The Difference: New Jersey Nets 93, Dallas Mavericks 92

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 29, 2012 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2012-02-29 at 1.30.22 AM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot Chart — Game Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas97.094.940.431.529.311.4
New Jersey95.948.216.727.317.4

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

  • It almost seems unfair to distill a loss like this down to a simple explanation, but bare with me: The Mavs played poorly, and the Nets played less poorly. There was no collapse; Dallas’ execution was a bit spotty, and the offensive sequences that did go as planned too often ended with a botched open look. Brendan Haywood played decent but flawed defense, as he too frequently surrendered deep post position or a baseline lane to a focused Brook Lopez. Dirk Nowitzki was efficient, but not dominant. Jason Kidd generally did not play well. The Mavs made big plays to put themselves in a position to win, but stellar defense by Kris Humphries and DeShawn Stevenson prevented Dallas from making the biggest one. Vince Carter was a complete non-factor, and with Delonte West and Lamar Odom already out of the lineup, that absent production was killer. Neither Jason Terry nor Rodrigue Beaubois could provide dependable, consistent offense, if only because the former missed open shots and the latter was a pinch too aggressive. The defense had occasional breakdowns, but for the most part was simply inept by half. All of these things happened, and none of it really matters. Every game matters in a sense, but the holistic outcome of this particular outing is simply nullified against the weight of the entire season. It’s a one-point loss against a crummy team, and a counter swing of the pendulum that typically brings the Mavs their greatest successes. It’s worth a moment’s consideration, surely, but this isn’t at all a game — nor a result — worth dwelling on. (That said, one specific factor is becoming an all too frequent issue. As Marion has been tasked with guarding the opponent’s best player virtually regardless of any positional considerations, his offensive efficiency has hit rock bottom. The man willingly admits that defending the likes of Deron Williams [and Chris Paul, and Ty Lawson, and Ricky Rubio, and...] takes a lot out of him, and yet Carlisle continues to look to Marion for defensive strength even as his offense takes a corresponding hit. Marion is a two-way player, but extending him so far in one direction necessarily pulls him away from the other.)

Once More, With Feeling: The Four Factors

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 26, 2010 under Previews | 8 Comments to Read

Dean Oliver, in his book Basketball on Paper, isolated four factors (by dissecting offensive and defensive rating) that determine success in the NBA:

  • Shooting
  • Rebounding
  • Turnovers
  • Free throws

That’s it. An entire game of nuance and complexities boiled down to four bullet points.

Of course it’s never quite that simple, as Oliver readily admits. Still, behind these four headings lies each team’s central offensive and defensive successes and failures. The four factors are a step beyond your run-of-the-mill counting statistics, but still a bit of a reach from your more advanced metric. These measures give tremendous insight into a squad’s particulars, and in my estimation, they’re essential to evaluating the performance of any team.

slingshot

Shooting

As measured by effective field goal percentage. Mavs’ 2009-2010 eFG%: .506 (13th in the league); ’09-’10 eFG% allowed: .495 (15th)

We think of the Mavericks as a team of shooters, mostly due to the sheer number of mid-range jumpers that the Mavs take and make. Dallas shot a better percentage from 16-23 feet than any team in the NBA last year, and hit at nearly two full percentage points better than the second ranked Raptors. Dirk Nowitzki, Caron Butler, and Jason Terry are mostly to both blame and praise for that success. The Mavericks are thus great at hitting the most inefficient shot in basketball, and considerably less effective (relative to their competition) as the shots get more and more efficient. Dallas just doesn’t have a lot of scorers tasked with taking efficient shots, and the result, while propped up as a Mavericks strength, makes for some inefficient shooting overall.

Dallas may shoot 43.2% on long two-pointers, but the Lakers made 44.0% of their shots in the 10-15 foot range, the Raptors shot 50.9% within 10 feet, and the Cavs converted 66.2% of their looks at the rim. It’s impressive that the Mavs shoot as well as they do on long twos, but shot selection continues to plague the Mavs’ overall offensive efficiency. Backing those same attempts to the three-point line or moving them in closer to the basket would drastically improve the Mavs’ overall shooting numbers, but alas, doing so would either require a significantly restructured offense or a pretty drastic change in personnel.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with Nowitzki, and both Butler and Terry are capable offensive sidekicks. The problem is that when all three are operating for the same team in the same space, the damage to the offense goes further than it would in similarly limited offenses. Put all of a team’s primary scorers in one range, and the team’s offense will struggle. Put all of those scorers in one range as far away from the basket as possible without giving them the added benefit of a three-point attempt, and it’s a testament to Nowitzki, Butler, and Terry that the Mavs aren’t even worse offensively.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem very likely to change. Those three players are still central to the Mavs’ offense, and even if Rodrigue Beaubois’ scoring talents become featured as anticipated, he isn’t reshaping the entire plan of attack on his own. He’ll help to boost the Mavs’ eFG% with drives to the rim and solid three-point shooting, but this is one area in which a healthy dose of Beaubois will only result in modest benefit.

