endgame of all of this, and the fact that Kobe sees it too is a positive sign. Positions as we know them aren’t quite dead, but when one of the league’s pillars decrees them unworthy from atop his ring-and-trophy-adorned tower, people would be wise to listen.

Bryant is far from infallible, but he’s one of the sport’s more active scholars. He knows where this game has been and where it’s headed, and he has an intimate look into the eye (or rather, an eye) of the storm, to boot. From Pau Gasol to Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown to Ron Artest, and Lamar Odom to Kobe himself, the Lakers have a lot of versatile talent that evades convention. The entire league has a lot of versatile talent that evades convention, and that’s something both you, I, and Kobe can agree on.

Heard It Through the Season-Ending Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 4, 2010 under xOther | Read the First Comment

The Futile Case of Dirk Nowitzki for MVP

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 15, 2010 under Commentary | 10 Comments to Read

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images.

This year’s MVP Award is about as open-and-shut as it gets. It’s not so much a ‘race’ as it is an ordaining, with LeBron James securing the second of what should be many MVP honors with another absolutely dominant season. Other names are thrown around to artificially generate some conversation where there should be none, and as something of a consolation prize to every NBA superstar not named LeBron.

As far as individual accolades go, that’s what these guys have to play for: second place, runner-up, honorable mention. James has reached such a stellar level of individual production that claiming to be his equal is as foolish as it is false, and thus the highest individual honor another player can receive is simply to have a place at his table.

That’s essentially what the MVP “conversation” has devolved to this season, and in the name of giving Dirk Nowitzki his due among the next tier of stars, I’ll simply point you toward Dirk’s body of work this season.

PlayerPERadj +/-win sharesWARP
LeBron James31.117.318.525.3
Kevin Durant26.117.815.817.6
Dwight Howard24.121.813.119.2
Dwyane Wade2816.11320
Dirk Nowitzki237.212.211.7
Deron Williams20.615.710.313.2
Steve Nash21.713.49.713.4
Kobe Bryant21.97.89.511.1

Nowitzki is truly elite. His numbers compare favorably to even the best in the league. However, while the metrics are fairly kind to Dirk, there is yet another divide that exists between Nowitzki and some of his contemporaries. At the absolute pinnacle of the game is James, who should start clearing out a shelf or six in his trophy case. On the second tier are Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant, three spectacular talents that are somehow only getting better. Below them sits Nowitzki, as well as Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Deron Williams, as well as a few other stars that either aren’t performing quite up to their usual levels of excellence or haven’t experienced enough team success to be considered viable MVP candidates.

Dirk lies at the impressive intersection of those criteria, and his individual ability to impact a basketball game is obviously directly related to the Mavs’ 54-win mark. He is Dallas’ unquestioned offensive anchor, and though Jason Kidd also has a profound influence on how Dallas operates on that end, this is Dirk’s show. His ability to operate out of the high post is unmatched, and he’s a far more accomplished low post scorer than many are willing to admit. He’s ultimately a more productive player than Nash (which is partially attributable to their different roles), both more productive and more efficient than Williams, and posted a better overall season than Bryant.

I would argue that Nowitzki warrants prime placement on MVP ballots among that third group of stars. I’ve always interpreted the MVP as an award for the player with the most outstanding season, and with that as the basis for selection, I fail to see how you could choose any other third tier candidate. It’s not that Nash, Williams, or Bryant are inherently flawed choices; each is having a fine season and is near the top of their profession. Dirk has just been a bit better this year.

Steve Nash is an absolute wizard when it comes to running an offense, and he’s one of the most efficient shooters in the game. But he’s also one of the league’s worst defenders (not an exaggeration) and most of Nash’s edge in scoring efficiency can be chalked up to his notably low usage. Once that’s accounted for, Steve’s alarming turnover rate (21.3%!) starts to hedge his offensive value, if only a bit. Nowitzki, on the other hand, is positively stingy in his protection of the ball; Dirk’s turnover rate is about a third of Nash’s, despite a significantly higher usage rate.   I think it would be difficult to argue that Nash was more productive this season on offense than Nowitzki to begin with, but Dirk’s added scoring volume, defensive edge (Nowitzki may not be great, but he’s still far better than Nash), and rebounding push him well over the top.

