Looking Forward: Dallas Mavericks

Last year, the Mavericks won 50 games in the regular season, with the league’s 5th-best offense and its 17th-best defense. They were good enough to beat the depleted San Antonio Spurs in 5 games in the first round, but not good enough to avoid a 5-game beating at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in the second. Dirk Nowitzki was fantastic as always, Jason Terry won the 6th Man of the Year award, and Jason Kidd had the best shooting season of his career. To these eyes, Rick Carlisle did a tremendous job coaching this bunch and nobody should have expected them to get any further than they did without a healthy Josh Howard.

This off-season, we’ve seen this team make an effort to go from just-not-good-enough to maybe-just-good-enough. In a complicated 4-team trade, the Mavs acquired Shawn Marion (and Kris Humphries, Greg Buckner, and Nathan Jawai) in exchange for Antoine Wright, Devean George, and Jerry Stackhouse’s only-partially-guaranteed contract. They’ve also re-signed Jason Kidd for 3 years, drafted Rodrigue Beaubois, and signed role players Tim Thomas, Quinton Ross, and Drew Gooden (after Orlando matched their offer sheet to Marcin Gortat).

At this point, you might be thinking that this group is old. You might be thinking about how Bill Simmons called them the 2004 All-Stars. Kidd is 36, Dirk is 31, Terry is 31, Marion is 31, and Josh Howard is 29, so you’d be correct in saying this core isn’t improving anymore. Still, you shouldn’t underestimate these guys because they can still play. As shown last season, Dirk is still one of the league’s best offensive players. Terry can still shoot the lights out. Kidd is still brilliant at running the offense and getting his teammates easy looks, even if he gives up some points on the other end. Marion hasn’t lost as much athleticism as he probably should have and he remains a player who can greatly help this team, especially in transition and on the defensive end of the floor. If these guys come close to sustaining what they did last season and Josh Howard plays like he did two years ago (when he wasn’t sidelined or playing hurt), this team has improved.

Much was made about the Gortat saga in Dallas. When he initially signed the offer sheet, I applauded the move. He’s only 25 years old and is a starting-calibre center who is a more-than-solid replacement center for when Erick Dampier inevitably moves on. To get a guy with his skills at the 5 spot for the average salary is a steal. However, since the Marion acquisition, I think what happened here might work out well for the Mavs. I fully believe that Marion is most effective at the 4 and, with Dirk, Dampier, and Gortat in the front-court, there simply wouldn’t have been enough minutes for Marion at that position. With the line-up as presently constructed, the Mavs are free to spread the floor by playing Dirk at center and Marion at power forward for long stretches, every game.

The mid-level-exception that would have been used on Gortat ended up going to Drew Gooden. However, as noted on ShamSports, the details of Gooden’s contract put the Mavs in an interesting position. Gooden was signed for $4.5 million, but only $1.9 million of that is guaranteed, so as of December 15 he can be traded to (and then released by) a cash-strapped, underperforming team for a better player with a contract close to $4.5 million. With this trade chip, as well as Dampier’s huge expiring contract that could be used to land someone like Michael Redd, I think it’s pretty safe to say that, barring a first half of the season derailed by injury, the Mavs will be looking to acquire more talent as the season goes on. In this economy, it’s likely that they will have success doing so.

So, sure, call these Mavs old. Call them the 2004 All-Stars if you want to, but know that if healthy they’ll still be damn good. Not Lakers good and probably not Spurs good, but damn good. There’s a lot of talent on this team right now and there’s the potential to add significant talent before the trade deadline. Defense is still an issue and no one is going to pick them to make it to the Finals, but if they make the right moves, get the right matchups, and if some other contenders are hit with injury woes, this group might be just good enough to do some serious damage. You shouldn’t bet on the Mavericks, but don’t sleep on them either.

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14 Comments

Filed under Dallas Mavericks, Free Agency, Looking Forward, Trades

14 responses to “Looking Forward: Dallas Mavericks

  1. Vittorio,

    I agree with your take on the Mavs situation.

    This is an improved Dallas team that will be a tough out in the WC playoffs.

    Not yet Lakers good; and, not yet Spurs good … but, far removed from the squad that flamed out in the 1st Round vs G-State 2 years ago.

