Dallas Mavericks 96, New Jersey Nets 87

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 11, 2010 under Recaps | 3 Comments to Read

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

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“If you are out of trouble, watch for danger.”
-Sophocles

And for the Mavs’ next trick, they’ll surrender a big early lead to a sub-par team, explode to build a significant lead of their own sometime in the third quarter, and then forfeit that lead to even things out and end everything with a bang.

Don’t get me wrong, it certainly makes for some pretty entertaining basketball. But the script is getting a little predictable by this point, don’tcha think?

We should definitely be celebrating Dallas’ wins; not every victory is going to be pretty, and the fact last night’s game was less than ideal isn’t all that damaging on the basis of a singular game. It’s the same philosophy I’ve embraced about the Mavs’ barely-wins over Minnesota, over Miami, over Charlotte, over Indiana, over New Orleans, over Charlotte, over Sacramento, and over Chicago. Those games weren’t as easy as they could have or should have been, but if you’re evaluating each contest in a vacuum, it’s hard to argue with a positive result.

But the fact that the Mavs’ wins have come by such a slim margin so often, well, you know what it can mean. Maybe Dallas isn’t as dominant as we think. Maybe this team will try this same act against a great team with some momentum in the playoffs — a Denver, a Los Angeles — and validate all of these worries. The Mavs can pull this off against the Nets because they’re a better team and, when focused, their execution level is pretty insane. But every game isn’t going to come against this level of competition, and so the problem isn’t that the Mavs are barely beating the Nets, but that they won’t be able to barely beat other teams using the same practices.

Letting New Jersey score 31 points in the first quarter definitely qualifies as bad practice. Letting the Nets build an 18-point lead by the second quarter definitely qualifies as bad practice. It flies now and the Mavs get the win, and we should be proud of them for that. It’s not easy to bring a hot team back down to Earth (NJ shot .526 from the field in the first half and ended up shooting .410) and it’s certainly not easy to overcome such a glaring deficit on the scoreboard. But keep in mind that these same habits and practices that we’re celebrating now, in the midst of an epic win streak, may be the same habits we’re deriding come playoff time. Despite their winning ways, the Mavs need a change. They need to figure out how to start the game with the concentration level that has become a fourth quarter staple. Dallas makes love to pressure and that’s awesome. But in order to be one of the league’s truly elite teams, they need to make love to the opening six minutes of the game, too. Every game doesn’t have to be a test of wills and endurance; it’s okay to have the starters get some early rest, and let Matt Carroll ride out the endgame.

We know that the Mavs know how to win close games, and that’s incredibly important. But we still haven’t seen this team show that they’re capable of managing a game. They give up too many easy buckets early, they surrender too many leads late, and though it’s almost difficult to flash back to a time where the Mavs were doing anything other than winning, you’d like to see something more.

That’s a lot of negativity for about 18 minutes of bad basketball. But it’s something that needs to be said after a win like this one, even in spite of some of the positives on the Dallas side.

Dirk Nowitzki was not one of them, which makes the win even more surprising. Nowitzki finished with 12 points on 3-of-16 shooting with five turnovers. That’s about as bad as it gets for Dirk. He’ll get points because he’s still worth the attempts (how many times have we seen him shake off an early rut to drop 25?) and because he gets to the free throw line, but I’m not sure that any measure could qualify Nowitzki’s game as a success.

That means the points had to come from somewhere. With Jason Terry out of the lineup, the Mavs turned to Caron Butler (18 points, 7-14 FG). As the focal point of the offense, Butler dropped 10 points in the fourth quarter, and was responsible for 12 of the Mavs’ final 15 points. Caron isn’t prolific or efficient enough offensively to warrant this kind of treatment on a regular basis. That’s why the Mavs have Dirk. But having Butler around to not only attract defensive attention but completely take games over if need be is a luxury that the post-trade Mavs are truly enjoying. Add Jason Terry back into the lineup and this team is just rearing to go offensively. Being able to attack any potential defense from a number of attack points is a huge advantage.

