Fierce Invalids From Hot Climates

Posted by Ian Levy on April 15, 2011 under Commentary | 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.

This is my eleventh contribution to The Two Man Game, and the most difficult to construct. The challenge of recapping a basketball team’s season without knowing the ending is a significant challenge. How do you tell a story without knowing its conclusion? The simplest technique would be to explain how the Mavericks arrived at this point. The truth is I’m not entirely sure.

Over the past two days I’ve started and re-started this post trying and re-trying to find a theme to capture the structure of this season for the Mavs. Looking for said theme may be where my problems started. Have you ever flipped away from a TV show to avoid the commercials, and come back to that channel to find that you’ve missed two bewilderingly crucial minutes? All of a sudden you’re lost. You know all the characters, the setting remains the same, and yet you’re completely confused by the events unfolding. That’s how I feel about this year’s Mavericks; most of the elements are familiar, but the inciting moment of their season’s plot must have been revealed while I was flipping channels.

The only other team I write about on a consistent basis is the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers have been as schizophrenic as any team in the league, but have vacillated between bouts of inspiring dominance and soul-crushing decrepitude. The Mavericks have not seen fluctuations in performance quite like the Pacers, so much as a steady stream of shapeshifting. I wouldn’t even characterize it as metamorphosis. There have been no linear changes. Like The Master of Disguise, they have been assuming identities and casting them aside just as quickly. I look away for two minutes and come back to find a completely different team.

There were the 19-8 Mavericks with Caron Butler finding his place offensively and defensively. There was the mysterious 10 game stretch where Sasha Pavlovic masqueraded as a rotation player. There are the 2-7 Mavericks without Dirk Nowitzki. There was the 24-5 run to start the season. There was the 3-10 stretch to close 2010 and ring in the New Year, which was immediately followed by a 19-1 run. At times they couldn’t be scored on. At times you couldn’t stop them from scoring. Unfortunately, those two incarnations never seemed to align.

Through all the ups and downs; rights and lefts and wrongs, the regular season has to be considered a success. With 57 wins, the Mavericks have had their best regular season since the infamous 2007 campaign. If not for their 2-7 stretch without Nowtizki, they could have spent this final week fighting for the best record in the league. 57 wins gives them just two more than last season, but it feels like a much wider gap, mostly because preseason expectations seemed to be down.

Not many people thought this year’s roster would be an improvement over recent Mavericks’ squads. The Schoene Projection system used by Pro Basketball Prospectus predicted a 48 win season for the Mavericks. With their win over the Hornets last night, the Mavs have out paced that projection by 9 wins. They’ve also outpaced their Pythagorean win projection, based on their actual point differential, by 5 wins.

It’s tough to blame anyone for projecting this as a down year for the Mavericks. There is no disguising the fact that they have an older roster, and near the midpoint of the season it was the oldest in the league when weighted for minutes played. Their roster didn’t see much turnover from last year, as they returned 79% of their minutes played. The draft netted them Dominique Jones, who wasn’t expected to contribute this season. In addition, they lost two of their younger stars, Butler and Beaubois, to injury for significant portions of the season. Nowitzki has helped make them great (last week we looked at how much Nowitzki has meant to the Mavericks’ season), but his production isn’t that much different than what he provided last year.

That leaves just one cog unaccounted for: Tyson Chandler.

Chandler was expected to back up the newly re-signed Brendan Haywood. After two straight down and injury-plagued seasons, it appeared the peak of Chandler’s career may have already passed. Yet the Mavs got a far better return than expected. Chandler played in 74 games this season and logged over 2,000 minutes, milestones he hasn’t reached since the 2008 season. He hit career highs in FG%, FT%, PER and a career low in TOV%. The Mavericks’ Defense Rating was 3.95 points better when Chandler was on the floor. Surprisingly, given his small, well-defined skill set, their Offense Rating was much better (+3.23) with him on the floor as well. No Maverick except for Nowitzki had a better Unadjusted On Court/Off Court Rating for the Mavs this season.

