A few more detailed looks at the Mavs’ upcoming season are on their way, but in honor of the CelticsBlog-hosted NBA preview circuit, I present to you a first look at the immediate future of the Dallas Mavericks:
Last Year’s Record: 55-27; best in the Southwest, second in the West.
Key Losses: Erick Dampier, screen-setter extraordinaire and instantly expiring contract, Eduardo Najera, a signed-and-released Tim Thomas, Matt Carroll, Rodrigue Beaubois’ preseason, and hope for a big name free agent.
Key Additions: Tyson Chandler, Ian Mahinmi, Dominique Jones, Alexis Ajinca, Rick Carlisle’s faith in Beaubois, the benefit of a full training camp.
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
Dirk Nowitzki was re-signed on a bargain deal relative to his current production. Brendan Haywood was inked to a long-term contract that has brought the Mavs a fair bit of criticism, though the partial guarantees written into the deal and the market this summer (not to mention the fact that re-signing Haywood was a flat-out necessity) make his deal fairly palatable. Erick Dampier was traded for Tyson Chandler, and the Mavs shed Matt Carroll and Eduardo Najera’s contracts while picking up an interesting young big in Alexis Ajinca. Mark Cuban shelled out $3 million for the chance to select South Florida’s Dominique Jones in the first round of the draft. Ian Mahinmi, a per-minute wonder with plenty of promise, was had for two years and minimal salary commitment.
Yet the biggest moves of Dallas’ off-season were the ones never made. The Mavs’ brass made pitches to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Joe Johnson in an effort to lure them to Dallas via sign-and-trade, but the former two had grander ideas and the latter his eye on a much larger paycheck. Erick Dampier’s instantly-expiring contract was a hell of a trade chip, but it sat unused while the most attractive free agents on the market committed to playing anywhere but Dallas.
The Mavs also made runs at two candidates for their mid-level exception. Al Harrington: miss. Udonis Haslem: miss. Dallas wasn’t sinking any battleships.
Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban then turned their attention to the trading block, where they found an eligible bachelor in Al Jefferson. His fit with the team may have been a bit awkward, but there’s no mistaking Jefferson’s talent. Reportedly, the Mavs were but Dampier’s contract and a few draft picks away from working out a deal with Minnesota, yet the Mavs balked. Maybe it was the luxury tax implication. Maybe Nelson and Cuban were hoping for an even better return on Dampier’s contract. Maybe it was concern over how Nowitzki and Jefferson would play together. Regardless, the Utah Jazz swooped in to collect Jefferson while giving up little more than cap space and a pair of first rounders in return, and the Mavs leave the summer in only a slightly better position than when they entered it.
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Dirk Nowitzki. In an otherwise unremarkable offense, Nowitzki is one of the few unmistakable standouts. He still presents a match-up problem for every player in the league, and even at 32, Nowitzki’s offensive game is as potent as ever. His rebounding rate has dropped a bit. His defense is still lacking, though probably underrated on the whole. But Nowitzki is the player through which all things come and all things go for the Mavs.
Taking care of the ball. The Mavs had the 10th best offense in the league last season, but were ranked 13th in effective field goal percentage, 26th in offensive rebounding rate, and 15th in free throw rate. How? Dallas turns the ball over on just 12.2% of its possessions. Nowitzki is an absurdly efficient go-to scoring option in part because of how deliberately careful he is with the ball. Jason Kidd may pick up quite a few turnovers, but between Nowitzki and a few other high-usage, low-turnover players (Jason Terry, Caron Butler), Dallas puts up plenty of shots without giving up scoring opportunities.
Creating turnovers without fouling. Typically, successful NBA defenses fall into one of two general categories: a more conservative, field goal percentage-limiting style, or a more aggressive scheme based on forcing turnovers. Great defenses can sometimes manage to do both. Dallas manages to do neither, at least to the full extent of each defensive theme. Of the 10 teams that forced the most turnovers last season on a per possession basis (GSW, BOS, CHA, MIL, DET, UTA, OKC, MIA, PHI, and DEN), seven were also among the bottom 10 in opponents’ free throw rate. This is pretty intuitive; the more teams pressure ball-handlers and try to force turnovers, the more likely they are to be whistled for fouls.
