New Orleans Hornets 115, Dallas Mavericks 99

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 23, 2010 under Recaps | Read the First Comment

Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images.

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“Disappointment is a sort of bankruptcy — the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.”
-Eric Hoffer

There are some things in this world that we take for granted. The sun will come up tomorrow. Our technology, that helps us, guides us, conveniences us, and protects us, will not fail. That the institutions with a huge influence on our lives — governmental bodies, banks, etc. — will work with the best interest of the population at large in mind. These are things that we likely only give thought to in the event that they fail, which doesn’t give the proper due to the steady but impactful forces in our lives.

The Dallas Mavericks are apparently resolved to never fall into that category.

If you even begin to take this team for granted — even their leadership, their execution — they’ll make you a fool. They’ll cough up 14 turnovers over the span of two quarters. They’ll go six minutes without scoring a single point and surrender a 23-0 run to a Hornets team that really isn’t that good. They’ll give up 20+ points to not only David West (25 points, 10-17 FG, six rebounds, 10 assists) and Marcus Thornton (28 points, 12-22 FG, 4-9 3FG), who are very talented scorers, but also to Morris Peterson (20 points, 8-11 FG, 4-7 3FG, five rebounds). It was a 36-minute defensive disaster, and though the Mavs once held a 16-point lead in the opening frame, it wasn’t enough to save them from the clinic the Hornets ran over the final three quarters.

That’s an important distinction. The Hornets won this game. They didn’t stumble into success; they earned it with their defense and their effectiveness in transition and from the perimeter. I’m not in any way saying the Mavs aren’t culpable for the way they played, because Rick Carlisle should demand accountability from this team. They’re too good and too experienced for anything less. But New Orleans still played some incredibly impressive basketball from the first quarter on.

They were white-hot from beyond the arc, as good ball movement (33 assists on 45 field goals) and strong cuts opened up shooters from all over. The Hornets are in the top third of the league in three-point shooting percentage, but they looked nothing short of elite last night. Peterson and Thornton combined for eight makes alone from the beyond the arc, and the team as a whole shot 50% on 24 attempts. That shooting combined with David West’s interior scoring was more than enough to anchor New Orleans’ half-court offense.

But all of that is manageable. The Mavs have dealt with teams that are skilled operating on the perimeter before (Phoenix, Orlando, etc.), and they’re certainly capable of doing it again. But a team shooting so well from just about everywhere on the court doesn’t need to be handed points, and that’s exactly what the Mavs did with their 18 turnovers, a vast majority of which came over the game’s horrific middle quarters. That gave the Hornets entirely too many opportunities for transition buckets, which made what could have been a perfectly winnable game (even given the six-minute scoreless stretch the Mavs had spanning the second and third quarters) into a bit of a laugher. That’s usually what happens when one team allows the other three 30+ point quarters in a row.

99 points is enough, and that’s with Dirk resting over the final eight minutes. Making 52% of your shots is enough, and that’s with Jason Kidd (six points, six assists, three turnovers) and Caron Butler (12 points, six rebounds) combining to go 7-for-21. The Mavs were scoring at a rate of 108.8 points per 100 possessions, which would register as a top five offense. But when you allow your opponent to 126.4 points per 100 possessions, you’re going to face some problems. I’m not sure where the defense went or why it decided to take a sudden vacation, but the Mavs would be wise to track it down. The search starts on the perimeter and goes inward.

Closing thoughts:

  • Jason Terry ditched his protective face mask, apparently because he has regained some of the feeling in his face. Doctors have advised him to wear it for the rest of the season, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Especially not after dropping 24 points on 16 shots without it.
  • Chris Paul (11 points, three assists) returned to the starting lineup, but he actually didn’t have all that much to do with this win. That’s a bit scary. This game was kind of reminiscent of the Mavs January loss to the Lakers in that way: a limited superstar was technically on the floor, but wasn’t necessarily a reason why Dallas lost at all. The Mavs were taken down by Paul’s supporting cast, and that’s no bueno. As a follower of the Mavs, I’m obviously not thrilled to see Chris Paul back in uniform. But at the same time, as an NBA fan, how could you not be excited? Even if there’s some bitterness over when Paul downed the Mavs in the playoffs in 2008, Chris is such a special player. I’m convinced of Paul’s greatness, as in eventual historical greatness, and you’re honestly missing out if you don’t take every opportunity to appreciate his game now.
  • Caron Butler’s vice: the jab-step, jab-step, jab-step long two-point jumper with his heels on the three-point line. It’s almost always contest, but sometimes goes in. The sometimes is not a positive, as the makes only encourage him to do it again and again.
  • Wow, Marcus Thornton. I don’t get a chance to talk about him much around here, but how could you not like his game? His double-clutch reverse layup around Erick Dampier was just plain beautiful. I was pretty high on Thornton around the draft, but I didn’t expect this. Not for him to be this good this fast.
  • Slightly alarming offensive note: Dirk Nowitzki shot 67% from the field, but only put up 12 field goal attempts. That’s as many as Shawn Marion. The Mavs were getting Nowitzki plenty of good looks when they settled into their sets, but the Dallas turnover splurge hurt Dirk’s attempts more than anyone else. Dirk was responsible for five of them himself, which is more than a tad uncharacteristic.
  • Signs of life from Brendan Haywood (10 points, nine rebounds, two blocks), who had played poorly in his last three. Only ten minutes of action for Erick Dampier, though, all of which came in the first half. Something happening there.
  • The Hornets broke a three-game losing streak, and the Mavs have now lost three of their last four.
  • Darren Collison deserves mention for his excellent play off the bench. He finished with 16 points and eight assists in 35 minutes, though he only shot 6-of-15 from the field. Impressive nonetheless. And who says Collison and Paul can’t play together?
  • An odd sequence to end the game, as James Posey was called for a flagrant foul on Rodrigue Beaubois with 0.4 seconds remaining. The play wasn’t malicious, but Posey did make contact with Beaubois’ head.

Dallas Mavericks 108, New Orleans Hornets 100

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 1, 2010 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

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“All good things arrive unto them that wait – and don’t die in the meantime.”
-Mark Twain

If it wasn’t crystal clear that easy baskets are the Mavs’ best friend, take note. Write it in red, underline it, and trace over it over and over again until it makes an etching in the rest of your notepad, the desk below it, the foundation of  the building you’re in, and the molten core of the planet Earth. Dallas may not need a ton of transition buckets to win games, but the Mavs’ running game plays enough of a role that it can be the demonstrative difference between a dominant win and a nail-biter.

Not to lean too heavily on the “tale of two halves” platitude, but…well, it was a tale of two halves. The game’s first 24 minutes was about as dominant as Maverick basketball gets. The defense was creating turnovers (which as we well know, is not usually a strength) to ignite the break in the second quarter, and some great ball movement (23 of the Mavs’ 31 assists came in the first half) and fast breaking opportunities allowed the Mavs to put up 69 points in two quarters. Dallas led New Orleans by 19 at halftime, had created clear separation thanks to some explosive offense, and seemed set for a second-half snoozer with some late-game rest for Jason Kidd (13 points, nine assists, five rebounds, seven turnovers) and Dirk Nowitzki (36 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, no turnovers).

Not so. Jeff Bower had the Hornets making some serious defensive adjustments in the second half, and the Mavs’ pass-happy ways that had led to so many easy buckets in the first half turned on them completely. Jason Kidd had five turnovers in the third quarter alone, and though Darren Collison did a nice job of pressuring the ball, the real credit goes to an assortment of Hornets playing the passing lanes and picking off Kidd’s would-be assists. The game slowed down and the Mavs broke down, giving Collison (a career high 35 points, three assists, five turnovers) and Marcus Thornton (21 points, five rebounds) ample opportunity to carve into Dallas’ early lead. Both took full advantage as the Mavs’ defense focused on stopping David West, and on that front they were wholly successful; West with just 10 points on 20% shooting with four turnovers, though with eight rebounds and six assists.

The Mavs’ biggest problems weren’t on the defensive end, though I’d hardly call New Orleans’ 106.4 points per 100 possessions any kind of success. The primary troubles came with the Mavs inability to execute in half-court sets, though it was largely due to Dallas swinging for home runs rather than the steady single. Jason Kidd in particular wasn’t settling the Mavs into the offense, and a sequence of passes by Kidd and Terry compounded with a few missed jumpers keyed a 10-0 third quarter run for the Hornets. It’s hard to get too upset considering the Mavs were ultimately just trying to do too much, and especially because when they badly needed buckets late in the fourth quarter, they isolated Dirk Nowitzki and let him go to work. The results in those situations typically speak for themselves, and this was no exception. James Posey may have, at some point, been the prototypical defender for Dirk: skilled, hard-working, smart, athletic, long. But Nowitzki dropped 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the fourth, which was enough to give the Mavs a late surge and a sure victory.

