The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 82, Minnesota Timberwolves 90

Posted by Kirk Henderson on November 13, 2012 under Recaps | Be the First to Comment

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Box Score — Play-by-Play — Shot Chart — Game Flow

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

  • With about three minutes left in the game, Dallas rediscovered that which had made them an offensive juggernaut the previous week: attacking the basket. Darren Collison (21 points, 11-12 FTs, 5 assists) is the engine behind the Dirkless offense and when he isn’t probing the lane and Dallas settles for long jumpers late in the shot clock, the offense is borderline unwatchable.
  • Dallas started the game the same way they’ve finished the last two: giving up four offensive rebounds in the first 8 minutes of playing time. However, the next three plus quarters they only gave up three.  Dallas is still -69 on the year in terms of rebounding margin, but tonight it was due to the poor shooting display (36.2%).
  • A variety of Timberwolves played excellent.  For the second straight game a point guard had a big game against Dallas; Luke Ridnour (15 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals) helped control the game for Minnesota. Andrei Kirilenko (16 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) set the tone early and abused Jae Crowder. Nikola Pekovic (20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) is such a massive man and to be that skilled offensively is such a rare trait in today’s NBA. Rookie Alexey Shved (16 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks, 9-11 FTs) didn’t shoot the ball well, but as you can see by his stat line, he managed to affect the game in every other possible way.  I recommend taking a look at A Wolf Among Wolves for their take on the game as well.
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The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 104, Minnesota Timberwolves 97

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 11, 2012 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2012-02-10 at 10.54.43 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGame Flow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FTRORRTOR
Dallas110.094.648.325.619.015.2
Minnesota88.244.339.230.223.2

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

  • Jason Kidd (eight points, 2-3 3FG, 10 assists, two steals, eight turnovers) returned to the lineup on Friday after a six-game absence, and brought plenty of good to overpower the unfortunately-too-familiar bad. Those horribly misguided passes are back with a vengeance; though Kidd looks more energetic and better prepared to play than he was previously, he’s still making the same head-scratching blunders that got him into trouble earlier in the season. Those bafflingly bad passes will have to go, and hopefully without penalty to Kidd’s more sensible playmaking endeavors. Kidd’s identification of mismatches and potential advantages was as impeccable as ever (Read: Jason Kidd stays Jason Kidd), and his work as a help defender was nothing short of spectacular. It’s just a matter of hedging the bad to better accent the good at this point, and hopefully Kidd is just a few weeks away from finding a happier balance.
  • The box score makes this game look like a bit of a scoring duel between Dirk Nowitzki (33 points, 11-19 FG, 4-7 3FG, four rebounds, three assists, three blocks, one turnover) and Kevin Love (32 points, 9-18 FG, 12 rebounds, three assists, five turnovers), but both players were scoring as components of their respective teams’ runs rather than the sole proponents of them. Dallas and Minnesota’s bursts of scoring and defense were fairly balanced overall, and though Nowitzki and Love ended up as the most productive players on the court, this game wasn’t some powerful demonstration of their individual brilliance. It was merely the latest exhibit in the ridiculous effectiveness of both players, stretched over a prolonged period of time, and enhanced by fairly complete — if still relatively inefficient — team efforts. (That said: A season-high 33 points on just 19 shots for Nowitzki? Yes, please.)

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The Clearest Of All Laws

Posted by Ian Levy on March 24, 2011 under Commentary | 15 Comments to Read

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Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, a contributor to Indy Cornrows, and a part of The Two Man Game family. He’ll be bringing his intelligent brand of — mostly quantitative — analysis here on a weekly basis. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

It’s been just over three weeks since Corey Brewer signed with the Dallas Mavericks. Brewer is young, athletic and by all accounts, an extremely hard worker. However, the chief attraction for the Mavericks was his reputation as an excellent wing defender. So far he’s had trouble carving out a place for himself in Rick Carlisle’s rotation, averaging just 8.9 minutes per game over seven games. It’s difficult to draw conclusions with such a small sample size, but he hasn’t yet done anything to stand out at the defensive end.