The nature of Dirk’s comparison to Deron Williams is quite similar, though with a few exceptions: Nash is a far more efficient scorer than Deron and a slightly more prolific passer, but Williams is a significantly better defender and less prone to turn the ball over. The net result of a comparison between Dirk and Deron is thus more of the same: Nowitzki’s impressive combination of high volume and high efficiency (despite his high usage) just makes too convincing of a case.

As for Kobe Bryant, I’m going to put this in a way that’s sure to inspire some reactionary commenters: where is it exactly that Kobe is supposed to have the advantage over Dirk? Bryant’s points per minute edge over Nowitzki is negligible. Kobe doesn’t get to the free throw line more often, he too turns the ball over more than Nowitzki, and faces a sizable deficit in shooting percentage (despite having superior teammates, a legendary offensive system, and a masterful coach). He creates for his teammates more often than Dirk does, but not to a particularly dominant degree (23.8 assist rate vs. 12.8). The only significant advantage that Bryant has over Nowitzki is his defense, but he also has a few things working against him:

  • The Lakers are struggling badly, and team leaders — like Bryant — are held accountable for those struggles. There’s no excuse for L.A. not to put fear in the hearts of men, and yet they only seem particularly intimidating on paper. Los Angeles is still the favorite to win the West, as they should be, but the fact that their conference supremacy is even slightly in question is a blemish.
  • Clutch play, typically regarded as a Bryant strength, is actually advantage: Dirk. And this is one of Kobe’s most impressive clutch seasons ever.
  • Efficiency matters. It really, really does. Basketball isn’t so much a game of how much you score but how you go about doing it, and the fact that Nowitzki can nearly match Bryant’s scoring production by using less of his teams possessions means quite a bit.

Just take a little glance up at the chart that’s posted above. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Even looking at the metrics where defense is accounted for (adjusted +/-, win shares, wins above replacement player), Bryant claims no advantage. His biggest victory among those four measures is a +0.6 edge in APM, while Dirk’s win shares are notably higher and his PER marginally higher.

It’s likely that if you consider Bryant to be an All-NBA defender, he makes your hypothetical MVP ballot. I don’t. He’s a good defender and a great one when he’s interested, but the Lakers’ troubles this season didn’t exclude Kobe and they weren’t solely restricted to the offensive end of the floor. The lack of focus and effort applied to Bryant as well. I’m sure part of that was natural letdown, part of it frustration, part of it having Ron Artest around to lock down on the perimeter, and plenty of it injury. All understandable, but they don’t reconcile the drop-off even if they do excuse it.

If you ask me who is the better player between the two, I’ll tell you it’s Kobe. If you ask me which of the two has had a better season, I’ll tell you it’s Dirk. The MVP rewards a player for having the most outstanding season, not necessarily for being the best player. That’s why things like games missed due to injury and consistency aren’t just arbitrary criteria. They legitimately matter because the award goes to the player with the greatest performance rather than the greatest potential to perform.

That player is LeBron James. But a few pegs down is Dirk Nowitzki, and he’s not too bad, either.

For kicks, my MVP ballot, if you haven’t discerned it already:

  1. LeBron James
  2. Dwight Howard
  3. Dwyane Wade
  4. Kevin Durant
  5. Dirk Nowitzki

Thanks to Basketball-Reference, Basketball Prospectus, and Basketball Value for stats and metrics used for this post.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 25, 2010 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