The Mavericks’ Defensive Rating was 105.0 this season, the fourth best mark in franchise history, and the lowest since their 67 win team in 2007. As we discussed a few weeks ago, the biggest drops in their defensive efficiency seemed to occur when Chandler’s minutes were limited by fouls or injury. The Mavericks turned in their third best defensive rebounding season franchise history, and posted their highest DRB% since 2008. They center position has been manned admirably in Dallas by the likes of DeSagana Diop, Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood. Each of those burly giants was a capable rebounder and could be effective challenging shots at the rim. Tyson Chandler has the athleticism to do those things as well as hedge effectively and recover on a pick-and-roll, or step out and cover a stretch big man. He made the Mavericks’ defense that much more efficient by adding versatility to a familiar formula.

The following assessment was written of Tyson Chandler before the season started, again from the tremendous Pro Basketball Prospectus:

A change of scenery failed to revitalize Tyson Chandler’s career like it did when he went from Chicago to New Orleans. He was limited by injuries and inconsistent on the floor during his final year with the Hornets, and the same was true of his lone season in Charlotte. Both Chandler’s rebounding and his two-point percentage have fallen dramatically the last two years, and SCHOENE isn’t optimistic about his chances to return to peak form. Chandler is only 28, but similar players were already starting to decline at the same age.

I will be upfront in saying that nothing in that paragraph seemed out of line to me when I read it in the middle of October (Of course, I also thought the Kings would win 44 games this season). Chandler’s resurgence has been remarkable, baffling, inexplicable and inspiring. The splendid Spurs and horrible Heat were the big surprises early in the season. The Bulls’ dominant shift into an even higher gear has been the shocker of the past month. Lost somewhere in the middle were the Dallas Mavericks (somewhat) quietly having one of the best seasons in franchise history. Buried even further in the void, is the fact that Tyson Chandler — after essentially being ruled irrelevant — has changed the fortunes of an actual NBA basketball team.

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.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 102, Washington Wizards 92

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 1, 2011 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas88.0115.954.235.229.515.9
Washington104.542.422.127.58.0

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

  • At no point during this game were the Wizards denied access to what could have been theirs; the Mavs looked infinitely beatable throughout, and generally refused to erase the doubt in the result despite holding all of the cards. Dallas defended fairly well, had Dirk Nowitzki (24 points, 7-11 FG, four rebounds) a step closer to normalcy, and attempted a whopping 37 free throws. Yet if Washington were, well, a better team than they are, the game could have tilted anywhere along the way. The Mavs won the game, but the Wizards certainly did their part to lose it.
  • Tyson Chandler (18 points, 5-10 FG, 18 rebounds, eight offensive boards, four turnovers) was again dominant, and forced another team with weak interior defense (though not without shot-blocking, it’s worth noting) to foul him repeatedly on deep catches and offensive rebounds. Chandler has attempted 11+ free throws in three of his last four games, despite playing fewer than 33 minutes in each. Think about that. Chandler is, on some nights, the consistent source of free throws that the Mavs have long needed. Dallas may not be able to dump the ball to him in the low post, but the team’s willingness to find Chandler and the Tyson’s creativity in finding open spots around the rim have created a pretty viable threat.
  • Brian Cardinal (nine points, 3-8 3FG, four rebounds) started in the spot formerly held by Sasha Pavlovic, and though I’m unsure of just how long a tandem of Cardinal and Dirk Nowitzki can coexist defensively, it worked well enough on Monday night. Then again, I’ve underestimated Cardinal almost every step of the way. I thought of him as a decent three-point shooter, but he’s become the Mavs’ best. He’s hustled at each of his NBA stops, but Cardinal really does do so many of those fabled “little things.” I figured any claims of his defensive adequacy were probably overstated, yet he manages to hold his own. Cardinal’s not a long-time starting option, but for the moment, he’ll do just fine.
  • Dallas’ ball movement was certainly notable. The Mavs assisted on 27 of their 34 field goal attempts, and Jason Kidd and Jason Terry combined for 19 dimes between them. This was really one of those holistic concepts, though; the ball movement around the perimeter was fantastic, and virtually every Maverick was giving up good shots for better ones. Kidd and Terry were particularly brilliant, but the entire team deserves credit for forcing the Wizards to commit and then exploiting their rotations.
  • It’s practically heresy to wish the Mavs to be less than they are, but every time Ian Mahinmi (seven points, two rebounds, one block in just eight and a half minutes) hits the court I think of what it might be like if this team were in a different place. Mahinmi isn’t a cornerstone, but his activity level is impressive. Mahinmi’s feel for the game isn’t natural. He’s worked hard to get to where he is now, and it’s unlikely that he’d ever evolve into stable, starting center material. But wouldn’t you love to know for sure? For now, Mahinmi is a better player than the Mavs can find minutes for, but he’s a terrific luxury to have.
  • Also, this:

