The Science of Zion

Posted by Ian Levy on May 1, 2011 under Commentary, Previews | Be the First to Comment

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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.

The first task has been completed. Despite faltering for a few days, the Mavericks were able to regain focus and close out the Trail Blazers on the road in Portland.

In the end, the promise of the Blazers’ versatility fizzled. Only two of the 11 Blazers’ lineups that played more than 5 minutes finished the series with a positive Net Rating. One was The Longs, which never appeared again together after Game 2. The other was the Miller-Roy-Matthews-Wallace-Aldridge configuration. That lineup consistently hurt Dallas, but for some reason only saw 18 minutes of floor time over the course of the entire series.

The Mavericks can now turn their attention to what should be an epic duel with the Los Angeles Lakers. As has been pointed out literally everywhere (even NPR might be in on this one) this is the first playoff meeting between the Lakers and Mavericks since 1988. Two of the decade’s defining players, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, will finally square off when the stakes are the highest.

The Mavericks have tasted playoff success for the first time in years, and confidence will be high after dispatching a solid Trailblazers team in fairly convincing fashion. Still, the Lakers will be favored, as well they should be; L.A. took two out of three from Dallas in the regular season, winning the most recent pair of games by a combined 33 points.

Areas for Concern

At The Point Forward, Zach Lowe highlighted some of the heading into this series. At the top of his list: How does Dallas handle Kobe Bryant? Lowe is right that Kobe creates some problems for the Mavs; the only player in the rotation even remotely equipped to handle Kobe is Shawn Marion, and that matchup is still less than ideal. As Lowe points out, the answer may be finding some minutes for Corey Brewer, a solution which creates another set of problems at the offensive end.

I know this is sacrilege in some circles, but from a Maverick perspective, Kobe should perhaps invoke less fear than Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Going back to 2008, the Lakers are 50-23 in the playoffs, for a win percentage of 0.648. Over that same stretch, Kobe has attempted 25 or more shots in a game 23 times. The Lakers are 14-9 in those games, for a win percentage of 0.608. He shot 44.4% from the field and 34.7% on three-pointers in those games — good but not great numbers. The Lakers are at their best, and Kobe at his most efficient, when the offense is balanced. I would be fine with Kobe in hero-mode, taking 35 shots a game. But if the big men are involved, engaged and energetic on offense, opening the floor for Kobe and the rest of the perimeter players, things could get ugly for the Mavericks.

The value of Tyson Chandler on both ends of the floor as has been discussed in some detail in this space, and suffice it to say that Chandler’s defense and rebounding will be crucial to keeping Gasol, Bynum and Odom from running roughshod in the paint. In the regular season, opposing centers averaged 5.6 personal fouls per 48 minutes against the Lakers, as they tried desperately to stymie Gasol and Bynum. Chandler’s average was just 4.1 against the Lakers, a very promising sign. However, his longest streak of 30+ minute games this season was just five. He will probably need to replicate that in this series for the Mavericks to have a chance.

How Dallas shoots from beyond the arc is also going to play a significant role in determining the outcome of this series. The Mavericks made 36.5% of their three-pointers in the regular season, and shot 38.0% in their six games against the Trail Blazers. In their three games against the Lakers they shot just 32.4%. They made 11 of 18 from the corners, but went 11 of 50 from everywhere else behind the three-point line. They don’t need to hit 15 a game , but when left open, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakavic, Jason Terry and J.J. Barea have to knock down open threes.

Reasons for Optimism

The worst kept secret in the NBA is that the Lakers are vulnerable defensively at the point guard position. The table below shows the individual statistics the Lakers have allowed their opponents, broken down by position.

Lakers' Opponent Production by Position

PositioneFG%FGA/48Pts/48Ast/48PER
PG49.8%17.520.79.217.4
SG44.3%18.419.54.111.4
SF49.2%17.319.93.414.2
PF47.6%16.719.02.815.6
C48.0%14.016.32.715.8

Point guards score more and more efficiently against the Lakers than any other position. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge for the Mavericks.  Like everyone else, the Mavericks’ point guards were very effective against the Lakers in the regular season. Barea and Kidd posted an eFG% of 60.7% in the three regular season matchups. However, they combined for just 18.4 points per game because they averaged only 14 field goal attempts per contest. The Mavericks point guards are not aggressive scorers by nature, but if they can find some aspect of that assertion deep within themselves, they can take advantage of a rather large hole in the Lakers’ defensive front.