  • Shawn Marion gives Kobe Bryant a hell of a view. (via Steven Ligatsa)
  • As Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com reported last night, Caron Butler will no longer be allowed to chew straws while on the court. The NBA has decided that the practice is dangerous, and they’re not wrong. But as Skeets notes at BDL, the resonant question of the ban is not “Why?” but “Why now?” It’s not as if Butler picked up the habit on the plane from Washington to Dallas, and The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg had a feature on Butler’s habit back in 2007. That’s mainstream awareness of a dangerous habit…and here the league is taking action nearly three years later. Butler likely cares more than you or I will, but come on, league office. Come on.
  • @mavstats: “Mavs have allowed 91.7 pts/game since All-Star break – 2nd best in NBA (MIA 87.4).”
  • Just in case you still thought it was up in the air: Drew Gooden will not be bought out of his contract with the Clippers
  • Kelly Dwyer on last night’s game: “Marion was fantastic. So was Dirk Nowitzki, and Jason Terry. The Mavs haven’t been a knockout offensive team this year, but for some reason I still expect those shots to go in. What got me was the defense, the defense that then allowed Dallas to run its screen and roll attack in delayed transition and put Los Angeles away. The Mavs always look like a 60-win team to me, and though I shouldn’t let my own expectations cloud an accurate appraisal of this lot, it was good to see the Mavs play this well. Beating Los Angeles, by five. At home. On the second night of a back-to-back for El Lay. Nevermind.”
  • My HP compatriot, Matt Moore, is rather high on the Mavs: “Jason Kidd, Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood. Are you serious? With Terry, Beaubois, and Dampier off the bench? Are you serious? Why is this not a bigger deal? The Mavericks have to be the most under-the-radar made-the-playoffs-every-year-for-a-decade, loaded-with-All-Stars, holy-crap-they-match-up-with-anyone, division-leading team in the league. The fact that they won that game tonight without Butler is phenomenal to me. Butler is exactly the kind of guy you want to guard Bryant. He’s not going to shut him down, no one can. But it would allow Marion to guard Odom, Dirk to guard Pau, and so on…They’ve got something considerable there. The Western Conference playoffs are going to brutal, and good. Even if LA still comes out on top, the field looks much tougher than it did at the start of the season.”
  • Sebastian Pruiti breaks down why the ending of Lakers-Mavs last night was different than the ending of Lakers-Grizzlies the night before.
  • Darius, of Forum Blue and Gold: “I continue to be impressed with Jason Kidd.  Has he lost a step?  Yes.  He is 36.  But his control over a game – especially offensively – and ability to run a team remains the highest level.  Combine that with his not-so-fluky-anymore improvement shooting the long ball and you’ve got a player that hurts you when you double off him and can dissect you with passes for his mates when you pay too much attention to Dirk or Terry.”
  • C.A. Clark of Silver Screen and Roll: “Jason Terry must have a cloaking device.  He must be able to press a button and become invisible, only re-appearing when he has the ball behind the 3 point arc.  That’s the only explanation I can come up with for how ridiculously open he was for most of tonight’s game.  Terry took 8 three pointers, and I think 6 of them were taken without a Laker within 5 feet of him.  Some of those open shots were because Derek Fisher can’t keep up with Terry around screens, but more of them were due to the Lakers simply forgetting to guard him.  In this, the entire Laker back-court was accountable.  Kobe let JET have open looks.  So did Shannon Brown.  Farmar didn’t slow him down, and Fish can’t slow anybody down.  Terry ended with 30 points on 20 shots, and the Mavs took what could have been a very winnable game for the Los Angeles Lakers, 101-96″

Dallas Mavericks 101, Los Angeles Lakers 96

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Recaps | 13 Comments to Read

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.
-Buddha

Beating the Lakers on a Wednesday night in February doesn’t exactly equate to winning the championship, but the Mavs’ 101-96 victory should go a long way in instilling this team with confidence. Caron Butler didn’t even play (thanks to a negative reaction to a medication he was taking), but Mavericks new and old were locked in on the opportunity to defeat the defending champs. And, needless to say at this point, that they did.

In a quite impressive fashion, I might add. The game ended up more or less going down to the wire, but Dallas continues to hang with teams in the first half before taking over in the second. The first two quarters were about matching the Lakers’ offense point for point, but once that offensive rhythm had been established, the Mavs stepped up their defensive game. DeShawn Stevenson got the start in Butler’s place, and in the first half he played excellent man defense on Kobe Bryant. Defending Kobe has historically been a black eye for an otherwise successful franchise (Hey, remember that time he scored 63 points in three quarters against the Mavs? Remember that? Good times!), largely because Dallas has consistently fielded unimpressive defenders or just unimpressive players at the 2. Nellie, Avery, and now Rick Carlisle have tried almost every trick in the book to cut down Kobe’s dominance to manageable levels, but there’s no substitute for great on-ball defense and tremendous help.

