No One Asked for This: Essays on the Dallas Mavericks 2012-2013 Season
The Two-Man Game (now defunct and offline) was an Espn-Affiliate Blog. I wrote a weekly column for them during the 2012-2013 season.
BY DAVID HOPKINS
October 16, 2012
Blue and White: Observations from the Dallas Mavericks’ preseason scrimmage
“Are you sure it’s okay for me to wear Jason Kidd’s jersey?”
My wife April has asked me this question about three times now. She loves basketball. She knows the game. But April is still leery about jersey etiquette. I reassured her that people still love Kidd, and it’s very respectable to wear the jersey of a former player… as long as it’s not Bruno Sundov. That’s just weird.
I bought the Kidd jersey for $8 as the pro shop purged their warehouse, before shipping the lonely remnants to Central America.
Thus, the benefits of Jason Kidd leaving:
The Mavs’ fast break will no longer look like when the P.E. coach tells the stoner kids to hustle.
I don’t have to give a damn about his DWI.
April wanted a Kidd jersey ever since our first game together, when she pointed from our upper-deck seats down to the old man with the ball. “I like him. He’s all business.”
April has good instincts. She foresaw the greatness of Tyson Chandler in 2010 while I was still weighing the benefits of Brendan Haywood. And she gave up on Lamar Odom months before I did.
We were going to the Mavstoberfest event to see the Blue vs. White scrimmage. She wanted to wear her new jersey, and I saw no crime in it.
I like these team scrimmages, because it’s the closest I will probably get to courtside. And I’m the target audience. As someone who watched every single tedious summer league game on NBA.com, of course I would attend a 12-minute scrimmage.
When we got to our seats, all the usual sideshow entertainment was going on — a polka band, goofy dancing kids for the jumbotron, the Mavs ManiAACs (April: “You should try out for them.”), the Dallas Mavericks Dancers, and the demon-spawned from hell, Mavs Man. As if the mascot could sense our fears, he climbed into the stands.
“Don’t look at him,” April cautioned. “I don’t want him coming over here.”
The team finally entered the court. Rick Carlisle introduced everyone by name and college. He made a point of emphasizing that Shawn Marion was the most underrated player in the NBA. Eventually, Marion must get tired of the label. It’s like your dad bragging about how you almost made the team. “Underrated” always feels like a back-handed compliment, acknowledging both your support and my inability to get acknowledged.
A group of teenage girls behind us shouted: “We love you, Rick!” Really? The coach?
A few scrimmage observations:
The game was sloppy, just like you would expect from a pre-season game filled with new players who were jet-lagged from a trip to Europe and playing at half-speed for a few thousand fans. If there is a spiritual cosmic opposite to a playoff game, it’s this.
Dominique Jones to Brandan Wright was a lethal combo. Actually, anyone passing to Wright when he’s a few feet from the basket is going to be lethal.
Jae Crowder is ruining it for the other rookies (and Dominique Jones who still feels like a rookie). Don’t be surprised if one of them pulls him aside and begs, “Can’t you stop… trying so hard? You were selected 34th overall. You’re making us look bad.” Crowder plays like no one told him he was supposed to have a difficult transition into the NBA.
Darren Collison is freakin’ fast. I read the same scouting report you did, but it’s different when you are just a few feet from the court and watching it happen. It will be hard for him to pass to anyone if his teammates can’t keep up.
If Josh Akognon stays with the team past preseason, it will be as a three-point specialist. He has a beautiful shot.
Nowitzki passed on several makeable shots (makeable by Dirk-standards, anyway) to find Kaman in the paint. Was it because of his right knee and he’s playing it safe? Or does he want to get Kaman into a scoring rhythm? Either way, I always get a little nervous when the best player decides to be overly charitable. Dirk, I trust your shot from 18 feet more than I trust Kaman from 12.
The game ended. Blue won. Hooray for blue. And we went home.
Later that night, I overheard April talking to her friend on the phone. “The game was all right. They only played for 12 minutes, so you didn’t get to see much.”
Another valid point. Preseason is a time for us to make wild assessments based on limited information, a time to worry about the jerseys of misplaced Mavs, to mock the mascot (a nice man who probably fears losing his job), and for giggling teenage girls to express their love for Rick Carlisle.
October 23, 2012
The Burden and Blessing of Expectations: O.J. Mayo gets a fresh start with the Dallas Mavericks
“I am Galactus. The be-all and end-all am I!” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
Do you remember last week — those simpler days, that more innocent time — when O.J. Mayo was generally regarded as the no. 2 offensive option? Nowitzki would be Nowitzki, and Mayo could simply fill the far right column of the box score behind him. Mayo’s biggest concern was walking in Jason Terry’s shoes. But now, with Nowitzki out for the next six weeks due to knee surgery, Mayo has some larger shoes and a longer road.
Mayo did not start a single game for the Memphis Grizzlies last season, and now, he’s potentially the Mavs’ best offensive hope for the month of November. Sure, Elton Brand will take Nowitzki’s position on the court, but not his role on the team. That will almost surely belong to Mayo.
We may ponder the cruel fate of a universe that would place the task of gods into the hands of a mere mortal. We might wonder if the swelling in Nowitzki’s right knee was intended not to test the German’s resolve, but Mayo’s. However, for Mayo, unfair expectations have followed him throughout his entire basketball career. While he’s only played in the NBA for four seasons, his legacy will be forever attached to his ability to ascend those high hopes.
The Creation Myth
O.J. Mayo was a standout talent in high school, where he averaged 29 points, nine rebounds, and six assists per game in his junior season. During his last high school game, his team demolished their opponent with a savage 103-61 beating to win the Class AAA championship in West Virginia. Mayo had a triple-double: 41 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists. Towards the end of the game, Mayo raced ahead of everyone, threw the ball off the glass, caught it and dunked it. He threw the ball into the crowd. Victorious. A swarm of teenagers in yellow t-shirts hopped up and down, chanting “O-J-May-O.” Clap, clap, clap- clap-clap. It was a mythic beginning, the kind that makes scouts and sports writers unable to see straight.
For a young star, the only thing worse than being labeled “The Next LeBron James” is, a few years later, to be constantly referred to as “Not the Next LeBron James.” Mayo was not a victim of bad scouting; he was a victim of the whole concept behind scouting. The experts saw his talent and his youth, and in hoping to prophesize the future, they looked back. And they saw LeBron. These experts were so worried about missing the next big star that they jumped too quickly to superlatives. These sages rush a developmental phase where sometimes it’s more apt to wait and see. False prophecy happens all the time. There’s always a “next”. There’s always a player who will change the game and restore our sense of awe. LeBron makes us yearn for the next LeBron. Woe to the player who is saddled with the expectations of being next.
Mayo probably would have gone straight into the NBA from high school, if not for the NBA’s newly implemented age limit. After playing for a year at USC, he left and was selected 3rd in the 2008 draft by Minnesota. He was immediately traded to Memphis in multiplayer deal that included Kevin Love.
Time in the Wilderness
Memphis hoped to make Mayo the key addition to an already promising young team. During Mayo’s rookie season, he had flashes of brilliance that made the experts rejoice, and ultimately was named the runner-up for the Rookie of the Year Award behind Derrick Rose. However, after his second season, fate took a turn. Coach Lionel Collins moved the unremarkable Xavier Henry into the starting lineup, placing Mayo on the bench for the first time in his life. Collins hope was to have more offense off the bench. Instead, it demoralized Mayo and his game suffered as a result. Being a sixth man requires a certain disposition, well suited for veterans comfortable with the unwieldy task or younger “sparkplug” players earnest to prove they belong in the league. That was simply not how O.J. Mayo operated.
If Mayo was to be the son of promise, these years were his valley of darkness. The time when “not the next LeBron” was an easy go-to for sports writers and talk radio hosts. The youthful player who lobbed the basketball into the stands while people chanted his name was now reduced, both in minutes and status. The weight of expectation settling on his slumped shoulders — he’s not LeBron James, not Kevin Love, not Rudy Gay, not Zach Randolph.
I consider basketball an art form, not because I’m a huge nerd and I need to validate my obsession with artistic gravitas (maybe a little), but because basketball is about an individual exerting his will and ego upon his craft. That is art. The player takes the ball and speaks his ego into existence. “I am going to make this happen whether you like it or not. Here is how I see the world,” i.e. controlling the game. Kinder souls, and fans of the film Hoosiers, may retch at the egocentric notion, but greatness in basketball requires an abundance of ego. In Memphis, Mayo suffered a crisis of ego, painful and detrimental, but also necessary for further growth.
The Three Eyes of Fate
When Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban brought Mayo to Dallas, immediate comparisons were made to Jason Terry and not without cause. The Mavericks had an ideal balance with Nowitzki and Terry. They were harmonious in nature and opposite in attitude. The Mavs now need Mayo to fill the void in some capacity, an opportunity that again comes heavy with expectations.
It’s not that other basketball players don’t have expectations placed upon them. But for whatever reason, Mayo’s very presence invites higher hopes and a pentacostal belief in a loving and benevolent NBA.
But expectations are balanced by perspective. The pessimist will see an O.J. Mayo who has not wowed us during the preseason. They will see a player who peaked in his late teens, who had an explosive rookie season but was not able to adapt long-term to the NBA, a prima donna who scorned his role off the bench, and a player who is a little too anxious to prove himself. The pessimist will place the scoring role on more experienced players like Brand, Chris Kaman, and the consummate scorer Vince Carter. The pessimist sees Mayo as another wayward traveler with a short-term contract.
The optimist will disregard the preseason as a time when the teams are looking for their rhythm and coaches are still thinking through line-ups. Instead, the optimist will remember that O.J. Mayo was here before almost everyone else, practicing every day at the AAC, morning and night — the one who in interviews was earnest to play with Nowitzki and glean wisdom from him. Here’s a versatile player bursting with raw talent who wants to be in Dallas, who took less money to be in Dallas, and will grow into the player he was meant to be in Dallas. Memphis took a talented top draft pick and did not appropriately develop him for the NBA. His first season wasn’t a fluke. It’s a good omen for things to come now that he’s in a better system.
The realist will keep in mind that no one has really wowed us during the preseason, except Jae Crowder. It probably won’t stay that way. The preseason exists to save players from embarrassing stats that could’ve been the regular season. Mayo’s 4 of 16 shooting from last night may look dismal, but his offensive efficiency will improve. Trust in Rick Carlisle’s ability to develop talent. And trust in O.J. Mayo’s trust in Rick Carlisle. The realist will not expect O.J. Mayo to explode into an elite player during the first month of the regular season. Instead, the Mavs will need to share the burden left by Nowitzki’s absence. This experience won’t make Mayo a better star, but it just might make him a better player.
October 29, 2012
A Meditation on Movement: What does Darren Collison’s speed mean for the Dallas Mavericks?
“I have need of a new Herald…” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
Tonight, Darren Collison debuts as the Mavericks’ starting point guard. I wrote last week about the expectations that burden and bless O.J. Mayo, and in some regards, it’s amazing how similar the fates of Mayo and Collison are. Both had standout rookie years. Both had starting-caliber production, but were moved to bench. And both have been acquired by the Mavericks to “replace” popular guards, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd. However, while Mayo will be scrutinized for his ability to reproduce Terry, most people are letting Collison off the hook. After all, we know he’s no Jason Kidd. Shrug your shoulders and move on, right? It’s as if Mavs fans collectively agreed there are only two kinds of point guards — good point guards who play like Jason Kidd and then everyone else.
Darren Collison is not Jason Kidd. Kidd has this ability to make the ball magically appear in the hands of whomever he wants. If Kidd wanted the child in section 111, row M, seat 3 to get the ball, then by god, that child would have the ball. Collison can’t do that. But what Collison offers is, in some ways, just as mythic and powerful: Speed. It’s Collison’s birthright, and crucial to every bit of his NBA success.
“Collison’s best asset is no secret. The son of two sprinters—his mom was an Olympian in 1984, representing Guyana—Collison might be the league’s fastest player from end to end.”
He carries the ball like Mercury, like Hermes, like Iris. Like a messenger from the gods, Collison can move.
The Herald and the Power
What does it mean to fast, to transverse from point to point across the hardwood plane?
The herald archetype in ancient mythology is sometimes designated with wings on his ankles or an iconic lightning bolt in his hand, a god of transitions and boundaries, moving freely between the worlds of the mortal and the divine. In some mythic traditions, he is the trickster. He’s the fast one. He sends a message.
In basketball, three things punctuate a message: accuracy, strength, and speed. Accuracy is the jump shot, the three-pointer, and the humble (if maddening) free throw. Players pause, contemplating the arc of the message. It’s the period at the end of the sentence. Strength can take mortal form in the slam dunk — sometimes a message delivered upon another individual as an exclamation mark. Speed takes form in the fast break. It’s a message given to the entire team, a question mark. What the hell just happened? Repeated fast breaks and gratuitous displays of speed can wear down an opposing team’s will to live. Thus, a fast break ending in a slam dunk can be appropriately punctuated: ?!
On offense, speed says, “Catch me.”
On defense, speed says, “Try to get past me.”
To teammates, speed says, “Hurry up.”
Speed can be an affront to the very laws of physics, as to be fast is to be everywhere within time and space. Does the herald speed up or does his existence on the court slow the rest of the world down? (I call it ‘The Barbosa Effect.’)
Collison can bring the Dallas Mavericks back to race. For years, the Mavs have depended on the punctuated accuracy of Kidd, Terry, and Nowitzki. With Collison, plans can be set aside for the wild improvisation of a fast break.
Verbs for Point Guards
The herald blurs between the world of substance and motion, nouns and verbs. Last night, I spent an hour or two researching (i.e. YouTube) the foot movement of Maverick point guards. What verbs best describe their voyage?
Steve Nash stomps and stutters. When he moves, he moves as if intentionally wanting to make squeaky sneaker noises on the court. Nash’s motion is best defined within confined spaces where he navigates.
Nick Van Exel bops and floats. He utilizes a hypnotic motion to paralyze his opponent before he continues his journey.
Devin Harris shifts and spins. He moves as if gravity stirred and is pulling him down the court. Harris is the only other Mavericks point guard who can rival Collison in distance over time. At the 2009 Eastern Conference All-Star practice, Harris dribbled from baseline to baseline in 3.9 seconds, which garnered him a Guinness World Record.
J.J. Barea scrambles. I know he was a fan-favorite, but he was incredibly annoying to watch. Barea weaved around the court, sometimes without reason. He made easy things look hard. And to fans, it all looked like “hustle.”
Jason Kidd jogs. As the antithesis to Barea, Kidd’s movement is all about economy. Simple, boring economy of movement. Kidd transports the ball past the half court line, forever vigilant for an open teammate. Occasionally, you will see a burst of motion. His opponents are just as surprised as you are.
Delonte West skips and shuffles. His steps on the court mirror his much-publicized bipolar disorder. The skip is West, innocent and free spirited. But a second later, it’s gone and he shuffles, disgruntled and full of dark clouds. The next thing you know, he’s skipping again. West befuddles his opponent and scores.
Darren Collison glides. He coasts along the surface with smooth strides. It’s movement that cherishes speed in its most graceful form. As a point guard, he may be looking to receive the down-court pass more than offering it. If he improves his ability to finish at the end, the young Collison may be with the team for a long while.
Running to Stand Still
Nowitzki is the constant in the modern era of Dallas Mavericks basketball, and the personality of each separate epoch seems defined by the starting point guard. Nash to Harris to Kidd. Dallas, a city obsessed with the legacy of quarterbacks, carries some of that obsession over to the NBA’s closest (if not somewhat inaccurate) analog. What will Collison bring? He glides. He races. He brings energy and pace. Something the Mavericks sorely lacked last season. But mostly, you’ll hear people say he’s no Jason Kidd.
November 6, 2012
Gone Too Soon: Top Five Most Beloved Short-Lived Dallas Mavericks
“Of what import are brief, nameless lives to… Galactus?” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
In honor of Eddy Curry who played as a Dallas Maverick for only two games and was then waived to make room for the newly signed Troy Murphy, I want to offer my top-five list of Mavs who left the franchise too soon. (Eddy Curry is definitely not on the list.) These are the players we loved who then faded away, leaving fans only with an emptiness and a desire to have known them better.