Dallas, however, has managed to be fairly successful in creating turnovers (they ranked 11th in the league in that regard last season) without picking up all that many fouls (the Mavs were 3rd in the league in opponents’ free throw rate). It’s a strange balance, but thanks to anticipation on the wings and an overall conservative style (perhaps a bit too conservative at times), Dallas has made it work. Not well enough to do serious damage in the playoffs in the last few years, but well enough to remain in the West’s second tier in spite of other defensive shortcomings.
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Shot creation. Nowitzki can manufacture a reasonably good shot attempt against almost any opponent when covered one-on-one, but aside from Dirk, Dallas doesn’t have many players that can create quality shots reliably. Rodrigue Beaubois is likely the team’s second best option in that regard, as Beaubois can use his speed to free himself up for an open look or execute relatively simple drive-and-kick sequences. Otherwise, Jason Terry’s shot-creating abilities looked stifled in last year’s playoffs, and Caron Butler is a decent isolation option…which might make a difference if decent isolation options were considered useful for offensive success.
Jason Kidd is, oddly enough, the question mark. Against San Antonio last season, he wasn’t able to create open looks for the likes of Terry, Butler, Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood, and the Mavs suffered. One of the reasons why Beaubois seemed so brilliant in that series was his stark contrast to Kidd; while the future Hall-of-Famer claimed to be troubled by illness and a bad back, Beaubois was slicing to the hoop in a way that no other Maverick can. If Kidd can stay healthy for the playoffs and redeem his performance against the Spurs, the Mavs’ offense could be pretty potent. It comes down to Dirk providing another year of solid production, Dallas recognizing the kind of shot-creating star it has in Beaubois, and Kidd finding a way to make the rest of the offense work. Without all three of hopes points coming to fruition, the Maverick offense will struggle at times.
A lack of elite production in any particular category. When people say that the Mavericks lack a team identity, they’re wrong. What they really mean to say is that Dallas isn’t really a top-level team in any particular statistical regard. The Mavs were a solid team in most capacities last season, but with the Lakers looming above and so many other team fighting for the no. 2 seed in the West, just being solid may not be good enough. The Mavericks were neither an elite offense nor an elite defense last year, and that’s troubling, particularly because their primary off-season acquisition was a back-up center that will replace the already steady Erick Dampier. Any improvement that will thrust Dallas into elite company will have to come internally, and that puts a lot of pressure on Rodrigue Beaubois, Caron Butler, and Brendan Haywood.
4. What are the goals for this team?
Win 50 games to extend the Mavs’ current 10-year streak, rest the veterans as much as possible, and make it to the conference finals. Any playoff series would be a step up from last season’s first round exit, but Dallas has enough talent to aim high. Not ‘up, up, away, and through the Lakers’ high, but high enough to be L.A.’s stepping stool on the way to the Finals.
Here are some developmental goals for some of the younger guys:
Rodrigue Beaubois needs to prove that the production from his fantastic rookie season is sustainable, while working to improve his ability to run the offense and defend opposing point guards.
Dominique Jones needs to find a way to crack the Mavs’ wing rotation, which is currently clogged with veteran talent. Jones’ on-ball defense and ability to get deep into the paint could be quite useful, but nothing will be given to Jones. He’ll have to pry every minute he gets from Terry, Butler, Beaubois, and J.J. Barea’s fingers.
Ian Mahinmi needs to continue to work on his face-up game, work the offensive glass as well as he did in the preseason, and focus on improving his ability to defend centers. There aren’t all that many minutes to be had behind Dirk, but if Mahinmi can grow into a capable defensive option in the middle, he could become a Maverick fixture.
Alexis Ajinca needs to outplay Ian Mahinmi and force the Mavs to give him a serious look. He’ll start the season at the back of the center rotation, but if Alexis can outplay Ian in practice and in his limited floor time this season (which won’t be the easiest thing to do considering Mahinmi’s gaudy per-minute numbers), he’ll have a chance to feast on the Mavs’ center minute scraps. Other than that, Ajinca needs to continue honing his hook shot, and improve his defensive positioning.
J.J. Barea needs to be a bit more choosy with his shots in the paint, and really hone in on his coverage of the pick-and-roll. All things considered, he’s not a bad backup, but it’s his D on screens that really gets him in trouble.
5. Do you have a video of Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash playing guitar that could take us back to the simpler times, when defensive inadequacies were just a cute little quirk of our beloved Mavs?
Erick Dampier is making his list and checking it twice. Certain to be considered: Miami and Houston. A possible surprise: Atlanta. I’ve heard Utah may be interested as well, but I haven’t the faintest idea if there’s any reciprocation.