The Mavs were equally unimpressive in their ability to contest high-percentage shots. It’s not that the Dallas defense was woeful in that regard — you’ll find that the Mavs a solid team across the board in many of these measures, but perhaps plagued by the fact that they’re merely solid — they just weren’t up to the elite caliber that those within the organization have targeted as a goal.

The Mavs ranked 13th in the league last season in FG% allowed at the rim, and 15th in FG% allowed within 10 feet. Both fine marks, really. Just not acceptable for a team that needs to be aiming a bit higher. Taking away as many high-percentage shots as possible is key for Dallas, particularly because their own offensive attack is lacking in those same attempts. They need to limit that discrepancy as much as possible, and to this point, they haven’t been able to do so to the degree necessary for extended  defensive success.

Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler are both essential if the Mavs plan to improve their effective field goal percentage defense, but it’s also vital that Dallas’ perimeter defenders continue to play tight on opponents’ three-point shooters. The Mavs ranked 10th in the league last season in their opponents’ eFG% off of threes, and that kind of effort will again be necessary for Dallas to improve their overall shot defense. If Haywood and Chandler can perform better as a tandem than the combination of Dampier, Gooden, and Haywood did last season, Dallas’ opponents will not only have more of their quality attempts contested by the Mavs’ center duo, but will also be deterred from seeking out such shots in the first place. The Mavs need to keep their opponents’ out of the paint as much as possible, and the arrival of Chandler — a quality post defender and excellent defender of the pick-and-roll — to complement Haywood could provide Dallas with just the defensive boost they need.

The foundation is there for defensive improvement, but its up to Haywood, Chandler, and co. to build on it.

wooden_boards_6190214

Rebounding

As measured by offensive rebounding rate (ORB%). Mavs’ 2009-2010 ORB%: .243 (26th); ’09-’10 ORB% allowed (roughly equivalent to DRB%): .263 (15)

The easiest way to diagnose the Mavs’ offensive rebounding troubles is to trace the line from system to production. The Dallas offense often pulls its second big (Nowitzki, Marion, Cardinal) far from the rim, forcing the rest of the lineup to either hit the offensive glass or retreat to defend a potential break. Having Jason Kidd helps out here, but the rest of the bunch? Jason Terry? Caron Butler? A post-Phoenix Shawn Marion? They’re not the proper group to make up for the deficit on the offensive glass.

Defensively, Dallas has a collection of solid rebounders but few impressive ones. Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler are both quality board men, but neither is a standout in that regard. Nowitzki collects his fair share of boards, but his rebounding rate has dropped bit by bit over the last few seasons. Marion has regressed into a nice rebounder rather than an elite one, and the Mavs’ tendency to play smaller lineups undoubtedly hurts their efforts on the glass. Putting good rebounders at every position has helped the Mavs get this far, but without a single proven rebounding machine on the roster, I’m not sure they’ll be able to climb much higher.

Tyson Chandler may provide an improvement on the offensive boards over Erick Dampier, but overall, Dallas is the same collection of effective but unspectacular rebounders they were a year ago. Plus, some of the best rebounders of last year’s bunch — Drew Gooden and Kris Humphries — have been shipped out in the last year, meaning the addition of Chandler and a year’s worth of Brendan Haywood will have to first off-set those losses in order to bring an improved regular season mark.

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Turnovers

As measured by turnover rate (TOV%). Mavs’ 2009-2010 TOV%: .122 (3rd); ’09-’10 opponents’ TOV%: .138 (11th)

Here’s the thing: Jason Kidd turns the ball over as often as he ever has. 21.4% of his possessions end in a turnover. Yet Dallas still turned the ball over less often than all but two teams in the league. Kidd aside, the Mavs are unfathomably careful in their offense.

That starts with Nowitzki. His combination of high usage rate (28.8%) and low turnover rate (7.8%) are startling, even when cast against the league’s other elite players. Comb through the history books, and in only eight instances has a player (with an 800-minutes played prerequisite) posted a turnover rate lower than 8% and a usage rate higher than 28% over the course of a season. Three of those instances belong to Dirk. Two of them belong to Michael Jordan. This is a special, special place in the league pantheon that Nowitzki inhabits.

The Mavs’ correspondingly low turnover rate has a lot to do with Dirk having the ball in his hands more than any other player on the roster, but most of his higher-usage teammates are also impressively protective. Jason Terry, for example, had the seventh lowest turnover rate of all players who used more than 22% of their team’s possessions while on the floor last season. Caron Butler was also notable for his lack of turnovers, even if some of Butler’s other decisions with the ball are a bit confounding. Dallas puts the ball in the hands of players like Nowitzki, Butler, and Terry, while limiting the touches of turnover-prone bigs like Brendan Haywood, Erick Dampier, and this season, Tyson Chandler. The shots may not always be distributed in the most efficient manner possible, but the possessions are typically used by those least likely to senselessly give up the rock. The Mavs, as a result, are able to hedge some of their other offensive limitations by their quantity of attempts.