It’s all too common in today’s NBA to have a revolving door of players. After all, the first lesson an NBA fan learns is letting go. Your favorite player probably won’t be wearing the same jersey forever. As Jerry Seinfeld famously observed, we’re all rooting for the laundry. Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards’ jersey may have been his final prophecy on the league. Confused by seeing Jordan in something other than red and white? Get used to it. Steve Nash is a Laker. Ray Allen is with the Heat. And Jason Terry is now a Celtic.
Nowitzki’s all-time scoring and rebounding record as a Maverick may remain unbroken, not because the franchise will never have a player of his caliber again (a scary thought, but possible), but because it’s such a rarity nowadays for an all-star player to stay with one team from rookie year until retirement. While we’re at it, we might want to throw in Derek Harper’s assists and steals record. Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, and Paul Pierce may be the last of their kind: the lifer.
Occasionally, a player leaves too quickly — even for the well-adjusted fan. Here’s my list of favorite short-lived Mavs, why we loved them and what they offered.
Honorable Mention: Delonte West — Delonte West helped us forget how terrible Jason Kidd was last season. West’s role off the bench was more about condolence than salvation. I don’t know if I’ll miss him as a player, but I will miss his personality. The Mavericks franchise has always had a soft spot for odd, quirky players (see Popeye Jones for another example).
Why we loved him: Because we all wanted to stick a finger in Gordon Hayward’s ear.
What he offered: In a season of dashed expectations, at least, West kept his end of the bargain.
5. Antawn Jamison – He’s the lowest selection on my top-five list, and you could probably make a stronger case for other players. But if you’re looking for an incredible talent who never really found his place in Dallas, Jamison might just be the poster child. He played with the Mavs during the 2003-2004 season and won the Sixth Man of the Year Award, averaging 14.8 points and 6.3 rebounds. And yet Jamison’s legacy of being the best player on terrible teams did not mesh with the Mavs’ rise to power. His departure brought the Mavs Jerry Stackhouse and Devin Harris. Two players who helped lead the Mavericks to their first finals appearance.
Why we loved him: He is the restless Highlander searching for a home, standing in the shadow of Dirk.
What he offered: The space he left behind, once filled, ushered in the Mavs’ most dominant era.
4. The 1st Jason Kidd — You might remember there were two Jason Kidds. The boyish dweeb drafted in 1994 by the Mavericks with the no. 2 pick, and the Jason Kidd who returned as an older, grizzled veteran to win a championship and win back our hearts. We never got to enjoy Kidd in his prime, a tragedy upon tragedy that the fans know as “Dallas Mavericks during the ’90s.” There was, at the time, a rumor about a love triangle between Jason Kidd, pop star Toni Braxton, and teammate Jim Jackson. Oh, how every fan wishes they could travel back to those days, send Jackson far away, and hold onto the young Kidd. Un-break my heart.
Why we loved him: We will always wonder what could have been.
What he offered: He was someone to believe in after Blackman and Aguirre left.
3. Kiki Vandeweghe — Technically, Vandeweghe was never a Dallas Maverick. But he should have been. For their first season as a franchise, the Mavericks had the no. 11 draft pick. They selected Vandeweghe, but the jerk refused to play for the Mavs and demanded a trade. This was not the start the Mavericks were hoping for. Vandeweghe challenged the status quo and was gone from the Mavs’ loving arms faster than one could say, “You can’t make me go to Dallas!” The Mavs yielded and traded him to Denver where he flourished. Throughout his career, Vandeweghe was greeted with boos from every man, woman, and child at Reunion Arena. (I think I booed him when I was five years old.) If Mavs fans have abandonment issues, it may have started with Vandeweghe.
In an odd twist of fate, Kiki Vandeweghe eventually took a front office job with the Dallas Mavericks. During that time, he helped Dirk Nowitzki adapt to life in the NBA. I guess you’re forgiven, Kiki.
Why we loved him: We didn’t. But the hate was so strong and blinding, it could’ve been confused for love.
What he offered: Redemption for his sins through the offering of Nowitzki
2. Tyson Chandler — For Mavs fans, Chandler’s departure is one of the greatest unending debates. One side argues that Mark Cuban was insane to break up the 2010-2011 championship team. Cuban’s attempt to create cap space for a possible Deron Williams or Dwight Howard was reckless speculating. Luxury tax be damned, he had a moral obligation to allow the championship team to defend its title. The other side says that Mark Cuban’s hands were tied by the collective bargaining agreement and the deep pockets of the New York Knicks. Cuban made a tough decision to secure the long-term viability of the team, acknowledging that this was not a young dynasty to be preserved but an aging veteran team in need of retooling. Regardless, no one questions Tyson Chandler’s essential role in winning the championship. Chandler was not only a force under the basket, but also a constant source of encouragement and positive mojo. The Mavs franchise has never been known for its center position. It would be difficult to call Chandler “the greatest center in franchise history,” since he only played for the team for one season. That said, who else would be worthy of the honor? James Donaldson? Shawn Bradley? Erick Dampier? Chandler was the powerful energetic center we always wanted, and before we knew it, he was gone.
Why we loved him: Bursting with enthusiasm after each dunk, he seemed even more excited than the fans.
What he offered: Like Mary Poppins, he took a dysfunctional family, taught them how to love each other, and then floated away as soon as the breeze changed directions.
1. Nick Van Exel — As with all good countdowns, the no. 1 spot might be a little controversial to some — in part because I think the heartache from losing Chandler hasn’t fully healed, and the delusional belief that Chandler could’ve redeemed last season (he couldn’t have) still persists. Nick Van Exel played for six teams during his NBA career, but Dallas loved him best. He may be most clearly remembered as a Laker where his time there was fraught with tension. He was part of the “rebuilding” process after the Magic Johnson era, a bridge between Johnson and Bryant. In-betweeners are often under appreciated. When he played for the Nuggets, they were one of the worst teams in the league. He played some of his best basketball, but it was wasted on a terrible team. In 2002, he was traded to Dallas. Here he had the best of both worlds, a great team and fans who appreciated his contributions. Van Exel just belonged in a Mavs jersey. He made the Mavs cool.
If I were a numbers guy, I’d create a line graph demonstrating the “swagger” to “skill” ratio among NBA players. Some players are all swagger and no skill. They are embarrassing to watch and shall not be named. Some players are all skill and no swagger. We’ll call this region of the chart “The Tim Duncan Contingency.” They are boring to watch, but they win games. Then there’s Nick Van Exel. He exists in an area of the graph where the lines cross and all teammates pull towards him like a red dwarf sun. Why does Dirk Nowitzki not fall into The Tim Duncan Contingency, a standard flaw among European players? You can mark the joyful 2002-2003 season for study, then thank Van Exel. Years later, when Nowitzki nailed a soul crushing three-pointer during the Finals and slowly walked away with three digits in the air and his tongue hanging out, I thought to myself, “Oh. There’s Van Exel. I wondered where you’d been.” Van Exel’s spirit remains long after he left. I half expected Nowitzki to stand an additional foot or so behind the free throw line (a Van Exel trademark), because he could and why not?
Why we loved him: He was the raging specter of showmanship and arrogance that everyone publicly scoffed at and privately adored.
What he offered: He gave the Mavs their groove.
November 13, 2012
Make or Break: Dallas Mavericks guards Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones have a lot to prove this season
“Galactus does what Galactus must to survive.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
While watching the Mavericks play against the Knicks, I realized that with Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion out and with Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler now playing for the other team, there were actually more players from 2011 championship squad active for the Knicks than the Mavs. Then, I remembered that the Mavs had Dominique Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois — the yin and yang, the dueling fates, and the twins of a new Rome. The forgotten prophecy of a Dallas without Dirk. Do they even count?
During the Mavs’ championship season, Dominique Jones was in his rookie year, and saw more action in the D-League than in the NBA. Jones didn’t play a single minute during the playoffs. And Rodrigue Beaubois, right before the playoffs, sprained his left foot. Like Jones, he also won his championship while watching from the bench. They saw the victory but could never lay claim to the bragging rights.
For both these players, the omen of a “make or break season” has been relentlessly applied, as if fans are demanding that Beaubois and Jones become retroactively worthy of their rings or be forever abandoned to the wild fate of a trade deadline. Jones is in his third season, and the Mavs decided not to exercise their team option. Beaubois is in his fourth year of his contract (his injuries almost make it seem like his second year). Both will be free agents at the end of this season, free to roam and find their fortune wherever it might be.
Make or break. Dominique Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois have to prove their worth this season. Both were the 25th pick in their respective draft classes. Both have dealt with injuries early in their NBA careers. And both appear out of place in their natural position, and are fighting for the same roster spot as the backup point guard to Darren Collison. Their fates are intertwined – the All-American over-tattooed Jones and the forever-smirking Frenchman Beaubois. For one to live, must one perish?
Dominique Jones is one of those confusing players who will absolutely dominate the tiny fish in the D-League and the Summer League. However, once you throw him in the deep end of NBA, he can’t produce even modest numbers. For example, in Las Vegas this summer, he had a brilliant 32-point outing. However, in his best game as a Maverick, he mustered just six points and six assists in 16 minutes (plus 3 turnovers) against the Bobcats. He’s a shooting guard with a lackluster .358 field goal percentage and no three-point range. Force him to play the point and he has some moments. He handles the ball well. He can drive, and he can pass.
Coincidentally, Rodrigue Beaubois is a point guard who looks more comfortable as a shooting guard. If we were to compare the two, Beaubois gets considerably more minutes and his stats are higher across the board. And there was that one magical game – the one where he scored 40 points against Golden States, 9 of 11 from the three-point line. (It’s unfair to do that to fans and then never quite replicate those results.) Not surprisingly, Beaubois is better known among fans, and his potential is more fervently debated. Buy a Beaubois jersey, and you are announcing to the world your optimism in a better future. Buy a Jones jersey, and… actually, I don’t think they exist.
So, odd as it may sound, Jones might have a longer basketball career. Jones has a better body for the NBA. Yes, Beaubois has an impressive vertical, but I don’t worry about Jones getting injured underneath. Plus, Jones is a better man-to-man defender than Beaubois. Jones is a better creator and playmaker. While Beaubois will have those flashes that tease at a potential All-Star, Jones has the makings of a role player if he can get past these “make or break” jitters.
Dominique Jones and Rodrigue Beaubois are playing for their survival this season. Much like going through a bad relationship, the “make of break” season has three common pitfalls.
1. “I can change.”
The player earnestly believes that this season will be different. The shots will fall. The rebounds will bounce in his favor. The lanes will be open. However, his routine stays the same, and the results do not change. Habits are hard to break. The coach demands “Show me something new! Add something to your arsenal!” As if it were so easy, the player laments. Denials leads to depression and then to acceptance, “I am a collection of stats, and they fail to impress.”
2. “I feel like I’m always auditioning for you.”
The player feels the glare of a different kind of spotlight. It’s not the expectations of fans, but the judgment of a tryout, a never-ending performance review. It’s a curse of sorts, because in attempting to “show them your best,” the player makes odd decisions that aren’t always appropriate for the situation. As a result, the player only condemns himself. I see this pitfall more with Jones than Beaubois. Every time Jones gets the ball, I get nervous watching him. I’m nervous for him. Then there’s a forced shot or a turnover, I see his head drop in disappointment. It’s subtle, but there. He has so few minutes available to prove himself, and each of those instances is one more opportunity gone. Meanwhile, Jae Crowder, the “good rookie,” appears unflappable, while the coach heaps more praise on him.
3. “I’m still the man you loved.”
The player believes his greatness is right around the corner, if only he could play his game. I never quite understood that cliché: “I just have to play my game.” No, you have to play basketball. That’s Dr. James Naismith’s game.
But the point is implied, I suppose; the player has to play in a way that accentuates his talents. Yet the play-my-game phrasing also carries unspoken implications: “I haven’t had an opportunity to do it,” or “the coach isn’t using me the way I should be used.” To me, it sounds like a defensive mechanism for fragile egos.
However, in the case of Jones and Beaubois, they may have a legitimate gripe. Carlisle is a great coach, possibly the best the Mavs have ever had. However, if we were to rate him solely on his ability to develop rookie talent, we haven’t seen much. Carlisle looks more comfortable working with veterans, and he doesn’t freely hand out meaningful minutes to the rookies, especially during the playoffs. It’s possible Jones and Beaubois would’ve had a better start in the NBA if they had played for a worse team. Instead, they’ve stood behind a well-stocked backcourt, waiting patiently to play their game. If this season is “make or break,” it’s due in part to the untimely exodus of Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and Delonte West.
When these two players are given the minutes and can make it through a season without significant injury or a spot with the Texas Legends, make no mistake: They are auditioning for their future and for their legacy as Mavs during the 2010-2011 season. They are allies but they cannot co-exist. I don’t envy them one bit.
November 20, 22012
A Thesis on Being Thankful: A review of a basketball encyclopedia from the 90s gives present day Mavs fans much to be thankful for
“Who is the greater evil, Starchilde… I, the devourer of life that has run its course… or you, who denies existence to generations of the future?” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
I went to the library a few days ago. A little bit of a confession: I went to find a book on sports writing, preferably something that could teach me how to better use stats in my weekly column. I’m not really a “stats guy.” I could tell you that the Mavs were out-rebounded last night, 62-43, and I know that’s bad. That is bad, right? Kidding. I can handle the most basic box score stats. However, once the numbers start flying, calculating efficiency ratings over a ten-game spread for when so-and-so is only playing 20 minutes or less, I get confused. For the benefit of The Two Man Game reader, you have other well-qualified contributors on that masthead. For my Tuesday column, you’ll get something a little more of whatever it is that I bring to the table — wild predictions and haphazard insight into a player’s psyche? (Side note to my side note: I have created “The Galactus Bump.” Whenever I write about a player, the next week, they play better. I offer Dominique Jones as exhibit A.)
So, I’m at the library. I couldn’t find a magical “understanding stats” book. I’m sure it exists. Share your suggestions in the comments section. However, I did find this gem called The Encyclopedia of Pro Basketball Team Histories, written by Peter C. Bjarkman, Ph.D. (who refers to himself as “Doctor Basketball”), which was published in 1994. In this book, Doctor Basketball devotes a chapter to each NBA team and explains why they are terrible, except the Celtics and Lakers. Then, he includes an epilogue on a dozen of basketball’s greatest heroes. I like how he refers to Magic Johnson as “Magic” Johnson. And he must remind readers that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is also known as Lew Alcindor. Because apparently, most people remember him as Lew?
I skipped all the other chapters to the one about the Mavs (page 387). Oh, how things have changed in Dallas. With Thanksgiving two days away, find this book, read this chapter and give thanks that Doctor Basketball did not write the final chapter on the Dallas Mavericks. I’d like to share a few of my favorite moments from this dreadful accounting.
* The chapter is titled “Some teams can’t even lose successfully.”
Okay, Doctor Basketball, I see what you did there. Burn.
* Greatest Franchise Player: Rolando Blackman (1981-1992)
This is true. Until the arrival of Dirk Nowitzki, Blackman was our greatest franchise player. Now, I don’t want to disparage Blackman or his contributions to the Mavs, but that’s not necessarily a ringing endorsement. It’s especially odd when you consider that he may not have even been the best player on the team at that time (Hello, Mark Aguirre). Or even the most talented with the most potential (Hello, Roy Tarpley).
So, how does that work? It does. It really does. That may be a column for another time. In the end, Blackman was a tremendous player. His shot selection was impeccable and smooth. Blackman gave a lot to make the Mavs great, and he had great teammates around him. But he always came across as a little nerdy, more soft jazz than funk, more lay up than slam dunk. He seemed to fit an NBA of short shorts and tightly tucked in team jerseys. Face of the franchise. Then along came Dirk Nowitzki. Blackman was a four-time all-star. Nowitzki is an 11-time all-star. Not that Blackman wasn’t great; he definitely deserved to have his number retired, but Nowitzki’s career is better-suited for the legacy of “greatest franchise player.” Be thankful.
* Seasons from hell, 1993 and 1994
Doctor Basketball spends an awful lot of time writing about the “hapless Mavs” during these two seasons. He offered some insight I wasn’t aware of. Reading about Coach Adubato and Coach Buckner made me thankful for Coach Carlisle. Also, I didn’t realize just how much of a jerk Jim Jackson was. Jackson, during his rookie season, pulled a Kiki Vandeweghe and decided to impose a self-exile from the team. On page 388:
“But things got off to an immediately bad start in and around Dallas Reunion Arena when Jackson and his agent selected to remain on the sidelines rather than accept the contract Dallas had offered.”