That’s where Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood come in. Stevenson may have put in the work against Kobe early, but Marion was matched up with Bryant for most of the second half. Kobe did go 6-for-12 (with two turnovers) in the second half, but holding him to just six points in the final quarter with the game on the line is an accomplishment in itself. Kobe Bryant lives for that. He’s spent his whole life practicing and preparing for those moments. When he conjures up images of a future fourth quarter in his head, it’s not of him sitting on the bench as the Lakers roll on a 30-point lead. It’s isolation at the three-point line, with Kobe staring down his defender like a predator would its prey.

Kind of like what happened when Kobe took the ball up court with the Lakers down three and just 25 seconds remaining. But when Bryant pulled up for the three-pointer that everyone knew he wanted to take, Marion was there. There was no block and no deflection, but Shawn was there. It’s impossible to say whether his presence was enough to alter Kobe’s shot even by a matter of centimeters, or if Kobe simply missed because the finally honed and prepared tools of an assassin just weren’t sharp enough on this particular night.

Either way, the Mavs’ defense put in the work early and late to make sure Kobe couldn’t put his team over the top. Every screen was met with a Kobe double team, often one that chased him back toward the half-court line with pressure. Every jumper was met with a hand in his face or on the ball, as each Maverick defender was careful to contest without fouling (Kobe shot just two free throws). Kobe’s drives to the basket were funneled to the ready and waiting Brendan Haywood (two of his five blocks were on #24). The Lakers’ best player finished with 20 points on 23 shots, as many turnovers as assists, and all of this despite being hidden on defense on the likes of Stevenson and Marion. If the victory for the Mavs wasn’t in the final margin, it was certainly in their defense on Kobe Bryant.

Oh yeah, and the offense wasn’t so bad either. Dirk Nowitzki (31 points, 10-19 FG, nine rebounds) and Jason Terry (30 points, 10-20 FG, three assists) absolutely scorched what is really a top-notch Laker defense. Terry was brutally effective spotting up along the perimeter, and off the dribble he was cognizant of the need to attack the rim (JET went 4-of-5 from deep in the paint).

The Mavs may be the most effective team in the league at shooting two-point jumpers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t put added pressure on a defense by showing some versatility, and by hopefully putting L.A.’s bigs in foul trouble. The latter wasn’t really the case last night, but the Lakers on the whole did rack up the fouls, and the Mavs were rewarded for their aggressive offense with 26 free throws. Dallas fans have always been blessed in that free throws have never been a concern. There are few players in the Mavs’ rotation that create fan anxiety when they step to the line, and giving Dallas 26 opportunities for free points is going to translate to a lot of free wins…especially when the opponent only shoots 16.

There were times where the offense fell off for minutes at a time, but Dirk and JET were there to right the ship. And then in the back-and-forth fourth, Dirk took over. I wouldn’t call the play calling imaginative per se, but it takes a certain courage for a coach to go through nearly identical sets time and time again. In principle, the plan was this: get Dirk the ball and get out of the way. It was incredibly effective, and on the night, Dirk scored 1.78 points per possession in isolation (16 points on nine isos). For comparison’s sake, Kobe scored just 0.88 points per isolation possession (14 points on 16 isos), a tick below his .98 season average. Dirk made tough shots and he made easy ones, as Dirk goaded Lamar Odom and others into a handful of shooting fouls to complement his assortment of leaners and fadeaways.

The Mavs on the whole only shot 43.8% from the field, but two superhuman performances and a parade to the free throw line were more than enough, thanks to the shackles put on the Lakers’ offense. That will, and should, be the story today. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are elite offensive players who can have these kinds of performances. While impressive and noteworthy considering the circumstances, it shouldn’t be completely unexpected. But the effectiveness of the Mavs’ defense against Kobe Bryant not only represents a clear evolution in the greater context of the Mavs vs. Kobe saga, but also the very attribute the Mavs hope will take them deep into the playoffs. Since the Mavs acquired Butler, Haywood, and Stevenson, they’ve played like a quality defensive team. Some of that play has even come without familiarity with the system or the team’s defensive principles. And though the things Caron Butler can do for the Mavs on offense are certainly valuable, it’s the addition of Brendan Haywood and the energy generated by making a trade of this caliber that has translated into wins.