Rodrigue Beaubois played two games against the Lakers this season, and struggled mightily — going 3 of 15 from the field with 2 assists and 2 turnovers in just under 30 minutes of play. Recovering from a sprained foot, Beaubois missed all six games against in the first round, but is nearing a return to game action. He may not be 100%, and Rick Carlisle seems pretty confident with his guard rotation as is, so minutes may be scarce at first. Still, if Beaubois is healthy, he has the potential to create serious problems for L.A.; the Lakers simply can’t defend his speed and athleticism on a one-on-one basis.

Finally, if the Mavericks can keep the games close, they’ll always have a chance to steal one at the end with their crunch-time execution. According to 82games.com, Chandler, Marion and Terry all shoot 50.0% or better from the field in clutch situations. Kidd and Nowitzki shoot a modest 45.8% each in the clutch. Dallas played 27 games this season that were decided by 5 points or less, and won 18 of them (a win percentage of 0.667). Dallas has found ways to pull out close games all season, and while they’d prefer not to rely on their closing ability, but it’s not a bad fall-back plan.

Ramblin’ Rose

Posted by Ian Levy on April 25, 2011 under Commentary | 4 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.

After Games 1 and 2, we met two lineups, The Grays and The Longs, and identified the utilization of each as an example of the approach the Mavericks and Blazers were bringing to this series. The part played by each unit changed dramatically over Games 3 and 4, again revealing a lot about the status of each team.

The Longs have essentially disappeared from Portland’s rotation, playing less than a minute together over the past two games. Nate McMillan obviously has some player combinations he likes better. He might want to take a look at these numbers, because despite taking both games in Portland, most of what he’s been trying hasn’t worked very well. The table below shows the five-man units Portland has used for at least three minutes over the past three games.

LineupMinutesPoss. ForPoss. OppPts. ForPts. OppORtg.DRtg.Net
Miller - Matthews - Wallace - Aldridge - Camby53.1791909698105.5108.9-3.4
Fernandez - Roy - Batum - Wallace - Aldridge15.6528273341117.9151.9-34.0
Miller - Matthews - Batum - Wallace - Aldridge19.103233263981.3118.2-36.9
Miller - Roy - Matthews - Wallace - Aldridge11.6322203218145.590.0+55.5
Miller - Matthews - Batum - Aldridge - Camby9.8016172025125.0147.1-22.1
Fernandez - Roy - Matthews - Batum - Aldridge5.2289108125.088.9+36.1
Fernandez - Roy - Batum - Wallace - Camby3.06655550.0100.0-50.0

Over that stretch, only one lineup has consistently hurt the Mavericks. It’s the Andre Miller – Brandon Roy – Wesley Matthews – Gerald Wallace – LaMarcus Aldridge combination, which has outscored the Mavericks by 14 points across 11 minutes. Interestingly enough, this lineup only played 2 minutes and 48 seconds together during the Blazers fourth quarter comeback on Saturday.

The Blazers’ 20-point advantage in that quarter was built mostly by two other lineups. The Rudy Fernandez – Roy – Nicolas Batum – Wallace – Aldridge configuration was +7 over the first 6:28 of the 4th. The Roy – Matthews – Batum – Wallace – Aldridge lineup was +8 over a one-minute, 43-second span towards the end of the quarter. However, those two lineups have played another 18 minutes together across the rest of the series, in which they were outscored by Dallas by 13 points. The Blazers didn’t run away with the fourth quarter because they stumbled into an effective new lineup. Rather, a method they had tried previously began to click. For one quarter, Brandon Roy turned into Jerry West and Jason Terry turned into Darrick Martin, triggering a sudden change in the performance of a familiar lineup.

That the Blazers were able to come away with two wins at home will obscure the fact that they still aren’t playing very well. If we take away Brandon Roy’s magical fourth quarter in Game 4, we find that the Mavericks outscored the Blazers by 13 points over 7 quarters of play. The Blazers are still left with just one lineup that has been successful over a significant stretch in more than one game.

