This time around, the Mavs look to be the wounded tigers. Shawn Marion is expected to miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury, Erick Dampier will miss the game while recovering from his undisclosed illness, and Josh Howard still has no timetable for return. Quinton Ross and Drew Gooden are projected to start in place of Marion and Damp, but their upgrade to the starting lineup leaves the Mavs’ bench looking awfully thin.
But hey, who needs those guys? The Mavs should replace their production and then some with the grand Maverick introduction of the living legend himself, Tim Thomas. Fit those championship rings, because our savior is here!
“There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, that can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.”
-Ella Wheeler Wilcox
In watching, writing about, and loving the Dallas Mavericks, I’m frequently treated to the incredible basketball stylings of Dirk Nowitzki. And every once in awhile, he does something so incredible, so breathtaking, that it’s almost indescribable. Unbelievable.
Tonight was one such night. He was truly unbelievable. That word bounces around in my head, back and forth consuming just about everything else. Unbelievable. There is now just a pile of jelly where a perfectly fine brain used to be, an empty blackness where there used to be coherent thought. This guy blows minds, and if you happened to be watching the Mavs-Jazz game amidst a flurry of competitive games and photo finishes elsewhere in the league, you were treated to something special.
I was ready to write the other recap. The one that mentioned how the Mavs were undefeated on the road, but had yet to win at home. The one that mentioned how Dirk and Jason Terry were mysteriously pedestrian with their jumpers. The one that talked about how even though the Mavs did an admirable job trying to defend Deron Williams, he was simply too hot from midrange and the Mavs’ own offense just couldn’t keep pace. That recap was already being pieced together in my mind as the Mavs were down 16 points with 8:17 left on the clock. Maybe it wasn’t right, and maybe it wasn’t fair, but with the way Dallas had been performing on offense, I hardly think you could blame me.
Then, Dirk Nowitzki decided he was going to change everything. He cured cancer, he invented the time machine, he solved world hunger, and he even stopped by to drop 29 fourth quarter points directly onto the heads of the Utah Jazz. That’s good enough to snatch away the franchise record for points in a quarter from Mark Aguirre, and just short of the league record of 33. Dirk’s takeover couldn’t have come at a better time, as 25 of his points came during a keycrucial an impossible 36-9 run that stole away a 16-point lead from the Jazz. 25 of that 36 came courtesy of Mr. Nowitzki himself, who went 7 for 8 from the field, 1 of 2 from the 3-point line, and made all 14 of his free throws in an absolutely dominant fourth quarter performance.
It’s a good thing Dirk showed up when he did, because it took such a fantastic offensive performance to counterbalance the rest of the team’s offensive misery. The rest of the Mavs shot just 34.3% from the field, and a frigid 30.2% if you take away Jason Kidd’s 6 of 11 night. That is beyond horrible, and even worse when you consider how good these Mavs are capable of being on offense. That’s supposed to be the end of the floor where Dallas wins games. The old heroes and the new kids are supposed to flow together into an amorphous, flexible, and all-consuming blob of a basketball team. Despite their occasional flashes of brilliance, this season’s Mavs couldn’t be farther from, and the sooner Josh Howard and Jason Terry’s jumper can get back to the team, the better.
That paragraph then begs the question: If the offense didn’t win the game, what did? Well, Dirk Nowitzki did. But, if Dirk only went NOVA for the better part of one quarter, how were the Mavs even within range? Well, that you can credit to the defense that seems to be the trademark of this year’s Mavs.
This marks three games in a row that an opposing team’s offense was completely discombobulated, as Dallas held Utah to three quarters of 20 points or less and 41.5% shooting from the field. Both teams played sloppy basketball, a fact which worked to the Mavs favor. When the shots weren’t falling the Mavs’ way, they threw gum into the game’s works in almost every way possible. As a result, Carlos Boozer was way off for most of the night courtesy of Erick Dampier, Mehmet Okur was hounded by Dirk, and virtually every other Jazz player not named Deron Williams was a non-factor. There were contributors here and there, but early Dallas turnovers inflated the offensive numbers of a good chunk of Utah’s roster. When things really got bogged down in the half-court, the Jazz turned into a two trick pony: Deron Williams went to work with jumpers, or he tried to find Mehmet Okur for a bailout. The former is the central reason why the Jazz were able to brake free in the third quarter, but one man rarely an offense makes…unless that one man is suiting up for the home team. But neither option was of much use during the fourth quarter implosion, when Dirk Nowitzki and a train powered by pure momentum steam rolled the captive Jazz as they lay tied helplessly to the tracks. The Jazz may have lent a hand in tying themselves up, but it was primarily the diabolical schemings of the dastardly Mavs, who played the part of the mustached villains to ruin what could have been a nice outing for Utah.
