The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 93, Portland Trailblazers 82

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 26, 2011 under Recaps | 6 Comments to Read

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

  • Let this game be known henceforth as the “Oh, the Mavs have Tyson Chandler” Game. TC has been a crucial part of this team all season, and his heralded work on the defensive only constitutes part of his success. This was the full Chandler experience, something unfelt and unseen in the first four games of this series due to foul trouble, a lack of emphasis on establishing Chandler as an offensive option, and TC’s own offensive complacency. Rick Carlisle and the Mavs coaching staff clearly identified that problem and sought to correct it, as Dallas consciously made an effort to get the ball to Chandler early and often. From there, Chandler built on his touches with one of the finest offensive rebounding performances I’ve ever seen, and the most prolific in Maverick playoff history. He was single-handedly responsible for Dallas’ monstrous 41.7 offensive rebounding rate, and demonstrated a complete mastery of the tap-out; every board that Chandler couldn’t claim outright was tipped, pushed, or swatted in the direction of a teammate. On Monday night he was able to secure the board or redirect it to a teammate 13 times in an 83-possession game, which sounds impossible but apparently isn’t. Just insanely effective board work from Chandler on top of great scoring (14 points on four shots) and fantastic post defense.
  • About that defense: Chandler and Brendan Haywood both did a tremendous job of limiting LaMarcus Aldridge in the post, marking the third game in a row that the tandem was able to hold Aldridge to under 43 percent shooting from the field. Aldridge’s point totals have dropped in each game of the series so far: from 27 to 24 to 20 to 18 to most recently, just 12. I wouldn’t expect Aldridge’s scoring production to get any lower than his Game 5 total, but the Mavs’ defensive improvement in that matchup has been remarkable, particularly when considering just how prolific Aldridge was in the first two games of this series and against Dallas in the regular season. Halting Aldridge isn’t always enough, but it’s a valuable foundation for building up the team defense on the whole.
  • Aside from Andre Miller’s mind-boggling drives to the rim and Gerald Wallace’s uncontested opportunities in transition, the Blazers really didn’t have much offensive success at all. Aldridge was, as noted above, limited by terrific defense. Brandon Roy wasn’t given the same free rein to drive and kick that he was in Game 4. Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Rudy Fernandez had their opportunities limited against both the Mavs’ oppressive zone and swarming man-to-man configurations. There was little rhythm to anything Portland did on the offensive end, and Dallas refused to bail them out with purposeless fouls and free trips to the free throw line. 98.8 points per 100 possessions is a fantastic defensive mark, and the Mavs rightfully earned it with their effort and execution. This is the kind of performance that renews faith — not only in the fact that Dallas can win another game in this series and advance to the second round, but that they’re capable of competing beyond the ending of this series.
  • Jason Kidd scored four points, but as is usually the case, it didn’t matter. His 14 assists and seven rebounds more than made up for any perceived scoring deficit, and made those three-point-heavy outings to start the series seem like a thing of the past. I’m sure the Mavs are pleased that the offense need not rely so heavily on Kidd for scoring; team-wide scoring balance is just more fun, and having so many players producing efficiently gives Dallas much greater operational latitude. Plus, while those scoring outbursts from Kidd were quite helpful in the Mavs’ early-series cause, Kidd also had a tendency to chase shots. Even veterans are vulnerable to heat checks, and Kidd was attempting two or three rushed attempts a game in an attempt to hold on to whatever jumpshooting magic had enchanted him. Those heat checks are gone — as are most of Kidd’s shots — because the Maverick offense has returned to a more natural state, and is functioning as efficiently as ever.
  • Dirk Nowitzki didn’t allow Portland to double team him. He was incredibly decisive, and on the catch, almost immediately committed to a full-on drive towards the rim or a pull up jumper. There’s a certain elegance to Nowitzki’s slow-motion game; the way he measures up defenders, ball fakes into open space, spins, and counters is an artful dance. Yet when Nowitzki takes this more direct, aggressive approach, he sacrifices a bit of the artfulness in his game in order to maximize production. It’s a shame, but a necessary shame; Dallas needs wins and they need Nowitzki to be highly effective, and attacking the defense before it has a chance to double is a terrific way to achieve both ends.
  • I’m still shocked at how little of an impact the size of the Blazer guards has had on the series overall. Those matchups have been problematic for moments, but they’re clearly not go-to options; as much as Miller, Roy, Matthews, and Batum would love to pick on J.J. Barea in the post, Portland just hasn’t gone to that strategy with any frequency. Part of the reason is that Jason Terry has done a fantastic job of fronting, contesting the entry pass, and even bothering shots in the post. He’s been a passable post defender, which is all Dallas really needs him to be; with JET removed as a defensive liability down low and Beaubois still having yet to play a game in this series, Barea is the only clear matchup disadvantage in post-up guard play. Throw in the time that Barea spends guarding Rudy Fernandez (who doesn’t have the frame nor the proficiency to operate from the block), and it’s a bit more difficult for the Blazer guards to post up the Mavs than many — including myself — anticipated.
  • I still don’t understand why the Blazers have been so willing to switch and muddle their matchups. Dallas — particularly due to Jason Kidd’s patience — works diligently to exploit mismatches, and Dirk Nowitzki’s versatility makes those efforts especially worthwhile. Those switches don’t appear to be by design, but it’s certainly curious that they happen so frequently.
  • A really smart, effective game from JET. His three-point stroke was a bit errant (1-of-5 from that range), but he scored 20 points on 18 shots, made smart passes, found open space, and played defense. This wasn’t Terry as Fourth Quarter Hero, but simply Terry doing exactly what his team need him to do in an efficient manner. Jumpers from the short corner don’t make the highlight reel, but you have to appreciate these kinds of performances from JET.
  • Dallas didn’t solve their turnover problems, but they did eliminate Portland’s marginal (a word used as literally as possible) advantage. The offense “improved” by virtue of the defense; the Blazers and Mavs posted identical 14.5 turnover rates, negating any disadvantage that Dallas’ giveaways once held.
  • J.J. Barea had one of his better games of the series, despite scoring just four points on 2-of-6 shooting and picking up a single assist and a turnover to match. It’s just been that kind of series for Barea.
  • Much ado has already been made of a hard screen that Brian Cardinal set on Patty Mills in the closing moments of the game, with the verdict already set in stone. It’s a non-issue, honestly. Cardinal appears to have gotten in a bit of a cheap shot, sure, but Mills was also guilty of that same zeal in his full-court press. Plus, as is usually the case with the biggest hits on screens, the problem is largely one of communication; Mills wasn’t hit so much as blindsided, and the fact that Cardinal put a little more into it than was necessary is really secondary to the fact that no one told Mills he was about to get creamed. Cardinal’s pick was hardly out of line in the grand scheme of things, even though that fact matters little; the Blazers were already frustrated, and it’s understandable that they (and their fans) are looking for a rallying cry after a loss like this one. Now they have it. Remember the hard pick that no one bothered to tell Patty Mills about! Never forget the injustice of a halfcourt screen!