Closing thoughts:

  • Caron Butler (19 points, five rebounds, four steals) isn’t known for his defense, despite his reputation as a tough player. But his steal with 51 seconds remaining of the game was crucial to preserving the Mavs’ lead…even if Brendan Haywood’s subsequent uncalled offensive basket interference should have turned the tide.
  • I understand the need for bench depth, but the more minutes and shot attempts the Hornets give to Morris Peterson instead of Marcus Thornton, the worse they’ll be. There was a time where Mo Pete was a solid option as a shooting guard, and though he’s never been a gold standard for the position, he was more than capable of being a quality shooter and scorer for a good team. No longer, as each jump shot is more a shot in the dark, and all of his insubstantial production comes at a direct cost to a younger, better player that could stand to play even more. It’s not an issue right now, with Chris Paul out and Darren Collison logging major minutes in his place. But I worry that with the priority on Collison’s development as a point guard prospect (for either a 6th man role or to use as trade bait), Chris Paul’s return to the lineup will inevitably cut into Thornton’s production/opportunities just because of some ridiculous notion that Mo Pete deserves his due.
  • Brendan Haywood may have played his worst game as a Maverick on Sunday night…and he had 12 points, nine rebounds (five offensive), two blocks, two steals, and no turnovers. Makes you wonder if Carlisle, Nelson, and Cuban are happy with the trade returns on Josh Howard.
  • J.J. Barea didn’t have a high-scoring night, but he ran the offense to perfection for the entirety of the second quarter. He had eight assists and just one turnover in the frame, and for how brilliant Rodrigue Beaubois has been at times this season, I’m not sure he’s had a sustained performance that could fully match how J.J. fueled the team’s surge in the second quarter. The few Barea supporters left in MavsLand: here is your 12-minute long piece of video evidence.
  • Caron Butler is looking more and more comfortable in the offense. He’s hitting his jumpers from his comfort zones along the baseline, and though he’s not quite a force in attacking the basket, he’s remaining assertive.
  • Eddie Najera is starting to worry me a little bit. He’s not in the game for long enough stretches to make any kind of significant negative impact (and part of the drop-off is negated by his hustle), but I can’t wait to see how this rotation functions with Dampier back in the mix.

Saying All the Right Things, and Seeing Some of the Right Numbers

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 6, 2009 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

I didn’t have a chance to attend the NBA Draft combine first-hand, but plenty of my blogger compatriots provided the eyes and ears on the scene.  Graydon and Tim got the ball rolling at 48 Minutes of Hell, but other bloggers sat down with players in the Mavs’ draft range:

Also, as part of ESPN’s D.R.A.F.T. Initiative (a needless acronym for an in-depth study of the draft), a nameless analyst crunched the numbers on player value based on draft position and by team history (both are accessible to ESPN Insiders only, I believe).  Neither is very optimistic.  Both analyses are based on John Hollinger’s Estimated Wins Added (EWA) metric, a step beyond PER and Value Added (VA) that measures the comparative worth of any player over generic replacement-level talent.  Oddly enough, pick number 22 is tied for the lowest EWA in the entire first round.  In all honesty, this means little; just that in drafts past, the players chosen at 22 haven’t been all that great.  The fact that many late first round selections match or trump the EWA of earlier draft positions should actually give Mavs’ fans great comfort; drafting earlier hardly guarantees a productive player, and drafting later hardly guarantees the opposite.

The team-specific data and grading is another beast entirely.  Teams were ranked based on EWA above or below the expected EWA at each of that team’s picks (to prevent penalty for consistently drafting late in the draft and prevent bonus for consistently picking in the lottery).  Based on that standard, the Mavs ranked 20th out of 30 teams in the last 20 years.  That said, most of the picks that sandbag the Mavs’ ranking took place before Donnie Nelson took over basketball ops in 1998.  Though Donnie is hardly considered a draft prodigy, the Mavs have enough value picks in addition to their two big hits (Dirk and Josh Howard) in that time to propel the Mavs’ EWA through the draft well into the black.  In fact, if you compare the Mavs’ net EWA (actual EWA as compared to expected EWA) during Donnie’s tenure to the other teams’ 20-year rankings, the Mavs would be safely in the top 10.  One incredible player can easily counter a half-decade of failed picks, and that should be taken into account when properly digesting the D.R.A.F.T. Initiative’s numbers.  But if we’re comparing Donnie Nelson to his peers over his tenure, I find that Donnie may be looked on more favorably than one would expect.

They Smell Like the Future: Marcus Thornton

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 4, 2009 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

Photo by AP Photo/Bill Feig.

LSU Sophomore
6’3.75”, 194 lbs. (Combine measurements)
21 years old
Shooting guard
Projection: Late 1st round/Early 2nd round
Combine Interview

Marcus Thornton is the first legit NBA prospect the Mavs have worked out to date, and he could easily be selected in the 20+ range of the first round.  And, compared to many other prospects, Thornton has me pretty excited.

