There have been a lot of positive remarks about the questions and answers series that has started during the offseason. I think people are just thirsty for Mavs information or debate, but we’ll continue running with the series. If you ever have questions you want tossed into future a batch, you can always send them through Twitter or through the comments section.
This batch provides a good mixture of looking back, looking ahead and evaluating who the true gambles are this offseason with free agency. If Dirk and Carlisle were your kids and you had to pick one as your favorite, who would you pick? Wait, parents don’t have to pick a favorite child? Oh, that’s good to know for the future. Anyways, a variation of that topic is brought up.
For now, here are 10 more questions and answers about the Mavs.
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Back-to-back games against the struggling Milwaukee Bucks and the perpetually befuddled Sacramento Kings weren’t going to test the Mavs’ competitive fiber, but they did end testing the Mavs’ limits. In two straight games, we got to see exactly what kind of dominance this Mavericks team is capable of, and though the level of competition gives these two huge wins a certain disclaimer, demolishing lesser teams does have a decent correlation with long-term success. More importantly: after being on the receiving end of a couple of routs to begin the season, Dallas is finally making legitimate strides in their efforts to create balance.
It’s fantastic and reassuring and all kinds of confusing that the Mavs are able to be this good with Dirk Nowitzki averaging just 12.5 points in the last two games. Some of that is a function of playing time (particularly because of the Mavs’ tendency to work through Nowitzki late in close games), but the marginal nature of Nowitzki’s involvement has been apparent irrelevant of his production. Dirk’s still doing work, he’s just doing substantially less than he did at any point last season.
Congratulations to the Kings, who now have the honor of posting the lowest point total for any Maverick opponent in a half, the lowest point total in a half in Kings franchise history, the lowest point total for a Maverick opponent in a game, the fewest field goals made by a Maverick opponent, the lowest single-game field goal percentage in Kings franchise history, and the lowest single-game field goal percentage mark for any Maverick opponent overall. Gold stars all around.
You know the drill. The Difference is a quick-hitting (or in this case, day after) reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
Last night we witnessed something spectacular, and oddly enough, it happened almost completely independent of the Mavericks’ performance. Dallas was present for the first 12 minutes of this game, but they may as well not have been; Sacramento put on a supernatural shooting display in the first quarter, a phenomenal happening given both the magnitude of the Kings’ explosion and how typically miserable the Kings are on every other day of the season. They currently rank 29th in the league in offensive efficiency, but after Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, and Donté Greene modified the limits of reason for their benefit, Sacramento scored at a rate of 160.9 points per 100 possessions. Unfathomable. Poor defense certainly played a role, but the Kings had reached a higher state of existence. Evans had a visible aura. Cousins was enlightened, swapping his usually questionable decision-making and fouling for efficient scoring and tough offensive rebounding. Greene clicked from inside and out, as his game finally centered itself.It’s pretty amazing that the Mavs were able to weather such a significant run at all, much less come sneak away with a victory. I know the Kings are still the Kings (and that the Kings who are still the Kings happen to be kings of abject failure this season), but this is a quality win.
Dallas was just relentless. After a spirited win against the Jazz on Friday night, it would have been relatively simple for the Mavs to call it a night after enduring that kind of first quarter resistance on the second night of a back-to-back. They endured, and once Sacramento’s offense came back down to earth (though it never quite regressed to the mean; overall, Dallas’ defensive performance was still very much subpar), the better team found themselves in position to make this thing a game. The threes weren’t falling (Jason Kidd’s shooting was particularly hideous), but the Mavs drove, worked inside against a soft Kings defense, and got to the free throw line. Sacramento (11) may have doubled the Dallas (5) in three-point makes, but the Mavs were similarly dominant over their opponents in terms of free throw makes. Dallas finished with 24 made free throws in their 29 attempts, good for a 31.6 free throw rate — far above their season average. Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, 11-15 FG, five rebounds, five assists) was indomitable, but he wasn’t forced to be a go-to scorer (Jason Terry contributed 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting, and the Mavs’ late-game offense didn’t need too many Dirk isolations). The Dallas offense just clicked throughout, and though it would never come close to matching the brilliance of Sacramento’s first quarter, sustained offensive effort and execution came out just two points better than the Kings’ peaks and valleys.Plus, for all of the defense’s troubles throughout the game, the Mavs really locked down in the fourth. They allowed just four points in the game’s final 5:24 seconds, and Tyson Chandler’s (10 points, seven rebounds) interior defense was particularly impressive down the stretch.Check out this beauty:
Rick Carlisle won’t be asking for seconds of an outing like this one, but Dallas got away with a win. We’ve seen Dallas beat good teams and bad, and both convincingly. Games like this happen, and though it would have been nice to see the Mavs play better defensively, take the W and move on.