    ———————

    PS. Down the road a piece, Beaubois has the makings of a star PG, in the NBA. Donnie Nelson knows what he’s doing when it comes to identifying talented players in the annual Draft.

    PPS. If he returns to good health, there may even be chance for Kris Humphries to get some run with this version of the Mavs, as a #4/PF when they slide Dirk to the #5/C position and give Marion a rest.

  2. Great point about Gooden’s contract and the Mavs opportunity to pick up pieces at the deadline.

    I don’t share your enthusiasm for this team, however. They don’t have any defensive versatility. If they play Dirk at C, they get pounded inside. If they play Dirk at 4, Marion has to slide over to 3 where (as you pointed out) he’s considerably less effective. Plus, Kidd and Terry can’t stay in front on anyone anymore.

    But my biggest beef with this team is their collective hard-on for the jumpshot. Nobody goes to the hole. Ever. The soft tag is legit. Brandon Bass was their only physical player and he’s gone now.

    • If they play Dirk at Center …

      Whatever he gives up in terms of being a “softie” he MORE THAN MAKES FOR with the unguardable offensive production he provides their team.

      At this stage of his career, having become much thinker as a mature athlete, Nowitzki is a poor defender at the #4/PF spot … given his relative lack of quickness … but nowhere near as bad at the #5/C position.

      In fact, Center is the position Dirk SHOULD be playing almost full-time with this version of the Mavericks.

      • Tom L

        First of all – great analysis Vic. I like Dallas’ team a lot – IF (and it is a big if for sure) they can stay away from the injuries.

        I’m in favour of playing Hump alongside Dirk – but have Hump guard the opposing team’s centre.

        And I have a different view than khandor here – just because one coach says “Dirk you’re playing the 5 spot”, doesn’t mean one bit that the opposing coach has his own centre guard him.
        Thus, “..MORE THAN MAKES FOR with the unguardable offensive production he provides their team” is not overly relevant – all that matters is if he’s on the floor or not. Smart coaches create the best matchups – be it their SF, PF or C guarding him.
        I also looked for supporting data and it reveals an interesting picture:
        http://www.82games.com/0809/08DAL12.HTM

        At PF – his PER delta (his production vs who he’s guarding) is +11.7 – an excellent rating.
        At C – his PER delta is only +3.0 – okay, but it no where close to his performance at PF.

        Thus “Nowitzki is a poor defender at the #4/PF spot” > it seems a PER difference of -9.6 (opposing PF PER – opposing C PER) shows otherwise. I.e. he’s a MUCH better defender guarding PF rather than C while his offence improvement is slight (compared to the much weaker defense vs C).
        Am I missing something?

  3. Dirk’s one of the best shooters to ever play the game, no doubt. I disagree with your notion that a weak defender can simply outscore his man as a strategy, though. Did you see the Denver series? Dirk shot lights out and his team tanked 4-1. Denver ran a lay-up line on ’em.

  4. Tom L,

    1. Dirk’s counterpart’s lower PER at the PF vs C position isn’t necessarily attributable to Dirk’s “individual ability to defend better at this position”. There are many different variables which go into numbers like these:

    Dirk, as PF = 25.9 [70% of floor time]; Opp PF = 14.2
    Dirk, as C = 26.8 [6% of floor time]; Opp C = 23.8

    including such things as:

    – who those individual PF’s & C’s were
    – what their individual roles were for their respective teams
    – what their team’s game plan may have been for attacking the Mavs [i.e. where their opponent’s perceived their best individual match-ups to be]

    2. Offensive coaches, who truly know what they’re doing, can often determine the “individual match-ups” they are looking for … rather than the commonly held misperception which says that this decision falls completely within the realm of the defensive coach.

    Is this misperception something which you believe in at present?

    If it is, then, I would simply caution you against holding it near and dear … concerning the NBA game.

    3. What Dirk’s individual numbers are when he plays the Center position for his team are not the be-all and end-all of a discussion on whether or not his contributions at the offensive end MORE THAN MAKES UP FOR any real/perceived short-comings he might have at the defensive end.

    [Example]

    If Dirk checks the opponent’s Low Post player [i.e. between their two Bigs whoever happens to go into this position on offensive] and any of the Mavs other #4/PF’s check the opponent’s Non Low Post player, on any given possession, then this means that Dirk is taking the Center’s role on defense for Dallas.

