- Rick Carlisle’s job isn’t threatened regardless of the outcome of this first round series. Cuban on Carlisle (via MacMahon): “I mean, it’s not something we’ll evaluate now, it’s not something we’ll evaluate this summer. I don’t see what would change anything.”
- Dan Devine of Ball Don’t Lie: “It’s an immutable truth of the online world: If you write something about Caron Butler that skews negative — like I did, like Mike Prada did on Bullets Forever, like Kyle Weidie did on Truth About It, and on, and on — you will have your ugly craw crammed with humility walnuts within the space of 48 hours… It was a dominant performance in a game the Mavs had to have, the kind of game that tantalizes the Dallas faithful with visions of that one more big-time scorer that can aid Dirk Nowitzki and push their team over the top. Of course, it was also the kind of performance that leaves longtime watchers shaking their heads, saying things like “If only it was every night,” and being skeptical that Butler can turn in reasonable facsimiles in likewise must-win sixth and, if the Mavs get that far, seventh games.”
- Skeets and Tas of The Basketball Jones like the way Dirk attacked the basket early and the play of Brendan Haywood.
- From mavstats: “for the 15:14 that Shawn Marion defended Manu Ginobili, Marion was +19 and held Ginobili to 7 points on 2-7 FG.”
- Jason Terry has a new pregame ritual that symbolizes the coming-back-from-the-dead of the Mavericks’ playoff hopes… I guess. “I’m not big on death, but I was in a casket, and when they bunched me up, I fell up out of the casket and said ‘we’re not done yet.’ We’re going to have to do that again.”
- Rick Carlisle didn’t play Erick Dampier in garbage time out of respect for the veteran center: “By the time late in the game, with veteran guys in those situations, I have too much respect to put him back in, unless he wants to.”
- Former Mavs stats man Wayne Winston talks adjustments and lineups in his Game 5 recap.
This post was written by Mark Kao. If you’d like to contact Mark, drop a comment or email him at mark.kao[at]gmail[dot]com.
A seven-game series between two closely matched teams is one of the most fascinating spectacles in all of sports. Like in any epic tale, the plot thickens with every quarter of every game as the dynamic between the two teams shifts and the tension rises. The battle for series supremacy does not stop between games as even now, each coaching staff works furiously in a battle of wits. What plot lines did we see in Game 1 and what adjustments can we expect to see in the games to come?
Usually it’s the losing team that is most in need of strategic adjustments so we’ll start with the Spurs. Coming into the game, the biggest question faced by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich defensively was how to stop the unstoppable force known as Dirk Nowitzki. Pop only has two options. He can play ball denial and rush an extra defender to double-team Dirk every time he touches the ball or he can play Dirk straight-up with the likes of Matt Bonner or Antonio McDyess. In last season’s playoffs, Popovich went with the first option, double-teaming Dirk throughout the series, limiting him to 19 points per game. However, as the defensive attention shifted to Dirk, the supporting cast stepped up as the Mavericks rolled over the Spurs in 5 games. In Game 1 of this series, Popovich elected to cover Nowitzki with a single defender for the most part, allowing Dirk to erupt for 36 points on just 14 shots in one of the most efficient scoring performances in the history of the NBA playoffs. When a solitary Spur was left alone on an island, Dirk showed that he would bully them, steal their lunch money, and then drain the shot after for good measure. On the flip side, Popovich might be thinking that it’s unlikely that Dirk Nowitzki will continue to shoot 86% for the rest of the series, so the unanswerable question remains. In Game 2, I expect to see more double-teams mixed in, challenging the Mavericks’ supporting cast to hit open shots. Realistically, I don’t think there is a strategy in the world that can stop Dirk right now, but if there is, trust Coach Popovich to find it.
Carlisle also elected to play the Spurs straight-up, for the most part. The Spurs’ Big Three of had an impressive scoring night for a combined 71 points, but that’s something Rick Carlisle can live with when the teams other 7 players scored only 23 points on 41% shooting. While Duncan and Ginobili put up big scoring numbers, they also turned the ball over at an alarming rate with six and five turnovers, respectively. Credit goes to Jason Kidd and Caron Butler here for great anticipation in jumping into passing lanes and deflecting balls. The only adjustment I can see for the Mavericks defensively is how they play the pick-and-roll. The Mavericks, obviously concerned with containing Ginobili and Parker, showed hard on every pick and roll. While this helped stop penetration, it led to open rolls to the basket by the Spurs big men. For the most part, I expect the Mavericks to stick to their game plan: Ginobili and Duncan will get their points but they’ll have to work for them against quality defenders in Marion, Butler, Dampier, and Haywood and the rest of the Mavericks will stay at home on the Spurs supporting cast.