As much as the positional revolution is a reflection of basketball progress and modernity, it also symbolizes something very basic and quite fundamental. Positionality is basketball’s existentialism, as looking into the nature of on-court roles is the closest the sport ever comes to pondering how the players as we know them have come to life. When a person steps onto a basketball court they become a player, and more specifically, a shooting guard. Or a center. Or a wing. Or a scorer/D2. They become something else and something more, and trying to understand that transition is a fascinating endeavor.
Fascinating enough, in fact, that the recent swell of discussion over positional freedom has sparked plenty of interesting writing in our little corner of the basketball world.
Last week, Jesse Blanchard of 48 Minutes of Hell honed in on the D1. After all, is any player in the league really capable of keying in on an opponent’s premier, quicker, point guard-type player? While I think the same could be said of the elites at every position, Blanchard’s point is well-taken, and his alternative system — which focuses on three different defensive styles (disrupt, deny, contain) — provides some delectable food for thought. Something to consider, though: Do Blanchard’s defensive positions really signify defensive function? Or are they merely stylistic descriptors? Does that even matter? Those classifications are a terrific exercise regardless, even if they aren’t best served as positions.
Matt Moore, writing at NBA FanHouse, chose to examine the revolution with Tyreke Evans as one of its foci: “An example? Tyreke Evans. Evans can attack the basket, snare rebounds, has terrific length and instincts defensively, and knows how to find his teammates (despite calls he’s a terrible passer, he averaged five assists his rookie campaign, with little to no weapons on the Kings). But because he’s tall and has better scoring ability than passing ability, he’s “not a point guard” which automatically makes him a shooting guard. Except he’s not a shooting guard. He’s best with the ball in his hands, setting up and creating within the offense. Hence our problem…So what’s so important about this discussion? At the scouting level, it means that players that could be very real assets for teams are either ignored or devalued based on their inability to fit our more traditional 1-5 positions. Unless they are super-freaks like LeBron James, we struggle with how to really implement them into systems (and even James has positional problems due to him consistently playing the small forward position, which has restrictions). From an evaluation standpoint, we assign negative values to players like Tyreke Evans, who are incredible stars, simply because they don’t fit our traditional model.”
Bethlehem Shoals took Moore’s take and ran with it, not only echoing the valuation of Tyreke Evans’ significance, but asserting that “point guards are the gateway to positional change.” The point guard designation carries with it the most specific and sacred responsibilities, so it’s no wonder that Shoals — and Blanchard, and Moore, and myself — see it as such an elemental part of a potential shift.
Kevin Arnovitz’s take, inspired by Kobe Bryant’s endorsement of positional evolution, preaches pragmatism. Not necessarily in the way that we talk about players or positions (in order to even engage in this discussion, your head needs to be at least brushing with the clouds), but in the way that a post-position (or at least post-traditional positions) world would need to function: “In short, pro basketball is ripe for a positional revolution — but like every revolution, those challenging the status quo must be ready to govern once they take control.”