Just for fun, here’s a breakdown of Utah’s final fourteen possessions, only four of which ended with points of any kind:
At the rim
3 (2 blocked)
2 steals, 1 other TO
The day that solid defense and consistent offense coincide for the Mavs will be a beautiful one, but until then I’m perfectly content to watch this squad gut out ugly win after ugly win.
Although the Mavs’ fourth quarter offense was comprised almost entirely by Dirk Nowitzki field goals and free throws, the Mavs could not have won this game without Jason Kidd (19 points, 5-8 from three, 5 rebounds, 6 assists). He was pretty horrible in the first quarter (3 turnovers in that frame alone, with 7 for the game), but made up for it by striking from long range for some huge buckets. No basket in this game was bigger than Kidd’s dagger three with 50 seconds remaining, stretching the lead from 4 to 7.
Erick Dampier didn’t near a double-double with just 4 points, but his 12 rebounds and 6 blocks speak volumes about what Damp was able to offer aside from scoring. For what it’s worth, his two buckets did come when the Mavs were desperate for points in the first, so even those were bigger than they seem.
Quinton Ross left the game in the first half with a bruised lower back. It doesn’t seem serious, but no official word from the team as of yet.
The Mavs’ point totals by quarter: 17, 18, 17, 44. Yeah.
Credit to Rick Carlisle and the Mavs on the floor down the stretch for going to Dirk time and time again when it mattered most. Nowitzki has a powerful will, and he clearly had the need to win this game or at least bring the Mavs close. When he gets that look in his eyes and his tongue starts wagging, it’s usually best to get him the ball, spot up on the 3-point line, and stay out of the way.
Matt Carroll played, but he did not play well.
Want a visual to understand just how dismal the Mavs’ offense was in the first three quarters? Dirk and JET combined for three airballs.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to…who am I even kidding? 40 points (12-22 FG, 15-16 FT), 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals 5 blocks, 0 turnovers. You know his name, you know the snarl, and you’ll probably name your first-born son after him.
If three games are any indication (and in all honesty, they’re not), our Mavs have grown up. We’re almost a week into the still-in-diapers 2009-’10 season, but the Mavs have taken a completely different approach to winning. Rather than hoping Dirk and JET can out-shoot opponents in half-court sets, the Mavs are 2-1 through their first three games solely because of their ability to do the unthinkable: get to the free throw line frequently and play aggressive defense.
The rest of the offense…well, it needs to catch up. But there’s time. Time afforded by a team that’s playing some terrific defense right now. This, cats and kittens, is what’s called the conventional approach. I’ve read about it once or twice in books, but from my primitive understanding it usually involves “centers,” power forwards that aren’t Dirk Nowitzki, and repetitive uses of the phrase “defense wins championships.”It’s widely rumored (but unconfirmed) that this approach was invented by L. Ron Hubbard.
Regardless of its possible genesis in fairy tales and the like, this method is supposedly effective for winning lots and lots of important basketball games. That’s something we can all appreciate, so I’m glad the Mavs decided to give this different approach a whirl. As a result, Dallas has been able to build upon its weaknesses. This is going far beyond the hypothetical, from the standard issue preseason company lines to regular season actualization. We know the Mavs have been putting in hours working on their defense, but is it possible that this year’s team will consistently walk the walk?
Again, it’s a tiny, tiny sample size, but it looks like they just might. Take a look at their offensive numbers compared to last season:
The defensive improvements make a bit of sense. D was clearly the focus of training camp, and the Mavs added Shawn Marion and Quinton Ross with this exact outcome in mind. But the fact that the Mavs have been able to perform so well defensively without Josh Howard is awfully impressive.
Also, consider this: the delicious defensive numbers you see displayed in the table are sandbagged by the Mavs’ miserable defensive showing against the Wizards. When Gilbert Arenas, Randy Foye, Andray Blatche, and Brandan Haywood went hog-wild to rain all over the Mavs’ opening night festivities. That night showed very much the other side of the coin, but in multiple respects: The Mavs are still capable of playing poorly on defense, and the Mavs have been so spectacular since then that their overall defensive numbers are still brilliant.
Especially notable is the incredible bump in opponents’ turnover percentage, an area which has historically been a problem for the Mavs. Dallas’ defense, even in its strongest incarnations, has never been a pressure defense. They’ve played relatively conservatively, tried to force tough shots, and secured the rebound. This season, they’ve been stealing at a higher rate, drawing offensive fouls, and forcing more turnovers than before. Credit the personnel, Coach Carlisle, or whoever you’d like, but two solid defensive outings (and wins!) have me psyched about this team’s defensive potential.
The offense really should give you no reason to worry. It’s understandable that when two of the Mavs’ leading shot-takers, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, are shooting a combined 38.8%, your offense is going to struggle. Thus far, the Mavs’ poor shooting has been a virtual non-factor, as a newfound commitment to attacking the basket has led to more shot attempts in the paint than ever before, and a sudden bump in free throw attempts for one of the best free throw shooting teams in the league.