Offensively for the Spurs, Manu Ginobili took on the ball-handling and playmaking duties as Tony Parker took a backseat. This strategy produced mixed results as Ginobili recorded 26 points and six assists but with six turnovers. Parker had a decent scoring night with 18 points but was nowhere near the dominant offensive force he was in these teams’ previous playoff series. I expect to see Tony Parker having a larger role in dictating the offense when these teams come together for Game 2. Of the Spurs’ role players, only Antonio McDyess can be said to have played a quality game; Popovich was understandably upset and criticized his players for “playing like dogs”.
Young guard George Hill was essentially useless, perhaps because of a sprained ankle, but Pop clearly went away from him in the second half. It’ll be interesting to see what Pop does with the guard rotation. Richard Jefferson, Roger Mason Jr., and Matt Bonner continue to be Spurs fans’ favorite whipping posts as they contributed little or nothing to the Spurs’ cause. Coach Popovich is notorious for his distrust in rookies in the playoffs, and it showed with DeJuan Blair only receiving eight minutes even after his spectacular game against Dallas in the regular season finale. Still, if the other Spurs reserves (particularly Bonner) continue to “play like dogs”, expect Blair to get some extra burn in the upcoming games.
On the offensive side for the Mavericks, things went well for the most part. Carlisle has to be happy with the way his superstar dropped 36 and second banana Caron Butler took over (22 points) when Dirk needed a rest. The biggest concern is Jason Terry, who scored only five points on 2-of-9 shooting. Terry, however, came through in the fourth as usual, hitting two big shots after being held scoreless through the first three quarters. J.J. Barea was held scoreless in 15 minutes. If Barea is not effective, I (along with every other Mavericks fan in the world) would like to see Carlisle give Rodrigue Beaubois a legitimate chance. You have to believe that Beaubois will be given a chance to contribute in this series, and given the way he’s played this season, I think he earned it.
And so the story continues. With one chapter done, what should turn out to be an amazing series is underway and although we can guess at the twists and turns, unexpected heroes, and devious villains, nobody will know for sure until the final page. The only thing we do know is that it’s going to be good. Stay tuned.
Photo by Robert Durell/AP Photo.
Much has been made this season about the Dallas Mavericks propensity to have games go down to the wire. Opinions amongst both Mavericks fans and the national media have ranged widely. Some have said that the Mavs’ ability to win close games is one of their strengths, that their execution and performance in big moments should be looked upon as a virtue, regardless of why the game was close in the first place. Others have criticized the Mavericks for either letting a big lead slip away late or digging themselves an early hole that required a late game comeback to win. Detractors have claimed that the Mavericks may not be as good as their record indicates because luck plays a larger factor in close games, games the Mavericks have been winning. The reasoning is that in a close game, even a bad team has close to a 50-50 chance to win because each team is equally likely to catch a lucky break, swinging the game in their favor. Have the Mavericks just been having a run of good luck this season or is there another factor that may be driving the Mavs’ success in close games?
How do we find out? Young, high flying teams in the NBA are fun to watch, but how do they fare in close games compared to teams made up of experienced, savvy veterans? Could a team’s level of age and experience be a more important factor than luck when it comes to deciding a neck-and-neck game? To find out, I’ve compared a team’s age vs. their winning percentage in close games (where a close game is defined as a game that is decided by 3 points or less). Simply using a team’s average age would be misleading because many teams have young “project” players who rarely see the floor or old, in decline, veterans whose job is mainly to cheerlead from the bench. To account for this, I’ve introduced a playing time Weighted Average Age so the more time a player sees the floor, the more their age factors into the teams average age. This operates on the assumption that the more minutes a player gets, the larger their likely influence on their team’s performance in a close game. For instance 31-year old Dirk Nowitzki certainly has a larger impact on the Mavericks’ late game performance than 22-year old rookie Roddy Beaubois so instead of the two contributing an average age of 26.5, Dirk’s age is weighted more heavily due to his larger share of the available playing time.
What are the possible downsides to this particular statistical analysis? Like any statistics based analysis, it’s not perfect. For instance, the weighted average age of a team doesn’t include the experience and quality of the team’s coaching staff, whose impact on a close game is obvious in terms of the use of timeouts, play calling, and substitutions. The average also doesn’t take into account the players’ positions. It seems like having an experienced veteran point guard would be more impactful than having a veteran in a non-playmaking position.