Ay, there’s the rub. All of these scribes — and the many others who have tackled the revolution in the past and will hopefully continue to do so in the future — agree that we need a change, but what then? The point of our union is obvious, but moving from ideological consensus to actual implementation comes with a million hang-ups along the way. The easiest part of the transition is in the works: more and more people are beginning to understand and think about how terribly limiting traditional positions can be. From here on out? It gets exponentially more difficult. There are already numerous ideas for various positional frameworks (including the Scorer/Rebounder/Creator — DX system that will tentatively be utilized here), but determining their utility, viability, and all the while creating a system that is somehow new, informative, and accessible is no simple task. Yet as a collective of thinking fans, it’s our task.
Lost? Start here, turn left there, and make a slight right here. Keep going.
Kevin Arnovitz has a great interview with Texas Legends’ coach Nancy Lieberman, who is getting serious mileage out of her catchphrase (which you may remember from my interview with Lieberman earlier this summer): “Making the irregular regular.” Here’s Lieberman on her voice as a coach, and what the voice will mean to men who haven’t had all that many female basketball mentors: “I think the end message will be similar, but the methods and how they get the information could be different. I’m excited about it because I’m not going to be in practice f-bombing people. That won’t be me. I’ll be firm and I’ll be fair. We won’t tell people what to do. We’ll explain what we’d like them to do. We’ll show them what we want to do. Then, they’ll do it. I will work their tails off. Trust me. I’m not as nice as I’m faking it on this conversation. I will work them really hard, but I’ll love them on the other side. And they need to know they’re loved and cared for. But that doesn’t mean you can walk over me, through me. That won’t happen. But look, I’m going to kill my guys so I might as well be nice to them. I have high expectations. I haven’t made it in a man’s world for 35 years by being soft, scared or insecure.”
Mike Krzyzewski on Tyson Chandler’s play for Team USA, via Chris Tomasson of FanHouse: “Tyson has been outstanding. We have a relationship from the 2007 qualifying team (and in 2008 when Chandler came close to making the Olympic team) … He doesn’t need the ball. He’s stronger. I bet he’s at least probably 15 pounds heavier and stronger than he was in 2007. He feels healthy.”
Caron Butler thinks the Heat could make it to 73 wins. The Bulls’ sacred 72-win mark is seemingly unbeatable, but next year’s Miami Heat have definite advantages those Bulls were never afforded. The ’95-’96 Bulls are certainly one of the best teams to ever lace them up, but is Caron wrong? Isn’t the combination of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — with Chris Bosh and a hell of a supporting cast — enough to at least bring the Heat into the discussion?
Kelly Dwyer is ranking the top 30 players in each of the five conventional positions, beginning with point guards. You can see the first installment (30-21) here, and the second (20-11) here. Jason Kidd comes in at #12, which may seem a bit harsh, but consider the 11 PGs likely to top Kidd in Dwyer’s rankings (in no particular order): Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Jameer Nelson (already confirmed as #11), Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Devin Harris, Tony Parker, and Tyreke Evans. Of those 11, which would you pick Kidd to best in the coming season?
From Caron Butler’s blog on HoopsHype: “Aside from the Tyson Chandler trade, my team has had a pretty quiet offseason. I’m not surprised. We had a great roster already. The management looked at the team and thought change wasn’t needed.” Well…that’s certainly one interpretation of the summer’s events.
“The best preparation for good work tomorrow is good work today.“
In theory, it’s less important for the Mavs to win this game than it was for them not to lose it; wins over lottery-bound teams late in the season don’t count for much aside from an uptick in standings, meaning no one is going to give the Mavs a pat on the back for taking care of business against the Kings. That makes it all the more impressive that they not only didn’t lose, but they won in decisive fashion. One of the Mavs’ weaknesses all season has been their inability to put away weaker opponents, often turning what should be walk-away wins into drag-out affairs. Not so last night, as the Mavs seized a double-digit lead quickly, gradually built it up to around 20, and held on despite some mini-runs by Sacramento.