  • The Wizards picked up their fifth team foul with 9:05 remaining in the fourth quarter. Dallas went on to attempt 17 free throws in the frame. Matters a little bit, no?
  • I wouldn’t say that Dirk is ready to resume business as usual, but this was by far his most comfortable game since his return from injury. Nowitzki took advantage of going to work against Andray Blatche, Rashard Lewis, and Trevor Booker, who provided far less opposition in the post than Nowitzki has seen in recent games. He was able to back his Wizards opponents down, and shot fake his way to the free throw line on several occasions, which is far better than the desperate heaves we’ve seen from Nowitzki in the last week or so. It’s apparent that Dirk wants to recapture his potency, but this was his most legitimate advance toward that end.
  • Also: this isn’t a pass that Dirk could have made even as recently as two or three seasons ago, and not only because Tyson Chandler is a more capable finisher than Erick Dampier:

  • In case you didn’t know, Nick Young (6-20 FG) and Andray Blatche (4-17 FG) are remarkably skilled in firing up shots without a moment’s consideration. It’s as if every reasonably well-positioned catch transitions seamlessly into a shot attempt. It’s some kind of credit to them both that they play without doubt, but it’s a bit of a red flag that they play without discretion.

Casting

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 31, 2011 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

Sasha Pavlovic’s introduction as a Maverick was met by more than a fair bit of skepticism from yours truly, for what I deemed — and would do so again, given what we knew at the time — legitimate reason. Pavlovic, on the surface, doesn’t have a hell of a lot to offer a Mavericks team sorely missing Caron Butler; he can defend a bit, but Pavlovic really hasn’t shown much basketball aptitude since 2007. He hadn’t aged into irrelevance, merely drifted there.

After 20 days and 10 games, I feel a bit differently.

The Mavericks opted to release Pavlovic following the conclusion of his second 10-day contract rather than sign him for the remainder of the season, and I’m not quite sure why. Peja Stojakovic isn’t ready to play, and even when he eventually does hit the court for Dallas, Stojakovic isn’t a player particularly deserving of major minutes. He hits threes and struggles to defend, and while such players can be useful situationally, teams in general would benefit from not getting in the habit of playing them for considerable minutes at a time. Having an open roster spot for “flexibility” isn’t the issue; even if the Mavs suddenly needed a roster spot to complete any kind of move, they could easily cut Pavlovic loose at low cost.

From a distance, the primary motivation for letting Pavlovic go seems to be financial. And it’s on that note that I’ll grow uncomfortably silent. I try to avoid telling anyone how to spend their money, Mark Cuban included. He may have seemingly endless riches, but between the Mavs’ massive pile of salary and the luxury tax payments on top of it, Cuban is dishing out quite a bit to field a competitive team. I can’t blame him for not wanting to add a bit more on, particularly for a player of Pavlovic’s caliber.

Does having Pavlovic around make the Mavs better? Not particularly. He’s a bit player in a much larger show, and isn’t asked to do a terrible amount. Yet he’s played well enough during his three weeks with the team to warrant a season’s consideration, if only as a last resort. Butler’s injury has been damaging enough, and Pavlovic has helped fill in minutes on the wing as a member of a compromised rotation. Should another injury befall the Mavs — and the rotation become further compromised — Pavlovic would seem a convenient guy to have around. I don’t blame Cuban for not wanting to foot the bill, but Pavlovic has performed fairly well for a 10-day player. He defends. He doesn’t stop the ball. He cuts on offense and has been terrific from three-point range (Pavlovic ranks second on the team, in fact, with a .438 from beyond the arc). I’m not sure what Dallas was hoping to see from Pavlovic when they signed him, but I’d be curious to know what reasonable benchmark he failed to meet.