Josh Howard, on why the Wizards “took a gamble” on him for the coming season, and how the Wizards stack up with Howard’s former teams in terms of talent (via HoopsHype): “[The Wizards] see a natural-born leader. They got a guy that loves to win games, loves to play, has a total enjoyment for the game… I appreciate that they gave me the chance and I will take advantage of it...Oh, talent-wise the sky is the limit for this team. It’s a young team. Blatche, McGee, Nick Young, No. 1 pick John Wall and a host of other guys. These guys have tremendous upside. If we stay focused and stay dedicated to the game, the sky is the limit for them. I think that’s one other reason they brought me in here – to be a leader. I think I can take those guys on the right path.”
Here, you can cast your vote for the top Mavs of all time at each traditional position, but the race has long been decided: Steve Nash, Rolando Blackman, Mark Aguirre, Dirk Nowitzki, and Roy Tarpley should win-out easily. There are other good candidates — Michael Finley, Derek Harper, and Jason Kidd among them, but those five were clear favorites from the tip. (EDIT: I stand corrected. Finley has surged to take the lead at SG. I love Fin, and I’m still shocked.)
For a journey down the other path, Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider, a fellow contributor at Hardwood Paroxysm, and one of the invaluable minds at HoopData, has identified the five worst statistical tenures for players of each and every team. Dallas’ bottom five: Devean George (’07-’09), Scott Lloyd (’81-’83), Darrell Armstrong (’05-’06), Bill Wennington (’86-’90), and Elston Turner (’82-’84). My initial reaction: isn’t there any way we could come up with a harsher distinction than “worst Maverick ever” for George? My secondary reaction: Armstrong doesn’t deserve to be on this list at all, if for no other reason than the role he played in the Mavs’ comeback, overtime win against the Toronto Raptors in February of 2006.
According to a report by Sport97, Jessie Begarin, a Guadaloupean and participant in Rodrigue Beaubois’ camp, was invited to tryout with the Texas Legends and his since been invited to Mavericks training camp. If this report is indeed true, you could be looking at a future Legend (capital L, y’all). (via DOH at Mavs Moneyball) EDIT: According to Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com, the Mavs/Legends don’t have any plans for Begarin after all.
Akis Yerocostas conducted an interesting exercise at his blog, Pick and Scroll, in which he launched a hypothetical expansion draft. I was consulted as an unofficial representative of the Mavs, in order to choose which players to “protect” for the purposes of the draft. See who I selected and who he ended up drafting here.
Tim Thomas, on his wife’s health (via Earl K. Sneed): “She’s healthy, she’s getting better. I don’t want people to think that she’s on her deathbed. I just want everybody to know we’re doing fine. She’s doing better. Who knows, if she gets better then maybe I’ll give it another try.”
This commercial for NBA 2k11 has nothing to do with the Mavs whatsoever, but is glorious nonetheless. Plus, the 2k series makes a mean game, to boot.
Rodrigue Beaubois goes shopping…at the MavGear headquarters.
Tim Thomas officially re-signed with the Mavericks almost a month ago, but today Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News reported that Thomas will not be a Maverick in practice this season, even if he’s currently one in name. Thomas’ wife’s health again demands his attention, and he will not be playing for Dallas (or conceivably any NBA team) this season without a substantial change in her status. Sefko also noted that it’s possible Thomas could retire from basketball altogether.
First order of business: my thoughts and prayers go out to Tim, Tricia, and the rest of the Thomas family.
In terms of how this will affect the team, the specifics of what will happen with Thomas’ deal (and roster spot) have yet to be determined. According to Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas, the Mavs are currently working with league officials to void Thomas’ contract.
It’s a pity. Thomas functioned well with Dallas, and he gave the Mavs a solid reserve last season during his limited time with the team. In Thomas’ stead, the Mavericks could find more playing time for Ian Mahinmi, who brings size, athleticism, and rebounding to any lineup he’s in. Mahinmi’s skills aren’t ideal if he’s playing alongside Brendan Haywood or Tyson Chandler rather than behind them, but he can defend opposing bigs and produce a bit without using many possessions. Considering that we’re talking about a candidate for leftovers, I think Rick Carlisle can live with that.