Dirk Nowitzki had a special offensive night. His previous game against the Blazers was impressive in its own right, but he was just on another level in this one. Only two turnovers? Expected. 60% shooting from the field? Nice. 13-of-13 free throw attempts (which allowed Dirk to break his own franchise record for consecutive free throws made, previously 60, by making 68 in a row)? Terrific. 39 points on just 20 shots? Unreal. The Kings threw several different looks at Nowitzki but it didn’t make a bit of difference. Dirk just did what he usually does only even more impressively, and his Dirk’s 39 is but a footnote on the day’s NBA slate because excellence is what we expect from Nowitzki. Cherish it, folks.
If anyone out there is worried about the Mavs’ ability to beat the zone, check out their execution in the first quarter. Dallas started the game on an absolute tear, mostly due to their ability to pick apart Sacramento’s zone and bury it from mid-range. Dirk’s ability to operate from the high post is a big part of that, but just as important were smart passes that exploited the Kings’ over-rotations. The Mavs have the shooters, the playmaker, the high post threat, and the offensive rebounders (Haywood, Dampier, Marion, Butler) to absolutely kill the zone, and that’s exactly what they did in their match-up with Sacramento.
That and, well, they’re the Kings. Their defense is better than it was at some of their darker moments this season, but it’s still nowhere near playoff-caliber. So everything I just said? Only true, not necessarily tried.
DeShawn Stevenson was pretty decent defensively. He may actually be a quicker perimeter defender than Jason Kidd, though I wouldn’t advise putting DeShawn on a lightning-quick point guard (Aaron Brooks et al) for any considerable length of time. Against Tyreke Evans though, Stevenson at least managed to use his size and strength to make Tyreke’s 27 points…difficult…what was I talking about again? No one’s stopping Tyreke Evans. Descriptions of him as the point guard LeBron aren’t exaggerations, but accurate descriptions of his athletic talents relative to his competition. Honestly, if ‘Reke isn’t your pick for Rookie of the Year, you’re not doing it right.
I’m not sure there’s a more likable power forward rotation in the NBA than the Kings’. You can’t help but cheer for Jason Thompson (12 points, seven rebounds, five turnovers), who’s far more than the energy player and rebounder he was expected to be coming out of college. Carl Landry’s (30 points, 10-16 FG, six rebounds) scoring efficiency, toughness, and professionalism make him one of the most interesting and endearing cats around. Then there’s Jon Brockman (two points, two rebounds), A.K.A. the Brochness Monster, a dude who literally just does one thing well (rebounding), but does it really, really damn well. No superstars in the mix there, but three talented guys that are just really fun to watch.
Jason Kidd (11 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds, three turnovers, two steals) had a complete turnaround from his struggles against the Blazers. Plus, he kicked a ball into the stands for pretty much no reason, which counts for something in my book. This performance was definitely impressive, and had Dirk not gone absolutely nuts in the 3rd quarter (Nowitzki scored 22 in that frame alone), Kidd would likely be taking home player of the game honors.
Dallas finished shooting 13-of-21 from long range. Hot, hot, hot.
Slight trouble as Brendan Haywood tweaked his right ankle after landing on Francisco Garcia’s foot. It doesn’t appear to be serious (Haywood went to the locker room, but returned to the bench), but Haywood played just eight minutes. On the plus side, Erick Dampier (seven points, six rebounds, three blocks) played 28 minutes, his highest total since February 16th.
Shawn Marion sat out another game with his strained oblique, and remains day-to-day.
Jason Terry finished with 25 points (8-14 FG) with six assists and two steals, and Caron Butler chipped in 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting. That’ll do, gents.
If you’re combing this win for negatives, I’d point you towards the Kings’ offensive rebounding (14 to the Mavs’ 7, good for a .326 ORR). It wasn’t enough to really give the Mavs’ trouble, but had the conditions of this game been different, it could have been a noticeable problem. Haywood’s absence didn’t really help, either.
Jason Kidd was chosen to replace Kobe Bryant in the All-Star game, but the pick was hardly a popular one. Some pointed to his lack of scoring, some his underwhelming defense, and others were aghast at the mere concept of “Jason Kidd, All-Star.” There are definitely candidates out there that could have given Kidd a run for his money (if not overtake him outright), but regardless of your preferred dish (I’ll have the Tyreke), Kidd will be the guy. But how? Why? What criteria could possibly exist that would have Kidd as next-in-line when our better judgment says otherwise?