Considering that Dallas’ biggest offensive contributors will remain mostly the same (with the exception of the slightly turnover-happy Beaubois moving up in rank) from last year to this one, the Mavs should be pegged for a similar lack of turnovers in the coming season.

On D, the Mavs actually force quite a few turnovers considering how little they foul. Dallas ranked seventh in the league last season in defensive play rate (a per-possession measure of of steals, blocks, and drawn charges), and between Caron Butler, Jason Kidd, Rodrigue Beaubois, and Jason Terry, they have a number of perimeter players eager to jump passing lanes and strip driving players from behind. It’s not a full-on pressure defensive scheme, but the Mavericks do force their opponents to cough up the ball a fair bit. Not enough to make them an elite defensive outfit mind you, but enough to keep them afloat on their way to another successful season.

freedom

Free throws

As measured by FTM/FGA. Mavs’ 2009-2010 FT/FGA: .226 (15th); opponents’ FTM/FGA: .206 (6th)

Two Mavericks posted excellent free throw rates last season: Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler. Naturally, those two Mavs have some of the lowest per-minute field goal attempt averages on the team, so their high free throw rates are rendered nearly irrelevant.

Luckily, Dirk Nowitzki isn’t too far behind, rate-wise, as he remains the Mavs’ primary source of free throw attempts. Take out Nowitzki, and Dallas has some serious problems getting to the line. Even Rodrigue Beaubois, Dallas’ great hope, has trouble getting to the line with regularity. Maybe that was a case of an unknown rookie guard getting calls relative to his reputation, but Beaubois nonetheless failed to match his otherwise impressive scoring style with a high frequency of free throw attempts.

Beaubois would need to make a concerted effort to drive more than ever if he were to boost the Mavs’ free throw rate single-handedly, though a shift in Caron Butler’s shot selection could also help the Mavs in this regard. I wouldn’t wait on Caron to give up his jab step-jab-step-pump-fake-pull-up-18-footer routine any time soon, though. Dominique Jones won’t be impacting the Mavs’ free throw rate much in his rookie year (how could any player do so with the limited playing time projected for Jones?) but he’s worth keeping an eye on. Jones’ ability to get to the line paid huge dividends for him in college, and if ever given consistent minutes, it seems likely that he could replicate that same free throw shooting regularity.

The Mavs don’t foul much. They pick their spots to apply defensive pressure, and they don’t send opponents to the line all that often. It’s obviously both a blessing and a curse, as the Mavs’ lack of aggressive defensive plays could be one of the reasons why they’re a middling defensive team, even if it prevents their opponents from taking freebies from the stripe. With that in mind, this is a defensive ranking that I’m sure Rick Carlisle and his staff wouldn’t mind seeing take a little dip. If the Mavs are fouling more often, it could be indicative of  more effective defense overall. Then again, it could just mean that Dallas is handing out points to their opponents, putting them back at square one after trying to treat a symptom as a disease.

All in all, it’s probably not worth worrying too much about how often the Mavericks foul, so long as the rest of their defense holds course. It’s nice to have opponents shoot free throws infrequently, but it’s nicer to have a more oppressive defense that limits opponents’ shooting effectiveness and forces even more turnovers than the Mavs currently do.

Many thanks to Basketball-Reference and HoopData, both completely indispensable in the making of this post and in life as a follower of the NBA in any capacity.

Highway 14 Revisited

Posted by Rob Mahoney on July 1, 2010 under Commentary, News | Be the First to Comment

When the Mavs traded resident dreamboat Kris Humphries (along with resident headache Shawne Williams) for Eduardo Najera in January, the primary motivations for the deal seemed to be financial ones. Najera and Humphries are comparable players after all, and Mark Cuban saved an immediate $4.6 million after tax implications by trading Hump for a player almost 10 years his senior and ditching Williams’ 2009-2010 salary. However, the long-term financial outcome of the move is dependent on what the Mavs choose to do with Eddie or rather, what they chose not to do prior to midnight.

Had Dallas chosen to waive Najera prior to the start of free agency (and opted not to fill the open roster spot he left behind), Mark Cuban would have saved a combined $2 milion over the next two seasons after tax. It would be tough to blame him if that’s where he elected to trim the fat; although Najera definitely has utility, Cuban will already be spending a ridiculous amount of money over the next two years (the Mavs already have over $55 million in guaranteed salary for next season, and that’s not accounting for Dirk Nowitzki, Brendan Haywood, a potential MLE signing, and whomever the Mavs fetch using Erick Dampier’s contract). Instead, this move is precisely what makes Mark, Mark: rather than cutting a usable bench player for minor savings, Cuban will foot the bill and keep a big who played almost 15 minutes per in 33 contests for Dallas last season.