Another option is for Dallas to bring in another big for a look in training camp. Many of the more promising fringe NBA prospects have already found training camp homes, but should Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle feel compelled to add another big to the roster, there are still a few candidates available. Recently added to that bunch of available big men is former Maverick Pops Mensah-Bonsu, and while Pops doesn’t have any concrete (or even rumored) links to the team at present, he’s the cream of the remaining crop. Otherwise, you’re looking at a pool of D-Leaguers (though keep in mind that some have already accepted training camp invites from other teams), barely productive vets, or candidates for playing time in Europe.
Kyle Weidie from Truth About It dug up a pretty bizarre account courtesy of Lola Natisa, a friend/acquaintance of Brendan Haywood. This anecdote is very much of the unconfirmed variety, but worth noting regardless (excuse the lengthy quote and the non-basketball subject matter). Natisa wrote on her blog: “Brendan Haywood is an uncomfortably tall basket ball player who has recently signed with the Dallas Mavericks. When he was traded from the Washington Wizards to the Dallas Mavericks earlier this year, my friend Daylon (who knew Brendan from Charlotte) thought it would be cool to show him what Dallas had to offer. It was a Sunday night right after my gig at the House of Blues and the only place that was really jumping in Dallas was a night club called Wish. Brendan is a guy who enjoys muliti-cultural environments because they tend to be much safer, and the women seem to be much much nicer. After going out with him a few times, I can’t disagree with his preference. I’m not sure why…… but black women plus a night club, can add up to rude/bitter/unattractive results at times (lol) FYI: the black woman reading this and is offended, is the black woman that produces these unattractive results. Anyway, we warned him that this night for this club sometimes can become a little hood. Brendan listened to what we had to say and he asked, “Now, is this club just a little hood or is it Josh Howard hood”? I had never been to a Josh Howard party nor had I met him personally, so I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant. That was until I recently sang the National Anthem at Josh Howard’s Celebrity Softball Charity Game. All I can say is Josh Howard is sooo much more hood then just hood. His staff of hometown homeboys who sometimes need to ‘smoke one’ when under pressure were an interesting trio. The after party at the House of Blues looked like a Big T’s Bazaar fashion show. There were over sized gold chains, discount baby phat outfits and ass…just a whole lot of ass (tragic just tragic). Needless to say the night at Wish with Brendon and Daylon wasn’t Josh Howard hood. Hood is just that hood…Josh Howard Hood is hood on steroids, everything hood times ten.”
Say what you will about Jason Terry the player, but Jason Terry the person is about as endearing as they come. It’s from a bit of a fluff piece, but here’s Terry, via Gary Herron of the Rio Rancho Observer (H/T DOH at Mavs Moneyball): “I’ve been blessed and fortunate just to be in the business as long as I have. The ‘life expectancy’ of an NBA player is four years; I’ve been in the league now 11 years. I’ve been primarily healthy throughout my career, haven’t had any major injuries. Blessed with some big contracts; I have a beautiful family.”
From Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas: “Cuban said Mavs head athletic trainier Casey Smith, a member of the Team USA medical staff, has reported that Chandler appears to have regained the explosion he had prior to ankle injuries that ruined the past two seasons.”
On ESPN.com’s Future Power Rankings (assessing which NBA teams have the brightest future overall, not merely looking to next season, Dallas was ranked 14th. About what you’d expect from a strong, but fairly old roster with just one young player of note: “The Mavericks continue to be more of a “now” team than a team looking to the future, which explains their low-ish ranking for a contender…The Mavs’ up-and-comers consist of one guy: 21-year-old point guard Rodrigue Beaubois, whose potential is still a question mark. On the financial front, the free-spending Mavs are projected to be over the salary cap until 2011 or, more likely, 2012. The good news for Dallas fans is that owner Mark Cuban is creative and has perpetually found ways to keep the Mavs competitive. After 10 consecutive seasons with 50 or more wins, this is a hard franchise to count out.”
The Mavs have a new official off-site blog called Mavs Fast Break. Looks to be more or less the same coverage from Earl K. Sneed and a few others, but with a new layout that should make everything easier to find.
Andres Nocioni is on crutches because of his involvement with Argentina’s national team. This is every NBA owner’s/GM’s/coach’s nightmare: players injuring themselves while doing anything other than playing for their team. Fingers crossed that Beaubois, Mahinmi, and Ajinca can avoid Noc’s fate this summer.
