Passing Thoughts

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on May 14, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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Needless to say, there’s a lot of free time on my hands. I like to think when I have a lot of free time. I like to think when I do not have a lot of free time. With that in mind, I’ve sat and wondered about various subjects revolving around the Mavs. I went ahead and got my fingers working on the keyboard and came up with questions and answers about the Mavs. Here are 10 of the questions and answers now. I will share the other 10 later this week.

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Power On

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on May 9, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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As the position evaluation moves on, we land at the power forward spot. Needless to say, the Mavs haven’t had to worry about filling this position in terms of a starter for an entire season for a long time. Dirk Nowitzki remains the franchise. If all goes well, Dirk will likely retire a Maverick when the time is right. The good news in that situation is that possibility still seems further down the road.

Dallas has had Shawn Marion become the ultimate security blanket for them as he’s been able to move up and fill the backup power forward position for the team over the last couple of years. They also took a chance and gave Brandan Wright more of an opportunity to play at that position. With Dirk firmly established as the starting power forward, it’s worth looking at how the team is in terms of depth behind him.

Summing it up:

The guys did an admirable job doing what they could while Dirk was out for the first portion of the season. Dallas had quite a few options to work with in terms of backups. As it was mentioned above, they had Shawn Marion and Brandan Wright log minutes behind Dirk. Wright logged time as the backup center, but they found certain lineups that allowed the lanky big man to slide down to the four spot.

It was actually surprising that the Mavs went ahead with playing Wright at that spot. When he joined the team prior to the 2011-12 season, he said he felt more like a power forward than a center and Rick Carlisle immediately said afterwards that they envisioned him being solely a center.

It wasn’t sunshine and daffodils the entire time, though. For a brief time, try 81 minutes, they tried Elton Brand as the power forward next to Chris Kaman. Those two worked together well when they played together for the Los Angeles Clippers between 2003 and 2007. It didn’t necessarily work in 2012 as the combination was a -26 in their time together.

What do they need?

First off, they need Dirk to stay healthy. It starts and ends with him being ready to go for as many games as possible. There’s been a question that’s lingered over the last 5-7 years when it comes to the backup power forward position. Do you go with someone who operates closer to the rim at the power forward position or do you go with a stretch 4? The Mavs certainly tried to go with the stretch 4 when they brought Troy Murphy into the mix. Remember him?

If the Mavs intend on bringing Brandan Wright back, I doubt it’s with the primary intention to back up the team’s best player. He can operate in that position, but they probably want to continue their development with him as part of a platoon at the center position. If they could establish another three-headed monster at that position, that would be ideal.

If Wright is coming back, it would probably be ideal to have more of a physical presence backing Dirk up. It’s not that Wright is soft or anything, but he’s not going to be confused with a bodybuilder. What makes him dynamic as a player is his size and mobility. It only makes sense to match that up with someone who will be physical and battle in the trenches.

The free agent pool isn’t that stacked for talent in that position, at least not in the form of a cheaper backup power forward. The draft could be a route the Mavs look at replenishing that position. That being said, it’s not incredibly likely that they would find a power forward to eventually groom into Dirk’s spot. It’s not like they would necessarily want to do that either since both Dirk and the franchise believe that he has more than a year or two left of prime basketball left in him.

If the pieces work out, they’re likely hoping that they can bring Wright back, and have him as a third option behind Shawn Marion.

Bryan Gutierrez writes about sportsmen. He also attended Ball So Hard University, studying ideologies of Clark Kent. You can follow him on Twitter @BallinWithBryan.

Rarefied Air

Posted by Brian Rubaie on February 13, 2013 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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In a season rife with inconsistency, disappointment has been the lone constant for the 2012-2013 Dallas Mavericks.  Dallas is experiencing its least successful season of 21st century. The losses have taken a frustrating toll on devoted fans, players and coaches alike.

No one seems more bothered by the team’s performance than Rick Carlisle, who rarely allows himself the pleasure of celebrating or accepting credit for victories but often makes it a point to take personal responsibility when losses mount. The accountability Carlisle displays speaks well to his character but is also misleading. As much as Dallas has struggled, Carlisle has masterfully captained a ship that could’ve easily sunk long ago.

That point was strongly reinforced in Carlisle’s 500th victory one week ago against the Portland Trailblazers. The fans and players awarded Carlisle a standing ovation, an act which Carlisle predictably greeted with the same modesty he’s displayed throughout. Dubbed the “Baller of the Week” by our own Bryan Gutierrez in this week’s Rundown, Carlisle remarked that “It’s meaningful, but I’m not into those kinds of things. … One relief I have is I think after tomorrow I won’t have to hear about it again for a while, so that’s good.”