The table bel0w shows the same lineup information for the Mavericks, covering the last three games.

LineupMinutesPoss. ForPoss. OppPoints ForPoints OppORtg.DRtg.Net
Kidd - Stevenson - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler26.134241413797.690.2+7.4
Kidd - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler17.0630323645120.0140.6-20.6
Barea - Terry - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Haywood18.3031314739151.6125.8+25.8
Barea - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Haywood9.7518191814100.073.7+26.3
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Chandler11.0021193119147.6100.0+47.6
Kidd - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Haywood9.0017141913111.892.9+18.9
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Haywood7.551313101276.992.3-15.4
Kidd - Barea - Terry - Nowitzki - Haywood7.201212158125.066.7+58.3
Kidd - Barea - Stojakavic - Nowitzki - Haywood4.37891113137.5144.4-6.9
Kidd - Terry - Stojakavic - Marion - Chandler4.598771187.5157.1-69.6
Barea - Terry - Marion - Nowitzki - Chandler5.2391031133.3110.0-76.7

The Grays (the Jason Kidd – Jason Terry – Shawn Marion – Dirk Nowitzki – Tyson Chandler lineup we identified as a key factor in Game 1) have been ineffective to say the least, being outscored by nine points over a span of a little more than 17 minutes. This is one of the player combinations Rick Carlisle relies on in crunch time, which makes it unsurprising that Dallas has struggled late in games (the Mavericks have been outscored by 22 over the last two fourth quarters).

That ineffectiveness shouldn’t be a huge concern for the Mavericks. Most of their negative differential comes from a roughly five-minute stretch in the fourth quarter of Game 4, when they were outscored by 13 points due to Roy’s hot hand and their own failures to execute on offense. Over that stretch, Roy scored 12 points and assisted on two other baskets, while the Mavericks couldn’t create a single shot attempt for Nowitzki, turned the ball over twice, and attempted five long jumpshots.

Roy’s explosion has changed the series, but that doesn’t mean it’s a permanent course correction. The Mavericks have still been the better team for most of the four games, narrative intrigue be damned. Additionally, his performance could have some unintended side-effects. When Roy was producing less, his role in the Blazers’ offense was defined. Tonight, Nate McMillan will have to decide how much to let what happened in Game 4 change the way the Blazers attack the Mavericks. This could potentially be good news for Dallas; Roy seems unlikely to produce at the same level, but will probably see more minutes and use more possessions. He’s has been a shell of his former self for all but the most recent 15 minutes of this season. He was largely the difference the Blazers were able to even the series, but those 15 minutes are not a large enough sample size to convince me he’s ready to pull that off two more times.

I realize I’m looking at two tough losses with rose-colored glasses; I can’t help it. After two close losses in Portland, everywhere I look I see roses.

Long And In The Gray

Posted by Ian Levy on April 21, 2011 under Commentary | 4 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.

There may not be two teams in the league with as much positional versatility as the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trailblazers. Both have players with unique combinations of size and skill, each capable of filling multiple roles. Individual matchups have been and will continue to be an important factor in the series, but so are the lineups employed by Rick Carlisle and Nate McMillan — the way those unique players are used in concert to achieve specific outcomes.

In a weird twist, neither team has been successful with their starting lineups. The Trail Blazers’ starters have been a -2 when on the floor together, the Mavericks’ have been a -3. For each team, change of pace units have done most of the damage. Two intriguing units played significant roles in Game 1 and disappeared in Game 2. These two lineups seem somewhat representative of the overall direction of each team.

The Jason Kidd – Jason Terry – Shawn Marion – Dirk Nowitzki – Tyson Chandler combination was the third most used lineup by the Mavericks this season, playing just over 187 minutes together. It was also one of the team’s most effective units, posting a Net Rating of +19.03 across the entire season. We’ll call this lineup “The Grays” in reference to their 8 gajillion combined years of experience.