Thanks. Be thankful that under the watchful eyes of Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson the Mavs will never again be as terrible as 1993 and 1994. I just don’t think it’s physically, theoretically, or mathematically possible.
* Credit where credit is due.
On page 390, Doctor Basketball writes:
“The Dallas Mavericks were of course not always such bumbling losers. In fact, the opposite was once the case. It has been little more than a decade, in fact, since the Dallas team stood proud as the league’s model expansion franchise.”
Thank you for acknowledging just how impressive the 1980s Mavs were. If not for a certain Lakers team, stocked full with Hall of Famers, the Mavs might have even won an NBA championship or two.
* Best Trade in Franchise history: James Donaldson
Yes, James Donaldson is probably still the best center to ever play for the Mavs for an extended period of time. If Tyson Chandler had stuck around for more than one season, I’d be more comfortable giving the honor to him. Heck, if Chris Kaman stays for a while, he might take that distinction from Donaldson. However, considering that Dallas got Donaldson via trade in exchange for Kurt Nimphius (Who?), that is a darn good trade. It’s like when I offer trades in my Fantasy Basketball League (“I’ll take Marc Gasol for Javale McGee?”) to test the intelligence of my peers. Sometimes, they bite.
* Worst Trade in Franchise History: Losing Mark Price
The Mavs gave away an All-Star point guard for a second round draft pick. Lovely. According to Doctor Basketball:
“…now considered by many as the premier point guard in the entire league.”
Really? You do realize John Stockton was playing during this time? And Isiah Thomas too? And Gary Payton, Tim Hardaway, Penny Hardaway, and Jason Kidd? You’re the doctor, I guess. “Mark Price was the premier point guard in the entire league.” Price was a member of Larry Byrd’s 50-40-90 Club. Hey, I know what that is. Maybe I’m not too terrible at stats?
There are more treasures in this book, but I have future unwritten columns. I don’t want to give everything away. Let’s just be thankful that Doctor Basketball isn’t the final authority on the Mavs.
November 27, 2012
Hope for the Half Man: Vince Carter still contributes while everyone else seems ready to retire him
“My journey is ended! This planet shall sustain me until it has been drained of all elemental life! So speaks Galactus!” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
In sports writing, clichés abound, and avoiding them is part of the fun inherent to the process. The challenge is to deny the temptation to call a basketball the “rock,” to announce every dunk with the verb “posterize,” or to refer to every bench player as a “spark,” all while still making the words do their work. Maybe it’s a writer’s insecurity? After writing Nowitzki, Nowitzki, Nowitzki, the admonition against word repetition compels the writer to call him “the Big German” as a grasp at variance. The problem is that clichés are still clichés, and they have a tendency to lull readers into a coma. With their “perennial all-star” shooting “lights out” from “downtown,” I’m not any more impressed.
Plus: clichés follow players as stubbornly as they follow their own stale form, and Vince Carter has long been their victim. Sports writers and commentators take note: Any time Carter does anything spectacular on the court, you do not have to immediately say “he still has a little left in the tank” or “we got a glimpse of the old Vinsanity” or some reference to him still being “Half Man, Half Amazing.” It never fails, as so many among the media are surprised whenever Vince Carter plays like Vince Carter. He’s 35. He’s not dead yet.
Why do we want to add years and mileage to this particular player? I have a few guesses:
Early in his career, Carter’s game was one of energy, aggression, and finesse. We remember him best as the monster who would and could dunk on or over anyone. As an athlete gets older, the energy, aggression, and finesse are the first things to noticeably diminish. The most durable players have been the ones with set shots and a predictable routine (think of Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s skyhook). Players who muscle and bully their way through a game tend to not last as long. Carter is in that latter category. We notice his game changing more.
Now that Jason Kidd has left the Mavs, Vince Carter is the oldest player on the team. With the Mavs trying to get younger, Carter is the exception. And Carter is not egotistical or vain, so it’s common to hear his own self-deprecating humor. He picks on himself about his age, and everyone else joins in.
Vince Carter still looks odd in a Mavericks jersey. We remember him with the Raptors, Nets, and Magic (though notably not the Suns), and to see him as a Maverick reminds fans of the trek that old journeymen players take near the end of their careers, moving from one team to the next.
Like O.J. Mayo, Vince Carter was also a “next,” and possibly the most infamous. Despite being an eight-time All-Star, Vince Carter is still not Michael Jordan. Keep in mind, Kobe Bryant was the most shameless student of Jordan’s game and most desperate to be MJ’s heir, but Kobe stayed Kobe. With Carter, fans expected more. They wanted Jordan’s second coming, birthed into the league by Tarheel power blue. That clearly never happened, and though Carter has had an incredible career, his time in the league still has the tarnish of unmet expectations. He never took his game “to the next level.” (There’s another cliché for you.), and his presence on the court is thus a reminder of false hope. So, when he cuts to the basket for a slam dunk, the analysts reach for their cynical clichés.
Yes, it’s ageism against the player who still has a few years left, but professional basketball has always been obsessed with inches and years. Last Saturday, Vince Carter played his 1,000th career game. He was in the same draft class as Nowitzki (1998), and Nowitzki has played considerably more game throughout his career. But people aren’t ready to retire Nowitzki yet. And of course, Kobe Bryant has been in the NBA longer than both. Bryant remains forever young.
Carter’s game has changed, but it hasn’t died. He’ll occasionally dunk, but now he’s more of a spot-up shooter. People shouldn’t be surprised, especially during the absence of Nowitkzi, if Carter, Mayo, and Chris Kaman compete for the distinction as leading scorer. Don’t discount Vince; he was the newcomer last year who exceeded expectations, who found his place within the team, and continues to be a leader for a team badly in need of one.
As an interesting and unfortunate side note, every Dallas Maverick in the NBA Hall of Fame was a player “past their prime,” better-known for their time on other teams: Alex English who played with the Mavs during the 1991 season, Adrian Dantley who played during the 1989 and 1990 season (the trade that sent Mark Aguirre to Detroit), and Dennis Rodman who ended his NBA career with the Mavericks (returning to Dallas after going to school in South Oak Cliff) where he played only 12 games.
Vince Carter’s contributions to the Mavs have already been greater than what Alex English and Dennis Rodman offered combined, and ultimately we should expect that Carter will probably be more like Adrian Dantley — a prolific scorer, a spot-up shooter with a handful of high-percentage opportunities close to the basket, and a good guy to have around.
But before we retire Vince Carter, can we retire a few of the clichés first? There is still fuel in the tank. Move on.
December 4, 2012
General Manager Time Machine: In the 1980s, Dallas Mavericks drafted well, but here’s how it could’ve been better.
“I am power incarnate! To Galactus, nothing is impossible!” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
For the first time in a long while, the Mavs have a sizable crop of rookies on the roster. Jae Crowder (who was selected with the 34th pick) has received the most attention. However, we shouldn’t immediately surmise that he’s the star selection of the trio; who knows what kind of player Bernard James or Jared Cunningham will develop into over the next year or two? Also, Crowder himself may level off as a player or might even continue to improve beyond our expectations. There’s simply no telling beyond our best guesses. If only we had a time machine, so we could glimpse into the future and get a sense of their fate.
Think about that for a second. You have a time machine, and let’s pretend you aren’t going to use it to kill Hitler or revisit household pets long since gone. Let’s pretend you can only use it as a general manager for the Dallas Mavericks. Fantasy draft spirals into the fantasy genre. What would you do? (Feel free to post in the comments.)
The ‘80s would be a good place to start. The Dallas Mavericks had several high draft picks — the 1st and 9th selections in 1981, 4th overall in 1982, 9th and 11th in 1983, 4th in 1984, 8th in 1985, and 7th in 1986. Credit should be given to Dallas Mavericks general manager Norm Sonju — he did well. There wasn’t really a dud in the bunch. The Mavs acquired Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, Bill Garnett, Dale Ellis, Derek Harper, Sam Perkins, Detlef Schrempf, and Roy Tarpley with those picks. Include the acquisition of James Donaldson, and you have a team that competed against Magic Johnson’s hall of fame Lakers to the seventh game in the Western Conference Finals in 1988.
But move over Norm Sonju; I have a time machine.
In 1981, the Mavs drafted Mark Aguirre.
Who they could have had: Isiah Thomas (2nd pick)
Isiah Thomas was a 12-time NBA All-Star and one of the great point guards of all time. There’s no doubt he could have done great things with the Mavericks. As a fan, I’m okay with this miss. Aguirre was a great player, and I always found Thomas to be annoying. But as a time traveling GM, I would draft Thomas and hope that he would become a better person by spending more time in Dallas than Detroit. Highly likely.
That year, the Mavs also drafted Rolando Blackman with their 9th pick. I don’t think there was a better player further down the draft list.
In 1982, the Mavs drafted Bill Garnett.
Who they could have had: Fat Lever (11th pick) or Dallas native Ricky Pierce (18th pick)
This draft class was a little boring, in my opinion. It would’ve been fun to have Fat Lever coming off the bench for Isiah Thomas, but instead Dallas got to enjoy Lever as a Maverick later in his career. Moving on…
In 1983, the Mavs drafted Dale Ellis and Derek Harper.
Who they could have had: Clyde Drexler (14th pick)
I would have loved seeing Clyde “The Glide” Drexler as a Maverick. He would’ve given Dallas a legitimately cool basketball presence, and one of the best finishers in the game with good defensive chops to boot.
This next two hurt a little more…
In 1984, the Mavs drafted Sam Perkins.
Who they could have had: Charles Barkley (5th pick)
Sam Perkins’ draft class was an impressive one. Immediately above him at the 3rd pick was some fellow named Michael Jordan, and immediately below was Charles Barkley. We never had a shot at Jordan, but you would have to imagine that Barkley, one of the greatest power forwards to ever walk, would have made the Mavericks a legitimate contender every year.
In 1985, the Mavs drafted Detlef Schrempf.
Who they could have had: Karl Malone (13th pick)
Why waste your time arguing who was the greatest power forward of the 80s and 90s — Barkley or Malone — when you can have both? At the same time, what would Malone have been without Stockton? To me, they seemed like one mega-player divided into two separate spatial entities. I also don’t exactly know how you build a team around two power forwards, but I have would have a fun time figuring it out. I would probably move Barkley a slotted small forward, but either way, I’d like to see anyone in this world stop that fast break.
In 1986, the Mavs drafted Roy Tarpley.
Who they could have had: Arvydas Sabonis (24th pick) or Dennis Rodman (27th pick).
Time travel is fickle, because I honestly believe Roy Tarpley was the best and most talented pick at the 7th spot. Unfortunately, drug abuse destroyed a promising career. If he could’ve stayed healthy and clean, there’s no doubt in my mind that the 90s wouldn’t have been so horrendous with Tarpley leading the team. Dallas needed a center, though, so I’ll go with Sabonis — even though Rodman in his prime would be a joy to watch with the Mavs.
To recap, with my time machine and general manager skills, your revisionist history ‘80s Mavericks consists of: Isiah Thomas, Rolando Blackman, Fat Lever, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and Arvydas Sabonis. Nice team, huh? Plus, in the ‘80s, it would’ve been a little easier to hold onto your star talent. Even if you could draft a super team in the present era, it’s difficult to keep that bunch beyond their rookie contracts.
Ironically, I still wonder how they would’ve held up against Magic Johnson’s Lakers, but I like our chances. (Are the Lakers are already in possession of a time machine? It’s worth exploring.) Speaking of Lakers, in case you were curious, in the 1996 NBA draft, the Mavs choose Samaki Walker with the 9th pick; Kobe Bryant went 13th.
December 11, 2012
Player Paradox: Why Chris Kaman is a sneakily productive player
“Galactus lives! But—Galactus is… confused.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
Last week, I was walking in Downtown Dallas with Mike Mooney. We were going from The Bridge homeless shelter to meet with a group from “Back On My Feet” at the Main Street Garden. It was part of our D Academy session for November, of which Mooney and I are both participants.
Mooney is one of the best sports writers I know. (The proof: The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever for D Magazine, The Man in the Middle of Bountygate for GQ, and He Do What He Do for D Magazine and The Best American Sports Writing 2012.) A few minutes previous, I had made him slightly jealous because of a sports story I’m working on for the Dallas Observer (sorry… secret), and since there is no greater thrill than making writers you respect jealous, I decided to talk about it with him some more. The conversation veered into sports writing in general, good places to get published, and so forth. Then we talked about which Mavericks players we would most like to interview — and both agreed that O.J. Mayo is a great story. Here’s a player that clawed his way back into relevance, and it’s quite possible that his best days are still ahead. I then off-handedly mentioned that Chris Kaman would be last on my list.
I don’t know why I said that. Last? I didn’t have a reason, but it felt like the right answer. Mooney responded, “He’s probably the easiest to interview too.” Mooney, of course, is right. Kaman comes across as completely candid, and he doesn’t give cliché responses to cliché questions. So why last? Why do I have such little interest in Chris Kaman, quite possibly the second best player on this weird Mavericks team right now?
I thought about this question longer than I should have. I’m still not completely satisfied with my answer, but here it is: The problem with Kaman is that he seems to have a healthy understanding of the NBA, and he treats it like a job.
But it is a job. In fact, it’s probably the healthiest and sanest way to approach pro sports. It’s just not exciting to talk to well-adjusted athletes with a good perspective. No, you want athletes who treat basketball as a metaphor for life and missed opportunities, who act like the coach is the father they could never impress, who treat the Larry O’Brien Trophy like their only chance for a peaceful afterlife, and who rather die than miss the game-winning shot. That’s not Kaman. Kaman has this calm bovine look in his eyes, the occasional smile that seems disconnected to whatever is happening on the court. Maybe he remembered a funny joke he heard hours earlier?
All of this, in some way, lends itself to the Kaman Paradox.
I discovered this phenomenon earlier in the season. Statistically, Chris Kaman always plays twice as well as I thought he did. I will watch a game from beginning to end. If you ask me how much he scored, I will guess half of the actual number. For example, last week against the Houston Rockets, I thought he scored 10 points and had 3 or 4 rebounds. He actually had 20 points and 7 rebounds. The Kaman Paradox. I do not make this mistake with any other player — only Chris Kaman. Last night against the Kings, was it nine points? Why am I so blind to the workings of a seven-foot center? Perhaps everyone who follows sports does this with someone. Analysts will say that so-and-so put up “quiet numbers,” but what they really mean is that didn’t really notice him on the court much. It’s a failure of perception.
Maybe I’ve been leery about Kaman, because while everyone else was excited about having a “scoring center” with an actual post game, I was more worried about what Dallas would lose on defense. With the Mavs struggling for rebounds, I was quick to blame Kaman for not doing his part as the big man closest to the basket. However, compare his box score contributions with Brendan Haywood — last year’s starting center — and once again the numbers surprised me.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Kaman is averaging 6.9 rebounds per game and Haywood 6.6 per game. Per 36 minutes, Kaman is averaging 9.5 and Haywood is at 9.3.
Blocks? Both are at .9 per game. Assists? Haywood is at .5, and Kaman is at .9. With points, Kaman clearly leads with 14.3 compared to Haywood’s 5.5. They are the same height, same weight, and Kaman is three years younger.
While we’re at it, how does Chris Kaman compare to Tyson Chandler? This season, Chandler clearly leads in rebounds — 10 a game compared to Kaman’s 6.9. Kaman scores two more points per game and holds a slight lead (0.1) in blocks per game.
Basketball is more than just a collection of stats, but by way of common box score measures, Kaman holds his own. If he could improve his rebounding (which may not ever happen), Maverick fans may not lament the loss of Tyson Chandler as much.
From the Pro Basketball Prospectus 2012-13:
“Kaman’s size is an asset at the defensive end, where he’s an average shot blocker but struggles to defend in space because of his poor lateral movement.”
And maybe here is here we notice the real difference between Chandler and Kaman. A player’s effectiveness on the court comes down to space and movement. Chandler moves extremely well; Kaman does not.
When comparing Chandler to Kaman, there are certain intangibles to consider, and fans and sports writers are easily swayed by such extra-statistical factors. Chandler projects an intensity and passion on the court. My wife (a dedicated partner in watching Mavs games) and I often joked about how Chandler liked to hit the padded goal post after a particularly intense dunk. We haven’t seen the same passion from Kaman, the guy with the job as a pro athlete. I believe this contributes to the Kaman Paradox, my ability to completely underestimate him and his contributions to the team. Let’s hope he continues to surprise and confuse me.