Here’s a look at the Mavs’ shot distribution this season:
Now, compare those numbers with the distribution for last season:
Those subtle changes may not seem substantial on face, but the shift in shot attempts from the perimeter (where the Mavs have been horrible, percentage-wise) to the paint has been huge both in terms of direct scoring and FTAs. The Mavs have increased their shot attempts from within 10 feet by 6%. That’s about as radical a change in approach as you could ask of a team with the same coach and essentially the same core. More and more Maverick possessions are ending up with trips to the free throw line and shots in the paint, and though that’s not always as fulfilling as a silky jumper finding net, it’s putting points on the board while the Mavs’ opponents struggle to.
I’m not trying to tell you that these numbers are stable or valid, just that they are. As of right now, these are the 2009-2010 Dallas Mavericks. They’re undergoing a beautiful metamorphosis into something ugly yet refined, and though the shooting could certainly be better, one can only hope that these Mavs are here to stay.
Mike Fisher takes a minute to recognize the under-the-radar contributions of Erick Dampier: “In the loss to Washington, Damp was 2-of-2 with six rebounds and eight points. He was quite capable in the Lakers game, matching Andrew Bynum with his 3-of-5 shooting, 10 rebounds and eight points. And against the Clippers, while Kaman was going nuts, Damp was energetically challenging every shot (notice Rick Carlisle never pulled Damp off the assignment) and was still putting up numbers of his own: 12 points, 6-of-10 shooting, 10 rebounds, three blocks. Add it up: Three games, and Damp is a double-double kinda guy, has five blocks, is shooting 65 percent, and merits being on the floor even as his opposite number is having a career night.”
Dr. Arnovitz has a cool video analysis demonstrating the Clippers’ inability to score against the Mavs. If all goes according to plan, a similar breakdown feature could become a staple of the game coverage here as well.
This is a part of the multi-part season preview, Once More, With Feeling. To read an explanation, click here. To read Act I (the Network preview), click here. To read Act II (the Four Factors), click here. To read Act III (the Coach), click here.
Defining and maintaining a rotation is a bit of a delicate process for some folks, and a simple measure of brute strength for others; it’s either a continued exercise in tinkering and ego-stroking or a desperate attempt to jam fifteen square pegs into one giant round hole. As I discussed in the last segment, Rick Carlisle usually opts for the finesse approach.
But on top of the difficulties that come with appeasing the egos of professional athletes, Rick Carlisle also has the distinct privilege of fitting many multi-positional, versatile players into a series of coherent lineups. What is Josh Howard’s true position? Or Shawn Marion’s? Or Drew Gooden’s?
It doesn’t matter. The designation doesn’t matter so much as their contextual place within lineups and within the rotation. With a team that boasts such an atypical power forward and superstar, we shouldn’t expect each player to fall into neat little roles based on the expectations of their position. The reasons why Dirk Nowitzki is so brilliant are exactly because he’s not what you’d expect from a power forward. So when I say that Josh Howard will have no problem filling in as the starting shooting guard, I want you to grasp my full meaning. I don’t think that Josh Howard will be able to fulfill the ball handling and distributing responsibilities normally assigned to a 2 guard, but in my mind that doesn’t mean he can’t start alongside Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, and either Drew Gooden or Erick Dampier.
Photo via ESPN.com.
The Maverick offense is fairly unique in that even though it’s come along way since the plodding isolations of the Avery Johnson era, wing players have rarely had a role of the playmaking part of the offense. Aside from Jason Terry’s two man game with Dirk, the 2 is a position of scoring through cuts and jumpshots. Wings still create shots in one-on-one situations or the additional drive and kick, but the majority offense goes through the expert management of Jason Kidd or the high post savvy of Dirk Nowitzki.
With that in mind, why would Josh Howard and Shawn Marion be unable to coexist peacefully on the perimeter? Each is able to both shoot and slash, but in ways complementary of the other; Josh would rather shoot than slash, and Shawn would rather slash than shoot. But both are (at least) passable from three point range and fine finishers around the basket, which offers the Mavs a plethora of options in the half-court offense. Rare are the teams with two capable perimeter defenders, meaning in most cases either Howard or Marion will have free rein to do what they do best.
The other big question for the Mavs comes on the inside. Carlisle has opted to go with Dampier and Gooden as “co-starters,” with matchups determining the starter at center. That, more than anything, is reflective of the underlying theme of this year’s Mavs: flexibility. Gooden and Damp not only afford the Mavs a versatile approach to the inside game, but their unique contracts (Gooden’s unguaranteed contract and Dampier’s virtually expiring contract) will ultimately dictate the Mavs’ roster changes over the next year.