For the Blazers we saw a new five-headed monster emerge in Game 1. The Blazers used the Andre Miller – Nicolas Batum – Gerald Wallace – LaMarcus Aldridge – Marcus Camby configuration for just over seven minutes. Wallace joined Portland for the last 23 games of the season and McMillan only ran that combination out onto the floor for a total of 54 seconds before the playoffs started. We’ll call this lineup “The Longs” in reference to their combined wingspan of 8 gajillion feet.

The Grays

This group destroyed the Blazers in Game 1, outscoring them by 19 points in just over 9 minutes. They posted an Offensive Rating of 170.6 and a Defensive Rating of 50.0, for a ridiculous Net Rating of +120.59. They did most of their damage in a stretch from 5:47 left in the fourth quarter to 0:25 left in the fourth, when they took a 72-66 deficit to an 85-78 lead. This is an extremely small sample size, but they lineup obviously caused problems for the Blazers.

In Game 2, The Grays were not nearly as effective. They played just 6 minutes and 14 seconds together towards the end of the second quarter and were outscored by the Blazers 19-17. Some terrific shooting from Peja Stojakavic kept him on the floor for 27 minutes, and The Grays did not play as a unit at all in the second half.

The Longs

This unit gives the Blazers a huge advantage in terms of length and athleticism. In Game 1, McMillan went to The Longs quickly, inserting Batum at the 8:18 mark of the first quarter, after Wesley Matthews had picked up two quick fouls. They were matched primarily with the Mavericks’ starting lineup, and outscored them 10-4 over a four minute stretch. They were also outscored by the Mavs 5-4 over the last three minutes of the first half. They were never on the floor together in the second half.

In Game 2, The Longs played together for the last minute and 24 seconds of the first half, being outscored by the Mavericks 4-3. They did not play at all together in the second half.

These two lineups were each very successful for a stretch in the first game of the series but saw much less floor time in the second. The Grays saw much less time in Game 2 because Peja Stojakavic was scorching from the outside. The Mavericks rode the hot hand, going away from one of their most common configurations in the process. They departed from what they normally do because something else was working on that particular night. Again, The Grays were one of the Mavericks most frequently used lineups during the regular season, comprised of the five players who led the team in crunch time minutes. We’ll certainly see more of them throughout the rest of the series.

The Longs are a slightly different story. They hardly played together in the regular season but were very effective against the Mavericks. Despite that fact, it seemed that McMillan made a conscious choice to avoid this lineup in Game 2. The Longs are comprised of the Blazers starters, with Batum subbed in for Wesley Matthews at shooting guard. Having a 6’9″ body matched up against any of the Mavericks’ shooting guards theoretically gives them a huge advantage at both ends of the floor, especially when that 6’9″ body is someone like Batum with the length and quickness to deny penetration and challenge jumpers.

During Game Two, Batum was subbed in four times. Each time he entered the game with the rest of the starting lineup on the floor. However, three of the four times he came in, McMillan chose to have him replace Camby instead of Matthews. Camby wasn’t in foul trouble, so one would have to think McMillan was making this choice based on matchups. The Mavericks were on fire from the perimeter and it makes sense add a long, quick defender at the expense of a big, rather than merely swap Batum for Matthews. This led them to a Miller-Matthews-Batum-Wallace-Aldridge combination which wasn’t used at all in Game 1, and played the Mavericks even 11-11 in Game 2.

The changes in Rick Carlisle’s rotation have been made to continue success; he rode The Grays to a big lead in Game 1, and made room for Stojakavic’s shooting in Game 2. Nate McMillan’s adjustments appear to be largely reactive; The Longs are a lineup which could theoretically help corral the Mavericks’ dribble penetration, bother jumpshooters, and create matchup problems on offense as well. They didn’t appear to be the best option to stop what the Mavericks were doing in Game 2, so they literally didn’t appear. The Blazers seem to be looking for answers instead of asking the questions.

The Mavericks have to be happy with where they are. They’re firmly in command of the series right now, not just because they’ve won, but because of how they’ve won. The Blazers reactive substitution pattern is a huge boon for Dallas, allowing them to stay one step ahead in the war of matchups.

The Lion’s Mane

Posted by Ian Levy on March 17, 2011 under Commentary | 4 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.