But as I said, even Pavlovic’s minimal financial pull would have an impact on the bottom line. Hopefully this means that either Stojakovic or Rodrigue Beaubois is on the cusp of returning (and reports seem to indicate as such; both players seem likely to suit up before the trade deadline), and that Pavlovic’s release was more than just a footnote on the ledger. Regardless, the Mavs shed some decent rotation filler this weekend, and while Pavlovic (in presence or absence) doesn’t have the gravity to turn the tide, Dallas’ decision marks the departure of a useful player nonetheless.

The Difference: Chicago Bulls 82, Dallas Mavericks 77

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 21, 2011 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

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Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas85.090.640.424.720.916.5
Chicago96.541.115.534.715.3

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

  • In the last two games, the Mavericks have experienced contests of completely different complexion. Against the Lakers, both teams moved the ball well and poured in points with only periodic defensive resistance. Against the Bulls, neither team could score even remotely well, and the offensive struggles were far more deep-seated than players missing makeable jumpers. Neither team could set up and execute on account of the other team’s defense, and though it was an ugly product from a basketball standpoint, it’s nice to see the Mavs’ D in full effect. 90.6 points per 100 possessions is a hideous number, but 96.5 points allowed per 100 possessions? Oh so pretty.
  • Dirk Nowitzki (19 points, 6-16 FG, four rebounds) is not completely healthy. You can see it on his turnarounds, particularly deep in the post. Many of his attempts look like poor imitations of his usual routine, as Nowitzki fails to create the same amount of space that affords him time to release. You can see it on his help defense in man-to-man or when he rotates in the zone; Dirk is just a half-second slower when an opponent makes a quick pass or cut. The Mavs’ offense looks even more painful with Nowitzki out, but it’s hard not to wonder if a bit more rest would have best for Dirk. Here’s to hoping the training staff knows what they’re doing, because without Nowitzki in the mix, the Mavs are a miserable watch.
  • Jason Terry (12 points, 5-14 FG, four assists) returned to Earth, DeShawn Stevenson attempted all 10 of his shots from beyond the arc, Jason Kidd leveled out (2-of-4 shooting from three but only eight points overall, six rebounds but only three assists to six turnovers), Shawn Marion (six points, 2-7 FG, three turnovers) misfired, Sasha Pavlovic disappeared, and J.J. Barea missed each of his four shot attempts. Maverick basketball! Catch the fever!
  • It’s honestly shocking that the turnover numbers for both teams weren’t more horrendous. Both teams had a lot of trouble holding onto the ball, but in a lot of cases, it translated into wild shot attempts or recovered loose balls, but neither team was in any kind of offensive sync, and that applied on the catch as well as the shot.
  • In the game against L.A., the Lakers’ offensive rebounds were painful, but only because their misses were so few. Dallas struggled to get any stops whatsoever, so it was noticeable when they squandered the opportunity due to poor rebounding. Yet overall, the L.A. didn’t have a particularly effective night on the offensive glass. Chicago was a bit different. The Bulls pulled in 34.7% of available boards on the offensive end, with the geriatric Kurt Thomas accounting for five of Chicago’s 51 offensive boards. Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood weren’t much help on the defensive glass, and Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion alone couldn’t box out everyone. Four of the Bulls’ starters had at least three offensive rebounds. That’s a failure in rebounding team-wide, and these defensive rebounding problems have been a recurring theme for the Mavs all season.

The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 109, Los Angeles Lakers 100

Posted by Rob Mahoney on January 20, 2011 under Recaps | 2 Comments to Read

Screen shot 2011-01-20 at 1.25.21 PM

Box ScorePlay-by-PlayShot ChartGameFlow

TeamPaceOff. Eff.eFG%FT/FGORB%TOR
Dallas93.0131.363.511.320.67.2
Los Angeles120.558.07.322.212.0