Thornton won’t be a star.  He’s not versatile or dynamic enough to be a top-level player or a ticket draw.  But he was a very good college player that can be a contributor from the wing in the NBA.  If Mavs fans are pining for Courtney Lee, Thornton may be the closest thing in the 2009 draft.  Marcus has the skills of a prototypical 2 guard, with the ability to shoot confidently from all over the court, finish strong at the basket, and not be a liability on defense.  That’s the main divergence between Lee and Thornton: Lee was able to become a go-to wing defender as a rookie, whereas Thornton may never be that in his career.  But their offensive games show similarities, with the only difference being Thornton’s relative weakness on the pull-up jumper.

Is that enough of a buzz-kill for you?  That Thornton may be Courtney Lee without Lee’s most attractive attribute?  It shouldn’t be.  Though Marcus doesn’t have the defensive chops to be a world-class defender, he’s hardly a sieve.  Thornton should be an average defender against NBA opponents, and that fact coupled with his offensive talents make him a nice fit for the Mavs’ shooting guard slot.  The sweet shooting that the Mavs needed out of Antoine Wright?  Thornton has it.  A bigger defensive body than Jason Terry?  Thornton has it, although he’s still a bit undersized at 6’4”.

Thornton was the man at LSU, but in the NBA he’ll be just another man.  Playing alongside proven stars and scorers will undoubtedly help to translate his game and improve his effectiveness.  When looking at the best players on mediocre college teams, I find efficiency to be one of the most important attributes.  Gaudy totals can be achieved through a variety of means, but players able to create offense efficiently despite being the focal point of the offense show the potential to succeed in their roles on the next level.  That role won’t typically be the top dog, but if Thornton was able to rank highly not only in college PER but also virtually every scoring metric available, all signs point to success on the horizon as a scoring role player.  He’ll be best served as a third or fourth offensive option, which is perfect for a team that already has Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Josh Howard.  Thornton will likely never be the best scorer on the floor for the Mavs as a rook, which gives him that much more freedom to play his game.

Finding a great wing defender or serviceable big man late in the draft is a bit hard.  Players usually don’t fall quite so far unless they have clearly visible flaws.  Thornton definitely has his limitations, and while he isn’t the defender the Mavs need at the 2, he has all the offensive skills necessary to make a deadly Maverick attack even more potent.

Pro-Level Projections:

Jon Nichols of used his Box Score Prediction System (BSPS) to project career numbers for Thornton.  The values given are career averages per 36 minutes, considering that per minute statistics at least partially eliminate variables such as abnormal playing time, lack of opportunity, etc.  The projections are based on Thornton’s two-year career at LSU.  For comparison’s sake, I’ve dug up some other players who have averaged similar numbers over their careers (click here for an enlarged chart):

(Note: the years indicated in the chart refer to the last year of the season played.  For examples, the 2004-2005 season will be marked 05.)

There was a wide variety of players with similar per-minute averages to Thornton, but I’ve gone for diversity with the lot shown in the chart.  Kevin Martin is an elite level scorer, a super efficient shooter with the ability to get to the free throw line at an abnormally high rate.  Martin would rank as either a first offensive option or 1B on most teams.  J.R. Smith is a salvo off the bench, a creature put on this planet solely to score the damn ball.  He has incredible range, talent out the wazoo, and the handles to get to the bucket for layups and dunks.  Rashad McCants was a very good college player, but has yet to really make an impact as a pro.  McCants has been decent, mostly as a backup or starting for a bad Timberwolves team in 2007-2008, but is far from a proven commodity.

These are three very different players in terms of usage, but all have put up similar per-minute numbers with one exception: Martin’s rate of free throw attempts.  That’s the reason why Kevin Martin will always be an anomaly compared to “similar” scorers, and why his efficiency numbers catch your eye.  Thornton figures to fall somewhere in between Martin and J.R. Smith in that regard, which isn’t bad company in the slightest.

The height of these players is certainly worth noting.  Thornton measured in at nearly 6’4”, a tad short for a shooting guard, but not a death sentence.  Still, Kevin Martin is 6’7”.  J.R. Smith is 6’6”.  Both have the height to get their shot off, be it on the perimeter or in the lane.  Rashad McCants is listed at 6’4”, and hasn’t been able to find his way to notable levels of success.  Obviously not all 6’4” shooting guards are doomed to fail, but for the purposes of these projections it’s certainly worth keeping in mind that the taller off-guards are the ones whose actual production (on a per-game basis) most closely matches their per-minute pace.