A major storyline early in the season was the defensive performance of the Dallas Mavericks. Through November they were solidly in the top five in Defensive Rating. Since then, Dallas has slowly regressed to a Defensive Rating of 106.2, which ranks 12th in the league. The Mavs have been able to maintain their winning ways by becoming more efficient offensively and edging out their opponents in close games with terrific clutch performance, but playing up to their potential at the defensive end of the floor will obviously give Dallas the best chance of playoff success.

Earlier this week I got caught up looking at Ed Kupfer’s rolling averages charts and lost a significant chunk of an afternoon. In particular, I was intrigued by the way his graphics illustrated the steady decline in the Mavericks’ Defensive Rating. I set about to see if I could recreate his data and then identify some trends or events which might be contributing to their defensive inconsistency.

The chart below shows my version of the five game rolling averages for the Mavericks’ Defensive Rating. (A rolling average looks at the most recent data points to illustrate a trend. In this case each data point on the graph represents the average of the previous five games.)

Chart #1

The Mavericks’ defense peaked around their 19th game this season, a 93-81 victory on December 3rd against the Utah Jazz. Starting with their 34th game, an 84-81 victory on January 4th against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Mavericks’ Defensive Rating has gone through a dramatic series of peaks and valleys.

There are myriad factors which influenced the Mavericks’ strong defensive showing to open the season, as well as their subsequent roller coaster ride. Today we are going to focus in on just two of those factors. The table below again shows the five game rolling averages for the Mavericks’ Defensive Rating. You’ll notice that I’ve added a marker at the 29th game.

Chart #2

The 29th game which I marked was the last one Caron Butler played before suffering a season-ending knee injury. The contrast between the team’s defense before his injury and after his injury is pretty sharp on the graph. It shows up in the statistics as well.

When Butler suffered his (likely) season-ending injury, the Mavericks had posted a Defensive Rating of 103.6 to that point. Since then, the Mavericks’ Defensive Rating has swelled to 109.8. With Butler out of the lineup, the small forward minutes have been filled by a combination of DeShawn Stevenson, Sasha Pavlovic, Shawn Marion, Peja Stojakavic and most recently, Corey Brewer. Brewer has played limited minutes since joining the team and his defensive prowess hasn’t really materialized in any significant way. Shawn Marion is a solid defender but is slowing with age. The Mavericks are actually allowing more points with Marion on the floor this season then when he’s on the bench. Pavlovic, Stojakavic and Stevenson will never be confused with lockdown defenders. This is not exactly an ideal list of defensive replacement players.

The interesting thing is that despite having a reputation as a strong perimeter defender, Butler hasn’t done much to justify it in recent years. For the first four seasons of his career, Butler averaged an Individual Defensive Rating of 105.0. Of forwards who played at least 10,000 minutes over that stretch, Butler has the 15th best Defensive Rating and the 7th best Defensive Rating among forwards who spend at least some time defending perimeter players. From the 2006-2010 stretch of his career his Individual Defensive Rating grew to a worrisome 109.0, the 28th best mark among forwards with at least 10,000 minutes played.

In keeping with that theme: Butler was not very effective defensively with the Washington Wizards last season, giving up 0.92 points per possession overall, per Synergy Sports Technology. (Ed. note: Butler’s defensive numbers for the part of last season he spent with Dallas aren’t available through Synergy at the moment) However, his defensive numbers to start this season were terrific. Before his injury, Synergy Sports had tracked 237 individual defensive possessions for Caron Butler. Over those 237 he had allowed just 0.78 points per possession, the 42nd best mark in the league this season. The table below shows some of his numbers for each of those individual possession categories.

Possessiont Type% of Total PossessionsPoints per PossessionRankFG% AllowedTO%
Overall - 0.783936.9%13.1%
Isolation18.1%0.601735.5%23.3%
Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler9.3%0.68 - 42.9%27.3%
Post-Up9.3%0.91 - 50.0%13.6%
Pick-and-Roll Man0.4%2.00 - 100.0%0.0%
Spot-Up40.0%0.9211037.5%4.9%
Off Screen13.5%0.66730.8%15.6%
Hand Off5.9%0.43 - 18.2%14.3%

According to 82games, opposing small forwards were posting an eFG% of 46.3% against Butler and a PER of just 10.6 this year. As a team, the Mavericks have allowed opposing small forwards an eFG% of 48.1% and a PER of 13.2. Butler was statistically the team’s best perimeter defender, and the data confirms the observable improvement on that end that was so evident in Butler’s play. When Butler went down, the Mavs didn’t just lose a scorer — they lost a significant defensive weapon.