Dan Shanoff (via J.E. Skeets): “The NBA has done a spectacular job of turning itself into a 11-month-a-year league. Beyond the regular season and playoffs, there was the John Wall Lottery in May, the Draft in June, July’s free-agent insanity…And even into August — which should be a dead zone — the league has three things it can stand on: The schedule release (yesterday, which was big enough), the World Basketball Festival (in two weeks) and, of course, Shaq about to sign with the Celtics.” This couldn’t be more true in the wake of the free agent bonanza. The FIBA World Championships are right around the corner, and from there we’ll practically roll into training camp and media day. All of this is to say something I’ve noted many times before in this space: there has never been a better time for information-hungry basketball fans. There is so much worthwhile analysis out there to consume on a daily basis (even in the off-season), and it’s all readily available with a few keystrokes. The fact that the NBA is now relevant for so long plays a big part in that.
Mark Cuban on allowing NBA players to participate in international competition (via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, hat tip to DOH at Mavs Moneyball): “I think there is zero upside as a league. We are allocating our best players to work for another corporation. I don’t see the logic. And as far as the argument that the World Championship builds demand, find me one fan who can name the players on the pre-Redeem Team squad. The only reason we allowed Tyson (Chandler) to play is because it’s a good rehab opportunity. So I guess if we only allowed players who were coming back from injuries and needed the rehab, I would be all for it.”
Dirk is the all-time leader in three-point shooters made by a player seven-feet or taller. Behind him? Andrea Bargnani. Bargs has a long way to go before catching up to Dirk, but he’s only 24 and has been shooting a lot more threes than Nowitzki. No question Dirk should go down as the seven-foot shooter to date, but if we look strictly at volume, Bargnani could definitely surpass Nowitzki in 3PM somewhere down the line (Link via ShareBro Skeets).
As the Mavs search for another forward to back up Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Thomas looks for a home to resume his NBA career, it’s only natural that their paths should meet. Bringing Thomas back to the Mavs next season actually makes a lot of sense, and considering the limited alternatives at power forward left in free agency, Thomas may prove to be the smart, safe selection. Imagine that.
It seems like a lifetime ago, but Thomas was actually a productive member of the Mavs’ rotation before taking a leave of absence to stay with his ailing wife. Thomas started the year in terrific fashion, but fell back to Earth a bit over the course of the season. Still, he was a solid three-point shooter for the Mavs in 18 games, shooting .372 from deep on 43 attempts. He showed patience and discretion, and was a slightly more efficient offensive player than his overall career marks show. He scored well, defended adequately, and filled in minutes for the Mavs at both the 3 and the 4. He hit a game-tying three to force overtime (though that shot was easily overshadowed by the Mavs’ loss in OT and the teeth in Dirk Nowitzki’s elbow), played to his strengths, and did what was asked of him. That’s not the kind of portfolio that’s going to secure Thomas a huge paycheck for the coming season, but it looks like it could be enough for him to reprise his role in Dallas.
The Mavs have a chance to bring Thomas back to do it all over again, and provided he’s available for the veteran’s minimum, it seems like the right move. There are no superstars, All-Stars, quasi-stars, former stars, or even distant stars left to acquire. There are only role players, and while Dallas could certainly use more help than just Thomas, they’ll have to make do.
For fans who have been following the Mavs closely, the news of what has been keeping Tim Thomas away from the team is hardly breaking. That doesn’t make anything any less hard or breaking for Thomas, but it very well should change how we see Thomas as a person. His time with the Mavs has been entirely without incident, unless you happen to consider coming in off the bench with unreliable playing time and just doing his job an incident. Based on the way that Tim’s career has gone thus far, I wouldn’t blame you.
But this is a case where Thomas deserved the benefit of the doubt. He fell off the map somewhat mysteriously, and it’s easy to whisper that this was just another case of Thomas being Thomas. After all, who would have been all that surprised if Tim had fallen into the very bed he had made for himself?
But he didn’t. He was doing exactly what he was supposed to do, and he’s still doing it today. It’d be nice if he could still be providing depth at forward and bench scoring, but life isn’t always so accommodating. Instead, Tim and his family are going through some very trying times, and to ask anything more of him would be ridiculous.
All the best to Tim’s wife, Tricia, Thomas himself, and their three children. We don’t know exactly exactly what ails Tricia or how serious it is, but she should have plenty of thoughts, prayers, and positive thoughts coming her way from the Mavs family and MFFLs everywhere.