What exactly is his defensive reputation based on? Watching him play we see a long and bouncy sliver of a forward. He competes on every defensive possession; he battles through screens, moves his feet on the perimeter, and displays a knack for using his length to contest shots. Defensive impact is notoriously hard to measure statistically, but is there any numeric evidence that his excellent tools and motor translate to an effect on an opposing team’s offense?

There are plenty of defensive statistics available. The issue is that none are accepted as a completely accurate metric, with opinions varying wildly on the value of each. Today we’re going to take a tour through some of these available statistics, examining Corey Brewer along the way and trying to pin down the quantity and quality of his defensive contributions. Since he’s spent such a short time with the Mavericks, most of the stats we look at will cover his entire season or just his games with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Box Score Statistics

These are the basics that everyone is familiar with: steals, blocks and rebounds. When we look at these stats per 40 minutes we find Brewer averaging 2.6 steals, 0.4 blocks and 4.5 rebounds. Compared to the league average for swingmen, Brewer is sub-par with regards to rebounds and blocks. However, he steals the ball at a rate nearly twice the league average.

Another way to look at these basic statistics is as a percentage of their opportunities. Steal Percentage, Block Percentage and Rebound Percentage (Ed. note: These measures have also been referred to as “rebounding rate,” etc. on this blog. The terms are completely synonymous.) are all statistics available from a variety of sources, including Hoopdata.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Stl% is calculated as the percentage of the opposing team’s offensive possessions on which a player records a steal. Blk% is calculated as the percentage of the opposing team’s shot attempts which are blocked by the player. Reb% is calculated as the percentage of available rebounds which a player grabs. Reb% is available as a total number, but can also be split into Offensive and Defensive Reb%.

Brewer’s total Reb% of 6.2% and his Blk% of 0.8% are both below average. Again, where he really shines is stealing the basketball. This season, Brewer ranks 4th in the league in Stl%, at 3.2%. He trails only Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul. Over the past four seasons, Brewer has the 17th best Stl% in the league, at 2.5%. Forcing turnovers is something the Mavericks have struggled with all season. They are currently 24th in the league, with an Opponent’s TOV% of 12.4%, well below the league average of 13.5%. Having Brewer on the floor to wreak havoc in the passing lanes could be a real asset in the playoffs.

On Court/Off Court Statistics

The premise with On Court/Off Court statistics is simple: look at how a team’s defense performs when a player is on the floor and compare that with how it performs when they’re off the floor. Theoretically, the player should be responsible for much of that difference. The problem is that these statistics have a lot of inherent “noise” in them. Since this model is essentially about comparison, trading minutes with a horrible defender can make someone look much better than they are. By the same token, a back-up may look much better than they are because they’re matched up against the opponent’s back-ups.

These statistics are available in a lot of different formats. 82games.com tracks several categories for On Court/Off Court, including Defensive Rating, eFG% allowed, Blk%, Reb%, Turnovers and Free Throw Attempts allowed. BasketballValue.com allows you to look at the On Court/Off Court Defensive Rating for a player overall, and broken down by the different five-man units the player was a part of.

Looking at these stats for Corey Brewer incorporates a lot of the “noise” we mentioned above. Brewer’s place in the Timberwolves’ rotation varied quite a bit. He started just under half of the 56 games he played with them. In 11 of those games he played fewer than 20 minutes. He played over 30 minutes 9 times. The Timberwolves are also ranked 26th this season in Defensive Rating, meaning Brewer played alongside some less than ideal defensive teammates, in a less than ideal defensive system.

To try and limit the influence of some of those factors in the statistics I isolated some five-man units Brewer was a part of to look at the On Court/Off Court Defensive Ratings. I started with the 6 units Brewer spent the most minutes playing with. For comparison, I pulled out any units that had the same four teammates but a replacement for Brewer. The table below shows the Defensive Ratings for each of those units.

Brewer Lineup Graph

In three of those lineups the team’s Defensive Rating was better with Brewer on the floor, in the other three it was worse. Inconclusive to say the least. I went over these lineups several times and couldn’t identify any common patterns, such as Wesley Johnson replacing Brewer making the defense significantly better. For the purposes of our discussion, it’s convenient that this case is a perfect illustration of some of the problems with On Court/Off Court statistics.