The second factor I wanted to look at was the impact Tyson Chandler. It didn’t even take the entire preseason for Chandler to win the starting center job from Brendan Haywood and his brand new 42 million dollar contract. Chandler quickly became the team’s interior anchor and was one of the reasons they got off to such a hot start at the defensive end of the floor.

Chandler has continued to have a strong defensive impact, but he’s struggled to stay on the floor at times due to a combination of injuries and foul trouble. The table below combines the five game rolling average for Defensive Rating we looked at above with the five game rolling average for Chandler’s minutes per game. I included games he missed in these calculations, counting them as zero minutes played.

Chart #3

For the most part, a decrease in Chandler’s minutes per game average has corresponded with a spike in the team’s Defensive Rating. When Chandler has been on the floor, the Mavs have posted a Defensive Rating of 104.1, which would rank 7th in the league. When he’s off the floor their Defensive Rating jumps to 107.6, just slightly above the league average. Simply put: Chandler’s presence takes Dallas from being a merely average defensive team to a very good one.

One of the areas in which Chandler has made a significant difference is on the defensive glass. According to 82games, the Mavericks have a DRB% of 73.1% when Chandler is on the floor and just 71.9% when he’s not in the game. His personal DRB% this season is 26.4%, the 15th best mark in the league. Chandler is the first major Mavericks’ contributor in the last 5 years with a DRB% over 25.0%.

For the first third of the season, Dallas was a formidable defensive squad, featuring the impact tandem of Tyson Chandler and Caron Butler controlling the paint and the perimeter. Since then, the team has vacillated between being average and terrible defensively. Butler won’t be returning, but the Mavericks still have hopes that Corey Brewer will be able to provide some of what Butler was giving them to start the year. The Mavericks are a top 10 team in terms of offensive efficiency but seven of the other top 10 offensive teams are potential playoff opponents in the Western Conference. For dreams of a deep playoff run to materialize, the Mavs will have to find a way to keep Tyson Chandler on the floor, slow down dominant perimeter scorers, and once again become a defensive dynamo.

Toxophilite

Posted by Ian Levy on March 10, 2011 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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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.

The Boston Celtics received plenty of attention earlier this season when their team FG% was sitting above 50%. This focus was certainly deserved; in the last 20 years, only 10 teams have finished a season shooting better than 50% from the field. Only two teams have done so in the last decade. Unfortunately, the Celtics’ shooting has fallen off slightly since that point, and now sits below the threshold at 49.3%. That percentage is impressive even it falls short of a nice, round benchmark, but even Boston’s strong shooting shouldn’t overshadow another remarkable shooting performance by the Dallas Mavericks.

The Mavericks are second in the NBA — trailing only the Celtics — with a FG% of 47.6%. That puts Dallas 1.7 percentage points behind Boston. If we look at eFG%, which factors in the extra point scored on a three-pointer, the gap between the two teams closes to just 0.2 percentage points. The thing that separates the two teams (and ultimately puts Dallas in front) is the difficulty of their shots.

Hoopdata calculates a field goal percentage measure called “expected field goal percentage,” or XeFG%. Shots from different locations have different difficulties: the league average FG% on a shot at the rim this season is 64.0%, the average FG% on shots from 16-23ft. is 39.5%, etc. XeFG% uses the league average FG% from each shot location and a team’s own average shot selection to calculate the field goal percentage the team would be expected to shoot. My own work on Expected Scoring at Hickory-High is an extension of this idea.