There will undoubtedly be power forward options superior to Najera on the open market this summer, but the Mavs will have limited means in which to attain them. The mid-level exception should be conserved as a last resort to grab a center should both Brendan Haywood and Erick Dampier sign elsewhere, and to target a backup 4 in a sign-and-trade would waste an incredible opportunity to satisfy one of the Mavs’ clearer positional needs. Keeping Eddie is the right move for a team over the cap, provided the owner is willing to pay for him to stay. Cuban is, so Najera will.

If the Mavs elect to hold on to Najera through 2011-2012 (his salary for that year is also partially unguaranteed, and waiving him next summer could save Cuban $1 million after tax), they will actually end up paying Eddie more money over his three seasons with the Mavs than they would have paid Humphries and Williams through two. That’s not the kind of move that wins championships, but it could give Dallas another big body to use during the draining regular season. He’s more than just a practice body, even if he’s not quite productive enough to be a full-time back-up for Dirk. Nothing Najera is or does makes him vital to the Maverick machine, but sometimes it’s just nice to have one of those pieces that makes everything run just a tad bit more smoothly.

Here are the updated finances of the deal, with Humphries’ accepted player option, Najera’s guaranteed ’10-’11 salary, and Shawne Williams not receiving a qualifying offer:

'09-'10'10-'11'11-'12
Kris Humphries$2,900,000$3,200,000---
Shawne Williams$2,416,067------

'09-'10'10-'11'11-'12
Eduardo Najera$3,000,000$3,000,000$2,750,000*

*Najera’s 2011-2012 salary is partially unguaranteed ($2,250,000)

Salaries are from Storytellers Contracts.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 27, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Mark Cuban isn’t the only owner to be fined for his comments regarding LeBron James, even if the price of Cubes’ CNN Money spot remains the most substantial. The Hawks’ Michael Gearon Jr. was fined $25,000 by the league for tampering, and according to Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, it was due to this remark made by Gearon to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “If somebody came to us tomorrow and said you can have LeBron for max money and it puts you in the luxury tax, I’d do it in a a heartbeat. But am I going to do that for Ilgauskas? Am I going to do it for Jermaine O’Neal? I don’t think so…”
  • Question of the day: should it be considered tampering if Dwyane Wade, a free agent himself, discredits an entire franchise that just so happens to be a player this summer? How about if he sits down to have a discussion with other free agents? The NBA isn’t exactly the thought police, even if they’d like to be, and it’s always going to be an impossible task to control what players do in their spare time. That said, which has a bigger impact: Cuban’s comments on the record with CNN, or Wade having a heart-to-heart with LeBron and Joe Johnson?
  • If so, is this tampering?
  • I’m way late on linking this fantastic write up by Kelly Dwyer on Dwane Casey, but give it a read if you haven’t already. It’s not always easy to determine the value of a specific assistant coach, unless that coach has an outrageously public or specific role (think Boston’s Tom Thibodeau). That said, if you think the Mavs losing Casey to the Hawks wouldn’t be a loss, you’re sadly mistaken. This is a coach that’s well-deserving of a head gig somewhere, and Dallas has the luxury of having him as an assistant. That’s going to change at some point and it could be this summer. Casey deserves a team of his own, and while all Mavs fans should be happy for him should he finally get such a team this summer, it’d also be a notable off-season loss.
  • Kris Humphries on Mark Cuban, to Paul Allen (no, not that one) of 1130 AM in Minneapolis: “(Mark Cuban) is so into it and so on the refs. It’s human nature, if a ref doesn’t like you, you’re not going to get calls. One thing that was funny to me is one time during the game, Mark’s riding the ref. He sits literally right on the baseline by the bench. He’s riding the refs and Dirk turns over to him and he’s like in a few choice words basically, ‘Be quiet because they’re just going to screw us more.’”
  • A third baseman for Oklahoma said that his team “doesn’t want to be the Dallas Mavericks.” Ouch.
  • Kiki Vandeweghe went the way of Del Harris in New Jersey, in similarly abrupt fashion.
  • Slipped through the cracks here, probably because it was a given: DeShawn Stevenson picked up his $4.15 million player option for next season.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 24, 2010 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 February 16, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star’s Raptors Blog: “Because of a bit of miscommunication, got to the media availability about 90 minutes early Saturday morning and was lucky – and by lucky I mean doomed – to get there in time for some fashion show on the practice court at the Jam Session. And that’s when we saw the sight that kind of made the day. After guys like Robert Horry and Bruce Bowen went, along with a couple of “real” models, here comes the last guy: The Hump! For real. Sporting a rather nifty fedora, this thin tie and sweater combo and looking entirely jaunty as a matter of fact. And when you go to a basketball practice and find a fashion show and get to see Kris Humphries in it, you’ve had a good day.”
  • Dirk, Shakira. Shakira, Dirk.
  • If somehow you missed out on The Basketball Jones’ All-Star coverage, you should probably get out of here and go watch. Now. Seriously, beat it, kid. Dirk steals the show in two of their vids, but even without Nowitzki it’s quality entertainment.
  • Per Mark Followill (@mfollowill), Caron Butler will wear #4, Brendan Haywood will wear #33, and DeShawn Stevenson will wear #92.
  • Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com: “The media and the Mavs are so caught up in Jason Terry’s team-first generosity – he graciously volunteered to sacrifice his starting 2-guard spot for newcomer Caron Butler before he could be asked to do so – that ignored in the excitement of the three-player package coming to Dallas from Washington is the likely replacement of another fixture in the Mavs’ starting lineup. Or have you forgotten about Erick Dampier? ‘You mean have I spoken to Damp about this?’ Carlisle said to me when I posed the question of the ‘other’ starter who might be benched. …’Well. …’ Carlisle continued after Monday’s practice, which introduced not only starting candidate Butler to his new team but also center Brendan Haywood, already tabbed by Mavs owner Mark Cuban as a ‘top-five center’ in the NBA. ‘Um. … you mean, have I spoken to Damp in the same way (that he’s spoken to Jet)? Well. … that’s a question that represents something we keep within the team. So I’m not going to answer that question.’ I think, though, that Rick just answered the question.”
  • How cute. (via Steve Nash, @the_real_nash)
  • On Ben & Skin, Josh Howard says he’s already looking forward to playing the Mavs in Dallas, and has an opportunity to say goodbye to ESPN Dallas “hater” Tim MacMahon.
  • Is Dirk really a great NBA defender? One metric says so, but Bradford Doolittle admits it’s not “any sort of end-all/be-all of individual defensive metrics.” It probably should go without saying at this point, but I’m sure someone would take Basketball Prospectus’ list as definitive rankings.
  • Rick Carlisle on Erick Dampier’s availability for tonight (via Eddie Sefko): “We’ll hold our breath.”

