The free agency period is pretty much over. Scratch that. The free agency period is almost over. The Dallas Mavericks announced on Tuesday the signings of Fab Melo, D.J. Kennedy and Richard McConnell to expand the current roster to 18 players. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein was the first to report in the Mavs’ interest in Melo, the 22nd pick in the 2012 NBA draft.
With 15 players under contract but 18 on the roster, it’s important to remember that they can take up to 20 to camp. They don’t have to get down to 15 until just before the season starts. Most teams like to take 15-20 players into camp to allow veteran players a little easier of a path through the rigors of camp. An added sense of competition for the end of the roster players isn’t a bad thing, either.
There may be a few more names that pop up in the next few weeks, but the next big date is Sept. 30 (media day). That means the machine is getting ready to roll again for another new season. While there is still a little time left, I wanted to take a unique look at free agency. There are nine names on the list of remaining free agents that have direct ties to the Mavs. It’s interesting to see how they joined the Mavs and what has happened to them since they left the team.
While explaining his decision to participate in Chris Paul’s charity game in his home town of Winston-Salem, N.C., earlier this month, Wizards free agent forward Josh Howard joked that “people still want to see me play.” But being around that thrilling, high-flying environment convinced Howard that he should organize his own event in Dallas, the city he still considers home since being traded to the Wizards in the deal that shipped Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson to the Mavericks at the trade deadline in 2010.
With the lockout wiping out the first two weeks of the regular season and more cancellations expected to follow after failed negotiations last week, Howard is taking advantage of the opening to host a charity game on Nov. 12. Players expected to participate include Howard’s Wizards teammates John Wall, Andray Blatche and Nick Young; his former Mavericks teammates Jason Terry, Marquis Daniels, DeSagana Diop and Quinton Ross; Portland Trail Blazers forward and Dallas native LaMarcus Aldridge; New Orleans Hornets guard Jarrett Jack; Mavericks guard Corey Brewer; Minnesota forward Anthony Randolph; Toronto forward Reggie Evans; Sacramento Kings draft pick Isaiah Thomas; and former NBA player Damon Jones.
Marquis Daniels, ‘Gana Diop, Quinton Ross, and Damon Jones are semi-headlining a charity game hosted by Josh Howard in Dallas. Ain’t life grand?
This is a fantastic highlight mix of last season, complete with very high quality video. Questionable music choice, though…but then again, you’re asking this guy.
Rick Carlisle on the use of advanced stats in basketball (via Steve Aschburner of NBA.com): “Statistical analysis has gone two or three generations and now it’s at an extremely high level. So more teams are using that for everything, from performance of combinations to individual performances, to probability of injuries and everything else you can possibily imagine. It’s unbelievable. At a certain point, it’s making sure you don’t have too much information. In most cases, what you believe in your gut is 80 percent right. There might be another 20 percent where the data will make you say, ‘Hmm, I didn’t realize that.’ Whatever that might be. Sometimes it’s a subtle thing, sometimes it’s pretty severe.”
The Mavs could up keeping Steve Novak and Brian Cardinal. Or they could end up keeping neither. News! Either way, I think it’s safe to say that Dee Brown and Adam Haluska are dust in the wind.
Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer: “[DeSagana] Diop has been a punchline the past year. On performance, he deserved it, but let me tell you something: If there’s a better guy in that locker room — and this is the best locker room I’ve covered in 21 NBA seasons — I don’t know who it would be. You don’t think Gana knows people ridicule him? If he became bitter and surly and introverted, who could blame him? But even when he never got a uniform, when he wasn’t activated for the playoff series to give fouls on Dwight Howard, he was gracious and classy.”
Ed Welland of Hoops Analyst on Trevor Booker: “Any team looking for a player in round two who might provide something in the way of immediate help should take a long look at Booker. He isn’t much of a scorer, but he has good defensive numbers and his role in Clemson’s full court press suggests his defensive abilities extend to the perimeter…Not great, but he does show a decent skill set. The scoring is low in both efficiency and frequency, but it isn’t terrible. The rebounding is adequate and the defense is strong. He’s probably about where Patterson and Aminu are as a 3-point shooter in that he’s shown some promise, but with limited attempts we really don’t know how good he is. I’ll just say that like the ability to defend the perimeter, getting his outside shot to fall will be a key for Booker.”
An anonymous scout, via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News, on draft prospect Brian Zoubek: “He’s a nonstop worker who can rebound really well and sets a good, hard screen. He needs to work a lot on his offensive game, but he’s a really good offensive rebounder.”
NBA teams are valued based on their strength. That strength is evaluated through “power” rankings, through their brute force, and through their ability to execute a game plan without compromise. In the same way that we value unwavering opinion (after all, anything less makes an individual a weak flip-flopper), we praise teams that impose their will on others rather than adapting to circumstance. What the Trailblazers did pre-Camby was impressive, sure, but that storyline was a mere footnote on the NBA landscape while the powerful wills (or temporary lack thereof) of the Lakers and the Cavs stole headlines.