But for all of Butler’s fourth quarter contributions, he wasn’t even the Mavs’ leading scorer. That distinction, on this rarest of occasions, goes to Jason Kidd (20 points, 5-8 3FG,  nine assists, four steals). If Kidd hadn’t become such a prolific three-point shooter, it’s entirely possible that the balance of the Kidd-Harris trade would still be tipped in favor of New Jersey. But even the trade’s biggest critics are recanting some of their comments due to Kidd’s inspired play. Play which has benefited greatly from his emergence as a three-point threat. I don’t want to know what dark power Kidd had to consult to add the three ball to his repertoire this late in his career, but as a follower of the team, I’m just immensely thankful that he did.

Just as impactful as Kidd’s scoring was his defense and playmaking. It wasn’t a high-volume assist night, but the Mavs’ resurgence after the dog days of the first quarter is at least in part due to the open looks Kidd generated for his teammates. He could very easily have fed Brendan Haywood in the post, but instead he lobbed it over the head of the defender and led Haywood to the basket. He could have very easily waited to attract the defense before kicking the ball to a cutting Shawn Marion, but his instincts told him not to hesitate. He could have hit Caron Butler a second late as he curled around the screen, but he timed the ball perfectly and gave Butler a wide open jumper. It’s always the little things with Kidd, and the reason he deserves to be a Hall of Famer isn’t because of the 17-assist nights where he runs the break to perfection, but nights like this where he completely controls a game.

Closing thoughts:

  • The name of the game offensively for Dallas was, again, balance. Six Mavs hit double figures in a game with just 91 possessions. Rodrigue Beaubois (16 points, 6-12 FG, three assists, one turnover) wasn’t hitting on his mid-range jumper, but was able to get to the rim at will. Shawn Marion (14 points, 5-10 FG, 13 rebounds, three blocks) notched his second straight double-double, and continues to fill the gaps for the Mavs in every conceivable way. Brendan Haywood double-doubled in his return as well, finishing with 11 points (4-6 FG), 10 rebounds, and two blocks.
  • The Mavs tied the Cavs’ season-high winning streak at 13 games, which means they’ll have a shot at the longest winning streak league-wide when they face the Knicks on Saturday. Dallas beat New York earlier this season by 50 points. I’m just sayin’.
  • The third quarter is where the Mavs really improved defensively. After giving the Nets an assortment of layups and dunks in the first half, the Dallas held New Jersey to 5-of-26 shooting with just four free throw attempts. Devin Harris (21 points, seven assists, six turnovers) and Brook Lopez (10 points, 5-16 FG, six rebounds), who had been the stars of the first half, combined to shoot 1-for-11 in the third. That’s significant defensive improvement
  • The Mavs trapped Devin Harris off of every pick with mixed success. He slipped a few times against the pressure, but for the most part he was able to find an open teammate or at least an outlet to avoid a turnover. What really kept Harris in check was the zone, which has become a staple for the Mavs defensively. Dallas may execute the zone better than any other team in the league, and while it still has weaknesses in giving up offensive rebounds and allowing three-point shooters to fire away (a fact which only Jarvis Hayes was able to take advantage of), it’s become much more than just a situational strategy.
  • Terrence Williams (18 points, 7-12 FG, 13 rebounds, three assists) was everywhere. I’m very impressed with his ability to move without the ball, which I thought could have been a problem coming out of a position in Louisville where he had the ball in his hands an overwhelming amount of the time. But Williams isn’t a point forward anymore, and though he still exhibits some of those playmaking skills that made him an effective college player, he’s clearly capable of playing off the ball as a more traditional wing.
  • Erick Dampier also made his return for the Mavs, but only logged four minutes of playing time. One step closer to a healthy center rotation, and one step closer to improving the defense.
  • Is there anyone in Maverick Nation who isn’t in a constant state of excitement over Rodrigue Beaubois? He’s not perfect and he’s still not playing much point guard, but he’s averaging 18 points on 54.7% shooting with 3.4 assists to just one turnover in March. He’s still responding well to opportunities and playing time, which is one thing for a rookie to do in November and another for them to do in March.
  • Any possession that ends with a Trenton Hassell jump shot is a win for the defense.
  • The Mavs played Kris Humphries on Hump Day and I completely dropped the ball. Sigh.
  • The Nets are a much better team than 7-57. Much better. They don’t have much in the way of depth, but even a quick up and down of the roster reveals a bunch of individual talent capable of doing plenty of good things on a basketball court. It obviously doesn’t come together in any kind of cohesive whole and the rotation members are woefully lacking in experience, but still far better than 7-57.