Closing thoughts:

  • PG watch: Rodrigue Beaubois and J.J. Barea split minutes backup up Jason Kidd, but neither offered much in the way of help aside from a monstrous block from Roddy (video forthcoming). Barea had two points and two rebounds in five minutes, but went 1-for-5 from the field and missed some embarrassingly easy looks. Beaubois had two steals and a block, but balanced that defensive production with zero points or assists and three turnovers. Due to the play of Barea/Beaubois and the nature of the game, Kidd played 40 minutes.
  • The Lakers actually shot 48.8% from the field as a team, and if you take out Kobe’s 9-for-23 night, the rest of the team shot 53.3%.
  • Lamar Odom (21 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals) was the closest thing to a Maverick-killer, and his timely baskets were the real reason why L.A. was in the game late in the fourth quarter. He’s so hard to match up with when he’s rolling, as power forwards like Dirk are often too slow to handle Odom’s handle and driving ability, and smaller wings are vulnerable to Lamar’s post game. If he were on another, less-stacked squad, I’d say to sick Marion on him. But considering that Marion was focused on stopping Kobe, that wasn’t really an option.
  • Jason Kidd. 14 points and 13 assists. 4-of-9 three-pointers. No big.
  • Andrew Bynum started the game with an eight-point, 4-for-4 first quarter. But Brendan Haywood limited him over the rest of the game to just two points on 1-for-4 shooting, and only three rebounds. It’s actually not all that uncommon based on what we’ve seen of Haywood so far; opposing centers typically get some points in early, but as the game wears on, Brendan’s defense gets better and better. The fact that the Mavs have been playing better second-half defense than first-half defense is obviously not unrelated.
  • I’m still not quite sure how the Mavs get away with playing a smaller lineup against the Lakers, but they did. When L.A. is fielding Fisher-Bryant-Artest-Odom-Gasol, and Dallas is using Kidd-Terry-Marion-Nowitzki-Haywood, how is there not a clear match-up advantage for the bad guys? Shawn Marion, the most natural defender for Ron Artest because of his combination of size, speed, and strength, is on Kobe. That leaves Terry and Kidd to guard Fisher and Artest, which would seem to be a pretty obvious disadvantage for Dallas…especially since it was JET on Artest a surprising amount of the time. But too often the Lakers’ sets would have Ron parked in the corner rather than down on the block, allowing the Mavs to get away with a significantly smaller guard rotation.
  • 13 offensive rebounds for Dallas to just seven for Los Angeles. If you’re looking for where all of the Mavs’ extra free throw attempts came from (both teams finished with 17 turnovers and the Mavs actually attempted two more field goals than the Lakers did), I’d start there.
  • I mentioned Brendan Haywood’s (11 points, nine rebounds, five blocks) defense, but didn’t get a chance to mention his offense. He did an excellent job of creating shots in the post, whereas Erick Dampier traditionally only finishes baskets spoon-fed to him by Jason Kidd. But Brendan showed some consistency and some nice range on his hook shot, and while that’s not going to be a focal point of the offense anytime soon, it’s a welcome addition to a multi-faceted Maverick attack.
  • Pau Gasol (11 points, six rebounds, three assists) was pretty much a non-factor, though that’s mainly a product of the Lakers’ inability to execute than it was a spectacular defensive feat on the Mavericks’ part. Doesn’t the Dirk vs. Pau debate seem silly after a game like this:

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: This one’s a toughie. So many guys played well for the Mavs, but this time around the Gold Star of the Night goes to Shawn Marion. We’ve seen Shawn play some incredible defense against all kinds of scorers this season, but last night’s showing was one of his best performances of the season. More on this to come later (hopefully in video form), but Shawn’s work in the second half was beyond impressive.

No Game Is an Island: Indefinable

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 24, 2010 under Previews | Read the First Comment

The idea that Kobe Bryant is an NBA person of interest is hardly novel or revolutionary. But how about the idea that he’s become of such interest that he’s doomed to be the subject of debate from now until the end of time? In a way, Bryant could become the victim of his own overexposure, and his desire to be a definitive great may very well be the thing that obscures any definition in his legacy:

This isn’t in any way an indictment of Bryant’s game, other than to say that his advocates and critics are so distant in their opinions of all things Kobe that there can be no consensus. Supposing that’s somehow an indictment. Kobe is an incredibly driven player who has always wanted nothing more than to be conclusively better than Jordan…and it’s Bryant’s curse that he’ll forever walk through life in a position of uncertainty. We can debate all day and night about Kobe’s relative place in history, but at the end of the day, we’ll still be miles away from any kind of resolution. That’s not because he’s borderline in any regard or even because his career is the farthest thing from over. It’s just because he’s Kobe. We care too much about the way he’s evaluated and perceived to let anything rest, and any conclusions that are drawn about Kobe’s legacy will be predicated on an endless string of praise and backlash against that praise, both from others and from within ourselves. I don’t think it’s impossible that even in Bryant’s 14th year in the league, we’re still not entirely sure what to make of him.