Power matters. It really does. Talent drives the game, the league, and the teams. But even more important is knowing the best ways to optimize the talent that you have, and that involves an incredible amount of flexibility. After all, why hammer a square peg into a round hole with a big rock when you can just swap for a round, well-fitting peg?
That responsibility starts with the players, and having an willingness to try new things. But the primary burden falls on the shoulders of the coaches. It’s the responsibility of any coaching staff to do more than execute a plan of attack; that plan should be adjusted, tinkered with, and even radically altered as the situation dictates. It’s not a concession to switch up match-ups or alter one’s rotation, but a sign of sound decision-making. Survival on the NBA is predicated on the ability to adapt and evolve, and luckily for the Mavs, that’s Rick Carlisle’s specialty.
Case in point: the Mavs use of Dirk Nowitzki on the offensive end against the Celtics on Saturday. In spite of their drop-off this season, Boston is still tied for tops in the league in defensive efficiency. That’s no accident, and even though Kevin Garnett is nowhere near his MVP production levels, he’s still a huge part of that. So while the Mavs-Celtics match-up is interesting for a variety of reasons, chief among them is likely the battle between a world-class offensive and defensive player at the same position. Take a look at this clips and watch how well Garnett contests Dirk in isolation. He prevents Nowitzki from gaining position, plays his favorite sides for spins, crowds him, and gets a hand up.
Of course, Garnett has help. The reason the Celtics’ boast such an impressive defense is because of their ability to rotate and contest. The system strengthens the inferior individual defenders, hiding their weaknesses and exploiting their strengths defensively. On this play, we see Rasheed Wallace (Dirk’s primary defender), Glen Davis, and Paul Pierce all play a hand in defending Nowitzki. ‘Sheed does most of the work as he traps Dirk on the wing, but Davis stepping up to protect the basket and Pierce getting a hand in Dirk’s face on the jumper cannot be ignored. Those are two areas of the floor from which Dirk is incredibly comfortable, and yet he has no room to operate against Wallace and gets a tough look against Pierce.
Then there’s the two-man game. This example comes from late in the fourth quarter, so perhaps it betrays my point a bit. But the Celtics excel at taking away what Nowitzki does best. Every pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop opportunity for Dirk was smothered, he was defended well in the high post and the low post, and it was clear that Boston knew exactly where the ball was going when Dirk set up shop.
The Mavs still worked the ball around to Nowitzki, but the important thing is that the Celtics could anticipate what Dirk was going to do when he caught it. Garnett and Wallace knew to anticipate the spins, and to crowd him. The Mavs best player was still making some tough shots on occasion, but for the most part he was having the most effective parts of his game (or really, his most effective areas on the floor) taken away from him by a terrific defense.
So the Mavs had a few options. They could:
Keep doing what they were doing, and rely on Dirk’s offensive prowess to trump KG’s defensive talents.
Work the ball through other players, and rely on the offense of Caron Butler and Jason Terry to win the day.
Keep going through Dirk, but alter the approach.
Rick Carlisle and Nowitzki opted for a combination of the latter, though Butler hardly carried his weight and Terry was good but well short of supernatural. The key to getting Dirk to 28 points on just 18 shots (with 57.8% shooting) was to take him out of his comfort zones intentionally by switching up the Mavs’ usual sets. That way, Dirk sees the change coming through prescribed play calls, but the Celtics were still operating under the assumption that the Mavs’ offensive scheme would proceed as usual.
Needless to say, it didn’t. Dirk was mindful of openings to score in different ways (he was much quicker on the trigger to fire on an offensive rebound, for example), and the sets were drawn up using a bit of misdirection.
Getting it right.
The scouting report on Dirk Nowitzki will tell you that he always goes to his left. It was part of his basketball development and helped to keep defenders off-balance early in his career. Now it’s a known fact, and you know Dirk is switching things up when he not only drives to his right, but finishes without pulling up for a short bank shot (as he’s been ought to do this year) or going reverse. He still goes to the left hand to finish at the front of the cup, but I think we can live with that.
A subtle variation of an old theme.
When the Mavs run the two-man game, it’s typically slow and methodical. Jason Terry works around a Dirk screen, is patient to see if Dirk is more open than he is, and if nothing is there on first or second glance, he explodes toward the hoop or an open spot on the floor for a jumper. In this case, J.J. Barea and Dirk run the two-man game in a completely different capacity (apparently by design). When Barea draws the attention of both defenders, he knows exactly where Dirk will be and dishes it to him with a ball counter. We’ve seen Dirk and JET do this on occasion, but in this case it seems far more deliberate.
The weak side is the strong side.