ESPN.com has learned that Thomas, the 37-year old backup center/forward for the Milwaukee Bucks, has emerged as a fallback trade option for the few playoff-bound teams (including Portland, Dallas and Cleveland) open to the idea of taking on additional salary.
Dallas owes a 2nd rounder to Indiana and has the option of sending its 2010 or 2011 pick to the Pacers, and the Mavericks are also owed a 2010 second-rounder by Oklahoma City — although the Thunder keep it if it falls between Nos. 31 and 45. Dallas also does not have a one-for-one salary match for Thomas other than Drew Gooden, who is a better player than Thomas. (The Mavs do have a $2.9 million trade exception from the Kris Humphries trade to New Jersey, but that exception is not large enough to absorb Thomas’ deal.)
As Sheridan notes, acquiring Kurt Thomas would be a tricky proposition for the Mavs. The Bucks will move him if they can score a very minimal asset — a second round pick, the standard trade chip of cap-clearing deals. But that requires Milwaukee’s trade partner to be $3.6 million under the cap, or in possession of a trade exception to trim that number.
But here’s the catch: teams that are over the cap, like the Mavs, can’t use trade exceptions to absorb incoming player salaries if the value of a single trade exception does not exceed the incoming player salary. Or, if the Mavs were to include actual players in the deal to even out the salary for trade purposes, they still wouldn’t be able to receive salary worth more than 125% of the outgoing salary. All of this is to say that the Mavs are stuck in a position where they can’t use a trade exception to acquire the player they want, which if Sheridan’s sources are correct, is Thomas.
There’s one hypothetical deal that the Mavs could throw Milwaukee’s way: Quinton Ross, Tim Thomas, and J.J. Barea for Kurt Thomas. Make no mistake: this is a horrible deal for Dallas. Ross and Thomas are great guys to have at the end of your bench, and I’m convinced that the Mavs could get back more for Barea than a 37-year-old center with an expiring contract. But if the Mavs somehow end up with additional depth via another trade (say, one involving Josh Howard) and are convinced that Thomas is the answer, there is at least one option where the salaries match. It would only save the Bucks’ a few hundred thousand dollars and wastes Barea on a team with no need for a point guard, but it can technically be done.
I can’t see how Thomas would solve the Mavs’ problems, though. He would give Dallas another traditional center, albeit one that doesn’t operate from the low post on offense and isn’t really the answer to shoring up the defense. Thomas is a fine one-on-one post defender, but why bother if Kurt won’t offer much in the way of a team defensive concept? He’s a fine player to have, but I’m just not sure he’s worth the headache of involving a third team or completing the trade mentioned above.
Thomas has averaged just 13.3 minutes per game for the Bucks this year, along with 2.6 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per game.
I missed this on yesterday’s Grapevine, but Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge put together a wonderful breakdown of Nicolas Batum’s defense on Dirk Saturday night. In light of Andrei Kirilenko’s performance yesterday, it’s pretty apparent that the best way to guard Dirk is still to find the longest, most athletic three around and glue him to Dirk’s hip.
It’s tough to pin down exactly what’s wrong with the Mavs, but Mark Cuban already has the problem diagnosed (via Tim MacMahon, Gina Miller): “I think [it's] just time of year where guys get bored…They gotta get re-energized. I think we’ve taken who we are for granted in some respects and that we can turn it on and just beat people.”
Fourth quarter buckets were hard to come by last night, but you know what wasn’t? Accountability. Neither Dirk nor JET shielded themselves from blame after the loss, and that’s incredibly important.
Doug Collins doesn’t mince words, and in this case, speaks the truth (via Barry Horn): “I think (the Mavericks) are pretty far behind the Lakers. Dirk (Nowitzki) has had a tremendous year, there’s no doubt about that. I think they really miss an effective Josh Howard. He was such a big part of that team and Jason Terry has really taken on his role. When Josh was playing well, he would get them out of the gate quickly. He got them off to great starts. He is struggling right now coming off the bench. I think from (head coach) Rick Carlisle’s standpoint, he’s been unhappy with the defensive slippage the team has had. I think he feels that they’ve lost some of that competitive toughness that they had earlier when they were winning. We’ll see if they can get that back. I don’t see them as a team that can beat the Lakers as they are constituted right now.”