But while they’re both in Dallas, Gooden and Dampier will give the Mavs two very different looks in the middle. We know what to expect from Dampier: rebounding, on-ball defense in the post, the occasional dunk. But Gooden is more or less a wild card. We know that he’s a more gifted offensive player than Damp, but how will Drew fare on the defensive end? Determining when Gooden is the appropriate matchup will be Rick Carlisle’s first big test of the season, and assessing his offensive contributions relative to his expected defensive limitations. I’m not convinced that Gooden will give up all that much at center, but only time will tell how he will function within the Mavs’ scheme.
Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images.
You have to love the depth that comes with the Mavs’ new additions. Shawn Marion will fill many of the minutes as the Mavs’ back-up power forward, particularly in the rumored small ball lineup featuring the top five players in the rotation (Dirk, Kidd, JET, Howard, Marion). Quinton Ross also gives the Mavs a defensive stopper on the wing, either to neutralize particular perimeter threats or possibly to fill in as a starter for the injured Howard. Kris Humphries is poised to build on his solid preseason by playing as either big, and James Singleton/Tim Thomas fill the role of utility big based on specific need. I’d be remiss not to mention the excellent J.J. Barea, who proved against the Spurs that he’s capable of being a big-time difference maker. Rodrigue Beaubois will get some burn as the third point guard and occasionally as an off-guard, but he won’t get enough minutes to appease the Roddy-hungry MFFLs. I’m already salivating while we wait for Beaubois to actualize his potential, but for now we should all take deep breaths and try to be comfortable with the idea of limited minutes and some DNP-CDs for Rodrigue. All of his hopefully translates for more opportunities to thrive for the big names in Dallas. It’s so much easier to succeed in the NBA when surrounded by a decent supporting cast, and Dirk, Kidd, JET, and Josh have quite the ensemble.
I’m interested to see just how reliant the 2009-’10 Mavs are on the small ball approach. Putting Dirk at center certainly has its perks, but he does give up a bit defensively. We won’t really know for sure until Josh Howard returns from injury, but if last year was any indication (where Brandon Bass was a part of the Mavs’ most effective lineups), it could be Dallas’ trump card.
This is a part of the multi-part season preview, Once More, With Feeling. To read an explanation, click here. To read Act I (the Network preview), click here.
Dean Oliver, in his book Basketball on Paper, isolated four factors that determine NBA success:
That’s it. An entire game of nuance and complexities boiled down to four bullet points.
Of course it’s never really that simple; behind these four headings lies each team’s offensive and defensive numbers boiled into a few metrics. They’re a step beyond your run-of-the-mill counting statistics, but still a bit of a reach from your more advanced measures. But they give tremendous insight into the particular successes of a basketball team, and they’re well worth your attention.
Let’s break it down, now.
Original photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images.
You’ll find that Oliver’s four factors are determined on an offense vs. defense basis. So when I say shooting, what I (and Oliver) actually mean is the comparative shooting success between a team and their opponent.
In terms of their own shooting, the Mavs are certainly above average, but not quite elite (.504 effective field goal percentage or eFG%, 11th league-wide, .004 better than league average). The culprits of a normally potent’s offense decline into near-mediocrity? Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard. Dirk and Josh are good scorers and efficient scorers, but their reliance on two-point jump shots is impossible to ignore when calculating effective field goal percentage, a measure that weighs three pointers appropriately with their additional value. When your primary offensive weapons are shooting jumpers, their eFG just won’t measure up to the league’s premier interior or 3-point shooting outfits.
Keeping the Mavs afloat were the dunkers, Erick Dampier, James Singleton, and Ryan Hollins, and the three point shooters, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd.
In theory, new additions Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden would seem to fit right into that bunch. But their affect on the team’s eFG may be much more difficult to quantify. Shawn Marion was a dynamo during his time in Phoenix, with his eFG topping at .561. But much has happened since Marion’s run-and-gun days, and though Rick Carlisle and the Mavs are vowing to push the pace more than ever this year, it’s a line we’ve heard many times in the recent past. The good news is that last year’s much less effective Marion still managed a .491 mark, which matches J.J. Barea and bests Josh Howard.
Gooden, on the other hand, has posted a much lower career eFG (.474 compared to Marion’s .511), but may be poised for a bump. The only time in Gooden’s career where he has played alongside an above average playmaker was his time in Cleveland. The passing prowess of LeBron James brought Gooden’s eFG all the way up to .511. Jason Kidd shares James’ penchant for assists, and his helpful passes (along with some skilled teammates to relieve defensive pressure) will likely give Gooden more open looks around the basket than he’s ever had before. Hopefully that would at least shoot him in Damp’s direction in terms of eFG, but I’d settle for something right around last year’s team average of .504.