Now let’s get to the data: All 30 NBA teams in order from oldest to youngest
Each team’s Weighted Age Average was calculated by:
WAA = [ (Player A*Minutes%A) + (Player B*Minutes%B) + etc.] / [ 5*(Minutes%A + Minutes%B + etc.) ]
Where the players include each player that played for the team at any point in the season and Min. % = the percent of total possible minutes received by that player through the entire season
* Min % data courtesy of 82games.com
The graph shows a clear trend that increasing NBA experience correlates with increased success in close games. Of the 15 oldest teams in the league by Weighted Average Age, only three teams are sub .500 in close games this season. Accordingly, of the 15 teams that make up the younger half of the NBA, only 4 teams have winning records in close games.
What does this mean for the Mavericks? Well the Mavs, already the oldest team in the NBA by simple average age, is even older when playing time is taken into account. Don’t get too upset though, because while the Mavs are significantly older than every other team, they are also the best at winning close games with a 9-2 record in games decided by 3 points or less. Why would older teams be better at winning close games? It seems self-explanatory. As players get older, they tend to improve in what is sometimes referred to as Basketball IQ (i.e. awareness of the clock/fouls/timeouts, knowing the difference between good shots and bad shots, knowing when to switch and when to stay home, etc.). In the Mavs’ case, this veteran savvy has come in the form of Jason Kidd and extends to, well, pretty much the whole team. Of the 13 players currently on the Maverick’s roster, only Barea and Beaubois have less than 6 years of NBA experience. The Mavs’ lack of young, promising, and athletic players has long been lamented by fans, however in this case it seems to have been the difference in making the Mavericks the NBA’s best team in close games.
On a related note, this is just a guess and I haven’t done the research necessary to prove it, but I’ll bet that a player’s free throw percentage tends to increase as they get older. I’ll admit that luck does play a larger factor in the final minutes of a close game when each possession is so important and the direction of a rebound could potentially swing a game, but the ability to consistently hit free throws is not based on luck. If fielding an older team rather than a younger team means having better free throw shooters on the court, fans can breathe a little easier when their veterans step to the line to ice a close game. Having said that, like any Mavericks fan knows, the Oldest-in-the-NBA Mavs are the league’s top FT shooting team as well as the league’s best in tight contests.
Now that we’ve discussed the benefits of age, will being old hurt the Mavericks? It’s generally not thought of as a good thing when the two youngest players in your starting lineup (Butler and Haywood) are on the wrong side of 30 and it’s definitely not good when your 37-year old starting point guard has to play close to 40 minutes most nights. The two detriments most often linked with advancing age are increased risks of injuries and a decline in athleticism. The Mavs have been fortunate this season in that they haven’t lost any key player to a long-term injury and none of the players have shown a serious decline in athletic ability. However, to reach their ultimate goal, they’ll have to endure 4 tough 7-game series on top of the grueling 82-game regular season. How Jason Kidd’s body will hold up through the playoffs has been one of Rick Carlisle’s and Mavericks fans’ greatest concerns. And if the Mavericks’ bodies can hold up this year, how about in the years to come? How long is this team’s window? You can’t fight Father Time forever. On the bright side, the Maverick’s two most important pieces, Nowitzki and Kidd, have both been relatively durable throughout their long careers and both have styles of play that age well, meaning they’re not getting paid to throw down dunks in traffic.
What else can we glean from this data? Some interesting final assorted analysis:
- The worst 3 teams in close games among the current playoff teams are three young teams, the Bucks, Hawks, and Thunder. We’ll see if this has any effect in the playoffs when games tend to be close.
- The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic, the two favorites to represent the East in the finals, are both decidedly mortal in close games, each being one game under .500.
- The 4 best teams in close games who can be considered contenders are all seasoned teams loaded with vets who have made deep playoff runs: the Lakers, Nuggets, Celtics, and Mavs.
- Of the oldest 8 teams measured with the weighted average age, only the Washington Wizards will fail to make the playoffs. Young prospects with bright futures might get everybody excited, but it looks like it’s the old guys that will get you to the playoffs.
- Three struggling young teams are right where you would expect them to be: The Nets, Warriors, and Timberwolves have combined for only 6 wins in 30 close games, far short of the 50-50 proposition proposed by the luck factor.
- With the largest differential between average age and weighted average age, the OKC Thunder, already one of the league’s youngest teams, plays over 2 years younger, with their oldest player who receives meaningful minutes being 29-year old Nick Collison.
- With a weighted average age of nearly 31-years old, the five Dallas Mavericks on the court at any given time are on average over 4 years older than the five opponents sharing the court (NBA average: 26.8).