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 4, 2010 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

  • Ladies and gentlemen, the ever-quotable Dirk Nowitzki, in reference to Andre Miller’s 52-point night and Monta Ellis’ 46-point night: “That’s what we do. We get guys contract extensions.”
  • I’m thrilled that guys like Coby Karl and Anthony Tolliver are being called up from the D-League, but they’re not exactly reppin’. Josh Howard went to work against Karl in the post time and time again with plenty of success, and neither Tolliver nor Karl could contribute much of anything in terms of points last night.
  • The attendance goal for the All-Star Game: 100,000.
  • Jeff “Skin” Wade can’t help but wonder if Rodrigue Beaubois is already actualizing a bit of his potential as a defensive difference-maker: “After the game Rick Carlisle mentioned that Rodrigue Beaubois is already developing into one of their better on-the-ball defenders out on the perimeter. There’s a need to have him on the floor because of the athleticism he brings to an older team, but with virtually all of his minutes outside of the New York game that Jason Kidd missed coming at the off-guard, he’d be eating into minutes where the Mavs have guys like Jason Terry and Josh Howard who need to be on the floor…Against the Warriors, he received all of the available backup point guard minutes in the second half. I’m fascinated to know what the plan had been had he not gotten hurt against Utah. As the Mavericks try to find ways to keep opposing guards from enjoying career nights against them, will Roddy B at point guard be a factor for his defensive spark as much as the potential for him to get some offense going coming off the bench?”
  • Everything is A-OK with Dirk’s thumb.
  • SLAM’s Holly MacKenzie checked in from Toronto with an important announcement from last night’s Nets-Raptors game: “It was fun to see former Raptor Kris Humphries have a double-double off of the bench. It was not fun having two women scream his name every single time he was even remotely near the Nets bench.” Miss you, buddy.
  • Del Harris wants to return to work the Frisco-Dallas connection, though it’s not official as of yet whether or not he’ll slide right back in as GM in Frisco.
  • Chad Ford (Insider) names Josh Howard as one of the 20 players most likely to be moved by the deadline. Here’s his blurb on Josh: “Howard, at age 29, is having the worst season of his career and has struggled to play alongside Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion. But other teams have interest because his contract has a team option for next year, which means a team can acquire him now and decide this summer whether to keep him as player, hold on to him as a 2011 expiring contract or decline the option and take the savings right away. The Raptors and Kings have been rumored to have the most interest.” Just as a note of interest, Caron Butler is listed at #4, Andre Iguodala #5, Kevin Martin #12, and Chris Bosh at #15.
  • Dirk will participate in the “Shooting Stars” competition representing…well, the state of Texas. With no WNBA team in sight, “Team Texas” will borrow Nowitzki, San Antonio’s Becky Hammond, and former Rocket Kenny Smith.