Here, Dirk takes advantage of a two-man game setup that doesn’t involve him. Terry and Eddie Najera go to work on the right side, while Dirk works to get open on the left. When Rasheed Wallace is forced to rotate to cover the cutting Najera, Nowitzki is left wide open from three. It was just Dirk’s 33rd made three this season.
Sharing is caring.
The easiest way to capitalize on an overly aggressive defense is to either put them in a position to commit fouls frequently (A.K.A. driving to the basket) or to exploit help defenders with smart passing. That’s what Nowitzki does here, as he finds an open Kidd on the perimeter after spinning into a Rasheed Wallace/Marquis Daniels double.
Sleight of hand.
On these sequences, the Mavs run the Dirk-Terry two-man game as a decoy. The play is not only obvious but so effective that teams have to pay attention to it, giving Terry the perfect opportunity to find open teammates on the perimeter. The Celtics were aggressive in pursuing the pick man at almost every instance; Haywood was smothered on each roll to the basket, Sheed stepped up to trail Najera, and Dirk was almost always covered. That left Terry with enough room and enough time to find the weakness in the Celtics’ rotation and exploit it. These possessions didn’t end with points, but they’re still well-conceived.
Inside, outside, USA.
Wait, you mean having a back-to-the-basket threat alongside Dirk yields tangible benefits? You don’t say. The opportunity to block a Brendan Haywood turnaround jumper is a bit too enticing for KG, which leaves a driving lane open for Nowitzki. Perkins does a nice job of contesting Dirk at the rim, but Nowitzki finishes by creating space with the off-arm. Slightly illegal, maybe, but highly effective.
Do everything you normally do, only different.
Dirk is so effective at running the pick-and-pop, that’s it’s a bit shocking when he changes things up and rolls to the basket. The real credit here goes to Barea though, who runs this particular sequence to perfection.
So predictable it’s unpredictable.
Mavs fans should be painfully familiar with this set. Whenever the Mavs want to set up Dirk along the baseline, they’ll run him from one side of the lane to the other utilizing a pick from either Haywood/Dampier or one of the wings. That allows the entry pass to go into Nowitzki easily in most cases, which is important considering that Dirk doesn’t really have the backside to protect the feed. This has really been a post-2007 development; Stephen Jackson and co. were so good at stealing and doubling the feed into Dirk that the Mavs need a counter in their playbook. So they run him off of a baseline screen, and the pass usually goes into Nowitzki without incident.Garnett knows this. But in this particular case, Dirk fakes his usual route and then makes a quick cut to the top of the key.
It might be hard to find solace in something like this after back-to-back losses, but these things matter. Knowing that your team’s star and head coach can adjust to serious defensive pressure is about as important as it gets. The Mavs may not face a power forward or team defense on-par with KG/Boston at all in the post-season, but if they can adjust to allow Dirk to get his against that type of opponent, what’s going to stop them from doing the same against L.A. or Denver?
I’m a bit lost as to the criteria used, though. If it’s the out-and-out best players (talent and production-wise) to play for the Mavs in the 2000s, Jason Kidd seems slighted. If it’s based on production in a Maverick uniform this decade, Jason Terry may not be getting the respect he deserves. And if it’s based on…well, whatever metric puts Nick Van Exel (who make no mistake is one of my personal favorites in team history) ahead of Jason Kidd, Devin Harris, and Erick Dampier, then that explains that. This just seems like an exercise where you need to take talent, production, and Maverick tenure all into account, and with that in mind the order seems a bit scrambled.
It’s not an easy list to compile. We can all agree that Dirk stands at the top of the list, with Steve Nash a perfectly acceptable second fiddle. But where do you go from there? Michael Finley is the best scorer of the bunch, Jason Terry kept the Mavs afloat sans Nash and has a Finals appearance under his belt, and Jason Kidd is probably the best of the remaining crop despite his short tenure. After that, you’ve got some combination of Josh Howard, Devin Harris, and Erick Dampier, three Mavs that were absolutely instrumental to the team’s success during the most successful stretch this decade, and each contributing in unique ways that only sometimes show up on the stat sheet (scoring balance, change-of-pace potential, interior defense). Only then do I get to Jerry Stackhouse and Nick Van Exel, but with DeSagana Diop, Antawn Jamison, and MARQUIS DANIELS getting some consideration.
Sound off in the comments, because I’m curious to hear everyone’s take on this. What’s the best way to go about ranking the decade’s Mavs? And given those criteria, who’veyagot?
I completely missed the tail end of SLAM Online’s Top 50 player rankings, but SLAM’s commenters did a great job of pointing out a travesty: Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony were ranked higher than Dirk Nowitzki. In most cases, I understand the tendency to put Dirk on the back end of the top ten. I do. And I have lots of love for both Durant and Anthony. But Durant is almost completely one-dimensional at this point, and Anthony only marginally more versatile. And when it comes to flat-out scoring, I’m not even sure that either is more skilled than Dirk. Nowitzki carries a 50-win team on his shoulders as the team’s best player, and Melo and Durant can at best only claim one of those qualifiers.