December 18, 2012
Abandoning the Apocalypse: 8 signs that the end of the Mavs is near, and 3 reason why I don’t believe it
“This is why I am here. This is the death I have foreshadowed. Mad gods have come to destroy us all.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
From what I’ve heard, the world is ending. I’m not talking about the end of the Mayan calendar and the doomsday projections for this Friday, December 21st. I’m talking about the Mavs season and apparently the future of the franchise — if the most pessimistic prognostications are correct.
In case you were wondering, the Apocalypse will look something like this: Dallas loses relevance as a Finals competitor. They get stuck in the middle. Not good enough to go deep into the playoffs, not appealing enough to win big name free agents, and not bad enough to get lucky in the lottery. And even if the team did try to “suck for luck,” this is a ridiculous strategy because it creates a culture of losing that is difficult to recover from. Would the Mavs be able to appropriately develop high draft picks? No matter. If this is the end, it looks ugly.
If I am to believe the Mavs fans, the ones who pace and rant, who wear placards proclaiming the end, they say the signs have been here all along.
“Nowitzki shall steal fire from the gods.” According to the prophets, the Mavs were never meant to win an NBA championship. The near miss during the 1988 Western Conference Finals and tragic slip during the 2006 NBA Finals is proof that the gods did not want the Mavs to claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Other indignities, such as losing a future two-time MVP to the Phoenix Suns, the 2007 playoffs, and the entire 1990s is only further indication that the gods hate Dallas. So, in 2011, when the Mavs beat the Heat, they brought apocalyptic wrath upon the franchise. Like Prometheus, Dirk Nowitzki stole the fire from LeBron and Wade, heirs of destiny. If I know anything about NBA history, it’s that the Association loves dynasty teams. The Mavs messed with the plan. (For another example of “messing with the plan,” see the 2004 Detroit Pistons and ask them how they’re doing now.)
“David Stern shall hand down a new and terrible law.” If the new collective bargaining agreement hurt any team, it hurt deep-pocket teams that are usually over the luxury tax line and do not have a huge media market to offset the new penalties. In other words, the new CBA was a Mavs-killer. Or at least, it is forcing Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson to find a new approach.
“A mighty gladiator shall leave the battlefield.” Tyson Chandler left the Mavs for New York. Regardless of who you feel is to blame or what factors forced the situation, it’s a widely acknowledged that Chandler returning offered their best chance at defending their title, and the Mavs would be significantly better with him than without.
“Lamar Odom shall disgrace himself before the world.” A year ago, I was giddy when the Mavs acquired Lamar Odom for practically nothing. And then, Odom proceeded to crumble into pieces before our very eyes. His meltdown in Dallas will become the thing of myth or folklore. I’m not a person who believes in “bad mojo,” except in two instances. The first is booing your own team. It took a lot of strength to avoid booing Lamar Odom, but I did it for the team. The rest of you brought some bad karma on our heads. The second…
“The fandom shall be clothed in red.” If your team is blue, do not wear red. This may take some explaining. On January 25, 2012, my wife and I saw the Mavericks get thoroughly whipped by the Minnesota Timberwolves. That evening, Dr. Pepper also distributed RED Mavs t-shirts to all the fans as part of their “I’m a Pepper” promotional campaign. My wife and I left our t-shirts in the seats. Ever since that day, the Hoop Troop has been launching those cursed red t-shirts into the crowd via slingshot and air cannon. Showering the American Airlines Center with bloody damnation. I’m not joking. Those shirts have to go. Burn them.
“The guards shall flee the sinking ship.” When Jason Kidd and Jason Terry left for the Knicks and the Celtics respectively, it wasn’t just about the money and the contract. They were also expressing their disapproval with how the Mavericks were being managed. Terry said as much here. The debate is a matter of continuity versus youthfulness. If Kidd played the way he did last season, would he be worth a three-year deal? Probably not. But with the way he’s playing in New York, I would rather have him than Darren Collison at the moment. And yet, if Collison is a long term investment, I might stick with Collison just to see what potential is there. Regardless, Kidd and Terry leaving did not do anything to assuage the fears of doomsday fans.
“The mighty knee shall be felled.” For Mavs fans, the real fear, when the sky falls and darkness covers the land, is the day that Dirk Nowitzki is no longer a Maverick. During this season, the Mavs received a glimpse of that terrible day with Nowitzki recovering from the knee surgery. Scary, isn’t it?
“Hence when Cowboys shall rise, the Mavericks shall fall.” Here’s another crazy one, similar to my red shirt theory. The Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks share a karmic link. Early 80s? Cowboys made it to the NFC East Championships in three consecutive years. The Mavericks just got started as a franchise and were looking terrible. Later in the 80s, the Mavericks became a perennial playoff team and made it to the Western Conference Finals. The Cowboys were the terrible ones now. The 90s! The Dallas Cowboys won three Super Bowls, arguably the one of greatest NFL teams of all time. During which, the Mavericks were one of the worst NBA teams of all time. In 1998, the Mavericks acquired Dirk Nowitzki, and the Cowboys have only won a single playoff game since then. This season, the Mavs have been without Nowitzki. And surprisingly, the Cowboys are 8-6 (almost the exact inverse of the Mavs record, percentage wise) and may get into the playoffs.
Now that we’ve gone through all the doom and gloom, I should confess that don’t buy it. The Mayan calendar is not a prelude to disaster, and the Mavericks are going to survive. The word “apocalypse” is Greek in origin, and it means “an unveiling” or “a revealing.” In the same way, these difficult months without Nowitzki have revealed a few things.
1. Respect for O.J. Mayo. Without him, right now, it’d be bad—as in Charlotte, Washington, Toronto, bad. Would Jason Terry have done better in his place? I don’t think so. Dallas is fortunate to have Mayo, and should give fans reason to hope. When Nowitzki returns, opponents will stop double teaming Mayo and make him a great second scoring option.
2. It’s hard to judge the Mavs without Nowitzki. The last time the Mavericks were without Nowitzki for a significant amount of time was during the 2010-2011 championship season. Nowitzki missed 11 games. The Mavs were 3-8 (.273). By contrast, 11-13 (.458) doesn’t look nearly so bad. The next nine games — eight of which come against the 76ers, Heat, Grizzlies, Spurs, Thunder, Nuggets, Spurs (again), and Heat (again) — do not help matters.
3. Fix the turnovers, and the world will be back in alignment. A lot of these losses can be attributed to an embarrassingly high turnover rate. Give the new team a month or two to figure each other out, allow Rick Carlisle to make the necessary adjustments, and the turnovers should go down. While the Mavs may never be a great rebounding team this season, turnovers are a manageable problem.
The 4-1 start was nice, and it’d be great if that could be the story for the Dirk-less Mavs this season. That’s just not the case. However, with Dirk Nowitzki returning soon, there is always some measure of hope. I’m not ready to hide in my fallout shelter just yet.
December 30, 2012
The Difference: Dallas Mavericks 86, San Antonio Spurs 111
You know the drill. The Difference is a reflection on the game that was, with one bullet for every point in the final margin.
On the bright side, it didn’t feel like a blowout until the 4th quarter. Throughout the game, the Mavs were within reach. The teams took turns with their scoring drives; it always appeared close.
By comparison, the last time the Mavs played the Spurs on December 23rd, it was a soul-crushing 38 point loss. This game was only slightly soul-crushing with a 25 point loss.
Another way to look at it, this season, the Spurs have beat the Mavs by 31.5 points on average.
The Mavs have had 14 different starting lineups in the past 31 games. Vince Carter started for the first time this season. It didn’t help. At 8:28 in the first quarter, the Spurs were ahead 14-2.
San Antonio’s big three were… big. Tony Parker had 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 9 assists. Manu Ginobili had 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. And Tim Duncan had 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks. They scored 53% of their team’s total points. They are boring but deadly.
Also to the Spurs’ credit, they shot 50.6% as the visiting team. When a team shoots that well, the opponent cannot afford to make many mistakes. One big mistake would be allowing your opponent to shoot 50.6%.
Towards the end of the 2nd quarter, Darren Collison called for a pick. Collison then drove to the basket before Brand could get set. Duncan easily blocked the lay up. It wasn’t pretty. No, this botched offensive possession didn’t cost them the game, but it’s a decent example of how the Mavs aren’t playing as a team right now.
The Mavs needed a big 3rd quarter, and could do no better than maintain the 12 point deficit. There was an invisible wall. Dallas kept running into it.
Dirk Nowitzki is still getting back into his playing rhythm. Unfortunately, when a team’s franchise player contributes only 8 points, he has to be listed as non-factor #1 in this game.
O.J. Mayo appears to be slipping out of his playing rhythm. When this season’s top scorer also only contributes 8 points, he has to be listed as non-factor #2 in this game.
The Mavs need Nowitzki and Mayo. If they don’t play well, the Mavs can’t win.
Something to consider: The Mavs only had 11 turnovers. (O.J. Mayo only had 2 turnovers!) They had more assists than San Antonio. They outrebounded San Antonio. They still lost. It’s enough to drive a coach crazy–so kindly ignore Carlisle comments about “suspending players.” He’s just trying to think outside the boxscore.
The Mavs have lost 9 games by 19 points or more. That’s 29% of the games this season.
The Mavs shot 6.2% (1-16) from 3-point range. This shooting percentage is even more depressing when you look at the roster and see that the Mavs have quite a few good 3-point shooters.
In the 4th quarter with 5:54 remaining, the Mavs were down 11 points. I thought to myself, “It’s now or never.” Then Tony Parker made an 18 foot jump shot. Mayo missed his shot. Stephen Jackson hit a 3-pointer. Nowitzki missed his attempt at a Kareem-esque sky hook. On the other end, Duncan was fouled and made both shots. Within 38 seconds, the Mavs were now down 18 points. Fans started to leave the building.
When Brandan Wright, Dahntay Jones, and Dominique Jones came in for the first time with 3:37 remaining, even more fans left. During the “junk minutes,” none of them scored.
Last week on ESPN’s 5-on-5, I said some not nice things about Darren Collison. My words may have been: “for all his scoring potential, hasn’t been the floor leader the Mavs need.” I take it back. Lately, Collison has been a ray of sunshine. He’s averaging 18.8 points per game over his last 4 games and has led the team in scoring in 3 of Dallas’ last 4 games. I was most pleased by his 8 assists. That may not sound like an impressive amount, but during their last blowout (i.e., their last game) Collison had half as many assists. He’s averaging 4.9 assists per game this season. This game was a step in the right direction.
Elton Brand had a good game with 14 points and 10 rebounds. More of this please.
Bryan Gutierrez listed three keys to the game in his “Setting the Table” post. Let’s review them…#1. Guard the 3-point line. The Mavs did all right in the first half, limiting the Spurs to three of eight from behind the arc. The second half slipped away from them. In the end, the Spurs were 42.1%.
#2. Be cognizant of San Antonio’s thievery. As mentioned before, the Mavs only had 11 turnovers.
#3. Play inspired. No inspiration was witnessed. I saw a lot of ill-advised shots, which is code for “I don’t know what else to do, so I’ll just chunk it up there.”
If you’re a fan of the +/- stat, our +/- loser of the night is Vince Carter. When he was on the court, the Mavs dropped to -28. He had a nice dunk and scored the Mavs’ only 3-pointer, so the highlight reel might be more forgiving.
Jae Crowder was the only Maverick with a positive +/-. It was +1.
Shawn Marion did not score a single basket unless you count his 2 free throws. All the shots he missed were normal Matrix-friendly shots.
The Mavs now have a six game losing streak. Currently, the longest losing streak in the Western Conference. Let’s stay positive: The Mavs have 51 games remaining. The season is not lost.
January 1, 2013
Retiring 12: An Appreciation for Derek Harper, the Mavericks Greatest Point Guard
“Now let the charade end!” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
When I first inquired to Rob Mahoney about joining the Two Man Game team, I made a single request. I asked Rob if I could write about Derek Harper at least once a year. In my opinion, Harper hasn’t received the recognition he deserves. It’s the start of a new year, a good time to look back on the Ye Olde Mavericks. As a gift to myself, I’m taking this day to write about no. 12, and I’m leading the charge to get his number retired.
Here’s a secret. You are far more likely to get Mark Cuban to respond to your emails if you’re a season ticket holder. Start the email with an account number (I had a ten-game package, nothing too fancy). Almost a year ago, I wrote to Cuban:
Before Dirk Nowitzki retires and a whole new generation is considered for retired numbers, I believe Derek Harper is one essential member of the early Mavs who deserves the honor. Yes, there is Aguirre and Donaldson, Perkins and Tarpley, but only Derek Harper hits all the reasonable criteria for retired numbers — (1) greatness as a player, (2) long term commitment to the team, (3) long term impact on the franchise. I’m not the type of fan who believes retired numbers should be given out liberally. Once you have Davis, Blackman, and Harper, I think the pre-Nowitzki Mavs have been appropriately represented. Are there any plans to retire #12 before we get to #41?
I then went on to complain about the red t-shirts and tried to defend Lamar Odom. It was still early in the season. Mark Cuban responded:
brilliant minds think alike.
we agree across the board [smiley face]
stay tuned and thank you for your support of our Mavs !!
No privacy footnote included. Here you go, a year-old The Two Man Game exclusive with Mark Cuban.
You have to give Cuban credit. His response was affirming. He answered my questions, and yet he was still vague and noncommittal. If he agrees that those red t-shirts are cursing the team, why launch them into the crowd? If you agree that Derek Harper’s number should be retired, why not retire it? I have a few theories on his “we agree across the board” statement. It could mean:
Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Get off my back.
Be patient. The t-shirts will be gone once we run out of t-shirts, and we have a lot. We’ll retire Derek Harper’s number the day before Nowitzki’s.
I think almost every Mav should have their number retired… but it ain’t gonna happen.
I didn’t have time to give you a more honest answer.
So, why Derek Harper? A player who never played in an All-Star game, a player who wasn’t even the Mavs’ top draft pick in 1983, and a player who is often remembered for his terrible rookie error in the 1984 playoffs when he dribbled out the clock sending the game against the Lakers into overtime. If this is all you see, you’re missing one of the most important players to shape the culture and legacy of the ‘80s Mavs, one of the most dedicated and proud Mavericks (during a time when being a Maverick wasn’t always a point of pride), and yes, the greatest point guard for this franchise. Let me explain.
From a statistician’s standpoint, it’s difficult to quantify the greatness of a point guard. In part, because a point guard’s most telling number is his assist totals, and assists can be misleading. The NBA’s definition is murky and subjective. An assist is “credited to a player tossing the last pass leading directly to a field goal, only if the player scoring the goal responds by demonstrating immediate reaction to the basket.” Also, an assist depends largely on the ability of your teammates to make the shots. (I don’t mean to take away from Magic Johnson or John Stockton, but they were passing to the no. 1 and no. 2 all-time scorers respectively.)
The assist is about passing, but on another level it represents a player’s ability to make the players around him better, to run the offense, and to help the team be a single unit. Other positions can afford to get a little selfish, but the point guard carries the metaphysical burden of selfless cohesion and vision.
Derek Harper was all these things for a team in the ’80s that performed well beyond all expectations. When many people thought that professional basketball couldn’t thrive in Cowboys land, this Mavericks team offered Dallas what it loves most: winning. I sometimes wonder if the franchise could’ve survived the ’90s, if it didn’t perform so well in its first decade. Would Mark Cuban have bothered with this team if he didn’t have so many fond memories when he was a fan? Perhaps none of it would’ve happened without Derek Harper.
Besides Harper, which other great Mavericks point guards come to mind? Clearly, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd are better point guards than Harper when you look at the entirety of their career. But when you evaluate them simply during their “time served” as a Maverick, No. 12 holds his own. The simple fact is that Nash and Kidd never played their best years in Dallas. Harper did.
Steve Nash in 6 seasons with Dallas Mavericks (taken from Basketball-Reference.com)
PPG 14.6 (playoffs 15.9)
APG 7.2 (playoffs 7.5)
His best teammates: Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley
Worth noting: He led the Mavs to the Western Conference Finals. He also became the league MVP the season after he left the Mavs. As a result, there is a Nash-sized hole in the heart of every Mavs fan who pines for an alternate reality where Nash and Nowitzki stayed together throughout their careers… in Dallas.