Oh, What a Tangled Web

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 29, 2010 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News:

“We got to get the ball in people’s hands who can put it in the basket, that’s the bottom line,” Jason Terry said. “Their bench outplayed us all night. Clear as day. It can’t happen. They just outplayed us.”

Jason Terry’s not wrong; the trademark of a functional offense is appropriate shot selection. The distribution of possessions in last night’s game was mostly regular, with one glaring exception: Dirk Nowitzki was anything but a part of the offense in the fourth quarter. Much credit goes to the Suns’ defense, but quality offensive outfits find ways to get shots for their best scorers.

Earlier this week, Matt Moore unveiled a graphical display of each team’s offense in terms of usage (percentage of possessions used by a player while he’s on the floor) and Player Efficiency Rating (PER). Here’s a look at the Mavs’ offense:

Starting from the top of the graph and going clockwise, players are ordered in terms of their possession usage. The white area of the graph represents the player’s PER, with the two optimally being relative close, or at least proportional (though, it’s definitely worth noting that usage and PER are in no way measured by the same scale. They’re completely different metrics.). So let’s break it down on a player-by-player basis, shall we?

HIGH USAGE PLAYERS:

Dirk Nowitzki (23.20 PER, 29.16 usage) – Dirk is the king of the castle. The top banana. The big enchilada. The MVP-caliber power forward who has the license to shoot any shot he wants any time he wants it. It’s his prerogative. Nowitzki is the team’s most effective and consistent scorer by far, and the team appropriates possessions to him accordingly.

Josh Howard (11.36 PER, 24.37 usage) – Lo, our first hiccup. Josh has had a rough season in terms of efficiency, but it hasn’t stopped him from chucking up shots at will. It’s ye olde premise of shooting oneself out of a slump…only Howard’s still mired in it. To Josh’s credit, he’s performing better since his return to the bench. But the high number of field goals attempted and high number of turnovers send his usage rate to, at least, upper tropospheric heights. It’s one thing for Josh to be an ineffective, “invisible” player, but Howard was routinely making his team worse by being ineffective while using up a lot of possessions. That’s a definite no-no, and one of the biggest reasons why the Mavs have struggled offensively with Howard in the lineup.

Rodrigue Beaubois (14.24 PER, 22.94 usage) – Having a high usage point guard is a bit unusual, but the situation with Beaubois is a bit more complicated. For one, he’s played a vast majority of his minutes this season off the ball, which puts him in a position to shoot more than your average combo guard. Playing alongside a pure distributor like Jason Kidd doesn’t hurt in that respect either, nor does starting with other low usage players like Shawn Marion and Erick Dampier. Once Roddy was relegated into duty as a deep reserve, his occasional minutes were rare chances to showcase his abilities. It’s only natural that those at the end of the bench will put up shots during garbage time, and while I wouldn’t call Beaubois selfish by any means, he was certainly determined to get his.

Jason Terry (15.68 PER, 22.45 usage) – In theory, this usage is about right. Terry recorded a career high in usage rate last year (25.56), but with the additions the Mavs made in the off-season and the full-time return of Josh Howard, that number was sure to dip. What’s more troubling is JET’s merely average PER, which is his lowest in his career excluding his rookie year. Terry’s efficiency has started to pick up, but he’ll need a pretty stellar second half to meet his career numbers. Still, the important thing isn’t how Terry’s production is represented statistically at the end of the season, but how he performs from now until then. What’s done is done, and though JET’s poor shooting has played a role in plenty of Dallas losses, it’s far more important that he shoots well going into April than going into February.

MID-LEVEL USAGE PLAYERS:

Kris Humphries (15.30 PER, 21.58 usage) – Checking Humphries’ numbers over the course of this season (both in New Jersey and Dallas), I can’t help but think that the Mavs weren’t properly utilizing Hump’s talents. He was impressive, but not overwhelmingly so. Could that be because Hump was primarily playing out of position? It seems a logical argument to me, but 82games doesn’t agree. Could it be that he wasn’t valued enough in the offense? Possible; his relatively high usage rate would seem to betray the notion, but keep in mind Hump’s incredibly high offensive rebounding rate. He was creating possessions on his own, for the most part, and most of his shot attempts were coming around the basket. It goes against the scouting report I would write on Hump, but is it possible that New Jersey has figured something out about Kris Humphries’ game that the Mavs could not? Or is this just another case of a big man on a bad team boasting a bloated PER?

Tim Thomas (15.58 PER, 21.13 usage) – Tim Thomas is pretty versatile, but make no mistake: his job is to shoot the ball. Sometimes that involves working the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop. Sometimes it involves spotting up from the corner. And more often than you’d think, it involves setting up on the low block. As for the PER? It’s among the best outputs of Thomas’ career. Can’t ask much more from Thomas than what he’s given the Mavs in limited playing time this season.