Carlisle doesn’t want the attention, but his achievement marks the season’s single most impressive feat in Dallas. With few other causes for celebration, win number 500 provides an appropriate moment for basketball fans to pause and appreciate this great coach’s work. One week later, the magnitude of the event, and the thought of all the work that it took to achieve it, is still a challenge to fully appreciate.

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Pocket Pair

Posted by Ian Levy on January 31, 2013 under Commentary | 10 Comments to Read

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This has been an incredibly turbulent season for the Mavericks from a player personnel standpoint. They faced their first 27 games without Dirk Nowtizki, and with just five other returning players on the roster. An NBA roster has 15 slots, but the Mavericks have already used 19 different players this season, not including Delonte West — with whom the Mavericks parted ways before the season began. Each week it seems there is a new addition to be welcomed to the fold, bringing with them the warm tidings of hope.

Since he took over in Dallas, Rick Carlisle has proved repeatedly that managing personnel is one of his greatest coaching strengths. He has been innovative and progressive in managing his lineups and always seems to pull the most from each of his players. This season however, putting the pieces together has been a constant challenge. No matter how he arranges them, they don’t seem to fit together quite as uniformly as they have in the past, and the image never becomes totally clear. I’m personally of the opinion that it’s because these pieces don’t all come from the same puzzle, and that no matter what five-man unit Carlisle runs out onto the floor, some part of it will be a hasty Spackle job trying to hold back the rising tide of flood waters. However, I thought it might be interesting to look at the different lineup foundations he’s tried by examining his success (and lack thereof) with various two-man combinations.

The visualization below lets you look at all the different two-man combinations the Mavericks have used for at least 100 minutes this season. Unfortunately, to create all the combinations I had to place several players on both axes, which can make for a slightly confusing view. The size of each square represents the number of minutes that pairing played. The color represents that pairing’s Net Rating, or point differential per 100 possessions. If you hover over any of the squares you can also see that combination’s Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating. The filters below let you include or eliminate pairings based on any of those variables.

MavsShots

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The three least efficient areas to shoot from are inside the paint (but not in the restricted area), from mid-range and straight ahead three-pointers. Altogether, 63.7% of this lineup’s shot attempts come from those three areas. Going back to my shot-selection metric from two weeks ago, the shot selection of this lineup gives them an XPPS of 0.988, where the league average is 1.047. They feature above-average mid-range shooters, but are using that weapon to a fault. Above-average ability isn’t manifesting in above-average success, and their Actual Points Per Shot is an even lower 0.936. From an outsider’s perspective, this group seems like they may be fundamentally incompatible offensively, even with Nowitzki’s eventual improvement taken into account.

Although you never like to see anyone injured, Kaman’s concussion offers the possibility for an interesting experiment. Kaman has had a solid individual season putting up 18.8 points per 36 minutes, the second highest of his career, on a TS% of 53.3, his highest since 2008-2009. However, his rebound percentage is the lowest since his rookie season and the Mavericks have generally struggled when he’s on the floor. Dallas’ defense is 3.6 points worse per 100 possessions with Kaman in the mix, a margin that’s ultimately not all that surprising. However, the Mavs’ offense is also 2.9 points worse per 100 possessions with Kaman involved. Turning back to the visualization above, we see that Kaman is featured in 12 different pairings, only two of which have outscored the opposition. Those two — with Brandan Wright and with Jae Crowder — have played a combined 343 minutes, 44 of which are overlapped.

Much of Carlisle’s rotation work this season has felt like tinkering around the edges. As long as they’ve been healthy, the foundational pieces of Kaman, Nowitzki, Mayo and Marion have been largely cemented in place. With Kaman out, Carlisle will be forced to manipulate his foundation, and there is an opportunity for Brandan Wright and Bernard James to find their way back into the regular rotation in a significant way. Both Wright and James have been featured in several successful (albeit scarcely used) pairings, and I can’t help but feel that they are under-utilized assets. Neither player is comfortable away from the basket on offense and each would give the Mavericks a very different look than with Brand or Kaman alongside Nowitzki. When we talk about spacing issues we are usually referring to a team with a lack of outside shooters, allowing the defense to clog the paint. In this case I think the Mavericks can actually improve their spacing by removing overly-willing outside shooters; the insertion of James or Wright will force the defense to expand their focus and defend more of the floor, more vigorously.