Jason Kidd, the 1st, and Jason Kidd, the 2nd, in 3 seasons and 5 seasons with Dallas Mavericks (taken from Basketball-Reference.com)
I’ve mentioned this before but there are two Jason Kidds. You can’t really lump them together.
His best teammates: Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson/Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry
Worth noting: He won NBA Rookie of the Year./He helped deliver a championship to the Dallas Mavericks.
Derek Harper in 12 seasons with Dallas Mavericks (taken from Basketball-Reference.com)
PPG 15 (playoffs 11.8)
APG 6.1 (playoffs 6.2)
**Fourth highest in franchise
His best teammates: Rolando Blackman and Mark Aguirre
Worth noting: He has the 11th most steals and the 17th most assists in NBA history. He helped the Mavs get their first division title and led them to the Western Conference Finals.
In fairness, if you don’t count Harper’s stats for his first three seasons, before he played 30 plus minutes per game, you have…
What can we glean from these stats? From my perspective, it’s not that he’s superior to Mavs-era Nash or Mavs-era Kidd, but that he holds his own. People who immediately assume Nash and Kidd were better, need to look at the numbers. Yes, Kidd clearly had better assist numbers than both Harper and Nash. But Harper was a better scorer than Kidd and equal, if not slightly better during the regular season, to Steve Nash. Harper was also a better man-on-man defender and put up an impressive number of steals.
Harper played with finesse and attitude. There is no doubt he made his team better. Blackman demanded the ball in very specific spots on the court to keep his scoring efficiency so high, and Harper delivered. They were not a team of All Stars per se, but they functioned so well together. If “chemistry” could be statistically measured, that Mavs team had a wealth of it. Credit, in large part, must be given to Harper.
All this looks past a more significant number when you compare point guards. 12. Same as his jersey number, Harper gave 12 years to the team. A number that should be appreciated when you consider how rare it is nowadays for an athlete to spend over a decade with one team.
Brad Davis (no. 15) and Rolando Blackman (no. 22) both have their numbers retired. Davis now works on the Mavs radio broadcast and as a player development coach. Blackman is director of basketball development for the Mavericks. Derek Harper works as the TV game analyst. All three continue to serve the franchise they helped kickstart. When the Mavs won the championship, Davis, Blackman, and Harper were awarded championship rings for their service.
Retiring jerseys is a tricky subject. If the fans had their way, we’d have a hundred jerseys hanging from the rafters. But to represent the pre-Nowitzki era, I think we only need three. Right now, we’re missing one.
January 8, 2013
Old Man Look at my Life: The loss of Jason Kidd has hurt the Mavs more than they want to admit
“For all your vaunted strength, you are but a fading shadow of my cosmic all!” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
Last summer, Jason Kidd turned down the Mavs’ generous offer of three years and $9 million. Instead, he took the Knicks’ offer of three years and $9 million. On one level, the defection was a slap in the face to the organization that drafted him, the one that brought him back when some thought he was “too old” to be an elite player, and the one where he won his championship. On another level, Kidd’s frustration is understandable. He was disappointed with a front office that “blew up” the championship team (which I don’t think was entirely within their control, but whatever), and he wanted the opportunity to come off the bench for a highly talented point guard. The Mavs couldn’t get Kidd’s golf buddy Deron Williams, and Dallas just felt a little less like home.
While many were surprised to see Kidd leave, those keeping a close watch on precious cap space may have thought $9 million seemed a little too generous for a player who averaged 6.2 points and 5.5 assists in the previous season and would turn 40 this year. Clearly, it was an offer to cement Kidd’s legacy as a Maverick, possibly transitioning him to an assistant coaching position. But for a second time in Mavs’ history, Jason Kidd left Dallas on bad terms.
In hindsight, I wonder if $9 million was too low of an offer. The Knicks are in second place in the Eastern Conference. The Mavs are tied with Sacramento for the third worst record in the West. The disparity between the two teams cannot only be attributed to Jason Kidd, but his presence and veteran leadership cannot be ignored either. A semblance of continuity from 2011 might be worth something.
When you consider how this might affect Nowitzki’s performance, that $9 million may seem like a bargain. Consider these words from NBA’s Jeff Caplan:
In 2008, Nowitzki pleaded with owner Mark Cuban to trade penetrating, low-assist point guard Devin Harris for savvy veteran Jason Kidd, believing the cerebral assist man would elevate the offense and create opportunities for Nowitzki that didn’t require the constant burden of grinding, one-on-one isolation work.
With a return to a Harris-type point in Collison, Nowitzki is faced with a clear adjustment in styles and increasingly limited time to make it work.
This is a sobering thought. Maybe this is why Mark Cuban was so angry about Kidd leaving. Cuban says his “feeling were hurt” because he thought they had developed a good relationship, and that Kidd was committed to the team, but I imagine Mark Cuban also recognized the veteran-sized hole Kidd left and how that might impact Nowitzki. In contrast, Jason Terry was always upfront about shopping his talents around. And maybe Cuban realized that Terry’s role would be easier to replace. I’ve said it before, but I’d rather have a young O.J. Mayo than an old Jason Terry. Also, in Boston, Terry is having his worst season since his rookie year. It may have been a good time to part ways.
However, a Kidd-less Mavs could mean a diminished Nowitzki.
Nowitzki says as much here: “Execution down the stretch has been one of our problems. The last couple years, we knew each other so well and we had a point guard in Jason Kidd who was one of the smartest out there. It’s going to take a little more time together to figure it out.”
Rick Carlisle appears to be the one most affected by the loss of Jason Kidd. He’s taking his grief out on Darren Collison. Collison has been repeatedly benched and un-benched, then benched again. Throughout the season, Carlisle has made cryptic statements to the press about failure followed by pronouncements of boundless enthusiasm for his team. Yesterday, he nicknamed himself “the Colonel.”In other words, Carlisle sounds like a man on the verge of a bipolar nervous breakdown. I imagine he’s a few overtime losses away from ditching his suit and simply wearing a snuggy while seated courtside, ranting and mumbling to players no longer on the roster.
No other proof is needed for the frustration in the back court than to note the revolving door of misfits at the guard spots: Delonte West, Derek Fischer, Dominique Jones, Rodrigue Beaubois, Jared Cunningham, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and they’re now calling up 37-year-old Mike James from the D league. It’s enough to drive anyone a little insane.
Last night against Utah (another madding near miss), Carlisle decided to go with Beaubois at the point during those crucial last minutes. Carlisle said he liked Beaubois’ “engineering tonight.”
His engineering? I don’t even know what that means. Carlisle needs someone reliable.
The trade deadline is approaching. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson must do something to bring back what was lost with Jason Kidd–for Nowitzki and for Carlisle, for their mental health. Do you think the Knicks might consider a trade? Maybe we can get Jason Kidd a third time?
January 15, 2013
Being in the Moment: When Mavs fans confront a losing season, it’s the simple pleasures that matter.
“Human suffering is irrelevant to me!” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
I took my family to the game last night. My wife and daughter sat on either side of me, as we watched from the cheap seats (the proof via Instagram). We had a good time, each in our own way.
My wife quietly observes the game. She doesn’t get pre-occupied with the trivia, the history, or the box score like I do, but she always has a good sense for the flow and momentum of a game. She disapproves of me booing the opponent during their foul shots and is annoyed by fans who yell the same thing during every play. For instance, several games last season, we sat next to “Set it up!” guy in section 328. We were tired of “Set it up!” and privately cherished those moments when “Set it up!” would leave for prolonged smoking and drinking breaks during the middle of the game. This is not to suggest that my wife prefers a civil sporting contest. When I commented on J.J. Barea flopping, my wife had a more direct way of describing it: “Barea needs to stop playing like a little [expletive deleted].” I love my wife.
My daughter is concerned mostly about getting on the jumbotron and snagging one of the t-shirts being shot into the crowd. I try to explain that the odds are unlikely for fans in the 300s, but she remains hopeful. She loves the half-time entertainment, the crazy antics of the mascot Champ (also his cousin, Inflatable Champ), and the contests during timeouts. She loudly participates in the chants. “De-fense! De-fense!” She likes to dance and to yell. She protests and pouts until she can have a soft pretzel. My daughter is happy when the Mavs win, apathetic when they don’t.
I mutter to myself while watching the game. I clap my paper fan noisemaker to signal that the Mavs are playing well. I sigh and groan at bad calls, usually punctuated with a “Come on!” If the three-pointer is open, I urge them on (“Take it!”). A fast break culminating in a slam dunk almost always elicits an “Oh yeah!” and/or “That’s it!” from me. Sometimes I forget to breathe if the Mavs haven’t scored in a while. I lean forward in my seat, hand to face, during close games.
Of course, the Mavs won last night, as they beat Minnesota, 113 to 98. It was the perfect game to watch, because the Mavs had control throughout and yet the Timberwolves had a few opportunities to sneak back in. The Hopkins family scoffed at those fans who left the game early. Our family stays to the final buzzer, thankyouverymuch.
The game was particularly satisfying, because I’m worn out on the Mavs getting blown out. Last night’s game reminded me how accustomed Dallas fans are to winning. In the Nowitzki era, fans expect the playoffs. They expect a 50+ win season. They expect to be in the conversation. This season, much of that has been stripped away from the Mavericks. The pundits, journalists, bloggers, and expert commenters (in other words, us) have already abandoned this season to discuss wild trades, lottery picks, free agency, and hopes for next season. And it’s not even the All-Star break yet.
In our obsession to play GM, to fix the season, to make the playoffs and chase championships (or, alternatively, to blow up the team and start again), have we forgotten the simple pleasure of just watching the freakin’ game?
I know this may sound like “loser talk,” but hear me out. You wouldn’t be reading this column if you didn’t experience the same chills when you see Ricky Rubio make a pin-point pass behind his back or secretly envy the longevity of Tim Duncan this season. You have felt the shudder of unholy dread from a LeBron James fast break. And I know you smiled when Nowitzki made the most ridiculous off balance fade away last night. Basketball is still basketball. Even with the Mavs at 16-23 for the season, I’ll take it.
To achieve fan enlightenment, to find meaning in this season, there are four noble truths. May they guide you to greater wisdom and peace.
“Suffering is inherent, because players are impermanent and constantly changing.”
The first truth is that players get old and retire. They get traded. They also get injured and need surgery. You will never find peace until you can acknowledge this truth. Your favorite Mavericks will leave the team and join the Knicks. Dirk Nowitzki will one day hang up his jersey. That young promising athlete will bear the curse of being “injury prone.” So, what’s a fan to do? Enjoy the moment. Take that single jump shot and savor it as universal bliss. Because on the next play, Dwyane Wade might knee him in the groin (the proof via animated gif).
“Suffering exists, because teams crave greatness as a single entity.”
Teamwork is an odd thing. You can tell when a team has it. You can tell when a team doesn’t have it. But you can’t always diagnose how to get it or what it should look like. Is teamwork passing? Sure, that’s part of it, but not all. Is teamwork being able to operate within a system? Yes, sometimes. Is teamwork getting the best out of all your players? Yes, but that might be too idealistic.
This season, many of the Mavs’ wins have resulted from a collection of great individual performances—but rarely have we seen them truly work as a team. It’s hard to find fault in Monday night’s win (they had a season-high 33 assists against Minnesota), but the successes of O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, and Elton Brand seemed to come at the expense of a Dirk Nowitzki who couldn’t always find his shot, made some ugly three-point attempts, and appeared to be a few steps behind everyone else. Nowitzki’s assist totals and his modest 10 points show that he found a way to stay relevant, but the Mavs are still searching for their identity. What’s a fan to do? Take the win and be glad. Don’t try to “style point” it.
“Cessation of desire, embracing the spectacle, is the way to contentment.”
As fans, I know we’re all doing the math to calculate how well they need to play to have a chance at the playoffs. I’ll give you a hint: it’s highly unlikely. What’s a fan to do? Be thankful the American Airlines Center serves beer and hot dogs. Enjoy them. Watch the Mavs Dancers and ManiAACs. Allow yourself to be entertained by the funny videos they show on the jumbotron and the half-time entertainment of the guy playing drums on a bucket. In other words, sometimes to survive as a fan, you need to approach the games the way my daughter does. Embrace the spectacle. Be happy if they win, apathetic if they don’t. It may sound like I’m raising the white flag, but if you can’t shrug off a tough season, you will die of stress-induced heart failure before the Mavs ever return to the Finals.
“To achieve cessation of desire, you must accept the path that the Mavs front office has laid before us.”
Trade talks fascinate me too. I could listen to the ins-and-outs of Dwight Howard for Dirk Nowitzki all day. (Quick aside: It would never happen, and I could never part with Nowitzki. I have a deep psychological need for Nowitzki to retire as a Maverick.) I get tempted by free agent daydreams. I feel a sadistic glee at the possibility of “blowing up” the team in the name of draft picks and a brighter tomorrow. We can play “what if” until the end of time, as such exercises are, after all, the meat and potatoes of sports writing. But sometimes we need to set all that aside, trust the management to do whatever crazy thing they are going to do, and enjoy the ride.
After the game, my wife, my daughter, and I walked back to our car. It was a little too cold for the long trek. On the way home, my daughter fell asleep in the back seat. My wife disappeared within her iPhone — checking Facebook and updating Pinterest. I drove in silence. For once, I left the radio off and did not listen to the post-game wrap up on ESPN 103.3 FM. It was the perfect ending to a good evening.
And the Mavs won, too.
January 22, 2013
Quiet Value: Shawn Marion is silently, deadly, and the Mavs mid-season MVP
“Enough! Again must I contend with the creatures of this tiny world. They who, alone in all creation, have stymied my will.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
With half the season over and done with, and a couple days off before facing San Antonio, it’s a good time to reflect on what we’ve seen so far from the Mavs. It was a strange time for this franchise in flux. The Mavs had a good hard look at the world without Nowitzki and shuddered. The Mavs endured more blowout losses than would be considered healthy for the fragile psyche of a new team. The rotations have been confounding at times. (Was it just me or did Derek Fisher play on the Mavericks for a few days? Was that real?) The Mavs dipped farther below 500 than they had in a long, long time. And yet, there’s been an encouraging push in recent days that moved the playoffs back into conversation.
If the Mavericks were to award MVP honors at mid-season, by most statistical indicators, it would go to O.J. Mayo. If you look at ESPN’s Hollinger stats page, O.J. Mayo has the highest “player efficiency rating” on the team at 16.8 (Not counting Brandan Wright’s astounding 21.08 PER. However, Carlisle has Wright nailed to the bench. It’s a debate for another time, but whose minutes do you subtract to give more time to Wright?) O.J. Mayo has the highest “value added” at 141.4, and the highest “estimated wins added” at 4.7. Mayo’s true shooting percentage is .001 behind Collison, who has the team’s highest percentage at .583 (once again not counting Wright, sigh). Another interesting figure cited by our own Bryan Gutierrez on the weekly rundown, O.J. Mayo has the second highest “clutch time production” in the league, i.e. the last 5 minutes in the fourth quarter with the score within 5 points.
To quote Dennis Velasco from the Basketball Jones, “O.J. Mayo had to settle for a one-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks this offseason, but so far the numbers he’s put up have been quite impressive. If life were a cartoon, his agents would have dollar signs in their eyes. He’s having the best season of his career…”
All true, but I would award the mid-season MVP to a more quiet performance. He’s someone so reliable, he almost goes unnoticed. In my opinion, Shawn Marion saved this season.
O.J. Mayo has been great, but his turnovers earlier in the season have been inexcusable. The fact that the Mavs reduced their turnover rate so completely in recent weeks is a credit to both Rick Carlisle and O.J. Mayo. It may say more about the promise of Mayo’s future than any of the other stats previously mentioned. He can learn. He can improve. He’s trying to develop a more complete game. He’s coachable.
But what has Shawn Marion delivered this season? He’s offered leadership. He’s been a confident veteran presence. He’s been the most consistent defensive player on the team, easily their best man-on-man defender. While Marion’s not the team’s highest scorer, he’s usually among the top producers. And on a team where they need several players in double digits to win, Marion’s contributions on offense cannot be ignored. It’s also how and where he scores. He can cut for a slam dunk. He can run the fast break. He has a beautiful floater and hook shot. These plays can change the pace of a game. If Marion feels like it, he can take a three point shot, which Carlisle will indulge him once or twice a game.