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

  • Before we all get too riled up about last night’s events, let’s go over one thing, first: the Lakers played pretty poor defense. Good on the Mavs to capitalize, but the story of last night wasn’t Dallas overcoming a titan, but claiming victory over a powerhouse that was a bit off their game. The Mavs deserve credit for their defense in the third quarter, but it’s best not to get carried away with praise for their overall defensive execution, either. Both teams shot and scored well, and the Mavs shot and scored more. A valiant and much-needed win, but no one should be giddy over allowing 120.3 points per 100 possessions. Dallas won against an excellent team, and that’s fantastic. But the defense needs to be better.
  • And it will be. As Dirk Nowitzki continues to work himself back into game shape and be more and more comfortable on that wobbly knee, his defense will improve. When Tyson Chandler is playing a full game with a clean bill of health (he battled flu-like symptoms last night, and sat out for a portion of the second quarter), the back-line rotations will be crisper. When the team (sans Caron) is back into a rhythm, the elite defense will resurface. These are the kinds of lulls that happen to every team in the regular season, only the Mavs’ recent injuries have acted as a catalyst for their defensive troubles.
  • Jasons Kidd and Terry combined for 43 points (on 17-of-27 shooting, and 9-of-14 from three, no less) and 17 assists (with just one turnover). L.A. seemed content to leave Kidd open from three, and for the first time in a millennium, he drained his open looks. Terry was more forceful; he curled away from Derek Fisher, sprung for threes in transition, and triggered his trademarked pull-up game. Sustainability always comes to mind when anyone but Dirk springs for a huge scoring night, and this is hardly the kind of production to which Mavs fans should grow accustomed. That said, it was exceptionally well-timed and hopefully acts as a precursor to a progression toward the mean for Kidd and Terry both.
  • Rick Carlisle elected to have Shawn Marion reprise his role coming off the bench, which left an opening in the starting lineup on the wing. He had tried Terry in that slot in the past, with mixed results. J.J. Barea isn’t an option because he needs to run the point for the second unit. Dominique Jones should be in the running, but Carlisle apparently wasn’t too pleased with his play in the wake of Caron Butler’s injury, and has relegated him to mop-up duty. So naturally, the newest Maverick — Sasha Pavlovic, on the last day of his 10-day contract — was thrown into the starting lineup. Crazier, still: it worked. Pavlovic looks good. He defends well, and last night he mad five of his seven shots from the field to finish with 11 points. He doesn’t have any explosive potential, but Pavlovic is a steady, low-usage vet that the Mavs would be wise to keep around.
  • As heavily as Carlisle has leaned on Alexis Ajinca and Ian Mahinmi this season, he clearly isn’t ready to give either burn against such a productive front line. DNP-CDs for both of the bench bigs.
  • Though, as I mentioned before, I think the Mavs deserve credit for their third-quarter run, the substantial turnaround wouldn’t have been possible without Shannon Brown (two points, 1-4 FG, one turnover) and Luke Walton (zero points, 0-5 FG, one turnover). Both players kept the ball away from more capable scorers, and took shots that the Dallas defense was more than willing to give them.
  • Shawn Marion (22 points, 10-13 FG, four rebounds) played a fantastic game, but he was more reliant on the Lakers’ lax defense than anyone. Marion exploited the Lakers’ interior D with cuts and post-ups off of switches, and while he should still be able to do the same on most nights against typical opponents, a finely tuned defense can take away those looks far more easily than Terry’s pull-up game or Kidd’s three-pointers. Marion’s presence is still important; defense will be forced to account for him when he dives into the lane or sets up on the block against a smaller opponent. This kind of box score production isn’t Marion’s regular, but his intangible impact can be just as profound on a nightly basis.
  • A bit of an oddity: both teams shot so well from the field (62.5 eFG% and 58 eFG% for the Mavs and Lakers respectively) that neither got to the line all that much. Contrary to popular belief, L.A. doesn’t attempt a lion’s share off free throws (they’re a below average team in free throw rate). Still, they get the free throw line about three times as often as they did last night. Defense, officiating, whatever the cause — a bit strange.
  • Kidd, Pavlovic, and DeShawn Stevenson (as well as Jason Terry on some zone possessions) all did an admirable job on Kobe Bryant, but it doesn’t matter. He shoots over you, he drives around you, and he finds his teammates. Then he finishes the night with 21 points on 18 shots along with 10 assists, and probably has nightmares about those eight shots he missed and his few giveaways. You don’t need me to tell you, but the man is damn good at what he does.