    If Dirk then plays in the Low Post position on offense for the Mavs, exclusively, this means that he is also taking the Center’s role on defense for Dallas.

    It doesn’t matter what decisions are then being made by their opponent.

    How come?

    The Mavs have decided that Dirk is going to play as the Center for their team, dictating the individual match-ups they want from there … because the Dirk of today is:

    – stronger than he was before
    – less mobile than he was before
    – a better Low Post defender than he was before
    – a more devastating Low Post player, on offense, than he was before [i.e. back-to-basket or face-up] … regardless who checks him on D.

    Now, depending on who the opponent decides to play in the Low Post, Dirk is going to have a specific match-up advantage or disadvantage vs this player; while, simultaneously, creating the same situation for himself at the opposite end of the floor … as long as the Mavs decide to use a player with supeior perimeter skills, in comparison with Dirk, as their #4/PF.

    If the Mavs make the decision to use Dirk in this way, in conjunction with that type of #4/PF … who can also get the job done on the boards! … then the opponent is going to have a very difficult decision to make regarding their own two Bigs.

    Which one is going to check Dirk? Which one is going to check Marion/Hump?

    If the Mavs are playing the Cavaliers, for example:

    With Dallas on D
    – Dirk will be checking Shaq
    – Marion or let’s say Hump will be checking Varejao

    * Dirk may well be able to stop Shaq from scoring in the Low Post … if Dirk is allowed to Play Behind him and NOT asked to Side or Full Front! … given The Big Aristotle’s physical deterioration
    * Marion/Hump can stop Varejao from scoring

    With Dallas on O
    – Shaq will be checking Dirk … because he is incapable of checking Marion/Hump
    – Varejao will be checking Marion/Hump

    * Shaq cannot stop Dirk from scoring, given the combination of [i] O’Neal’s physical condition today and [ii] Nowitzki’s repertoire when working on the Block
    * Varejao may or may not be able to stop Marion/Hump from scoring
    * Dirk’s teammates, in general, are going to get open shots galore, playing off the Dirk/Shaq match-up

    The only area of weakness which Nowitzki has today in his individual game, as a dominant Center, is his relative lack of shot-blocking ability … which is significant but not devastating to his team, given everything else which he brings to the table while playing this position.

    There are very few Centers in the NBA today capable of scoring at-will in the Low Post vs Dirk Nowitzki 2009-2010 [e.g. Tim Duncan & Chris Bosh].

    When opponents try to run their offense through their Center and this Center happens not to be very good at scoring himself or creating scoring opportunities galore for his teammates, then it becomes a significant advantage for the Mavs, on defense … as that opponent’s offense grinds to a screeching halt.

    When opponents try to run their offense through their Center and this Center happens to be good at scoring himself and/or creating scoring opportunities galore for his teammates [i.e. Duncan or Bosh], then the problem that opponent faces is “keeping their other players involved on offense” when their single best option is attacking Nowitzki relentlessly in the Low Post.

    This, too, can be viewed as a significant advantage for the Mavs … i.e. if Duncan/Bosh/etc. scores 40+ pts but the rest of his teammates only score 40 pts combined, Dallas is going to Win a high percentage of those games.

    [NOTE: In this type of situation, Dirk might well have relatively “poor” individual stats, in comparison with his 1-on-1 match-up, at the Center position, while his teammates go-to-town [so to speak] vs their checks and the Mavs get the W.]

    ——————————————–

    You [and others?] are certainly free to disagree with my opinion, on this matter.

    It is my belief, however, based on my experience, that the best elite level coaches … i.e. those who are capable of understanding how the individual match-up game works in the NBA … i.e. where the Biggest players on the court are the actual size they are, which is truly gigantic! … would, in fact, choose to use Nowitzki in this very way, at this stage of his career, given the state of his body [physically], the state of his individual game, and the other options which the Mavs have at the Center position.

    • Sorry for the typo. This part should read as:

      If Dirk then plays in the Low Post position on offense for the Mavs, exclusively, this means that he is also taking the Center’s role on offense for Dallas.