This season for the Mavs, Marion has notched the most offensive and defensive rebounds, is third for assists, top five in every other meaningful offensive and defensive category, and second for games started. Nothing glamorous, but nothing insignificant either.
Shawn Marion is a quiet MVP. Without him, I don’t know how the Mavericks would have survived to this mid-point in the season.
It’s that time of year when people start talking about the trade deadline. Shawn Marion’s name gets thrown around a lot, and I just cringe. Unless you could get a guaranteed all-star, I don’t see why anyone would want to do that. As a refresher on recent history, the Mavericks would not have won game five of the 2011 Western Conference Finals without Shawn Marion’s balanced production, a few key fast breaks and clutch defense under the basket. In the 2011 Finals, many fans attribute LeBron James’ fourth quarter collapse to the reason why they lost. My question for them: Who was guarding James? It’s as though people don’t even notice how Marion silently alters the fate of every game he plays in.
January 29, 2013
Judging Happy: Chris Kaman isn’t happy. Does it matter?
“I am displeased, Morg. You have destroyed one of my creations. Such an act is my decision, not yours. You have overstepped your bounds.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
I’m not usually one to quote Spurs coach Greg Popovich, but I love his response to David Aldridge during a sideline interview. Coach, how happy were you with the shot selection? Popovich quipped, “Happy? Happy? ‘Happy’ is not a word we think about in the game. Think of something different. Happy? I don’t know how to judge happy.”
Popovich makes a good point. How do you “judge happy?” Is it one of Hollinger’s advanced statistics that I haven’t heard of yet? But sports analysts do treat “happy” like a stat. We measure “ happy” and consider its weight and effect on the game.
I’ve found myself wondering if Chris Kaman is happy right now—according to this report from ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, not very. I contemplate how his unhappiness will affect the team. Will his “lack of happy” cause him to get traded? Does Rick Carlisle even care about Kaman’s happiness? The correct answer is probably not, and nor should he care. The Mavs are trying to win games, not maintain the happiest franchise in professional basketball. (Tangent: Which franchise do you think is the happiest right now? My guess is the Clippers. They seem like a happy bunch.)
We get so worried about “ not happy,” because we associate it with players not performing to their potential. Unhappy players become a nuisance in the locker room. Unhappy players start fights, get coaches fired, and leave the franchise in a lurch. Unhappy players look like Lamar Odom in a Mavs uniform. No one wants that.
Chris Kaman isn’t happy with the amount of minutes he’s playing. In the last game against Phoenix, the Mavs had a center rotation of Bernard James, Elton Brand, and Chris Kaman—even Brandan Wright got a few minutes. Afterward, Kaman chose his words carefully. He said “it’s frustrating” and “not really fun.” Sportswriters, of course, are the ones who round those comments up to “not happy.” Chaos ensues. Next thing you know, if it hasn’t happened already, Lakers fans start plotting absurd trade scenarios involving Kaman for Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre, or Jerry Buss’s cat. The Mavs shop is selling Kaman jerseys at 50% off. Agents are freaking out. And before the end of the day, some talk radio host is predicting that the Mavs will be doomed for the next decade because they can’t keep Chris Kaman… who hasn’t gone anywhere.
Rick Carlisle’s response, on the SportsDay DFW blog, was the most rational: “Sometimes, there’s a difference of opinion, but that’s OK. Reasonable men have a right to disagree. But I make it clear to him [Kaman] that he’s an important guy on this team, and we need him and need what he can do for us.”
Carlisle isn’t worried about happy. And I honestly don’t think Chris Kaman worries about it either. Chris Kaman is one of those rare wonderful players who treats his job like a job. And sometimes, work sucks. Kaman realizes that. He’s a mature enough player to suck it up and still come to work.
What makes a player happy? I’ve compiled a list. Feel free to add to my list in the comments.
Winning — Players love to win. Heck, everyone loves winning. Winning is better than losing. Winning makes you a winner, which is better than being a loser. People do not go into pro sports to be losers.
Respect — Players work hard. They want their hard work to be valued. Players will even tolerate losing as long as the people around them are willing to acknowledge how much they’ve committed to the effort.
Minutes — Players want playing time. Without playing time, they cease to be a player. They are simply being paid to sit on the bench, wondering why they bothered to suit up for the game. Players get sad when they spend too much time on the bench. (Brian Cardinal might be the rare exception. That was one happy guy. I miss him.)
Note: Players who demand more minutes are sometimes unfairly criticized. In their defense, I understand the frustration. They can only bolster their stats when they are on the court. Those stats directly impact contract negotiations and trade agreements. If they are unhappy, they at least want to prove their worth for someone else. They are convinced all they need is more time to show what they can do.
Having a defined role — Not every player wants to start, but they all want to have a defined role within the team. They want to feel like their presence has meaning and purpose. When their role keeps changing, players begin to have an existential crisis.
Teammates they trust — Players don’t need to like everyone on the team, but they need to trust them. When there’s no trust on the team, everyone looks ridiculous when a play breaks down or a possession is thrown away.
Coaching staff they trust — Nothing is worse than being coached by an idiot. A player wants to be confident that the people in charge know that they’re doing.
Highlight plays — A layup is two points. A crazy alley-oop no-look 360 dunk while jumping over a 7 foot European is also two points. However, you won’t be telling your grandkids about all those great layups.
Getting paid — Oh yeah. Professional athletes like to be paid. That’s what makes them professional. It’s not just about the money. Some players will take less money to be in a better situation. But the money does represent, to some degree, your worth on the team. It also represents your ability to buy awesome clothes, a nice condo, a sweet ride, and a round of drinks for everyone at the bar. People groan about how much pro athletes get paid. I’m fine with it. That Rolex isn’t going to buy itself.
Control over their fate — The benefit of being a pro basketball player is that you get paid a lot of money to do something you love. The downside is you can be traded to Toronto or Charlotte. You might be banished to the D-League. You and your family might move every year. Players want some degree of control over life.
Positive crowd — I’ve always been curious. How much of an impact is this, really? Do players actually “feed off the energy of the crowd” or is it a pleasant thing to say after a win? Some players need the adoring fans more than others. For instance, Jason Terry loves the crowd. Other players seem too lost in the game to even notice. Regardless, it has to be demoralizing to see your paying customers arrive late, leave early, and barely respond to how awesome you are.
One final thought. The irony of “not happy” is that closer a player gets to ultimate victory, the more unhappy they are if they don’t obtain it. Who was the most “not happy” Maverick in team history? No, not Lamar Odom. Not Jim Jackson during his rookie year. Not Jim Jackson during his second, third, fourth, or fifth year as a Maverick. (Seriously, Jackson, what happened?) No, the honor goes to Dirk Nowitzki after game six of the 2006 NBA Finals. I’ve watched those final seconds more than a few times. Terry advances the ball, a screen by Nowitzki, a final three point shot attempt by Terry, and a rebound by Dwyane Wade. Here’s the part that fascinates me: With only a second left and three points down, Nowitzki rushes over to Wade. To do what, I have no idea. There was nothing to do. It was a desperate gesture with no solution. Wade throws the ball into the air. Victorious. The Heat’s bench empties onto the court to celebrate, running past Nowitzki. Nowitzki stands there for a moment, stunned, surrounding by red. He does not stay to congratulate his opponents. Instead, he exits down a dark corridor to the locker room. I’ve never seen anyone so unhappy.
For the record, “not happy” isn’t the best measurement of future success or even past failures. Don’t worry about Chris Kaman’s happiness. He’ll be fine.
February 5, 2013
A Fantastic Fiasco: The Mavs’ season is spiraling from “dismal” to “fiasco,” and that might be okay.
“Please. Please. We beg of you – have mercy. Have mercy on all our souls.” – Pastor Mike
“No.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
Another blow out.
These losses are frustrating because they tell us very little about the team we have on our hands, except that it’s not a very good team right now. Are the Mavs better than their record? Worse? It’s hard to say. Blow outs usually represent such a monumental collapse on both ends of the floor. The result is so bewildering; it can be hard to diagnose. The rhetoric sounds like this: “the shots just weren’t falling,” “we got caught off guard,” “you have to give the other team credit,” “we need to be more aggressive,” “we need to play our game” and a host of other one-liners that tell you nothing. Players and coaches show their displeasure, frustration, and promise to turn things around.
On one hand, the Mavs are five games away from tying for the worst record in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, at their current place in the standings, they gain little from failure. The draft lottery odds are not in their favor. As a team management strategy and general life philosophy, I do not believe purposely tanking a season is a good idea. The cautionary tales are too numerous: so many teams that flounder at the bottom simply stay there. Fans and sports experts alike write about the “mediocrity treadmill.” But I would rather be a team that’s on the mediocrity treadmill than wallowing in the gutters of the NBA standings. (Is that a mixed metaphor?)
On the other hand, the Mavs are five and a half games away from tying for the eighth playoff spot—with Houston, Portland, and the Lakers also competing for that same spot. Let’s say the Mavs fight hard and against all odds, they get the eighth spot. Sure, it’s a moral victory—something to take into the next season. However, let’s look at who they would most likely run into during the postseason.
San Antonio Spurs
The Mavs are 0-3 against the Spurs this season. On average, the Mavs have lost by 23 points to San Antonio. In other words, San Antonio averages a blow out against Dallas.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Mavs are also 0-3 against the Thunder this season. The first two games were close. The most recent one (last night’s game) was an ugly 91-112 loss—with Oklahoma leading by as much as 33 in the fourth quarter. Since the 2011 Western Conference series against the Thunder, the Mavs have lost 10 of 11 games against them.
The Mavs are 0-2 against the Clippers this season. On average, the Mavs have lost by 14 points to Los Angeles.
To summarize, the Mavs are 0-8 against the top three teams in the Western Conference. If we assume these three teams are a lock for the top three playoff spots, the Mavs would have to ascend to the 5th playoff spot just to avoid any team that has completely owned them in the regular season. I don’t even know if that’s mathematically possible.
That’s not to say the regular season is a definite indicator of how the Mavs would respond in the playoffs (if they could even get there), but these three teams have dominated Dallas—each in their own way. There’s no silver lining. If the Mavs made the playoffs, they would be walking into a buzz saw.
And yet, the Dallas Mavericks have always been an oddly unrealistic franchise—owned by an unlikely billionaire who made his fortune from the dot com bubble, managed by the unlikely product of nepotism who proved he was a legitimate basketball genius in his father’s shadow, and led by the most unlikely franchise player in NBA history, even the 2011 championship was an unlikely triumph against the presumptive dynasty heirs in Miami. People do not root for the Mavs because they want a sure thing. Like any legendary rock band, the Mavs are a production that teeters on the verge of harmonious collapse—then somehow the tune stays together. The Mavs are at their best when they are unlikely. (Conversely, should we be surprised they were the most disappointing when they had their franchise-best record? Or that their biggest rivals have always been the most predictably successful teams of the past decade?) Enjoy the chaos. Dallas teams do not have any other setting.
I’m not trying to put a positive spin on this dismal season. The Mavs have not been good. All the same, I’m open to a few surprises this season in whatever form they may take. Just no more blow outs please.
February 12, 2013
Solidarity in the Face of Adversity: Can a bearded Mavs save the season?
“Then do what you must… as will I.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
As Bryan Gutierrez mentioned in his weekly rundown, Dirk Nowitzki and several other Mavs are growing .500 beards—meaning that they will not shave until the Mavs are back to .500 again. O.J. Mayo and Vince Carter came up with the idea. At the earliest, if they win seven games in a row, they could shave on March 1st. At the latest, if they never get back to an even win-loss ratio, they could shave in late October when the new season starts and the season record is back to 0-0. But I assume they won’t wait that long.
I fully support growing a beard as an act of solidarity in the face of adversity. I’m also participating in the .500 beard. Basically, I’m taking my current beard and re-naming it a .500 beard. Simple enough. And leave it to the Mavs marketing team to completely jump on board with a fan contest, a motivational YouTube video, and the Twitter hash tag #mavsnoshavepledge.
If nothing else, this should be interesting.
Of course, most fans would love to see the Mavericks make a decent push at the 8th playoff spot. They’d enjoy a crazy scramble for that final piece of playoff real estate—like survivors lost at sea, all grasping for a single life preserver. The sadist in me wants to see it happen. But I also want to see the Mavs become the most beard-ful team since the House of David barnstorming team who played during the first half of the 20th century.
What does the beard actually accomplish? Charles Darwin suggested that the beard might have served an evolutionary role in attracting suitable mates, as an indicator of virile masculinity. In many religions, the beard symbolizes an act of holy submission. From the Bible, Leviticus 21:5 states that “They shall not make any baldness on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts in their flesh.” Throughout history, the beard has come to represent crazy, dedicated people who were too busy to shave. (Abraham Lincoln was the first bearded president.) In modern times, beards can symbolize that you are quirky and hip, or that you’re homeless.
For the Mavs, is this beard a daring statement of manliness over their emasculated foes? Is it an act of contrition before the basketball gods? Is it a statement that there’s work to be done? Does it just look cool? Or is it based on the idea that if the Mavs keep playing poorly they may be kicked to the curb?
In the end, anyone who loves sports, be it fan or athlete, is prone to a little superstition. They understand the fickle nature of a ball dancing along the rim with seconds remaining. They have felt the injustice of a call that could’ve gone either way. They have seen their best player on the ground, suffering from a torn ligament that would’ve been fine had he not landed just so. Beards, rally caps, lucky socks… if it works, it’s not weird.
In related news, Golden State lost four games in a row, and now they’re considering… sleeves. Good luck with that.
February 26, 2013
Return of the King
“I have decided, human… I will allow you to attempt to save your world.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
The term “franchise player” gets thrown around too often—even though a certain player might be the best player on the team that doesn’t automatically make them the face of the franchise. To me, a franchise player is a person so thoroughly invested and associated with the team that you couldn’t imagine him without them and them without him. Franchise players were far more common in the days when players didn’t move around as often.
Dirk Nowitzki might be the quintessential franchise player, partially because the Mavericks haven’t had any players who come close to rivaling what he did for team.
I spend a few minutes looking through my Mavericks media guide. Obviously, his records are skewed in part by the shear number of games he’s played for the Mavericks. He has played 1,081 games for the Mavs. Brad Davis is in second place with 883 games. Keep in mind that Nowitzki could reasonably play another four and five seasons in Dallas. So it may be a long time before another player gets close to matching Nowitzki’s time here, if ever again.
Among all Mavericks, Nowitzki has the most points with 24,134. To understand how impressive this number is, Nowitzki is #5 on the all-time scoring list among players who have only played on one team.
It is worth noting that Mark Aguirre still has the record for most points in a season 2,330 from his 1983-1984.
Nowitzki has the record for the most points in a game (53), in a half (34), in a period (29), and in an overtime (14).
Nowitzki has the most 3-point field goals (1,275) and free throws (5,997). Nowitzki has the most consecutive free throw made (82).
Nowitzki has the most rebounds with 8,734. James Donaldson still has the most rebounds for a season with 973 during 1986-1987. Donaldson also retains the record for most rebounds in a game with 22, with Nowitzki just one rebound behind at 21.
All records involving assists and steals still belong to Derek Harper and are safe for the moment.
Shawn Bradley has the record for blocks (1,250). Nowitzki has 1,029 and might be within range to take this one before he retires.
He has the most all-star appearances of any Dallas Mavericks player, and he’s the only Dallas Maverick to be the league MVP.
Nowitzki brought back to postseason relevance. He helped the Mavericks win two Western Conference championships and their first NBA championship. “Helped” isn’t even the right word. If you watch some of those games, he pulled those late game rallies from somewhere deep in his soul and willed the universe into shifting the Mavericks’ fortune around.
Nowitzki is a once in a lifetime player, and I consider myself very fortunate to have been witness to his greatness.
Retiring his jersey number is obvious. My apologies to Sam Perkins, Brian Howard, and Terry Tyler who also wore no.41 as a Maverick. Building a bronze statue of Nowitzki in front of the American Airlines Center seems likely. Heck, make it gold.
Nothing that I’m sharing should be all that surprising. Nowitzki is the franchise. You know now this. Let’s get back to the present.
It’s difficult to see the shoulders that have carried the Mavericks, slump—to see him off his game.