Drew Gooden (16.82 PER, 20.15 usage) – In coming to Dallas, Drew Gooden was asked to occupy different spots on the floor and change his position entirely. So naturally, he’s responded by putting up solid numbers at an efficient rate…just as he’s done throughout his career. PER doesn’t really measure defensive performance, and that’s largely a reason why Gooden is rated so highly. But in terms of offense, the Mavs have a clearly above average player occupying their back-up center spot…which isn’t something that a lot of teams in the league can say (only Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Charlotte, by way of these rankings). That makes his usage rate completely understandable, especially given the help that the Mavs need in terms of bench scoring.

J.J. Barea (12.61 PER, 19.94 usage) – Like Beaubois, Barea has logged plenty of time as the 2. Rick Carlisle clearly finds great comfort in having two ball-handlers on the floor, and J.J.’s drive and kick style is different enough from Kidd’s more traditional point guard play and Terry’s pull-up game that the skill sets aren’t redundant. In the Tony Parker mold, J.J.’s passing is a product of the threat of his scoring, which contextualizes his high possession usage. As for the PER? Well, Barea’s good, but not that good. He’s a solid back-up point man, and perfectly capable of taking over a game when he’s on a roll. But the rest of the time his production falls right in line with his role on the team. A good back-up point is hard to find, and though Barea’s game is definitely flawed in a few ways, he qualifies.

Matt Carroll (5.74 PER, 18.31 usage) - Matt Carroll used to make basketball shots. Now he just shoots basketball shots. And sits on the bench. A lot.

LOW USAGE PLAYERS:

Shawn Marion (15.67 PER, 17.57 usage) – Though Marion’s on-court offerings have been translating to the scoreboard lately, that’s not quite in his job description. Shawn’s primary objective is to defend, and the rebounding and points that come as a result are simply organic byproducts of the game. Marion gets rebounds because he’s a natural rebounder, nevermind the fact that Nowitzki, Dampier, Gooden, and Kidd are all strong relative to their positions. Marion gets points because he’s open, and because Jason Kidd knows what he’s doing. But without impressive game totals in points, rebounds, etc., Shawn’s PER was never going to be sky-high.

James Singleton (9.13 PER, 16.81 usage) – Despite James’ occasional delusions of jumpshooting grandeur, he usually sticks to the script. Singleton is in the game as an energy guy first and foremost, and strictly speaking his contributions should be limited to defense and rebounding. But you throw a guy some shots every now and then, even if he’s not necessarily great at converting them. His usage is in a range where it’s hardly damaging, and his extremely limited playing time makes it a virtual non-factor regardless.

Jason Kidd (15.68 PER, 12.90 usage) – What more can I say about Jason Kidd? He makes the offense go. His instincts as a point guard are All-World, and though he isn’t the box score stuffer he used to be, his offensive numbers on the season are still quite solid. Kidd’s no longer the type of star you can build a team around, but he is the kind of star that can produce quality shots for himself and his teammates. He doesn’t turn the ball over that much or force many shot attempts (hence the low usage), but he doesn’t have the kind of top-notch statistical production needed to register a higher PER (hence…well, the low PER).

Erick Dampier (15.92 PER, 12.52 usage) – Basically in the same boat as Shawn Marion. Dampier is fighting the good fight by cleaning the glass, setting picks for his teammates, and scoring on minimal shot attempts.

Quinton Ross (5.74 PER, 9.49 usage) – Not applicable. I think Q-Ross is a solid contributor to a team like the Mavs, but nothing he does on the court would translate to PER.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 20, 2010 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