The visualization also makes it seem that there could be potential benefits in increased roles for Vince Carter and Jae Crowder. Carter has done tremendous work in keeping the second-unit offense afloat, but maybe it’s time to let him work long more court time with Nowitzki. His ability to work inside and out, particularly as a post-up threat, seems like it could also alleviate some of the one-dimensional reliance on the mid-range jumpshot. It would be a difficult pill to swallow, but perhaps Mayo would be better off swapping places with Carter. Moving to the bench might feel like a step backwards for Mayo and could have significant impacts on team chemistry, but at this point the Mavs’ current rotation isn’t doing much for the team’s present or future.

In addition to his work for The Two Man Game, Ian Levy is the author of Hickory High, and a contributor to Indy CornrowsHardwood Paroxysm, HoopChalk and ProBasketballDraft. You can follow Ian on Twitter at @HickoryHigh.

Lessons of Youth

Posted by Jonathan Tjarks on December 13, 2012 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

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Jonathan Tjarks is the managing editor of SB Nation Dallas. He writes about basketball and all that it implies at RealGM and SB Nation, and is a guest columnist here at The Two Man Game. Follow Jonathan on Twitter at @JonathanTjarks.

Over the last decade, the Mavericks and the Spurs have been the most consistent winners in the NBA. However, while San Antonio is renowned for an excellent scouting and player development operation, Dallas has always preferred getting veterans in either trades and free agency. For years, Dirk Nowitzki’s individual excellence and Cuban’s checkbook have papered over their inability to develop young players. In 2012, those chickens have come home to roost.

When Deron Williams decided to stay in Brooklyn, Dallas had to scramble just to fill out their roster. Aside from Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion, they had no one else they could rely on to fill consistent minutes. The result of that turnover has been an unbelievable lack of continuity; with their two star forwards dealing with injuries, there are many stretches of games where all five Mavs on the court were wearing different jerseys a year ago.

It’s not a coincidence that Rick Carlisle has used 10 different starting lineups in their first 21 games, but nothing represents the Mavs’ desperation more than the  in-season signings of Derek Fisher, Troy Murphy and Eddy Curry. All three have names familiar to basketball fans, but it’s been years since any of them has been a functional NBA player. Curry hasn’t had a PER above 10 since 2008, Fisher since 2009 and Murphy since 2010. Since Dallas released them, neither Curry nor Murphy has gotten even a sniff from another NBA team.

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Thermodynamics: Week 5

Posted by Travis Wimberly on November 29, 2012 under Commentary, Recaps | Read the First Comment

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Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy

When you write a weekly hot-cold basketball column and the team you write about has an atrocious week, it’s sometimes difficult to find much positive or “hot” to discuss. But that’s why they pay us the big bucks here at The Two Man Game. (Note: That “big bucks” thing I said just now? A lie.)

Despite the Mavs’ 0-3 week, which was anything but ordinary, we’re going to do our ordinary thing here at Thermodynamics. Three hot, three cold. Hopefully it’ll be marginally less painful than watching the Mavs’ play of late.

Week 5 (Lakers, @76ers, @Bulls)

FIRE

1) Vince Carter’s Three Ball

For a guy who often plays the role of shot-chucker, Carter had a nicely efficient week from long range. He shot 4-of-7 (57%) against the Lakeshow, 3-of-5 (60%) against the 76ers, and 2-of-4 (50%) against the Bulls. His three-point production against the 76ers was especially welcome. For one, that was the Mavs’ only close game this week, so it was the only one where his shots had any real impact. And also, Carter hit the biggest shot of the game when he drained a deep three with 1:24 left to ignite a last-ditch Mavs rally. Carter’s three-point percentage on the season is up to a respectable 40%, good for 41st in the league among qualifying guards. If he can hover around there for the remainder of the year–rather than dipping back down into the mid-30s–it will significantly boost the Mavs’ often-troubled offense.

2) Shawn Marion’s Two Ball

The Matrix had a solid week on offense, particularly from two-point range (which, frankly, is the only range from which he should ever be shooting). Marion shot 15-of-25 (60%) from two this week, highlighted by a terrific 7-of-10 (70%) performance last night in Chicago. He showed his typical offensive versaility, mixing layups and tip-ins with a nice array of mid-range floaters off the dribble. It doesn’t always look pretty–in fact, it rarely does–but Marion sent a message this week that he can be a fairly productive scorer on a team desperately seeking its offensive identity.