Nowitzki is first and foremost a scoring threat. His career average of points per game is 22.7 (25.9 during playoffs).
In 2010-2011, Nowitzki had 40 out of 73 games (55%) where he scored above his career average.
In 2011-2012, Nowitzki have 29 out of 62 games (47%) where he scored above this career average.
And most disheartening, this season, Nowitzki has only had 4 out of 26 games (15%) where he’s scored above his career average.
If we look at player efficiency rating (PER), which I’ll admit I’m a fan of this single number indicator, Nowitzki has a career average efficiency rating of 23.52. This number puts him at #16 all time, right above Larry Byrd and Kobe Bryant, right below Hakeem Olajuwon. To me, this sounds about right. I know the legion of Kobe Bryant fans would beg to differ. But if I could have Bryant or Nowitzki on my team for the duration of his career? For many reasons, this being one of them, give me Nowitzki.
Nowitzki’s best season was 2005-2006 with a PER of 28.1, putting him at LeBron James and Michael Jordan PER levels.
Nowitzki’s PER has dropped in recent years—23.4 in 2010-2011 (at his average), 21.7 in 2011-2012 (a noticeable drop) and then 18.2 during this season (an even bigger drop). To put this in perspective, the only time he’s had a lower efficiency rating was his first two seasons in the league, 12.8 and 17.5. Note: I used Basektball-Reference.com. The numbers are slightly different on Hoopdata.com, but the trend is identical.
Yes, Nowitzki was/is recovering from knee surgery. The past two seasons may very well be statistical outliers in another otherwise consistent record. And of course, the season is not yet over. We’re waiting for Nowitzki to come back.
The last game against the Lakers might be our glimpse into his comeback. Nowitzki scored 30 points, 13 rounds, and was 4 for 4 from 3 point range, his first double-double of the season. More encouraging was the slam dunk on a fast break, some nice post moves, a primal yell, and his trademark fade away. The Mavericks lost the game, but they may have regained their franchise player.
Welcome back, Dirk.
March 5, 2013
The Four Ingredients
“Victory must now be mine or Galactus shall not fight again.” -- Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
Last week I wrote about Dirk Nowitzki, his legacy and his future. Do the past two years represent the sudden decline of Nowitzki? Should fans recalibrate their expectations? Or are these two years statistical outliers with a bum knee to blame? Like most things, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Regardless, there is no denying that the future inevitable departure of Nowitzki has been on my mind as I watch the season unfold. And as much as we’d like to put everything on Nowitkzi’s shoulders, he isn’t the only factor in making the Mavs a great franchise. When looking at the long-term health of this franchise, I would suggest that there are four ingredients.
1. Young talent
2. Reliable veterans
3. An All-Star “Go To” Player
4. Trustworthy management, ownership, and coaching
In the young talent category, the jury is still out. For players born in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, the Mavs have: Rodrigue Beaubois, Darren Collison, Jae Crowder, Jared Cunningham, Bernard James, Dominique Jones, O.J. Mayo, Anthony Morrow, and Brandan Wright. Young players aren’t just the replacements for the old team. They are valuable trade assets. They offer the greatest potential for improvement and growth. I believe in O.J. Mayo, and I’d be happy if he signed a long-term contract with the Mavs. The question is money, but I can’t imagine shooting guards are in such high demand that another franchise would overpay for him. Darren Collison? I just don’t know. When you look at his advanced stats, he’s actually slightly better than O.J. Mayo. However, I don’t trust him to run an offense. The rookie class isn’t too bad. Crowder and James are encouraging. This isn’t Cunningham’s year, but who knows how he’ll do once given a chance? Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones are a disappointment. I believe Brandan Wright is a better player than his minutes and stats suggest.
In the reliable veterans category, the Mavs are one of the better teams in the league. Vince Carter, Elton Brand, and Shawn Marion might be most consistent players on the roster, keeping the Mavericks from having the worst record in the Western Conference. For those crazy fans who want to “suck for luck” in draft, I’m sorry these veterans are ruining it for you with their competitiveness and will to win.
Dirk Nowitzki is the All-Star “Go To” Player, but he wasn’t an all-star this year and he hasn’t been very “go to” this season. There isn’t an easy fix here. Nowitzki is a once in a lifetime player. The last time the Mavs had a player with this kind of raw talent was maybe when they drafted Roy Tarpley in 1986. Fate is fickle. Moving on…
Trustworthy management, ownership, and coaching. I believe this is the most important category for long-term success (that they have some control over). Players come and go. They disappoint and surprise us. Do you trust the coaches and the front office to make the right decisions? I’d like to spend the next three weeks on this subject. Next Tuesday, I’ll write about Rick Carlisle. Then, the week after that, it’s Donnie Nelson. And finally, Mark Cuban will get some attention.
Among all NBA franchises, the Spurs are the most consistent in these four categories. And not surprisingly, they will continue to be a good small market team for quite some time—making all the other small market teams look like whiners. Respect where respect is due. They are a quality operation.
As the Mavericks consider their future, they should probably look at the areas where they are weakest.
March 12, 2013
A Matter of Trust, part 1
“It is your understanding I seek – and not your enmity!” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
Today starts the first of a three part series on management, ownership, and coaching. I’ve spent some time this season looking at the players, but I would like to write about the people off the court who play a significant role in the team’s overall and long term success.
Pro basketball coaches play mysterious and multitudinous roles on the team. Unlike some sports that require constant management and play calling, a good basketball team can mostly handle itself on the court. The exceptions might be in clock management situations, determining lineups, minutes played, and keeping players from embarrassing themselves. I remember a segment on 60 Minutes where Phil Jackson was sprinkling incense throughout the locker room. And to most people, I think this is the perception of coaches. They sprinkle magical “win” dust on the players and encourage them to do great things. Jackson had more “win” dust than others, but he also had Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal. I would be curious to see how his magic would work on the Charlotte Bobcats or the Toronto Raptors.
Yes, the coaches call plays. They run practice. They confer with the general manager and owner about the state of the team. They are to be the spokesperson for the team, before, during, and after each game. They are to manage the locker room. They are to be a teacher, a father figure, a savior, and a drill sergeant. The expectations placed on coaches make them easy targets for being firing. If the roster is full of talented players, then must be the coaches fault. Remember earlier this season when Mike Brown was fired from the Lakers after five games? (Why all these Lakers references? I need to stop.)
All that to ask, how do we know when a coach is good? Coaches with vastly different styles and approaches have had success, depending on the situation they’re in. And some players, and some teams, are nearly uncoachable. Some coaches have benefitted from the hard work of the prior coach. When the Detroit Pistons won the 2004 NBA Championship, it was with Larry Brown as the coach. But with all due respect, that was Rick Carlisle’s team. Likewise, Dirk Nowitzki’s ascendency happened with Avery Johnson prodding him to become a more complete player—not with Rick Carlisle or Don Nelson.
Let me tangent onto the subject on Avery Johnson for a paragraph or two. I’m not a fan of Johnson. And yet, he led the Mavericks to the 2006 Finals. He’s the only coach to be awarded “Coach of the Year” while with the Mavericks. He also has the highest win percentage of any Mavs head coach during the regular season at .735. Something about his demeanor did not inspire faith among Mavs players, the front office, and the fans. It shouldn’t be surprising that he was fired from the newly revamped Nets with a 14-14 record. Apparently, Johnson has to be perfect in order to keep his job. (Pay no mind to his 60-116 record with the New Jersey version of that team.)
In his own words: “Being a coach is not always fair. I think it’s kinda like the fine print. You’re not gonna always get a fair shake. And since we don’t own the teams we coach, I’m not coach, president, and owner—you know, if I was owning the team, I wouldn’t have gotten fired today. I wouldn’t have fired myself.”
In contrast, Rick Carlisle might be one of the most beloved Mavs coaches since Dick Motta. He did, after all, help bring the Mavericks their first championship. He has the second highest win percentage during the playoffs at .561 in 41 games—second to John MacLeod who was 10-7 in the playoffs, benefitting from the team Motta put together (.588). Of course, add in one or two losing seasons and we’ll see how well Carlisle holds up. However, I think he’s earned the respect of Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban.
Plus, he’s wonderfully quotable. I saved my three favorite Rick Carlisle quotes from this season:
“I’m tired of hearing about 19 starting lineups being a lot. I had 31 one year, so you guys can all go f— yourselves and I mean that in the most endearing way.”
“You can’t throw the ball through the nose of a defender and then have it come out the ass to a teammate. That’s a Dick Harter quote, by the way. I want to give credit to the departed.”
(Also, regarding turnovers) “Yes, yes, yes and yes. It’s everything. We’re doing it every way you can do it. If we were a sex manual, it’d be a best-seller.’’
And of course, there’s this moment.
Maybe coaches are so easily terminated, because we all think we know better? Well, obviously I’d play Brandan Wright more (but whose minutes do you reduce?). The Mavs should have a stronger start. And why isn’t Darren Collison starting and finishing the games? Shouldn’t he pass more? Dirk shouldn’t ever pass if he’s open. I would make O.J. Mayo turn over the ball less. I would make Jae Crowder take fewer, better shots. Why aren’t the rookies playing more minutes? I thought Jared Cunningham was our top draft pick. What is going on with Beaubois? Why can’t he just develop these players? And on and on. We can coach from our couch, but it ignores the idiosyncrasies of handling well-paid professionals who compete at the highest level. We sound like… fans with opinions.
I admire Carlisle for his matter-of-fact commentary, his ability to maintain composure on the sideline and to get angry when necessary, the way he shows respect for his players, the smirk and the shrug, the emphasis on defense, and a free-flowing offense.
It’s easy to blame the coach when things go badly, but I trust Carlisle. Whenever we predict doom and gloom for the Mavericks and their future, I still trust Carlisle. Plus, he doesn’t seem like the type of person to sprinkle incense in a locker room.
March 19, 2013
A Matter of Trust, part 2
“Who tests God and does not wager their life? A price will be paid.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
If a team has a winning season, give credit to the players and the coach. If a team has twelve winning seasons, give credit to the general manager. Since 1998, when Donnie Nelson first joined the organization, the Mavericks have been one of the most consistently successful franchises in the NBA—eight 50-win seasons, three 60-win seasons (included the franchise record 67-win season in 2007), 12 consecutive playoff appearances, three trips to the conference finals, two trips to the finals, and of course an NBA Finals victory in 2011.
Mark Cuban, who purchased the team in 2000, is acknowledged for changing the culture of the franchise, and deservedly so. However, even though Mark Cuban is a very involved owner, he’s not the general manager. He wasn’t the one who brought Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki to Dallas. It was Donnie Nelson who played an instrumental role in rebuilding the team.
Dirk Nowitzki tirelessly carried his Mavs through each season and every playoff. But one all-star, even a truly great one like Nowitzki, can’t play every position on the court. There have been many great players whose talents were wasted on mediocre franchises—Kevin Garnett with the Timberwolves, Ray Allen with the Bucks, and even arguably LeBron James with the Cavaliers.
It’s easier to point to Nowitzki, because we see him on the court, or to Cuban, because he spends so much time in front of the cameras. Donnie Nelson put together the teams that made the Mavericks an elite franchise. Credit where credit is due.
Donnie Nelson is sometimes seen as a product of nepotism. His father was the great Coach Don Nelson, the grand tinkerer of Mavs lineups. It’s too easy to default to idioms such as Donnie being “in the shadow” of his father, when I think a more appropriate perspective was that he operated “under his wing.” There’s no doubt that Nelson the Younger learned a lot from Nelson the Elder. It would be incorrect to assume that Donnie Nelson hasn’t more than earned place as a general manger, regardless of his parentage. And possibly, he’s worked harder than most to distinguish himself from the other Don Nelson.
One of the greatest advantages to being the Mavericks GM is the ability to hide behind the Mark Cuban smoke screen. Since Cuban plays such a direct role in the daily operations of the team, he often gets the credit and the blame for moves made. People think of Cuban as a GM/owner like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys—but that’s not the case. It has probably shielded Donnie Nelson from a lot of the credit and criticism.
Donnie Nelson knows basketball. He played at Wheaton College, where he led his team in school and was an NABC All-Midwest selection. He was an assistant coach for Golden State, Phoenix, and Dallas. He was a regional scout for the Milwaukee Bucks. He briefly acted as head coach for the Mavericks while his father was recovering from cancer surgery. They were 15-8 during that time. Donnie Nelson has worked internationally as an assistant coach to the National Lithuanian team, a scout for the US Olympic team, and a chief advisor for the National Chinese team. He also become co-owner of the Texas Legends. But enough of me referencing the 2013 media guide, you get it: Donnie Nelson has a big basketball brain.
I’ve read some complaints—I’m simply offering the conversation starter here—that Donnie Nelson has failed to score the Mavericks good draft players over the past few years and therefore he’s overrated as a GM. See this chart on Basketball-Reference.com of the Dallas Mavericks draft picks. In response, I want to point out that the last time the Mavericks had a top ten pick was in 1998 when they used that no. 6 pick to draft Robert Traylor and trade him for Dirk Nowitzki, who Donnie Nelson had been eyeing. It’s easier to look like a genius when you have the no. 2 pick and you draft Kevin Durant—even though it’s a no-brainer. It’s harder to make something out of the 23rd pick, which has been the average first round pick for the Mavs since 1998, when they’ve had a first round pick. For instance, I know some people view Josh Howard as a “bust.” But with the 29th pick in 2003, the Mavs did find a promising rookie and all-star who helped lead them to the Finals. It’s hard to do much better than that with the 29th pick. And who knows what would’ve been if Howard hadn’t struggled with chronic ankle and wrist issues? Donnie Nelson also traded to get the Wizard’s no. 5 pick in 2004, which brought Devin Harris to the Mavs. Once again, I defer to the Mavs first Finals appearance. Harris wasn’t as ideal as Steve Nash, but I would say it worked out better than some point guards they could’ve found.
Being a general manager isn’t just about draft picks. A good general manager can assist the value of a player for a franchise. In this regard, Donnie Nelson has done an incredible job in acquiring veteran players who exceeded their expectations—Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Peja Stojakovic, Elton Brand, and Vince Carter.
Donnie Nelson is at the top of my list of people I’d like to sit down and interview for the Two Man Game (besides Derek Harper), because management is so much harder to assess. I can watch a game and try my best to explain the existence of Mike James. It’s harder to know what private conversations between Cuban and Nelson delivered Brandan Wright to the Mavericks. And maybe that’s the point. The general manager is best when he is invisible and not subjected to the scrutiny of writers with deadlines.
As fans worry about the future of the franchise, I hope they will show Donnie Nelson a little more trust. As a person cast “in the shadow” of his hall of fame father and “behind the smoke screen” of the boisterous, enigmatic owner, his past resume should be a good enough for some hope in the Mavs’ future.
March 26, 2013
A Matter of Trust, part 3
“The dilemma remains unresolved. I must consume the energies of your Earth or you must slay me, and end my hunger forever.” -- Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
I should mention that if you haven’t read Bryan Gutierrez’s interview with Zach Lowe you should—in part, because Lowe agrees with me about Cuban, Tyson Chandler, GMs, draft picks, and the CBA. And it’s always nice when intelligent people agree with me. It rarely happens.
I also mention the interview, because Gutierrez and Lowe discuss what might be a newest defining moment in Mark Cuban’s tenure as owner of the Dallas Mavericks: the decision to not wheel and deal for Tyson Chandler after winning the NBA championship. Of course, it wasn’t just Cuban. Donnie Nelson was also part of the discussion. According to Cuban, he even made sure Nowitzki was onboard, or at least understood the reasoning, with the plan. And it wasn’t just Chandler. The departure of Jason Kidd and Jason Terry indicated, in part, their lack of faith in Cuban’s strategy for the future of the Mavs.
Who is to blame—Cuban for taking a calculated gamble or the NBA for approving a CBA that targeted owners with deep pockets?
I’ve seen Cuban explain his thinking about ten different times. I’ve read the same online arguments over and over by disappointed fans. I’ve heard sports talk radio hosts dumb down the issue with “good ol’ boy” logic and bumper sticker wisdom. I’m convinced we’ll be debating this until the Mavs win another championship, whenever that might be. Frankly, the Mavs weren’t a favorite to win it in 2011. If they hadn’t won the championship, Cuban’s plan wouldn’t be under such scrutiny.