In terms of shooting defense, the Mavs were better than you might think (.493 eFGA, 10th, .007 better than league average). We’ll find the true source of the Mavs’ defensive woes in other areas, but in terms of forcing opponents into difficult shots, the Mavs weren’t too shabby. Though the now departed Antoine Wright’s eFG allowed last season was actually better than Marion’s, the Mavs hope that familiarity with the system as well as his teammates will help return Marion’s production to its previous highs. That isn’t a misguided notion; though familiarity and comfort level matter a great deal on the offensive end, they’re an absolute necessity for operating effectively in a defensive system. Marion needs to know where to rotate and when, and that’s a tough thing to do when the only constant in your life is Marcus Banks. Shawn Marion and Josh Howard are the keys defensively, and if the Mavs are going to transform into a top-notch defensive squad, the improvement will have to come on the wings. If not, there will be nothing to offset Jason Kidd’s lead feet or the Mavs’ lack of help-side shot blocking, and we’re looking at yet another year of average-ish defense.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.
The Mavs are not a good offensive rebounding team (.266 offensive rebounding percentage or ORB%, 16th, .001 worse than the league average). It’s an ugly truth that comes along with playing a perimeter-oriented power forward, talented though he may be; If Dirk is fading away at the elbow, he’s not going to be in position to hit the boards.
That leaves the primary offensive rebounding duties to fall on the shoulders of the Mavs’ centers, and for the most part, they’ve stepped up to the task. Erick Dampier, Brandon Bass, and Ryan Hollins were among the team’s leaders in ORB% last season, and though they didn’t perform at All-NBA standards (actually, Dampier did nearly match Dwight Howard in this ORB%), each performed admirably when acting as a one-man boarding crew.
It’s no big. Offensive rebounds are tremendously important and help create possessions out of thin air, but it’s hardly a requirement for team success. Though the Blazers and Lakers were near the top of the league last year in offensive rebounding, six of the top fifteen teams didn’t even make the playoffs. The Magic and Spurs were worst and next to worst in the league, respectively. I don’t feel too bad about the Mavs’ mediocre ranking in that department for exactly this reason, and though we should probably expect more of the same in 2009-10, it’s hardly a reason to panic.
That’s only because the Mavs are a competent defensive rebounding team (.746 defensive rebounding percentage or DRB%, 8th, .013 better than average). Dirk more than makes up for his poor offensive rebounding numbers with his work on the defensive glass, and he’s helped by Erick Dampier and the best rebounding point guard in the game, Jason Kidd. This is another area where the additions of Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden will pay dividends, and if each rebounds at a rate equal to their career averages, they would immediately be two of the top three defensive rebounders on the team. And, if the preseason is any indication, Kris Humphries should be a contributor on the glass as well, supposing he can carve the minutes from Dampier, Gooden, and Nowitzki’s hands.
Even if the Mavs don’t improve in rebounding by rank, they should at the very least improve in terms of rebounding percentage.
Photo by the AP.
In the days before Jason Kidd’s return to Dallas, the Mavs were a low assist, low turnover franchise. It got them all the way to the NBA Finals, and created a team ethic after the departure of Steve Nash. Typically, with the return of a true point guard comes the return of the high turnover numbers. Yet somehow, the Mavs have maintained their status as elite ball protectors despite Kidd’s sometimes reckless (yet effective!) passing style (.121 turnover percentage, 3rd, .016 better than league average).
That’s largely because Dirk, JET, and Josh Howard are all unusually careful with the ball. When your team’s (qualified) leaders in usage rate are also the most careful, that translates to some pretty impressive team numbers. Kidd can throw lobs and full-court bounce passes all he wants because at the end of the day, the Mavs’ big possession stars are handle the rock with care.
Now, if you’re an endless optimist, this might be the part where you turn away, cover your ears and eyes, and sing “LA-LA-LA-LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.” Even though the Mavs low turnover numbers are worthy of your awe, their opponent’s almost equally low turnover rates are at the very least worthy of an exasperated sigh (.123, 25th, .010 worse than the league average). The Mavs are not very good at creating opportunities by forcing turnovers, and their lack of speed on the perimeter has brought on-ball pressure to a grinding halt. So much emphasis is put on staying in front of a man rather than trying to exploit him, and though that might be a necessity on a team that lacks a lockdown defender on the outside, it also results in a painfully low amount of opponent’s turnovers.
Though the addition of Shawn Marion (and, to a lesser extent, Quinton Ross) would theoretically improve upon this weakness, I’m not quite so optimistic. I do think that Marion will find success in Dallas, but it’s impossible to argue against the fact that he’s lost a step. And as Shawn gets older and older, his utility as a defender will certainly dwindle. I still think he’s a capable defender in many ways, but Marion has less athleticism to compensate for gambles, leaving in a position to play more “honest” defense than ever. If less aggressive perimeter defense translates to less forced turnovers, then Marion will likely fall in line with the more defensively conservative Mavs.
Photo by the AP.