3) Brandan Wright’s Bench Seat

Earlier this week, The Two Man Game guest columnist Jonathan Tjarks wrote a terrific piece on Rick Carlisle’s handling of Troy Murphy and Brandan Wright. I won’t repeat Jonathan’s reasoned and thorough analysis, but I completely agree with him that Murphy has essentially no business playing power forward in front of Wright. Unfortunately, coach doesn’t agree. Wright started against the Lakers and scored six quick points, but ended up playing fewer minutes than Murphy, who contributed a whopping zero points and two rebounds in 14 minutes. What’s more, that Lakers start was the last time Wright would play this week. He didn’t log a single minute against the 76ers or the Bulls, while Murphy averaged almost 14 minutes in those two games. Wright has serious weaknesses to his game–defense and rebounding, to name a couple. But Murphy has those same weaknesses and, unlike Wright, really doesn’t do anything else well. With the Mavs adding veteran guard Derek Fisher just last night, it’s possible that Murphy will be cut later today to make room. Or maybe they’ll cut Wright, and this whole discussion becomes moot.

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Remnant of the Old World

Posted by Jonathan Tjarks on November 21, 2012 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

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Jonathan Tjarks is the managing editor of SB Nation Dallas. He writes about basketball and all that it implies at RealGM and SB Nation, and is a guest columnist here at The Two Man Game. Follow Jonathan on Twitter at @JonathanTjarks.

The Mavs, understandably, are in flux. Of their top 10 players in minutes played, Shawn Marion is the only one with more than a season in Dallas. Eddy Curry, their starting center on Opening Night, has already come and gone. As a result, Rick Carlisle has been throwing combinations of players against the wall and seeing what sticks; in their narrow win against Cleveland on Saturday, 11 different Mavs received significant minutes.

Carlisle’s ability to manipulate matchups and juggle his rotations was nearly flawless during the title run in 2011, but that doesn’t mean he is without blind spots as a coach. In his time in Dallas, he has generally given veterans the benefit of the doubt in terms of playing through bad stretches while holding younger players to a much stricter standard. This season, he’s taken that philosophy to its logical conclusion with his handling of Troy Murphy and Brandan Wright, leading to predictably disastrous results.

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Tweak This

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on November 13, 2012 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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“We’ve given this sort of rotation a good, long look,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after the team’s 92-80 loss to Minnesota. “We may have to change it up. I’ll have to look at the film and see.” The traditional starting lineup the team has used when guys were healthy (Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Shawn Marion, Elton Brand and Brandan Wright) has averaged 12.0 minutes, shot 51.3 percent from the field while averaging 10.5 rebounds and had a combined total of 3.3 from a plus/minus perspective. The makeshift lineup the Mavericks have had to use with Marion out of the lineup (Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Jae Crowder, Elton Brand and Brandan Wright) has averaged only 7.1 minutes, shot 44.3 percent from the field while averaging 4.8 rebounds and had a combined total of -3.6 from a plus/minus perspective. A simple move might be to have someone like Dahntay Jones fill in at the small forward position until Marion can return.

After three straight losses and the shooting percentages dropping, the Mavericks do need to consider some tweaks. In regards to what can actually be done, here are some options the team can look at.

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Thermodynamics: Week 2

Posted by Travis Wimberly on November 8, 2012 under Commentary, Recaps | 4 Comments to Read

Fire & Ice

Thermodynamics (n.) – the science concerned with the relations between heat and mechanical energy

Week 2 of the Mavericks’ 2012-2013 season is in the books, and the early returns look promising. The Mavs finished the week 3-0. That’s not bad. I’d be more impressed, but I had hoped the Mavs would find a way to win four or five games this week, despite having just three on the schedule. Call me ambitious.

In case you missed the debut of Thermodynamics last week (or ignored it entirely — fair enough), the premise here is simple. Each week, I’ll review the Mavs’ best and worst performances, and I’ll do so with an innovative, not-at-all-clichéd “hot-cold” motif. With that said…

Week 2 (Bobcats, Blazers, Raptors)

FIRE

1) “Juice” Mayo

After starting the season with two fairly unremarkable performances in Week 1, OJ Mayo quickly transitioned into remarkable. This week, Mayo was the Mavs’ best player. He led the team in scoring all three games, notching 30, 32, and 22 points, respectively. Perhaps more importantly, Mayo scored efficiently, shooting 30-of-52 (58%) and a blistering 16-of-24 (67%) from deep.  He also maintained a 2-to-1 assist-turnover ratio and showed strong single-game +/- numbers (+27, +21, +10). Mayo’s much-needed punch from the two-guard spot is a big reason why the Mavs are 4-1—and with last night’s Spurs loss, tied for first place in the West—without Dirk Nowitzki.