1. Quality – Jason Kidd is the top remaining player (or at least guard) left unselected in the Western Conference.
“For the record, Jason Kidd had the best WARP of any West guard not on the roster. Would you rather Baron Davis? Manu Ginobili?” [Ed. Note: WARP is "wins above replacement player"]
-Kevin Pelton, Basketball Prospectus (@kpelton)
If I were given the reins, I would have essentially narrowed it down to four players: Kidd, Tyreke Evans, Carlos Boozer, Nene. From there, it’s almost a matter of preference.
In Evans, you have a dominant scoring guard that can electrify in the All-Star tradition. In Boozer, you have a rock-steady big putting up impressive numbers for a rising Utah team. In Nene, you have a very versatile center that can run the floor, throw it down with authority, and do just about everything in between.
Ultimately, I think the veteran point guard would be my pick, but at the very least this analysis seems to show that Kidd’s selection is hardly the travesty it’s been made out as in some circles. Yes, as at best the fifth-best point guard in the conference, Kidd doesn’t really belong in the All-Star Game. Given the circumstances, however, I think the NBA did the best it could.
2. Convenience – Jason Kidd is the top remaining player left unselected that can actually make it to the All-Star Game.
“New trend for 2010: selecting all stars based on who can get to host city.”
-John Hollinger, ESPN.com (@johnhollinger)
Admittedly, this was the first thought that popped into my head. Dallas is having record snowfall, and the entirety of the Northeast is covered in a white blanket that’s ten feet thick and shuts down cities…much less airplanes. Plauyers from all over the country are having a hard time landing at D/FW, so it makes sense to choose a guy that the league knows can make it to Dallas safely and on-time. Oh hey, Jason Kidd plays in Dallas, doesn’t he? How delightfully convenient!
But then I saw this tweet from Marc Stein (@STEIN_LINE_HQ) “Take note: Kidd [was] already in PHX for his All-Star break. Now scheduled to return to Dallas on Friday.”
So Kidd is flying in to Dallas just like everyone else, and was probably farther away than point guard alternatives Russell Westbrook and Aaron Brooks. So let’s toss this one out, shall we?
3. Host Bias – Jason Kidd is the top remaining player left unselected on the Dallas Mavericks.
“The Jason Kidd emergency selection in the West made enough sense with its hometown angle, considering, with the latest weather developments, that already being in Dallas is emerging as a prime selection criteria. Heck, if Kidd couldn’t make it, the next call was going to J.J. Barea.” -Ira Winderman, ProBasketballTalk
Take a guess: since 1990, how many times has the host city had just one All-Star?
Once. The 1997 ASG in Cleveland featured Terrell Brandon as the sole representative of the Cavs. But in every other year (excepting the lockout season and the ASG in Las Vegas), the host was either star-less (no All-Stars) or blessed with two All-Stars. Chalk it up to wonky coincidence if you’d like, but the host city had one All-Stars in far more cases than one, and based on the data, 1997 seems more like an outlier.
I’d be shocked if this was the sole criteria in naming Kidd an All-Star, but I’d also be shocked if it didn’t tip the scales in his favor.
“A really great talent finds its happiness in execution.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Last night, the Mavs treated the basketball court as a place of business. They were ruthless and relentless in their offense (pushing the ball upcourt against the Kings’ weak transition defense is almost cruel), and smart and decisive with their defense. The final margin is ultimately pretty deceptive, as Dallas was thoroughly dominant in the second half…with the exception of the final, irrelevant three minutes, in which the Kings rattled off an 11-0 run. But this was a very effective game in terms of gameplanning and execution, and though wins over the Kings aren’t typically hung on the refrigerator, this one was nice.