    • Tom L

      Very good points khandor.
      One thing “… rather than the commonly held misperception which says that this decision falls completely within the realm of the defensive coach.”
      In any chess match, both players get to react to what the other is doing.
      Whether the offensive coach says he’s a five or not, it matters little. To paraphase “Defensive coaches, who truly know what they’re doing, can often determine the “individual match-ups” they are looking for” It matters much more the talent at any one time on the floor – and the mismatches that can be created as a team. Penciling in C or PF matter little to the defensive minded coach – they will treat Dirk the same way (as best as they can!).

      • Tom L

        Another typo = instead of “paraphase” – I meant to say “to steal your phrase” while changing it!

    • Tom L

      (Sorry Vic and khandor) – reading this carefully over again, I’m more inclined to agree. Thinking this through, I often look at “bigs”, “wings” and PGs – and the way you described the situation above is effectively the same idea (and my response). It’s really about who’s on the floor to complement Dirk and how the pieces are used (not so much who is “really” C) And when I view it in that context, I’m on the same page. The point that I failed to see (even though you were quite clear in hindsight) is you’re really simply creating the most effective lineup – and that involves matching Dirk with the proper big(s) – whether we say he’s a centre or not doesn’t really matter.
      Apologize for not seeing it clearly the first go round.

      • Tom L,

        1. Thanks very much for what you’ve written here, in response to my follow-up comments.

        2. re: “The point that I failed to see (even though you were quite clear in hindsight) is you’re really simply creating the most effective lineup – and that involves matching Dirk with the proper big(s) –”

        This is really “the key” which you’ve identified correctly … and needs to be considered within the context of Offense, Defense & Rebounding [rather than only 1 or 2 of the 3 main phases].

        3. re: “whether we say he’s a centre or not doesn’t really matter.”

        It only matters in the sense that …

        If Dirk is actually:

        – playing in the Low Post on Offense for the Mavs; and
        – checking the opponent’s Big who is posting up in the Low Post; while,
        – the “smaller” Big, who Dirk is teammed with, is checking the opponent’s non-Low Post Big; then,

        in effect [reality?] Dirk IS actually being used as the #5/C for Dallas and their smaller 2nd Big is being used as their #4/PF [offensively, defensively, and for rebounding purposes].

  5. Nowitzki a low post player? Heh. A strong low post defender? Heh heh. Sorry. Heh heh heh.

    *rolls on floor

  6. Vittorio De Zen

    Thanks for all the comments.

    All of you might be right, heh – Dirk might be best-suited to playing the 5 at this point in his career, as he’s got slower (and stronger)… However, he’ll never be a tough guy and they’ll still need Dampier playing big minutes against the strong centers.

    I was just talking about the Mavs maybe offering Dampier in a deal for Stephen Jackson, but then I was reminded that they’d be left with only Dirk, Gooden, and Humphries to play the 5. That’s fine against some teams, I guess, but I think that makes them really, really soft and weak defensively on the inside.

    These guys can create matchup problems offensively and I like that. As I stated in the post, I think they’ll be damn good. But KneeJerk is right in that they don’t have defensive versatility. Think about all the matchups Orlando can throw out there with all the depth they have. At the 3/4 spots, they can have any combination of Pietrus/Carter/Lewis/Bass/Barnes out there (okay, they probably won’t play Pietrus and Carter at 3/4). This is going to make it tough for opposing coaches to try to exploit Orlando, and why Dallas is going to have trouble if they run into a team like Denver again.

    …with that said, I really like Carlisle and I think Cuban might pull a few strings to add some depth during the season. I stand by my “maybe-just-good-enough” assessment, heh.

    • ineverlecture

      You say a team with the centers Dirk, Gooden and Hump is ok against some teams?! I didn’t realize Dallas padded their schedule with WNBA games. Dirk is a 30+ power forward who happens to be over 7 feet. Humphries is awesome, but more in a 7-11 minutes a game kind of awesome then a 20 minutes “we’re counting on you to shut down Bynum” kind of awesome. Can a team out west be successful without depth at the 5? what about at the other positions? Forget the age thing, what about the backups in general. 1 or 2 injuries (which happens to every team) and they’re boned. I dunno about these guys to be honest. I’m feeling an underacheiving kinda year unless J-Kidd turns back the clock (possible). We’ll see I guess. Either way, Cap’t Jack/Morrow for Rondo! I want Rondo on the Warriors god damn it!

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