Play-by-Play Statistics

These metrics come directly from analysis of play-by-play data. The three I see utilize the most often are Individual Defensive Rating from Basketball-Reference.com, counterpart statistics from 82games.com, and possession category data from Synergy Sports Technology.

Individual Defensive Rating is a metric that was introduced by Dean Oliver in his book, Basketball on Paper. It’s based on the same principle as team Defensive Rating: how many points are allowed per 100 possessions. It’s calculated by using play-by-play data to figure out how many points the opposing player creates while the defensive player is on the floor.

Extensions of this data can be unreliable because it often assumes match-ups based on listed position, which is not always the case. Teams like the Mavs have a lot of positional interplay on both offense and defense, so some of the metrics derived from play-by-play data can be a bit problematic.

Brewer’s Individual Defensive Rating has only been below 110 once in his career: this season, where his time in Minnesota and Dallas have worked out too a rating of 109. The league average this season is 107.1. Granted, he’s played on some bad defensive teams in Minnesota, but this statistic theoretically captures just the points created by the opponent he’s guarding. Even when accounting for the defensive deficiencies of his teammates, Brewer does not look impressive by this metric.

Counterpart statisics are just an extension of Individual Defensive Rating. They’re also culled from play-by-play data, and show the eFG%, FTA/48, Reb/48, Ast/48, Pts/48 and PER for the opposing player while the defensive player is on the floor. Being calculated in the same way as Individual Defensive Rating, they can be unreliable for some of the same reasons. 82games displays these statistics broken down by the position that the defender was playing. The table below shows the counterpart statistics for Brewer’s time in Minnesota this season.

Pts/48Reb/48Ast/48TO/48FTA/48eFG%PER
SG21.84.93.53.35.549.0%14.8
SF22.17.43.82.86.850.2%17.5

Keeping in mind the shortcomings of these stats, we still don’t see much evidence of defensive impact. Brewer seems to be more potent defending shooting guards but still allows fairly healthy production. I would guess that shooting guards are a better matchup for him because his height creates an advantage and his lack of strength is less likely to be exploited. These numbers also reinforce his strength in creating turnovers. However, Brewer sends opposing players to the free throw line at a fairly high rate, which indicates that his aggressiveness may be hurting nearly as much as it helps.

The possession statistics from Synergy Sports Technology are a little different in that they come from video analysis. Each play from each game is reviewed on video and than categorized by the type of possession (post-up, transition, etc.). The fact that the data comes from video analysis solves some of the defensive cross-matching problems that the other play-by-play statistics have. The table below shows Brewer’s defensive possession statistics from his time in Minnesota.

Possession% of PossessionsPoints per PossessionRankFG%SF%TO%
Overall100%0.9228038.9%7.3%9.1%
Isolation16.8%0.9223344.3%13.3%12.0%
Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler20.5%0.8814339.7%10.9%15.8%
Post-Up4.5%0.73-29.4%4.5%9.1%
Pick-and-Roll Screener1%1.80-75.0%20.0%0%
Spot-Up36.9%0.9413036.1%2.7%4.4%
Off-Screen13.4%0.856036.8%4.5%7.6%
Hand Off6.5%1.097047.8%12.5%12.5%

Shoddy team defense certainly affects Brewer’s numbers here, but again there is very little to indicate we’re looking at an elite wing defender. He’s solid against the pick-and-roll, does a good job closing out on spot-up shooters, and creates a lot of turnovers. But he’s not in the top 50 in any category, and on several possession types, particularly isolations, is nearly as likely to commit a shooting foul as to force a turnover.

After all looking at all these numbers we end up right about where we started. Our eyes tell us that Brewer’s physical tools and motor make him a terrific defender. The statistics say he generates a lot of steals, but plenty of fouls as well, and for all his tools doesn’t seem to make a huge impact defensively, either individually or at the team level.

Both sides of this equation could change over the next three seasons in Dallas. Perhaps playing alongside better defensive teammates and in a more cohesive system will allow the statistics to catch up with what we see when we watch Brewer play. Or perhaps playing alongside more effective defenders will expose him as spastic in the Hansbroughnian style, not always able to control and channel his effort and energy into positive outcomes. The good news for Mavs fans is that, barring injury, I can’t envision any reasonable scenario where his defense would get worse.