They Smell Like the Future: Patty Mills

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 12, 2009 under Commentary | 6 Comments to Read

Photo by AP Photo/Dino Vournas.

St. Mary’s Sophomore
6′0”, 175 lbs. (Combine measurements)
20 years old
Point guard
Projection: 2nd round (will likely go back to school)
Combine interview
Interview from  workout in Golden State

Patrick/Patty/Pat Mills is the dark side of Tony Parker.  He’s an incarnation of the little demon on TP’s shoulder telling him to jack up ill-advised jumpers, or to execute out-of-control drives.  Essentially, he’s Tony as a rookie with delusions of jumpshooting grandeur.  All the skills are present for Mills to be a wonderful scoring point guard, but without the expert hand of a Gregg Popovich and the steady support of a Tim Duncan on his side, no one can say whether Mills is fated to follow Parker on the path to stardom or drift into irrelevancy.

Unless Mills gets a guarantee from a team late in the first round, odds are he’ll be back at St. Mary’s next season.  That should be a positive move for Mills’ career.  Patty still has plenty to prove on an individual level before he’s ready to start on the path to success in the big leagues.  He needs to develop his playmaking skills, work on running the offense in the half-court game, and bring his shot attempts down (particularly the contested threes).  Mills is a fine shooter and should be excellent in the pull-up game as a pro, but considering he has some of the quickest feet in college basketball, he should really be getting to the rim more.  Having a shot that can space the floor is an important trait for a lead guard, but Mills needs to use his quickness to both create easy baskets for himself and draw in the defense to relieve his teammates of tight defense.  That is certainly within Mills’ power, but thus far exercising the kind of restraint that could make him an excellent point guard hasn’t been Mills’ strong suit. 

There’s nothing wrong with scoring from the point guard position. Tony Parker is the perfect evidence that having a scoring point can still be part of a championship formula.  But if Patty Mills is going to emulate Parker’s success, he needs to understand what makes TP such an effective player.  If any player that monopolizes the ball is going to reach success on a team level, they need to be either an efficient distributor, an efficient scorer, or optimally, both.  Parker is able to score at a very efficient rate because he uses his speed to augment his ability to finish at the basket, and that skill forces entire defenses to take notice of his movements.  The assists come as a result of his scoring.  If Mills remains inclined to stick to his pull-up game and overly reliant on the long ball, he’ll be much more Aaron Brooks than Tony Parker.  In the context of these playoffs, that’s not too bad.  But as far as long-term prospects as a NBA point guard, that certainly qualifies as a disappointment.  It’s up to Mills to put all the pieces together, because for the moment, he’s very much an incomplete player.

Pro-Level Projections:

I’ve asked Jon Nichols of to use his Box Score Prediction System (BSPS) to project career numbers for Mills.  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 Mills’ two-year career at St. Mary’s.  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.)

Those are definitely some interesting points of comparison.  Mavs fans should be quite familiar with what Jason Terry brings to the table, and there are definitely similarities between Mills and Terry.  I doubt that Mills can ever become quite the shooter that JET is today, but both are very quick scoring guards with sweet shooting strokes from midrange and deep, and neither is particularly adept at finishing around the rim or being a true point guard.  Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson are interesting comparisons, but I fear that Mills’ height renders them invalid.  Johnson and Crawford are both built to be off-guards, while Mills is coming in at 6’0” flat.  That’s going to make everything a bit more difficult as a pro, and to expect Mills to match those two (Johnson in particular) in production seems a bit misguided.

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.