Dirk shoots jumpers. JET shoots jumpers. Josh Howard shoots jumpers. Jason Kidd, Tim Thomas, and Matt Carroll all shoot jumpers. Even Marion and Gooden dabble. That’s almost an entire offense predicated on successfully making jump shots, and while it’s not exactly conventional, it is successful.
That doesn’t mean we should expect many free throw attempts.
The Mavs are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the league in terms of percentage, but most fans probably wouldn’t know that because of just how rarely the Mavs go to the line (.224 free throw attempts per field goal or FTA/FG, 22nd, .012 worse than league average). That’s not likely to change in the Dirk Nowitzki era, barring the acquisition of a big-time offensively skilled center. And I’m pretty sure MFFLs stopped holding out hope for that years ago.
The TrueHoop Network banded together like a rag tag group of unexpected heroes to conquer the most sizable of foes: a season preview of both considerable scope and depth. Having blog representation for every team grants the project some tremendous perspective. So Act I of Once More, With Feeling will feature my contribution of the Mavs’ official season preview:
The 2009-10 Dallas Mavericks
Crystal Ball The consensus win total prediction of the TrueHoop Network bloggers … and the best hopes of The Two Man Game.
Yes We Can! The sun is out. The seas have parted. The basketball gods are shining upon us!
Team changes are often thought to exist on a continuum. On one end, “rebuilding” teams seek financial flexibility and the acquisition of young, productive assets. On the other, quality squads amass veteran talent, no matter the cost, in pursuit of a title. Defying all logic, the Mavs have simultaneously moved in both directions, an off-season strategy that bears the best of both worlds.
Dallas still has a lot to prove before we place them in the top tier, but the Mavs’ moves this summer have them planted firmly among the second group of would-be contenders. Headlining those moves was the acquisition of Shawn Marion, another offensive weapon for Jason Kidd to work with and a decorated perimeter defender. Though Marion’s odometer and price tag have understandably made some wary, it’s hard to see how adding Shawn to an already successful roster doesn’t work out for Dallas in the short-term. Historically, Marion has worked best with other scorers to play off of, and with skilled point guards capable of finding him at his favorite spots on the floor. Dallas certainly has both, though only time will tell if Marion’s down year in 2008-2009 was an aberration or indicative of real decline. In addition to Marion, Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas, and Quinton Ross will bolster the Maverick reserves, each bringing varying levels of talent, reliability, and veteran know-how.
In spite of all of that spending, the Mavs find themselves with financial flexibility in spades. Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden in particular provide the Mavericks with unusually valuable trade chips, as each can provide a potential trade partner with unique financial benefits. Given the window-shopping going on in anticipation of 2010 free agency and the current economic climate, that’s powerful. And while the Mavs are very flexible financially, they’re perhaps even more flexible on hardwood. By adding various players capable of playing multiple positions, the Mavs can offer a variety of looks and lineups to either befuddle or adjust to opponents. The desired result is a more explosive offense and more versatile defense, though the Mavs might be one more move away from fully actualizing their potential on either front.
And of course, the Mavs’ biggest guns are those returning from last year’s squad. Dirk Nowitzki is still an All-World talent, and his unique skill set will be supplemented by the better-than-you-think Jason Kidd, reigning Sixth Man Jason Terry, and a hopefully healthy Josh Howard. While that core may not measure up to the true championship contenders, it’s still stacked with enough talent to make the Mavs a dangerous element in the West.
All-a-Twitter A 140-character insight into the soul of the team.
“Samuri Jack is back on cartoon network gotta watch” – Shawn Marion (@matrix31), who incidentally discovered the perfect metaphor for his career arc. The eponymous Samurai Jack is unwillingly thrust into the future via wormhole, and his longing for the comforts of simpler times echoes Marion’s own pining for his days in Phoenix. Though both battle an ambiguous, seemingly unconquerable adversary (be it incompatible offensive systems or the demon Aku), their true enemy is time itself. Just as Jack adjusted to a futuristic dystopia, so must Marion to the limitations of an aging athlete.
On the Record Single best quote concerning the team during the last 12 months.
“Everybody was in attack mode after we got stops…We didn’t have to grind it all out all the time.”
–Dirk Nowitzki, following the game 3 playoff win over the Spurs
Last season’s Mavs suffered from an easily diagnosed, but difficult to cure ailment: the defense just couldn’t keep up with the offense. A lack of defensive stability left the 2008-2009 Mavs looking like an elite team one minute and a merely average one the next. That made the Mavs both mortal and dangerous, a combination that bore both a win over the Spurs and a loss to the Nuggets in the 2009 Playoffs.
The 2008-09 Almanac Some key stats from last season.
Despite the flaws of a system predicated on shooting jumpers, Dallas still boasted a top-notch offense handicapped merely by their inability to wreak havoc defensively. Shawn Marion and Quinton Ross were added for this reason, and, along with a healthier Josh Howard, they’ll ship up the sloppy perimeter. As for the free throws…well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Play Down a single point with 9.2 seconds to play in a must-win game. What’s the play?