Taking Sides

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 4, 2009 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

Any and every Mavs-Nets game presents an obvious platform to re-examine the Kidd-Harris trade. I get that. But what it shouldn’t present is a trade framework in which one team must win and the other must lose. That’s not what any trade is about, much less the exchange of a high profile, Hall of Fame point guard and a young up and coming star.

The fact that New Jersey is, at the moment, drowning in a sea of futility, is more or less irrelevant. Devin Harris is no longer a Mav, and while I still wish him the best and like to watch him succeed (as well as tons of other likable players on that Nets roster), it’s not really Dallas’ problem anymore. Rather than point out the fact that Jason Kidd is playing better basketball than Devin Harris is this season, can’t we just praise Kidd for rebounding, shooting, and passing the ball like age doesn’t mean a damn thing? Rather than point out the Mavs’ far superior record to the Nets (which was a given, in my mind), can’t we simply appreciate the Mavs’ early successes, both offensively and defensively? The conflict between the Mavs and Nets is so artificial that it’s ridiculous, as the only source of contention seems to be the anxiety of the fan base here in Dallas.

The Kidd-Harris trade was not about making New Jersey a bad team, and it shouldn’t matter much from a Mavs-centric perspective that they are. The intrigue of a historically bad start is understandable for fans of the league and the game, but it doesn’t for one second change the value Dallas received in the deal. As of this very second, the trade is probably a win for Dallas. Kidd is playing truly inspired basketball, and he’s been a crucial part of the Mavs’ current roll. There’s simply no way that the offense functions so smoothly with the ball in Harris’ hands, even if his presence does create match-up problems and provide additional scoring. That isn’t a slight against Devin, just the acknowledgment that Kidd is a different kind of point guard whose talents make more sense in the context of this Maverick team.

The Nets didn’t sign on the dotted line with the intention of getting better today, or even tomorrow. That much is certain when you trade a point guard of Kidd’s caliber for a younger, developing talent and a pair of first round picks. One of those picks has already borne fruit in the form of Ryan Anderson. While that may not seem like much, Stan Van Gundy has made the claim that Anderson’s involvement in the Vince Carter trade was required for the swap to come to pass. That trade not only brought in Courtney Lee, a solid shooting guard with a future as a role player at the very least, but also gave the Nets all kinds of cap flexibility going forward. So the Kidd deal not only brought in the point guard of the future, but cleared cap space, brought in additional young talent that complements the core, and still adds the unknown benefit of a 2010 first rounder. To me, that’s not a loss for the Nets, regardless of what their record looks like.

We’re talking about basketball, and the natural inclination is to treat any team interaction as a contest. But to deem one team a winner does not make the other a loser. Though the jury seems to be changing its verdict on the Mavs’ side of the deal (and the new contract he signed this summer, for that matter), that doesn’t change the fact that the Nets desperately needed to reload and restructure their team. And for what it’s worth, they’ve assembled a strong group of young pieces. Harris remains one of the best young point guards in the NBA. Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Terrence Williams provide the Nets with all kinds of options at the wing offensively (Lee’s 3-point shooting, CDR’s mid-range game, Williams’ slashing and ball-handling abilities), and plenty of weapons defensively. Brook Lopez looks has already figured out what it takes to be a NBA center, even if he didn’t show it against the Mavs. And Yi Jianlian…well, he’ll always have that magical workout against the chairs. I know things in Jersey are dour right now, but with new ownership, a big move on the way, plenty of young talent, and tons of cap space, this team is doing the rebuilding thing right.