Kevin Pelton chimes in with a reminder on preseason statistics, in light of yesterday’s post: [Preseason statistics] mean more than you might think, but are limited by the small sample size, making shooting percentages potentially misleading.” You can read Pelton’s previous studies on preseason performance here.
A handful of ESPN’s experts think either Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire could end up in Dallas next summer. Then again, Orlando and San Antonio are listed as other possible destinations, despite the fact that both teams are neck deep in salary after adding significant salary this summer.
Tim Kawakami of the Silicon Valley Mercury News on his blog, Talking Points: “…no, I don’t see the Mavericks as a serious destination [for Stephen Jackson] quite yet…Monta Ellis in Dallas? That I can see, if Dallas would send some short-term deals and if the Warriors would be happy taking a major talent hit just to dump Monta’s money. For all the energy the Warriors have placed in telling us that Monta is their centerpiece and all the sweat issued to dispute my reports that he’s unhappy… well, I could very much see Don Nelson working hard to trade Ellis. Nelson has Stephen Curry now. The new toy is always more fun than the old, ornery one.”
I’ve had a feeling this day would come, but something deep inside refused to fully acknowledge it. But it turns out that all of the reported interest and all of their past history couldn’t bring the Mavs and Marquis Daniels back together. Yahoo!’s Marc Spears is reporting that ‘Quis will be signing with the Celtics, of all teams, for the full biannual exception (or possibly via sign-and-trade). Daniels was certainly THE MISSING PIECE that stood between the Mavs and a championship, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he garners all kinds of accolades in single-handedly leading Boston to a title.
I didn’t plan on starting my weekend with misery, but free agency will break your heart.
In a few weeks, I’d hope that this photo is nothing but a Mavericks fan wearing a jersey of a Mavericks player. ‘Quis doesn’t quite solve all of our problems (though he’s certainly better than Antoine Wright), but if the Mavs could ink him to a reasonable deal, I wouldn’t mind using up a chunk of the MLE after some of our other options are exhausted. Then again, I’m a sucker for ‘Quis.
Some absolutely horrible news came out of Houston yesterday: Yao Ming’s problematic foot may cost him the season, and possibly even more than that. The Rox were already looking at a year largely without Tracy McGrady, and Ron Artest is an unrestricted free agent. I won’t even try to dig around in Artest’s head for his intentions, but keeping Ron-Ron in Houston just got a bit tricky.
On a slightly brighter note (and one that has nothing to do with free agency), the Rockets took over operations for the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Not only will there be three D-League squads in Texas (Austin, Frisco, RGV), but all three will be controlled by their respective big league counterparts. We’ve never been the most progressive state in the world, but in the realm of basketball development, Texas is right there on the forefront.
The NY Daily News is reporting that the Knicks plan to meet up with Jason Kidd to discuss his free agency tomorrow morning. In the back of your mind, note that this is the Daily News. That’s all that really needs to be said on that subject. Still, I don’t doubt the Knicks having some very real interest in Kidd. Ideally (for New York, at least), Kidd could help lure some bigger names to the Big Apple, while running D’Antoni’s offense better than Chris Duhon ever could. The question remains if Kidd wants to put a chance for a championship on hold, despite what could be similar offers coming from contending teams. Kidd could make sense on either the Lakers or the Cavs, and if either team offered him the full midlevel (though L.A.’s tax situation makes the extra salary quite a burden), would Kidd really turn them down to suit up in New York? Of course, let’s not forget the Mavs in all of this; Mark Cuban has made it crystal clear that the Mavs don’t just want Kidd back, they need him back. It’s tough to get a read on exactly how Kidd viewed his most recent stop in Dallas. But supposing there weren’t any ill wills, the Mavs should have the inside track to re-signing Kidd by holding up a bigger check.
So far, the trade market has dictated a bit of a rich-getting-richer, poor-getting-poorer atmosphere. The Spurs get Richard Jefferson while the Bucks save money. The Magic get Vince Carter while the Nets save money and get younger. While I wouldn’t say the Mavs are as rich as Orlando or San Antonio, they can certainly benefit from a similar mindset. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have spoken frequently about taking advantage of the opportunities that arise, and the climate seems ripe for the capitalizing.
Retaining Brandon Bass should be, and likely will be, high on the Mavs’ list of priorities. As the Morning News points out, the Mavs can offer Bass a long-term, competitive contract without actually using up their midlevel exception. That would allow Nelson to secure frontcourt depth while also taking aim for a player like Rasheed Wallace or Marcin Gortat. Considering the generally poor cap situation going into 2010, I’d hate to see Bass walk out the door for no compensation whatsoever.