For example, the Charlotte Bobcats have an eFG% of 47.86% this season. The Minnesota Timberwolves have an eFG% of 48.00%. Only 0.14 of a percent separate the two. However, Charlotte’s XeFG% is 50.8%, two full percentage points higher than Minnesota’s 48.8%. Charlotte’s XeFG% is much higher than Minnesota’s because they take 10% more of their shots at the rim then Minnesota does. Although their eFG% is almost the same, looking at the XeFG% shows us that Charlotte is having a much worse shooting season than Minnesota because they are taking easier shots and should therefore be making more of them.

Hoopdata also expresses this idea of “more or less than they should” by calculating a simple ratio, eFG% divided by XeFG%. Here’s where we return to Dallas. When we look at this Offensive Ratio (eFG%/XeFG%) the Mavericks are leading the league at 1.07, Boston’s ratio is 1.05. Hoopdata has this same statistic available for the previous four seasons and over that stretch I could only find four other teams with an Offensive Ratio of 1.07 or higher. I’ll give you hint: It was the same team each season and they play within a four-hour drive of the Grand Canyon. If you guessed the Portland Trailblazers then you need to look at a map.

The thing I found most interesting is how Dallas has been able to accomplish this elite shooting performance on an very different shot distribution from the Phoenix Suns. The table below shows the percentage of each team’s shots which came from each location.

TeamSeason% At the Rim% <10ft.% 10-15ft.% 16-23ft.% 3PTXeFG%eFG%Offensive Ratio
Phoenix2006-200731.3%8.8%8.0%23.3%28.7%50.7%55.15%1.09
Phoenix2007-200831.0%10.0%8.5%24.2%26.0%50.3%55.13%1.10
Phoenix2008-200936.7%13.8%8.3%19.4%21.6%51.0%54.51%1.07
Phoenix2009-201031.7%11.2%8.6%22.4%26.1%50.4%54.57%1.08
Dallas2010-201125.4%13.0%10.9%23.6%27.0%49.4%52.59%1.07

The Phoenix Suns made this list each season by making a ton of the shots everyone expects to make: three-pointers and layups. Dallas has made this list with an incredible shooting performance on mid-range jumpers. 47.5% of the Mavericks’ shots this season are coming from the space between 3ft. and 23ft. away from the basket. The closest Phoenix came to that was in 2007-2008 when 42.7% of their shots were neither at the rim or from behind the three-point line.

When you think of the Mavericks excelling in the mid-range game, Dirk Nowitzki quickly comes to mind. Although he’s an exceptional mid-range shooter, he doesn’t deserve all the credit for the team’s shooting performance this season.

  • Rodrigue Beaubois, Ian Mahinmi, Peja Stojakavic, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion are all shooting better than the league average on shots from 3-9ft.
  • Dirk Nowitzki, J.J. Barea, Jason Terry, Ian Mahinmi, Rodrigue Beaubois and Tyson Chandler are all shooting better than the league average on shots from 10-15ft.
  • Dirk Nowitzki, Peja Stojakavic, DeShawn Stevenson, Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry, Dominique Jones and Ian Mahinmi are all shooting better than the league average on shots from 16-23ft. Sasha Pavlovic and Caron Butler were also above the league average before they left the Mavericks due to ineptitude and injury respectively.

Altogether the Mavericks attempt 39.1 shots per game from that 3-23ft. space. 28.5, or 72.9% of them are coming from players who are above average shooters from that location. The quantity of players who are shooting well is striking but so is the variety. The list of names above includes players who fill significant minutes at all five positions. The ability to have nearly anyone on the floor knock down a mid-range jumper gives the Mavericks a tremendous amount of offensive flexibility.

I usually make an effort to abstain from unsupportable hyperbole, but I can’t help myself. This may be one of the best jump-shooting teams in history. 17 of the top 40 players in NBA history in terms of three-point field goals made are still active. Jason Williams, Baron Davis and Jamal Crawford all make the list, which takes some of the shine off this discussion. Still, 4 of those 17 who are still active play for the Dallas Mavericks, including three of the top 10. As I mentioned Hoopdata, only has shot location numbers available for the last few seasons so it’s tough to make a statistical argument on the mid-range abilities of teams predating that cut-off. Regardless, the numbers tell me the Mavericks have shooters everywhere and my eyes tell me those shots are going in like never before.