Jason Terry collects the inbound pass at the 3-point line on the right side of the floor. Dirk sets a high screen, which opens up myriad options. Terry could have an open shot, or room enough to drive to the basket. Dirk will likely have the space to operate after drifting to the elbow. Just in case JET and Dirk are swarmed, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, and Shawn Marion lie in wait. That’s hardly ever the case, though; Terry and Nowitzki make beautiful music together in the two-man game, and their harmonizing versatility begs for comparisons to Pet Sounds. They simply move together in step and in time, creating an idyllic sequence with an impressive, undeniable finished product.
The People’s Choice The fan favorite the crowd will be chanting for to see some action.
Mavs fans will be chanting for rookie point guard Rodrigue Beaubois…as soon as they can conjure up an appropriate French-themed nickname for the young Guadaloupean. Beaubois has three pretty significant assets working in his favor: he’s a young first round draft pick, he’s a point guard with some flash, and his lack of exposure makes him a figure of intrigue.
If You’re Watching the Bottom Line, You’re Watching This The single biggest spreadsheet issue hanging over the team.
Erick Dampier’s contract has cast a dark cloud over the organization for quite some time, but that cursed agreement could reap some serious benefits this season. Damp is technically under contract for the 2010-2011 season, but some creative salary structuring makes Dampier a living, breathing, eight figure expiring contract (next season’s salary is not guaranteed). But wait! There’s more! Beneath the hard, inflexible candy exterior of the aforementioned expiring contract lies a hidden treat: Erick Dampier can be traded for equivalent salary value late into the 2010 off-season, providing this trade chip with an unusually long and beneficial shelf life. The timing and returns are yet to be determined but Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have a wonderful toy to fiddle with.
Jeff Clark of CelticsBlog has taken it upon himself, every year for the past century, to assemble a giant crew of bloggers for the singular purpose of previewing each and every team for the upcoming season. Here’s my contribution on the Mavs, and rest assured: this is just a taste of the previewing to come, so stick around.
DALLAS MAVERICKS Last Year’s Record: 50-32 Key Losses: Brandon Bass, Antoine Wright, Ryan Hollins, Gerald Green, Devean George, Jerry Stackhouse Key Additions: Shawn Marion, Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas, Quinton Ross, Kris Humphries, Rodrigue Beaubois, Nathan Jawai, Jake Voskuhl
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
The Mavs made significant strides this off-season by turning a lot of nothing into something. Jerry Stackhouse barely laced up in 2008-2009, and yet a money-saving provision in his contract made him valuable enough to net Shawn Marion via trade. They added Quinton Ross to fill the void of the departed Antoine Wright. Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas were picked up for pennies on the dollar, and Kris Humphries may hold unexpected value after being considered a throw-in in the Marion deal. That’s quite a catch of players, even if it doesn’t quite heal the burns Otis Smith was kind enough to leave with the Marcin Gortat ordeal.
It’s comforting to know that the powers that be (Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, Rick Carlisle) are willing to really go for it when it comes to improving the team. Between the courting of Gortat, the acquisition of Marion, and the trio of signings that brought Gooden, Thomas, and Ross, the Mavs’ brass clearly has an eye on the prize and the Mavs’ shortcomings in the cross-hairs. Whether or not those moves are enough is still very much ‘To Be Determined,’ but I’m optimistic. What can I say, I’m a sucker for the hustle and bustle.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Overall offense. What more would you expect when you toss one of the greatest distributors the league has ever seen, one of the most potent shooters on the planet, and a handful of high-production/low-turnover players into a blender? Mmm…that’s one offensively efficient smoothie.
Roster flexibility. The Mavs are blessed with all kinds of options. Against bigger teams with more traditional post threats, the Mavs can use a big lineup of Kidd-Howard-Marion-Dirk-Damp. When in need of more offense, they can sub out Damp for Gooden, or play Terry at the 2 and shift Dirk to the 5. If they’re looking for all-out defense, Carlisle could theoretically trot out Kidd-Ross-Howard-Marion-Damp. And all of those lineups don’t even mention point guards J.J. Barea and Rodrigue Beaubois, big man Kris Humphries, or resident gunner/headcase Tim Thomas. Most of the Mavericks can swing multiple positions, and that gives Rick Carlisle nothing but options.