  • The Mavs have faced some pretty stiff competition this season, as the entire Western Conference has seemingly stepped up its game. But Dallas is still second in the conference standings, and the rest of the regular season schedule could smile on the Mavs. Via the excellent @mavstats (if you’re not following mavsstats on Twitter or RSS, do so immediately): “The Mavs have the weakest remaining schedule of any West team at .478 (3rd weakest in NBA). The hardest? Denver at .539.”
  • Kris Humphries is off to a hell of a start in New Jersey. After three games as a Net (which is an absurdly small sample size), he’s averaging 15 PPG (.517 FG%) and 7.7 RPG. Translate his numbers into their per-minute values, and it gets even more impressive: 22.8 points per 36 minutes and 11.7 rebounds per 36 minutes. That’s a PER of 26.1. I wouldn’t expect Hump’s numbers to be quite so gaudy at the end of the season, but still. Wow.
  • Josh Howard was anything but impressive offensively Monday night, but Rick Carlisle noted his second half defense against the Celtics. Which reminds me of something I forgot to mention in the recap: Ray Allen had a tidy 21 points on 9-15 shooting, but both Josh Howard and Jason Terry did a terrific job of chasing him around screens. Having to guard the likes of Allen (or Detroit’s Rip Hamilton) is not only unenviable, but physically draining. It takes incredible endurance to not only chase Ray, but fight through screen after screen, and both Josh and JET refused to be deterred.
  • Brendan Jackson of Celtics Hub: “These are mostly guys who fall under the “match up nightmare for any team” and “gonna get his” categories.  Still, the C’s have a huge disadvantage when trying to defend more mobile power forwards like Dirk, Durant, and Stoudemire.  I don’t even see this changing much when KG gets back.”
  • I like John Hollinger, but in his choices for All-Star starters, he jumps the shark a bit by naming Tim Duncan the starting power forward and Zach Randolph the starting center. Here’s his explanation: “How good has Duncan been? He leads all Western Conference big men in estimated wins added despite playing only 32 minutes a game and sitting out three games. It’s just unfortunate that he’s on the ballot at power forward, because we could have used Duncan as the starting center and listed Dirk Nowitzki (who likely will beat out Duncan in the fan voting) as a starter at forward. Instead we have to do this…” No problem whatsoever with Duncan getting a nod, but Hollinger’s positional reasoning is confusing at best, impossible at worst. He says that it’s a shame that Duncan is on the ballot as a forward, because otherwise he could have put Dirk at forward and Duncan at center. Instead, he selects Duncan at forward, and then anoints Zach Randolph, who is very obviously a power forward, as the center. Right.
  • Shawn Marion pins ball movement as the key to the Mavs’ success, and he’s certainly not wrong. Sometimes it’s all about the basics.
  • Rasheed Wallace unhappy with the officiating? Nawwww.

Rumor Mongering: Alternate Reality

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 13, 2010 under Rumors | 4 Comments to Read

In what was supposed to be a relatively uneventful trade season for the Mavs, we know two things:

  1. The Mavs made a move to swap Kris Humphries and Shawne Williams for Eddie Najera, earning some short-term savings, bringing a fan favorite back to Dallas, and picking up a guy with a positive influence in the locker room.
  2. Before that, the Mavs tried to package Hump, Williams, and Drew Gooden in a salary-clearing deal for Carlos Boozer that would have saved the Jazz $2.5 million initially, an additional $2.6 million if they decided to waive Gooden, and possibly more if the Mavs threw cash compensations into the deal.

Needless to say, the latter would have been a complete game-changer. If the Mavs had the luxury of bringing Boozer off of the bench (and make no mistake, that’s the role that would best serve the team) instead of Gooden, Dallas immediately becomes a contender for the Western Conference crown and the title. Plus, if the Mavs could have picked up Drew Gooden on the flip side after being waived, they would have a dominant rotation of bigs capable of matching any in the league.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Rather than trade out of their luxury tax obligations by ditching Boozer for pennies (or halves of pennies, really) on the dollar, the 9th place Jazz know that right now they need Carlos Boozer. Deron Williams has quietly had a terrific season, but would he be able to fend off the Thunder, Rockets, Hornets, and Grizzlies with Kris Humphries’ production replacing Boozer’s? Hardly. Booz is absolutely crucial to Utah’s playoff hopes, and while I’m sure that on some level Kevin O’Connor would love nothing more than to rid himself of the headache, he’s well aware of his team’s dependency.

So no Boozer, for now, at least. And now that Drew Gooden’s contract has lost its value to teams over the luxury tax (his salary is now guaranteed for the season), hopefully never. As Stein mentions in his piece over at TrueHoop, the Mavs don’t gain much if they agree to swap Josh Howard or Erick Dampier in a deal for Boozer. That said, Stein cites a different line of logic than I would. According to Marc, trading Howard, Dampier, or another core piece for Boozer is troublesome in that there’s no guarantee of Carlos’ return. That’s true. But the real trouble would be what the Mavs would do this season without either one of those players. If they lose Dampier, the vaunted Mavs’ defense falls to pieces, and Damp’s minutes are ceded to a guy marked by his inability to block shots and his irrelevance as a low post defender. If they lose Josh, the perimeter defense suffers, albeit with a bit less of an overall effect on the team’s success on that end than if they were to trade Damp. Trading Josh seems like the more palatable option…but while Boozer would bolster the Mavs’ rotation in the frontcourt, the backcourt would likely be a mess. No Howard means more Terry (who for all his improvements on defense, is a merely average defender) and more Barea (who has really struggled lately and continues to be a defensive liability), which is a pretty lethal blow to the team defense.

Carlos Boozer would be an interesting addition, and the Mavs took a shot. A long shot, admittedly, but Nelson, Cuban, and Carlisle tried to offer the Jazz exactly what they need. That Utah still fancies themselves contenders for the playoffs seems to be the real complication.