They Smell Like the Future: Terrence Williams

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 25, 2009 under Commentary, Rumors | Read the First Comment

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images.

Louisville Senior
6′6”, 213 lbs. (Combine measurements)
Almost 22 years old
Shooting guard/small forward/point guard
Projection: Late lottery-late first round

Terrence Williams is the mad note.  I’ve raved and raved about this guy over the last few weeks, or practically ever since his draft stock began to fall.  He’s now, unfortunately, on the up and up, meaning the Mavs likely won’t even sniff him with the 24th pick.

You’ve likely already read many of the reasons why I think Williams should be the guy if he does happen to slip in the draft tonight, but I still have a bag full of superlatives.  Above all else, I think Williams is a supremely valuable player because his ability to impact the game without scoring is just about unparalleled in this draft.  He’s likely to be the best defender at his position, is certainly one of the best ball handlers and distributors at his position, and his rebounding and toughness are top notch.  Terrence Williams is an athlete, and he just so happens to be one that fills a prominent Mavs’ need.

Naturally, he’s not without flaws.  Williams is not a good shooter.  He’s not ideal from that standpoint because he won’t be able to spot-up in the corner or even pull-up in midrange.  His jumpshot is a work in progress, but it’s far from being NBA ready at this point.  To some, that might make him a liability on the floor.  But for a team that has fared well on offense with Antoine Wright and Erick Dampier playing significant minutes, Williams has to be considered a slight offensive upgrade.  Antoine Wright tries, and he tries damn hard every night.  I don’t mean to pick on the guy.  But his mediocre (putting it kindly) shooting stroke and inability to get to the basket consistently makes him a liability on offense.  Williams, on the other hand, is already a better defender than Wright, and supplements those skills with ball-handling and passing on the offensive end.

Terrence Williams is exactly what the Mavs need at this stage in the game: someone who can contribute immediately, and have a clear defensive impact.

Pro-Level Projections:

I’ve asked Jon Nichols of Basketball-Statistics.com to use his Box Score Prediction System (BSPS) to project career numbers for Williams.  The values given are career averages per 36 minutes, considering that per minute statistics at least partially eliminate variables such as abnormal playing time, lack of opportunity, etc.  The projections are based on Williams’ four-year career at Louisville.  For comparison’s sake, I’ve dug up some other players who have averaged similar numbers over their careers (click here for an enlarged chart):

(Note: the years indicated in the chart refer to the last year of the season played.  For examples, the 2004-2005 season will be marked 05.)

These comparisons make very little sense, given Williams’ position and size.  The closest comparisons turned out to be point guards with good rebounding numbers, which is a bit misleading given that Williams’ will likely play the 2 in the NBA.  Rondo is included for some slight similarities, but ultimately because the pickings were so slim.  This guy is a unique player.

Waiting for Terrence

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

I’ve made it perfectly clear that I believe Terrence Williams to be an ideal fit for the Mavs.  He’s a hellish defender, an excellent rebounder for his position, and a crutch for our point guard of the future.  I think he would easily be Antoine Wright and more.

Unfortunately, the Mavs aren’t Williams’ other suitor.  Terrence seems to have a guarantee, and based on the mutual interest from both parties, it’s a fair bet that said guarantee is coming from the New Jersey Nets with the 11th pick.  If not there, then perhaps with the Charlotte Bobcats at 12.  Williams seems to have climbed from within the Mavs’ range to clear out of sight, leaving us with little hope of seeing him in Maverick blue.

That said, there’s no harm in waiting.  There is some harm, however, in dealing down two spots in the draft with a team earmarking similar needs.