Kelly Dwyer on the Mavs’ recurring fourth quarter problem: “This Dirk Nowitzki thing, nearly as nasty as the “Kobe Bryant thing,” is getting serious, for serious, yo. He played nine and a half fourth quarter minutes on Monday night and didn’t attempt a shot, only taking two free throws. Mainly because the Jazz used a smaller, quicker defender (Andrei Kirilenko) to effectively turn Dirk into a slowish small forward. Dirk still got his 28, and it was his 26 through three quarters that had the Mavs in it to begin with, but his inability to sustain with AK hounding him handed this game to a Jazz club that continues to look good…There are few coaches who I’d trust more to work around this nagging Nowitzki issue than Rick Carlisle, but for now the Mavs are in a tough spot.”
Fox Sports Southwest has video available for the press scrums for Dirk and Rick Carlisle.
“We got to get the ball in people’s hands who can put it in the basket, that’s the bottom line,” Jason Terrysaid. “Their bench outplayed us all night. Clear as day. It can’t happen. They just outplayed us.”
Jason Terry’s not wrong; the trademark of a functional offense is appropriate shot selection. The distribution of possessions in last night’s game was mostly regular, with one glaring exception: Dirk Nowitzki was anything but a part of the offense in the fourth quarter. Much credit goes to the Suns’ defense, but quality offensive outfits find ways to get shots for their best scorers.
Starting from the top of the graph and going clockwise, players are ordered in terms of their possession usage. The white area of the graph represents the player’s PER, with the two optimally being relative close, or at least proportional (though, it’s definitely worth noting that usage and PER are in no way measured by the same scale. They’re completely different metrics.). So let’s break it down on a player-by-player basis, shall we?
HIGH USAGE PLAYERS:
Dirk Nowitzki (23.20 PER, 29.16 usage) – Dirk is the king of the castle. The top banana. The big enchilada. The MVP-caliber power forward who has the license to shoot any shot he wants any time he wants it. It’s his prerogative. Nowitzki is the team’s most effective and consistent scorer by far, and the team appropriates possessions to him accordingly.
Josh Howard (11.36 PER, 24.37 usage) – Lo, our first hiccup. Josh has had a rough season in terms of efficiency, but it hasn’t stopped him from chucking up shots at will. It’s ye olde premise of shooting oneself out of a slump…only Howard’s still mired in it. To Josh’s credit, he’s performing better since his return to the bench. But the high number of field goals attempted and high number of turnovers send his usage rate to, at least, upper tropospheric heights. It’s one thing for Josh to be an ineffective, “invisible” player, but Howard was routinely making his team worse by being ineffective while using up a lot of possessions. That’s a definite no-no, and one of the biggest reasons why the Mavs have struggled offensively with Howard in the lineup.
Rodrigue Beaubois (14.24 PER, 22.94 usage) – Having a high usage point guard is a bit unusual, but the situation with Beaubois is a bit more complicated. For one, he’s played a vast majority of his minutes this season off the ball, which puts him in a position to shoot more than your average combo guard. Playing alongside a pure distributor like Jason Kidd doesn’t hurt in that respect either, nor does starting with other low usage players like Shawn Marion and Erick Dampier. Once Roddy was relegated into duty as a deep reserve, his occasional minutes were rare chances to showcase his abilities. It’s only natural that those at the end of the bench will put up shots during garbage time, and while I wouldn’t call Beaubois selfish by any means, he was certainly determined to get his.
Jason Terry (15.68 PER, 22.45 usage) – In theory, this usage is about right. Terry recorded a career high in usage rate last year (25.56), but with the additions the Mavs made in the off-season and the full-time return of Josh Howard, that number was sure to dip. What’s more troubling is JET’s merely average PER, which is his lowest in his career excluding his rookie year. Terry’s efficiency has started to pick up, but he’ll need a pretty stellar second half to meet his career numbers. Still, the important thing isn’t how Terry’s production is represented statistically at the end of the season, but how he performs from now until then. What’s done is done, and though JET’s poor shooting has played a role in plenty of Dallas losses, it’s far more important that he shoots well going into April than going into February.