Defensive rebounding. You may not think it, but the Mavs have always been a pretty strong team on the defensive boards. Dirk is surprisingly good in that area, as are Erick Dampier and Drew Gooden. Jason Kidd is primo when it comes to rebounding point guards, and adding Shawn Marion to that bunch can only help.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Quickness on the perimeter. This is where the Mavs usually get burned. Chris Paul, Tony Parker, and pretty much all other point guards capable of breaking the sound barrier tend to give the Mavs fits. Jason Kidd’s lateral movement just isn’t what it used to be, and unfortunately Jason Terry lacks the defensive acumen to pick up the slack. The great hope is that some combination of Josh Howard and Shawn Marion can be used in a Trevor Ariza-ish role, where speed is countered with length and athleticism. It could work, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
A lack of “true” centers. Erick Dampier is the only true center on the roster, and he may not even start or finish most games for the Mavs. If Dampier were to be injured or if the Mavs opt to cash-in on Dampier’s virtually expiring contract with a trade, the Mavs would be without a big man to counter the few existing centers left. Others consider this to be a weakness much more than I do, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t sleep easier knowing there was another big body on the roster in place of say, Shawne Williams. And no, Jake Voskuhl doesn’t really count.
Age. The Mavs are bordering on geriatric. Rodrigue Beaubois is essentially the team’s one great, young hope, but the rest of the rotation is either in their prime or beyond. It starts to show with the team’s quickness, and the Mavs’ — shall we say — experience could certainly play a part in recovery from injury and durability.
4. What are the goals for this team?
The playoffs are an assumption for a team that has yet to miss the post-season (or fall short of 50 wins) this decade, so the goal is to have some measure of success come April. I’d say a reasonable goal for the Mavs would be the Western Conference Finals, a destination well within their reach, but one that would require triumph over some stacked competition.
Another goal (albeit one that’s a bit more difficult to gauge) jotted down on the Mavs’ white board is defensive improvement. Some of last season’s defensive performances were inexcusable, but with the off-season additions and a renewed commitment to the defensive end, the Mavs seem as focused as ever on improving the “finer” end of the basketball court.
5. Will Shawn Marion be able to play effectively alongside Josh Howard?
This is another argument based on the somewhat arbitrary positional designations, but one that seems to be getting a lot of buzz in Mavs-land. Howard and Marion are, at their core, small forwards. I would agree with that. But both players are more than capable of manning multiple positions, meaning the capital letters next to their name and number in the program are a bit arbitrary. The real question is: do Shawn Marion’s talents create too many redundancies with Josh Howard’s, and leave too many flaws exposed? I have a hard time believing that to be the case.
Howard and Marion are both solid 3-point shooters and slashers. They’re both capable defenders and rebounders. And position aside, what part of Howard and Marion’s do-it-all games means they can’t play well with others? Marion’s success depends more on his place within the hierarchy of the team and less with the space he occupies in the program.
Just minutes into the Mavs’ 2009-2010 season, we already have our first curveball.
Actually, make that three curveballs.
The starting center? Not the anointed Drew Gooden, which makes sense considering Dwight Howard is about as true as centers come. Damp may be slow of foot, but in theory he can body up Dwight a la Kendrick Perkins.
The starting shooting guard? Not the injured Josh Howard or even the projected J.J. Barea, but garbage time all-star Matt Carroll.
The starting small forward? Not the newly-acquired Shawn Marion, who’s sidelined with a minor calf injury, but hometown hero Quinton Ross.
This could be par for the course as the Mavs try to get healthy for the real deal, so keep your pencils and lineup cards handy.
Henry Abbott has the beginnings of something absolutely sweet over at TrueHoop: a multi-post meeting of the minds with Mavs’ stat wizard Wayne Winston. Here’s an interesting excerpt on the 2006 Mavs-Spurs series and former assistant coach Del Harris: “…I have an infinite number of stories about lineups and how it can help you. The best example is about the Spurs/Mavericks series. Del Harris came to me before Game 2 (of the 2006 Spurs vs. Mavericks series). I love him to death, he’s a wonderful person. Boy, he’s a genius. When he was working with the Mavericks, he’d always ask me questions. He always knew the right question to ask. The numbers, by themselves, mean nothing. In the regular season, Adrian Griffin was terrible against the Spurs. They had a terrible offensive rating, which means they couldn’t score when he was in. So Devin Harris had a great rating against the Spurs, and Tony Parker had a lousy rating in those games. The coaches sort of knew that Devin Harris could handle Tony Parker, but this gave them a metric to prove that. So they started Devin Harris in Game 2 and they won by 20. Then we can do head-to-head — when one guy is on the court against another guy. When Marquis Daniels was on the court against Manu Ginobili, the Mavericks lost by a point a minute. So in Game 7, they didn’t play Daniels. Del Harris told me “we don’t know why this happens, but since you tell me Marquis Daniels is getting creamed, we didn’t play him.”
It’s tough to play an entire decade at the same position as Kevin Garnett. Dirk has a ringing in his ears but none on his fingers, and that’s really what’s setting apart two of the more statistically impressive players of the 2000s.
Kevin McHale was at Mavs’ training camp. No, he’s wasn’t looking to resume his coaching career. And no, he wasn’t looking to resume his playing career, either. He was just doing a solid to ol’ pal Rick Carlisle, dispensing some free knowledge on the elusive championship mentality.