In college, Williams was a small forward.  He’s capable of playing that position in the NBA, even if he doesn’ t quite have the height to match the towers of that position.  And if he does, for one reason or another, slip ‘n slide all the way to the 22 spot in the draft, could you really see Portland passing up Williams in favor of Omri Casspi?  Casspi is 6’9”, but many of his strengths are things that Williams can easily replicate (strengths lists courtesy of Draft Express):

Essentially, Casspi’s strengths are eclipsed by Williams’.  Terrence also brings the added benefit of relieving ball pressure from Brandon Roy, and playing a point forward role with the second unit.  For a team that features Jerryd Bayless and Steve Blake as point guards, that’s actually a pretty decent alternative.

I’m not sure how high (or low) the Blazers are on Williams, but I do know this: if they’re on the clock with both still on the board, is it even possible that Portland passes up the superior, more versatile talent?

Heard It Through the Pre-Draft Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 20, 2009 under xOther | Read the First Comment

General

  • Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Blazers have legitimate interest in Jason Kidd.  Boot up the trade machine!
  • Nick Prevenas of NBADraft.net: “The 2009 draft frequently draws comparisons to the 2000 draft — otherwise known as the worst draft in NBA history. Kenyon Martin (a player eerily similar to Griffin) went No. 1 overall, but never developed into the dominant power forward we expected to see after his career at Cincinnati was stopped short by a broken leg. He turned into a key cog in the Denver Nuggets’ run to the Western Conference Finals, but injuries have held back a potentially promising career. The rest of that draft was just dreadful. Marcus Fizer? Keyon Dooling? Jerome Moiso? Courtney Alexander? Lottery picks. Seriously…Is this year’s draft that bad? At this point, I’m leaning no. However, it is the type of draft where a team would much rather pick in the 15-25 range than from 4-13…[Jrue] Holiday — along with guys like Tyreke Evans, DeMar DeRozan, Stephen Curry, Jordan Hill, Jeff Teague, and so on — are seeing their stock artificially inflated because of the lack of competition.”
  • Matt Kamalsky of Draft Express breaks down the shooting guards in the draft (notably Marcus Thornton, Terrence Williams, Jeff Teague) by the numbers.
  • John Hollinger’s Draft Rater is very high on Ty Lawson, Austin Daye, and Nick Calathes, three prospects which have been linked to the Mavs via rumors or simply availability.  The three came in as the 1st, 4th, and 6th best collegiate prospects respectively, outclassing plenty of their lottery-bound draftmates.  Jordan Hill and Patty Mills are listed as potential disappointments.  Hollinger willingly admits that the Rater has missed the boat entirely on some prospects, so keep in mind that prospect hunting is hardly a science.

Ty Lawson

  • The Nets’ GM, Kiki Vandeweghe, gave a glowing review of Lawson following his workout in Jersey: “To me, it’s more of what the guy has inside. It’s more about speed, quickness…At the end of the day, that’s what basketball is. Would you like to have taller players on your team? Yeah, it’s basketball…But having said that, this guy I think is one of the more ready guys to play. If he comes in, he helps a team, no question about it…First of all, he’s very strong…If you look at the history, he makes other players better, knows how to play. If you go back through the history of our league, guys who were very strong that way — no matter what size they are — they find a way to compete at their position. I think he really helps a team.”
  • Dave Berri also makes the case for Lawson.  That’s not one, but two of the most prominent stat heads in the field on Lawson’s side.  Ty also has all of the “heart of a champion” rhetoric and anecdotal evidence he could possibly need.  Considering that all that really seems to stand between Lawson and a guaranteed spot in the lottery are his measurables, can the Mavs really expect him to tumble to 22?

Jordan Hill

  • The Knicks may have some interest in Hill at 8, so if the Mavs are content with moving up in the draft to snag him, they’d best play it safe and aim for Washington’s 5th pick.  Then again, maybe they shouldn’t be doing that at all for the likes of Jordan Hill.  And then again, maybe Hill has convinced the Wizards to stick around in the lottery.