Read my full piece on Kobe Bryant, present and future, at Hardwood Paroxysm.

The Los Angeles Lakers visit the Dallas Mavericks:
8:00 CST
ESPN (or online at ESPN 360)

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

  • Brendan Haywood on the delicate balance between aggressive defense and avoiding foul trouble in tonight’s match-up with Andrew Bynum and the Lakers (via Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News): “It’s tough matching up with Big Drew down there because he’s talented, he’s skilled, he’s athletic and he’s a load down there when they give him the ball,” Haywood said. “On the offensive end, I just try to be in constant motion, don’t let him rest. Quick duck-ins, post-ups, go to the offensive glass every play, working the baseline and trying to get open, not letting him just key on Dirk’s post-up, things of that nature. I have to be smart, but I can’t play scared. I can’t take a silly foul early on, because they’re too big for our back-ups. But at the same time, I can’t just give up layups and inside position because that’ll hurt us, as well.”
  • 48 Minutes of Hell recently started up a Spurs podcast, and I joined Graydon Gordian and Andrew McNeil on the most recent episode with to discuss the Mavs latest moves, Mavs-Spurs, how Dallas matches up with L.A., and NBA players participating in international competition.
  • This isn’t the first time that Dwayne Jones’ stay in the NBA was short-lived or over before it began, and Ridiculous Upside’s Scott Schroeder is a bit baffled as to why.
  • If somehow you haven’t heard, EA Sports is releasing a new version of NBA Jam for the Wii that will reboot the series with current players while staying true to the style of the original. I tell you this not only because it looks to be awesome (and it will be), but because EA is selecting the three-man rosters for every team through online voting. They’ve cycled through teams over the last few months, and finally come to the Mavs. So go here, and vote between Nowitzki, Kidd, Terry, Marion, Butler, and Haywood for who you’d like to see represent the Mavs in the new Jam.
  • A very happy birthday to Rodrigue Beaubois, who turns 22 today. ‘Day’ is a vestigial mode of time measurement based on solar cycles. It’s not applicable…I didn’t get you anything.
  • Looking back at Caron Butler, the Wizard, in 2009-2010.
  • Kevin Pelton’s SCHOENE projection system isn’t kind in predicting Dirk Nowitzki’s statistical production in 2010-2011 and beyond; it ranks him below Manu Ginobili, Joe Johnson, David Lee, and Rudy Gay (not to mention the obvious: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh) among the 2010 free agent class in terms of three-year production. Pelton qualifies the projections: “SCHOENE is also especially pessimistic about the group of Carlos Boozer, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce (who is fairly unlikely to opt out of the last year of his contract and become a free agent). Boozer and Nowitzki are similar in that their projections for 2010-11 are pretty solid, but things go downhill quickly from there. In these cases, I’m somewhat less inclined to believe the projections. It should be noted, though, that Nowitzki has taken a clear step back the last couple of seasons, in large part because he is no longer a contributor on the glass. As recently as three years ago, Nowitzki was grabbing 14.7 percent of all available rebounds. This year, that’s down to 11.6 percent. The gradual drop can’t entirely be blamed on the Mavericks adding Shawn Marion to compete for rebounds with Nowitzki.”
  • Via Mavs’ play-by-play man Mark Followill (@MFollowill), Dallas has only signed four players to a 10-day contract over the last decade: Charlie Bell, Mamadou N’Diaye, Kevin Willis, and now, Von Wafer.
  • Caron Butler on playing alongside Kobe Bryant in 2004-2005 (via Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News): “I say that’s the best thing that ever could have happened for me personally for my career. To play alongside a guy like that, see his preparation, see what it takes to get to that level, that’s why I was able to be so good in Washington because I took everything I learned from him under his wing.”
  • For those still keeping tabs on such things, Kris Humphries has come back down to Earth.
  • The bright side of Josh Howard’s injury? The Wizards won’t be tempted to pick up his option for next season.
  • Howard’s history certainly makes him a nice fit in the greater context of the Wizards franchise over the last season.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 15, 2010 under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • For those of you that weren’t up late watching Cavs-Jazz, you missed out. You really, really missed out.