2) Chris Kaman

Think OJ Mayo ran away from the pack on the Mavs’ shooting charts this week?  Think again. Chris Kaman shot 8-of-9 (89%) for 16 points against Charlotte, 8-of-10 (80%) for another 16 points against Portland, and 8-of-15 (53%) for 22 points against Toronto. And Kaman didn’t rack up those numbers on dunks and layups — in fact, nearly half of his field goals came on mid-range jump shots. Kaman showed excellent touch from the baseline and the elbow, and demonstrated a nice array of low-post moves while finishing with both hands. His versatility won’t surprise seasoned NBA observers, as his biggest issue has always been health, not talent.

3) Offensive Pace & Efficiency

Here are two things about the Mavs’ offense in Week 2: they played it fast, and they played it well. The Mavs averaged almost 20 fast break points per game this week, evidencing a team-wide effort (spearheaded by point-guard Darren Collison) to push the tempo. And even when the Mavs didn’t score on the break, their up-tempo approach often created exploitable cross-matches in the half-court. Behind those efforts, coupled with excellent ball movement and shooting, the Mavs eviscerated their opponents’ defenses this week. They currently rank second in the league in points per game (108.2) and third in Offensive Rating (114.2).

ICE

1) Player Availability

Before the season opener in Los Angeles, many assumed the Mavs would struggle to tread water without Dirk Nowitzki for several weeks. So far, that hasn’t been true. But unfortunately, “without Dirk Nowitzki” hasn’t even told the full story. This week, the Mavs also lost Shawn Marion (sprained MCL) and Rodrigue Beaubois (sprained ankle) from the lineup. Elton Brand missed the Toronto game (understandably) for the birth of his child. Taken together, these events have left significant holes in the Mavs’ active roster. The schedule has been pretty forgiving, and will continue to be for the next few weeks, but the Mavs’ depleted depth may rear its ugly head against tougher opponents (like the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Friday night).

2) Defensive Glass

Last week’s column emphasized the Mavs’ poor defensive rebounding. This column will do the same. Don’t call it a streak (yet…); the Mavs didn’t quite suffer a rebounding meltdown like they did in Utah last week, but their overall numbers on the defensive glass continued to disappoint. They gave up 15 offensive boards to Charlotte, 23 to Portland, and 10 to Toronto. The Portland game was especially troubling, as the Blazers dominated 23-2 on the offensive glass and 48-37 overall. For all the things the Mavs have been doing very well this year, this is one area that’s been decidedly poor. Having a complete roster will help, but that won’t solve the problem on its own.

3) Troy Murphy’s Shooting

At first, I was reluctant to rag on the Mavs’ 11th (or so) man for his first few games on a new team. But then I remembered Troy Murphy is a millionaire professional athlete, so I got over it. Murphy wasn’t awful this week. He moved well, rebounded the ball decently, and even showed some savvy in the Mavs’ pick-and-roll defense. But after declining to shoot even once against Charlotte, Murphy showed us during the next two games why he declined to shoot even once versus Charlotte. Against Portland and Toronto, Murphy shot a combined 3-of-10 (30%) from the field and 1-of-7 (14%) from deep. Some of his misses weren’t pretty, including a corner three against Toronto that nearly got lodged between the rim and the backboard. Always remember, Troy: Keep Calm and Shoot Less.

Travis Wimberly lives in Austin, Texas and writes about the Dallas Mavericks on Al Gore’s Internet™. Travis enjoys shenanigans, claptrap, and frivolity. Follow Travis on Twitter @TravisRW.

The Rundown, Volume III

Posted by Bryan Gutierrez on November 5, 2012 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

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The Rundown is back. Every Monday, The Rundown will chronicle the week that was for the Mavericks, as well as let you know what is coming up for the boys in blue, with a unique spin. Simply put, it is your Monday catch-up on all things with the Dallas Mavericks.

The first full week of the regular season has passed, and the Dallas Mavericks emerged with a 2-1 record. The revolving door that is the back end of the 15-man rotation saw some activity as the newest Maverick left in place of a different option. It’s been quite an eye-opening first week for the Mavericks, so let’s take a look at the week for that was.

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