MID-LEVEL USAGE PLAYERS:
Kris Humphries (15.30 PER, 21.58 usage) – Checking Humphries’ numbers over the course of this season (both in New Jersey and Dallas), I can’t help but think that the Mavs weren’t properly utilizing Hump’s talents. He was impressive, but not overwhelmingly so. Could that be because Hump was primarily playing out of position? It seems a logical argument to me, but 82games doesn’t agree. Could it be that he wasn’t valued enough in the offense? Possible; his relatively high usage rate would seem to betray the notion, but keep in mind Hump’s incredibly high offensive rebounding rate. He was creating possessions on his own, for the most part, and most of his shot attempts were coming around the basket. It goes against the scouting report I would write on Hump, but is it possible that New Jersey has figured something out about Kris Humphries’ game that the Mavs could not? Or is this just another case of a big man on a bad team boasting a bloated PER?
Tim Thomas (15.58 PER, 21.13 usage) – Tim Thomas is pretty versatile, but make no mistake: his job is to shoot the ball. Sometimes that involves working the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop. Sometimes it involves spotting up from the corner. And more often than you’d think, it involves setting up on the low block. As for the PER? It’s among the best outputs of Thomas’ career. Can’t ask much more from Thomas than what he’s given the Mavs in limited playing time this season.
Drew Gooden (16.82 PER, 20.15 usage) – In coming to Dallas, Drew Gooden was asked to occupy different spots on the floor and change his position entirely. So naturally, he’s responded by putting up solid numbers at an efficient rate…just as he’s done throughout his career. PER doesn’t really measure defensive performance, and that’s largely a reason why Gooden is rated so highly. But in terms of offense, the Mavs have a clearly above average player occupying their back-up center spot…which isn’t something that a lot of teams in the league can say (only Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Charlotte, by way of these rankings). That makes his usage rate completely understandable, especially given the help that the Mavs need in terms of bench scoring.
J.J. Barea (12.61 PER, 19.94 usage) – Like Beaubois, Barea has logged plenty of time as the 2. Rick Carlisle clearly finds great comfort in having two ball-handlers on the floor, and J.J.’s drive and kick style is different enough from Kidd’s more traditional point guard play and Terry’s pull-up game that the skill sets aren’t redundant. In the Tony Parker mold, J.J.’s passing is a product of the threat of his scoring, which contextualizes his high possession usage. As for the PER? Well, Barea’s good, but not that good. He’s a solid back-up point man, and perfectly capable of taking over a game when he’s on a roll. But the rest of the time his production falls right in line with his role on the team. A good back-up point is hard to find, and though Barea’s game is definitely flawed in a few ways, he qualifies.
Matt Carroll (5.74 PER, 18.31 usage) - Matt Carroll used to make basketball shots. Now he just shoots basketball shots. And sits on the bench. A lot.
LOW USAGE PLAYERS:
Shawn Marion (15.67 PER, 17.57 usage) – Though Marion’s on-court offerings have been translating to the scoreboard lately, that’s not quite in his job description. Shawn’s primary objective is to defend, and the rebounding and points that come as a result are simply organic byproducts of the game. Marion gets rebounds because he’s a natural rebounder, nevermind the fact that Nowitzki, Dampier, Gooden, and Kidd are all strong relative to their positions. Marion gets points because he’s open, and because Jason Kidd knows what he’s doing. But without impressive game totals in points, rebounds, etc., Shawn’s PER was never going to be sky-high.
James Singleton (9.13 PER, 16.81 usage) – Despite James’ occasional delusions of jumpshooting grandeur, he usually sticks to the script. Singleton is in the game as an energy guy first and foremost, and strictly speaking his contributions should be limited to defense and rebounding. But you throw a guy some shots every now and then, even if he’s not necessarily great at converting them. His usage is in a range where it’s hardly damaging, and his extremely limited playing time makes it a virtual non-factor regardless.
Jason Kidd (15.68 PER, 12.90 usage) – What more can I say about Jason Kidd? He makes the offense go. His instincts as a point guard are All-World, and though he isn’t the box score stuffer he used to be, his offensive numbers on the season are still quite solid. Kidd’s no longer the type of star you can build a team around, but he is the kind of star that can produce quality shots for himself and his teammates. He doesn’t turn the ball over that much or force many shot attempts (hence the low usage), but he doesn’t have the kind of top-notch statistical production needed to register a higher PER (hence…well, the low PER).
Erick Dampier (15.92 PER, 12.52 usage) – Basically in the same boat as Shawn Marion. Dampier is fighting the good fight by cleaning the glass, setting picks for his teammates, and scoring on minimal shot attempts.
Quinton Ross (5.74 PER, 9.49 usage) – Not applicable. I think Q-Ross is a solid contributor to a team like the Mavs, but nothing he does on the court would translate to PER.