Brewer is a perfect microcosm of the debate between old-school and new-school methods of player evaluation. Fans who gravitate towards observation for player evaluation will likely find some reasons why the numbers don’t fully capture his performance. Fans who gravitate towards statistics for player evaluation will likely find some reasons why our eyes can’t discern his true defensive impact. The truth probably lies somewhere in between, illustrating there’s still a wide gap between what we think we see and what we think we’ve measured.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 108, Minnesota Timberwolves 105

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 8, 2011 under Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas96.0112.552.423.829.315.6
Minnesota109.450.618.233.316.7

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

  • The Minnesota Timberwolves made it clear early in this game that they came to play, but as has been the case with that team so many times this season, even their most honorable intentions culminated in a chaotic mess. Kevin Love (23 points, 7-14 FG, 17 rebounds, five assists) had another exemplary game, but most everything else for Minnesota was just a shade below what was needed; Michael Beasley turned the ball over too often, Darko Milicic was a non-factor on the glass, Luke Ridnour’s shooting was off, and Brian Cardinal — Dallas’ best three-point shooter this season — wasn’t given the respect he deserves on the perimeter. Those developments aren’t damning on their own, but collectively they collapsed an otherwise commendable effort from the Wolves. The Mavs got away with a game they likely should have lost, but there was certainly an element of predictability here: the team of stable vets out-executed a crew that has made a routine out of fourth quarter implosions.
  • Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 7-12 FG, 10-10 FT, six rebounds), Jason Terry (11 points, 3-11 FG, four assists, four turnovers), and J.J. Barea (eight points, 3-7 FG, five assists) combined for 25 points in the final frame, which matched Minnesota’s total scoring output for the quarter. Otherwise though, the Maverick offense hardly went according to plan. If not for Cardinal’s flurry of three-point makes and Jason Kidd’s (13 points, 4-8 FG, nine assists, four steals) play, Dallas would have faced a considerable deficit going into the fourth — and likely failed in their efforts to salvage the game. This team misses Tyson Chandler, and if that wasn’t made clear by some of the uncontested buckets surrendered around the rim, it should be obvious in the way the Mavs’ offensive efficiency dips in his absence. There are a lot of places to point the finger — the team as a whole for not getting Nowitzki more touches, Terry and Shawn Marion (nine points, 10 rebounds, four assists) for failing to convert their opportunities, etc. — but there’s a profound difference between the influence of Chandler and Brendan Haywood (eight points, 10 rebounds, three turnovers) on the Mavs’ offensive flow. Haywood had a very solid game, but even if the quantifiable elements of his performance are respectable, they don’t come paired with Chandler’s knack for creating open looks for his teammates via screens and hard rolls to the rim.
  • Corey Brewer has yet to have the kind of performance that will win over Mavs fans, but he did play pretty effective defense on Michael Beasley during some of his six minutes of action, and threw in this fantastic two-way sequence:
  • That said, it was Marion who acted as the Mavs’ defensive stopper on Beasley during the second half, not Brewer. Beas dropped nine points on eight shots in the first quarter as he victimized both Nowitzki and Peja Stojakovic, but Marion blanketed Beasley in the second half, when the Wolves forward shot just 3-of-12 from the field.

Dallas Mavericks 115, Milwaukee Bucks 113

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 17, 2009 under Recaps | 9 Comments to Read

Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOr
Dallas90.6115.057.019.821.416.0
Milwaukee113.051.511.126.410.0

“Let’s be bad guys.”
-Jayne Cobb

If last season’s Mavs had one defining flaw, it would be their lack of a team identity. They struggled all season long to define who they were as a team, and with no team-wide, implicit understanding of their collective on-court personality, the 2008-’09 Mavs faltered when faced with a legitimate challenge.

The 2009-’10 season to date has played out a bit differently. One might claim that the Mavs have developed a strong defensive identity, and though you probably wouldn’t know it from watching the second half of last night’s game, they wouldn’t be wrong. One might claim that the Mavs have developed a resilient identity, working tirelessly toward wins despite their shortcomings. But I see something different. Through eleven games, the Mavs have forged a completely new identity from the regular season fires. Your Dallas Mavericks, ladies and gentlemen, are heartbreakers.