Tyreke Evans (14 points, 6-18 FG, 5 rebounds, six assists) is a beast, and the focal point of Sacramento’s offense. As such, the Mavs employed a lot of zone and help schemes specifically designed to counter Evans’ driving ability. It certainly worked, as ‘Reke wasn’t given any space to charge down the lane and was forced into taking a lot of contested runners and long jumpers. That’s a successful night of taking away the other team’s primary offensive option, even if the Kings aren’t considered an elite offensive team (though it’s worth noting that they are a respectable 13th in the league in offensive efficiency).
The Maverick defense also did an excellent job of forcing turnovers during critical runs in the second and third quarters. Most were forced either directly (the Mavs had 11 steals to the Kings’ 16 turnovers) or indirectly (quick rotations, aggressive on-ball defense) by the Mavs, which is a defensive area in which Dallas typically struggles. The Mavs have done an excellent job this year of keeping their opponents’ efficiency, shooting percentages, and free throw attempts down, but they’ve never quite figured out how to bump up their opponents’ respective turnover rates. The Kings’ turnover numbers (both raw and rate) on the night are not all that impressive for Dallas, but over a two quarter stretch, the Mavs were very effective in both forcing turnovers and capitalizing on them.
I’m not sure what kind of rehabilitation program Jason Kidd (14 points, 6-7 FG, 2-2 3FG, seven assists, three steals) has done for his layups, but it’s working. The man who seemed utterly incapable of making a shot attempt at the rim is suddenly wowing with his ability to finish, as evidenced by his flashy layup attempt with around four minutes remaining in the second quarter (video hopefully forthcoming).
Another disappointing game from Erick Dampier (two points, four rebounds, two turnovers), who was unable to match the energy of Jason Thompson (15 points, 7-15 FG, 10 rebounds. Enter Drew Gooden (eight points, 10 rebounds, two steals, two blocks). Drew wasn’t a compromise defensively like he has been in some games this season, and he was the game’s most dominant rebounder (his one-game total rebounding rate was 22.8, which more than doubled every other Maverick). The center position has been a bit of a give-and-take for the Mavs of late, which may be for the best; Dallas is best served having one effective center on a nightly basis rather than having both show up some nights and neither show up on others. Obviously it’s preferable that both Dampier and Gooden find ways to contribute effectively, but for now I’ll take Gooden as an insurance policy.
Dirk (25 points, 8-18 FG, seven rebounds) looked to regain a bit of his shooting form after missing a few early jumpshots. Credit Nowitzki getting to the rim and to the line, as nine of Dirk’s first 11 points came on dunks, layups, and free throws.
I like the Kings’ Donte Greene more than most, and I’m convinced he can be a legit NBA scorer on a consistent basis. But after watching Greene cover Dirk for stretches (and guard Kobe Bryant late in recent games between the Kings and Lakers, both of which ended tragically), I can’t help but think that Paul Westphal overestimates Greene’s current defensive abilities or has even fewer options than we realize. Greene has the potential to be an extremely versatile defender (he’s 6’11” and has started for the Kings at shooting guard), but man-up on Dirk? On Kobe? Really?
A completely nondescript night from Shawn Marion (six points, five rebounds, a block). Games like these are tough for Marion because the Kings don’t have an obvious wing threat (at least not currently; Kevin Martin remains on the shelf), which limits what Marion can do for the Mavs on the defensive end. And considering how well J.J. Barea (17 points, 7-13 FG, three assists, four turnovers) and Josh Howard (16 points, 6-13 FG, three rebounds, three assists) were playing, Marion was squeezed out and played just 27 minutes.
Now, some of you might read that above bullet point about the Kings’ wings, and scratch your head. Omri Casspi (22 points, 7-16 FG, 4-6 3FG, 11 rebounds, four assists) was absolutely swell, and positionally he should be matched up directly against Shawn Marion. But the Mavs opted to neutralize Evans rather than worry about the Kings’ three-point shooters. Casspi exploited that fact even if the rest of the Kings didn’t (without Casspi, the Kings shot just 2-14 from beyond the arc). It’s the risk you take when trying to stop a team’s most dominant offensive player, and though Omri played quite well, the Mavs can live with that.