  • It was touch and go there for awhile, but Shawne Williams’ NBA career has officially flat-lined.
  • Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold chimes in on the chances the Western Conference quasi-contenders have of challenging the Lakers. Here’s his take on Dallas: “They see themselves as close — they do have the second best record in the West — but serious questions remain if they could get out of the second round of the playoffs, let alone their match up issues with the Lakers. Last night was just another piece of evidence that the Lakers have their number.”
  • Rick Carlisle on the new starting lineup, featuring Josh Howard in his rightful place as the starting 2 (via Eddie Sefko): “Offensively, we’ve looked at a different lineup and that’s going to come…We did a lot more good things offensively than our final numbers indicate…That group hasn’t played together that much. During Josh’s second comeback period, he was playing a lot with the second group. This is another period we’re going to have to work through.”
  • Two great finds, courtesy of DOH. The first is of SLAM Online ace Lang Whitaker, who took a turn as an A Season on the Brink/Seven Seconds or Less-style embedded writer with the Atlanta Hawks. Very, very cool, and especially relevant because the Hawks happened to be playing the Dallas Mavericks during Whitaker’s time with the team. Get a glimpse of some behind-the-scenes prep work against the Mavs, just how highly other teams thought of Rodrigue Beaubois earlier in the season, and some assorted thoughts on the game itself.
  • The second is a piece from NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury. Kobe Bryant was asked to reflect a bit on Dirk Nowitzki in light of Dirk’s 20,000 career points, and he had plenty to say (forgive me for the lengthy quote, but it’s good stuff): “But who sees and understands more than an opposite number in a different color jersey, the player most often regarded as the fiercest competitor in the game today? ‘He’s tough,’ said the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant. ‘That’s what I like about him. He’s not a punk. A lot of superstar players don’t like to get touched. They’re kind of finicky about how they go about things. Dirk’s nasty and that’s what I like about him. He’ll take the gloves off and go at it.’ That’s a far cry from the early days of a career that had him labeled as “soft” and had Nowitzki known as Irk — no D. Over the course of his career, Nowitzki has developed into a solid team defender, become the Mavs’ unquestioned team leader and has staked his claim as the best international player to jump straight to the pro ranks in the NBA. Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon spent three years learning the ropes at the University of Houston before stepping into the NBA and Argentine Manu Ginobili honed his game for two years in the Italian League before joining the San Antonio Spurs…’It’s tough to argue that he’s not the best international player ever,’ said Bryant. ‘We’re gonna try to make a case when it’s all said and done for [Spaniard] Pau Gasol years from now. But Dirk is phenomenal right now…If you look at some of the games that he’s had against great players, it’s amazing. I think his coming out party years ago was against [Kevin] Garnett. Garnett is a phenomenal player and Dirk was putting up 35 and 20 rebounds. That’s ridiculous. I’m looking at that like, ‘Whoa, Garnett’s one of the best defensive players ever and [Dirk] torched him.’ ‘…’Dirk’s not gonna back down. I like that,’ Bryant said. ‘He’s not soft. Oh, no.’…Though he grew up trying to emulate the all-around skills of Scottie Pippen, because he’s blond and tall and white and can shoot with either hand, from the time he entered the league Nowitzki has always drawn the comparisons to the legendary Larry Bird. ‘They’re very different actually,’ Bryant said. ‘The similarity is that they’re big guys that can shoot. But I think that’s where it ends. Bird with the Celtics, they ran a lot of things through him to facilitate things for others. In Dallas they use Dirk more as a striker…Hopefully the fans in Dallas can appreciate what they watch — a 7-footer that can put the ball on the floor, can shoot it from the outside, can post. Dirk’s a rare breed, man. A rare breed.’”
  • Josh Howard on the Mavs’ defense of late (via Eddie Sefko): “We’ve been slipping…It’s a matter of us willing it on ourselves and not just depending on the coaching staff to get us going. It’s all about us doing it.”