Just ask the Milwaukee Bucks, who fought and fought and probably deserved to win. Or ask the Houston Rockets, who ran out to a big lead against a more talented Mavs team. Or ask the Utah Jazz, who…well, you know. These aren’t just big wins or comeback wins. The Mavs are trivializing the spirit of their opponents’ hard work and execution by showing that this team will always be there, ready to break some hearts and play the villain. These Mavs may not have many characteristics that make them inherently hate-able, but if you win enough games that have gone to the wire, opposing teams (and their fans) will not only feel deflated, but resentful.

The Mavs’ long lost offense turned out to be the mechanism that silenced the Milwaukee crowd. Though the Mavs’ O stalled significantly in the second half (37 second half points vs. 66 first half points), it was more of a return to earth than a genuine struggle. The hot shooting in the first half had to stop at some point, and Brandon Jennings, Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Ridnour, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute took full advantage of the sudden cold streak. An 18-point Maverick lead was wiped out completely, and a team whose defense had struggled all game long was now left with cold shooters to contest the oozing confidence of Brandon Jennings.

Let’s take a minute to properly appreciate what Jennings did. He exploded for 13 points in the fourth quarter, and they could not have been bigger in terms of magnitude. These were game-tying buckets, go-ahead buckets, and momentum-shifting buckets, many of which could have gone down as the final scene if not for some Maverick heroics. Jennings simply ran around or shot over every Maverick not named Rodrigue Beaubois, and Carlisle’s shift to a zone in the fourth quarter seemed to be an admission of that. It didn’t help much at all, as Jennings (25 points on 8-22 FG, 7 rebounds, 8 assists) and Ilyasova (19 points, 4-7 3FG, 12 rebounds) were well in rhythm on the threes and mid-range jumpers.

But each time the Bucks made a big shot, the Mavs made an even bigger one. Dirk Nowitzki was especially effective down the stretch, but the Mavs would have been lost (and would have lost) without the clutch contributions of Jason Terry and Drew Gooden. Gooden’s contributions on the night won’t be forgotten (22 points, 14 rebounds), but his tip-in of a missed Nowitzki layup was absolutely tremendous, tying the game with 27 seconds remaining in overtime, and setting up Dirk’s game-winning jumper.

At times, it almost seemed as if the Mavs were trying to lose. Jason Kidd had his best passing game of the season to the tune of 17 assists, but very nearly gave away the game with an unforced turnover near the end of the fourth quarter. Dirk Nowitzki had an excellent night, but committed a horrible loose ball foul that sent the Bucks to the line with the game tied and just 37 seconds to play. Rick Carlisle refused to put Rodrigue Beaubois into the game in the fourth, despite the fact that Brandon Jennings was just 2-11 from the floor while Roddy was in the game. But all of those figures found redemption in the game’s final sequence: Beaubois partially blocked (or at least heavily contested) a Jennings 3, Carlisle draws up a game-winning inbounds play executed perfectly with a pristine pass from Kidd and a sweet jumper from Dirk at the final horn.

Closing thoughts:

  • Rodrigue Beaubois (12 points, 5-9 FG) needs to be on the floor more, and needs to be on the floor when it matters most. His performance wasn’t flawless, but he really does change the game with his speed and in this game, with his defensive ability. I respect J.J. Barea’s defense more than most, but he was a liability on the court. He couldn’t stop Jennings, and J.J.’s trips into the lane often ended with an awkward floater or a blocked attempt.
  • Shawn Marion missed the entire second half with an ankle sprain, Erick Dampier was still not with the team (although he seems to be feeling better), and Josh Howard was still out with injury. This was a big win for the Mavs regardless, but even bigger considering the Mavs’ injuries.
  • I feel sorry for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. He played that last shot about as well as anyone could, but Dirk still got a pretty good look and an even better bounce.

GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to…Rodrigue Beaubois? Drew Gooden? I’m tempted, but this one just seemed too obvious.