Jeff Teague

  • Michael Stephenson, in a guest post for TrueHoop: “Teague had the purest stroke and hit his jumper most consistently in the drills and during the scrimmage…But it was obvious that he’s a level behind and had trouble keeping up with his peers. In an extremely guard heavy draft, I imagine it’s going to be tough for him to turn many heads.”  The peers that Stephenson describes are Jonny Flynn, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, and Tyreke Evans.
  • John Givony, of DraftExpress fame, wrote a feature on point guards for NBA.com.  Conveniently absent from Givony’s superlatives is Jeff Teague, and there’s a reason for that: Teague is not, and likely will never be, a conventional point guard.  Asking Teague to run the show is akin to asking a young Jason Terry of the same

Terrence Williams


via Detroit Bad Boys via Dime

  • The Mavs certainly have competition for the services of Terrence Williams.  The Nets seem awfully high on him, and the Bobcats would not only make sense (Williams seems like a Larry Brown kinda guy), but be entirely possible with the 12th pick.
  • Williams knows how to win over the hearts and minds of NBA coaches, teammates, and die-hards: defense.  It’s what separates him from the rest of the talent pool the Mavs may face with the 22 pick, and Williams has the size, the resolve, and the athleticism to be a fantastic defender in the big leagues.

Sugar Plum Dreams

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 19, 2009 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

The Mavs very well could stumble into the “most underrated player in the draft” next week, picking up right where they left off in June of 2003.

Oh, and he just so happens to be a pretty tremendous talent, an excellent defender, and fills a hole in the Mavs’ lineup.


Video via The Baseline.

Who has two thumbs and wants the Mavs to draft Terrence Williams?  THIS GUY.

Saying All the Right Things, and Seeing Some of the Right Numbers

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 6, 2009 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

I didn’t have a chance to attend the NBA Draft combine first-hand, but plenty of my blogger compatriots provided the eyes and ears on the scene.  Graydon and Tim got the ball rolling at 48 Minutes of Hell, but other bloggers sat down with players in the Mavs’ draft range:

Also, as part of ESPN’s D.R.A.F.T. Initiative (a needless acronym for an in-depth study of the draft), a nameless analyst crunched the numbers on player value based on draft position and by team history (both are accessible to ESPN Insiders only, I believe).  Neither is very optimistic.  Both analyses are based on John Hollinger’s Estimated Wins Added (EWA) metric, a step beyond PER and Value Added (VA) that measures the comparative worth of any player over generic replacement-level talent.  Oddly enough, pick number 22 is tied for the lowest EWA in the entire first round.  In all honesty, this means little; just that in drafts past, the players chosen at 22 haven’t been all that great.  The fact that many late first round selections match or trump the EWA of earlier draft positions should actually give Mavs’ fans great comfort; drafting earlier hardly guarantees a productive player, and drafting later hardly guarantees the opposite.

The team-specific data and grading is another beast entirely.  Teams were ranked based on EWA above or below the expected EWA at each of that team’s picks (to prevent penalty for consistently drafting late in the draft and prevent bonus for consistently picking in the lottery).  Based on that standard, the Mavs ranked 20th out of 30 teams in the last 20 years.  That said, most of the picks that sandbag the Mavs’ ranking took place before Donnie Nelson took over basketball ops in 1998.  Though Donnie is hardly considered a draft prodigy, the Mavs have enough value picks in addition to their two big hits (Dirk and Josh Howard) in that time to propel the Mavs’ EWA through the draft well into the black.  In fact, if you compare the Mavs’ net EWA (actual EWA as compared to expected EWA) during Donnie’s tenure to the other teams’ 20-year rankings, the Mavs would be safely in the top 10.  One incredible player can easily counter a half-decade of failed picks, and that should be taken into account when properly digesting the D.R.A.F.T. Initiative’s numbers.  But if we’re comparing Donnie Nelson to his peers over his tenure, I find that Donnie may be looked on more favorably than one would expect.