The plan: Sign players to one-year contracts to create cap space, which we’re putting a premium value on, in order to have financial flexibility and better options. Correct me if I misunderstand. It’s not that groundbreaking.
However, even though it’s hard to resist, I don’t want to focus solely on Cuban and the CBA. Let’s go back a few months earlier, before the lockout, immediately after the parade, when an arena full of Mavs fans were chanting, “Thank you Mark! Thank you Mark!” That was a good day.
What did Mark Cuban do to deserve such praise? When he purchased a majority stake in the Mavs franchise on January 4, 2000, Cuban became the most interesting, odd, and enthusiastic owner in pro sports. With his billions, he probably could’ve purchased a better team that promised a better return for his investment. But he loved this team and he wanted to make them great. You know all this, because Cuban is also one of the most widely discussed and analyzed owners too. Whatever criticism he may have earned, no one could accuse him of not caring. His impact goes beyond the checks that he writes.
At first, Mark Cuban did nothing, and it was the smartest move he could make. Some owners, in order to inject new life into a franchise, will go on a firing and hiring frenzy. Cuban did not fire Mavs president and CEO Terdema Ussery. Cuban did not fire then general manager and coach Don Nelson. He did not fire the director of player personnel Donnie Nelson. He kept them and trusted them.
The City of Dallas was already working on the new American Airlines Center to replace Reunion Arena.
[Author’s note: For some reason, I can’t find the rest of this essay. I have notes that go something like this: American Airlines Center, rebranded the team, changed the culture, challenged the league, took care of his players, took care of this fans, took care of Dallas, blah, blah, blah. So, just imagine the best possible outcome of all these half-finished ideas crammed into one well-written essay, and we won’t ever talk about this unfortunate omission ever again. Seriously, this is why you always save copies of your final work. The Two-Man Game goes offline and poof all my work is gone. Anyway. Let’s proceed to April 2, 2013…]
April 2, 2013
Wright here, Wright now
“Greetings, men of Earth, I have been awaiting you.” -- Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
Let’s start with a philosophical question: What’s the most important position on the court? Like all philosophical questions, it’s more of a thought experiment than something to directly answer—similar to “if a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Obviously, in regards to the “most important position,” the answer is that it depends. It depends on the players the team has, the type of offense and defense the team runs, and the opponents they face. The discussion is more significant than the conclusion, because it reveals fundamental thoughts on how basketball operates as a team sport. I would suggest that the debate narrows down to the position of point guard and center. The point guard is often the “floor general,” the person who controls the ball up the court, and sets the offense. The point guard has his hands on the ball, facilitating, more than any other player. The center is closest to the basketball. In theory, he has the high percentage shot. He also is the defensive anchor, the last resistance for anyone driving to the basketball. His very presence can alter the offense’s decision on whether or not to dare any closer to the rim.
This season for the Mavs, the point guard and center positions have been the most inconsistent and continually in flux.
At the point guard position, the departure of Jason Kidd may have hurt the Mavs more than they are willing to admit. Then there was the mysterious departure of Delonte West. Darren Collison hasn’t been able to make his case as the starting point guard or even deserving more minutes when coming off the bench. He has had great moments of offensive production. But for someone so fast, he hasn’t been able to move particular well—especially on defense. I shudder every time I see Collison attempts a full-court press against another point guard. As he back pedals, playing his opponent close, I can count down the seconds, 5… 4… 3… 2… until a foul is called against Collison. To fill in the gaps of Collison’s gaffs, the Mavs have used Derek Fischer, Dominique Jones, Rodrigue Beaubois, and finally settling on Mike James. James, while not a perfect or even long-term fix, has surpassed expectations. Collison may eventually grow into his role as a starting point guard, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time.
At the center position, the Mavs have had four players all vying for the same spot: Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Bernard James, and Brandan Wright. Each of them have, at times, disappointed. Although older than Brandan Wright, Bernard James is rookie, and is the only one who gets a pass. Anything James is able to produce this season is a boon for the team. Brand, Kaman, and Wright are all free agents next season. They need to be evaluated with much more scrutiny.
As mentioned in Ian Levy’s fascinating analysis for Two Man Game and Zach Lowe’s article “The Rise of the Mavericks”, Brandan Wright has paired better with Nowitzki than either Kaman or Brand.
Looking at advanced statistics provided by Basketball-Reference.com, this season, Brandan Wright has had a higher player efficiency rate at 21.3 than both Brand (15.6) and Kaman (16.2). Wright has a higher true shooting percentage at .621 than both Brand (.507) and Kaman (.531). Brand and Kaman have a better total rebounding percentage than Wright, but Wright’s turnover percentage is lower (7.3) than Brand (9.6) and significantly lower than Kaman (13.4)—and Wright’s defensive rating (105) is essentially equal to Brand and Kaman (102 and 105 respectively). One more, Wright has a 3.6 win shares compared to Brand’s 3.5 and Kaman’s 1.4.
In the game against the Boston Celtics on March 22nd, Wright had 23 points (11-16 shooting), 8 rebounds. Carlisle said afterward, “It’s his kind of game because there are a lot of small guys out there. That was the reason we started him. He navigates well in an athletic game without a lot of bruisers in it. He played huge for us.” Carlisle’s assessment is simple. Wright needs to learn how to hang with tougher centers and forwards, the bruisers
Sometimes, the most significant stat is a player’s date of birth, the father time contingency and the main variable for potential. Wright is a young player, roughly the same age as Mayo and Collison. And like Mayo and Collison, he is young enough to be excused from some deficiencies, if (and only if) a case can be made that he’s still improving. In time, Wright might be able to bulk up, increase his conditioning and his weight. Or not. Either way, the Mavs have a great option off the bench. And I wouldn’t discount him as a potential starter some day. Actually, right now, he may be the best center on the team.
What’s the most important position on the team? The 1 and the 5, the beginning and the end, the point and the anchor, the actual and the potential. The Mavs need something reliable at center. Wright might be it, or it might be an imperfect philosophy for an imperfect season. Something to think about, at least.
April 9, 2013
A Glimpse of Greatness
“Know me… and know fear.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
This offseason, Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson will need to look at the current roster and evaluate which players are a priority. It’s difficult to decide if a good game represents a glimpse of greatness or a fleeting moment. In other words: should we expect more from them or are these anomalies, outliers, from subpar players? Of course, consistency would be nice, but so few of the new players this season were consistent.
To help Cuban and Nelson, I offer my rundown of “best games” from the players who had their first season in Dallas (thus, no Brandan Wright, but I already covered him last week. I also limited my list to players who had significant minutes this season (no Anthony Morrow or Jared Cunningham).
Best game: December 1st vs. Detroit, Mavs win 92 to 77
Stats of note: 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 blocks
From the game recap, Kirk Henderson wrote: “A healthy round of applause for Elton Brand (17 points, 12 rebounds) is in order. While its exciting to see Mayo shoot well, seeing Brand hit those 10 to 15 foot jump shots was such a relief. Last season Brand shot a fantastic 45% clip from that section of the floor and was a big reason many were initially so excited to pair him with Dirk who would, in theory, open up the floor for Brand the way he has for so many others. Prior to tonight’s game though, Brand has shot an absurd 23% from that range. Tonight Brand hit three shots in that area and it forced the Detroit defense to close out on him, thus opening the floor for his five makes at the rim.” “Brand’s confidence on offense bled over into his defense; his four blocks helped keep the momentum in favor of the Mavericks. Pairing him with Bernard James (six points, 3 rebounds) was a different look for Dallas in the second quarter. It’s probably a rare sight though, both Brand and James are around 6’9″ and Carlisle was looking to steal minutes while Chris Kaman was in foul trouble.”
My thoughts: Elton Brand averages a double-double per 36 minutes, but he’s not going to get 36 minutes from the Mavericks. While he may be the most balanced (offensive and defensive) player on the Mavs—with Shawn Marion certainly in that mix—Brand isn’t going to be a high priority in the off season.
Best game: December 27th vs. Oklahoma City, Mavs lose 105 to 111
Stats of note: 32 points, 4 assists, and 4 steals
From the game recap, Connor Huchton wrote: “For three quarters of this game, the Mavericks controlled the tempo. The offense produced wonderfully, mostly due to an outstanding game from Darren Collison (13-22 FG, 4-4 3PT, 32 points, five rebounds, four assists, four steals, three turnovers) and the efforts of Chris Kaman (7-14 FG, 17 points, eight rebounds) and Shawn Marion (5-12 FG, 14 points, nine rebounds, seven assists), the latter of which nearly recorded a triple-double.” “And then this happened.”
My thoughts: I might give up on having thoughts about Darren Collison. I just don’t know. Offensively, he can produce for himself, which shouldn’t be scoffed at. Defensively, he doesn’t do much. As a point guard, I would like more games like the one he had against Portland on November 5th (14 points and 13 assists), but he’s just not that guy.
Best game: March 12th vs. Milwaukee, Mavs wins 115 to 108
Stats of note: 14 points and 8 rebounds
From the game recap, Connor Huchton wrote: Nothing about Crowder. He was overshadowed by Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki.
My thoughts: Crowder is a keeper, the good rookie. There’s no doubt. Heck, Crowder was easily the Mavs’ best player in the preseason. The Mavericks should be very excited to see how he improves during the offseason.
Best game: March 24th vs. Utah, Mavs win 113 to 108
Stats of note: 19 points and 5 assists
From the game recap, Connor Huchton wrote: “I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the stellar night of somewhat maligned veteran guard Mike James (7-10 FG, 3-4 3PT, 19 points, five assists). On his best nights, James is a dangerous spot-up three-point shooter and a capable distributor, and tonight was surely one of those nights.”
My thoughts: Mike James is the ultimate itinerant basketball professional, always moving from one team to the next, filling in the gaps. Like abstract sculpture, James operated in the negative space created by the absence of Jason Kidd and Delonte West.
Best game: February 22nd vs. New Orleans, Mavs win 104 to 100.
Stats of note: 4 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 blocks
From the game recap, Connor Huchton wrote: “Bernard James (2-2 FG, four points, six rebounds, seven blocks) played an aesthetically pleasing and effective game tonight. He finished well, rebounded very well, and defended tenaciously. Seven blocks in 15 minutes is pretty impressive, no matter how you view it.”
My thoughts: I was split between this game and the one against Miami on December 20th. That was a loss; this was a win. James played almost 22 minutes in that game (12 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks); in this game, he played 15 minutes. How does one evaluate the potential of a 28-year-old rookie? Could he be a starter in this league? I doubt it, but I would be thrilled if it happened.
Best game: April 7th vs. Portland, Mavs win 96 to 91
Stats of note: 26 points and 11 rebounds
From the game recap, Kirk Henderson wrote: “The early Maverick lead was primarily due to Chris Kaman (26 points, 11 rebounds). His first quarter work out of the left wing pick and roll with O.J. Mayo was very effective, scoring three different times in the period. The Blazers elected to hedge the screen with J.J. Hickson, but Mayo was able to split any attempt at a double team with a simple bounce pass which resulted in a Kaman jumper.”
My thoughts: Just when I was about to write off Kaman, he has a game like this and it messes with my head. I want to believe that this is the real Kaman.
Best game: December 8th vs. Houston, Mavs win 116 to 109
Stats of note: 40 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 turnovers
From the game recap, Kirk Henderson wrote: “The battle of the former sixth men O.J. Mayo (40 points, eight rebounds) and James Harden (39 points, nine assists, six rebounds) was fantastic and highly entertaining. Though Mayo has been the best Maverick this season, I’ve still had a number of concerns, particularly if Dallas decides to make a long term offer to him in the off season. With each passing game he is putting those concerns to rest. He’s coming off screens better; in the first quarter he came off a Wright screen near the elbow, caught the pass from Fisher, and made a decisive move to the bucket for a lay in. He’s also reading attempted traps out of the pick and roll like a point guard; in the second quarter the Rockets attempted to trap him high and he found Kaman with a ridiculous bounce pass between the defenders. O.J. Mayo as play maker, whether taking shots or moving the ball, has been a delight to watch. Scoring 16 points in each of the first and final frames was also very impressive.”
My thoughts: For the first time in a long time, Nowitzki wasn’t the top scorer for the Mavs this season. In Nowitzki’s absence, Mayo played very well, which is why it’s so disappointed to see these mediocre games from him lately. He has to be a priority this offseason, but how much of a priority? Which Mayo are the Mavericks paying for? Is his game half-full or half-empty? To me, it depends on who else is brought in. If Mayo were the third best player on the team, I would consider that team in a good place. If he’s the no. 1 or no. 2 guy, then the Mavs need to keep looking.
April 19, 2013
The Agony of Average
“…On my word, we’ll trouble you no more.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds
In March, I spoke with ESPN Central Texas 1660 AM about the Dallas Mavericks. During that segment, I said something to the effect that the Mavs are “a 500 team, but 500 won’t be good enough to get into the playoffs in the Western Conference.” Nailed it. They were .500 exactly with 41 wins and 41 losses. It’s the first time in franchise history that they’ve had a .500 win/loss percentage for a season. But what does 500 mean?
If we were to add up all the games this season as if it were one single game, the Mavericks were outscored by opponents 8,342 to 8,293. I don’t know if this number is all that significant, except to indicate that, on average, the Mavs losses had a greater point differential than their wins. Sure, the Mavs had some close games. But from this season, those blowouts are going to be what I remember most. When a game got out of control, the Mavs just couldn’t put on the brakes, couldn’t stop the bleeding. Use whatever metaphor you want.
Ever since the western dominance of the NBA, around the time when Michael Jordan retired, Shaquille O’Neal moved to Los Angeles, and the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan, the question has persisted: is a Western Conference record worth more than an Eastern Conference record? When the Mavs play powerful Western Conference teams more often than lowly Eastern Conference teams, doesn’t that count for something? Keep in mind, five Western teams have 50 plus regular season wins. In the East, there are only two. At 500, the Mavs would’ve made the playoffs in the East—pushing out Milwaukee. Of course, this is price the Mavs pay for being in a better, more competitive conference.
Is the 500 worth more when you consider how many games Dirk Nowitzki missed due to knee surgery? Surely, if Nowitzki had been healthy, the Mavs could have had a few close games lean their way. They could’ve won a few more games during that horrendous December. And yet, injuries are a part of the game. This season would have been different for the Timberwolves if they weren’t thrashed with injury after injury. A Minnesota with a healthy Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio would’ve added another playoff worthy team to the loaded West. Chicago would be a reasonable threat to the Heat if Derrick Rose were playing. And this post-season, the Lakers will wonder how everything would be different if Kobe Bryant were on the court. Basketball is played in reality, but fans and sportswriters often live in a world of “what if.” I don’t see the Mavs record, sans Nowitzki, as a reason to be encouraged—but certainly no team should be “average” when Nowitzki is on the roster.
500 is the epitome, the very definition, of average. And in Dallas, “average” feel like another word for loser. Average grates on the last nerve of any fan who hates ties, hates uncertainty, and hates being stuck in the middle. That’s where the Mavs were this season, in the middle.
Look at Portland, the team directly below the Mavs in the Western Conference standing. They lost 13 games in a row. The Mavs, at least, made a push for the playoffs. The Trailblazers fell apart. Is that a comfort? To begin your defense with “at least?”
The Mavericks don’t want excuses. They want a team that can compete against any other team in this league. But that wasn’t this season.
Over the past twelve years, the Mavericks have held themselves to a different standard. To readjust expectations for this franchise is frustrating. No one wants to see the Mavericks marketing team have to do what the Texas Rangers did for decades—sell the game experience of popcorn and Cracker Jacks over wins and titles. The Mavericks have been bad before. No one wants to return to the 90s. It’s hard to decide if this 500 is a bump in the road or a slippery slope to a more terrifying future.
The epilogue to this season will be what happens during the next draft and free agency period. If the Mavs make the right moves, everything can be placed in a more optimistic light.
I have a few random and wild predictions for this off season. Chances are I will be horribly wrong. But if I’m right, I’ll look like a basketball Nostradamus and that’s always nice.
Prediction #1: O.J. Mayo stays. Darren Collison goes. From reading Bryan Gutierrez’s Closing Remarks, Park Three, I just get a sense that Mayo wants to stay and Collison feels his talents would best be served elsewhere (i.e., the dude wants to start).
Prediction #2: Either Vince Carter or Shawn Marion will be trade bait. I would love to see them both stay. They were the most consistent team members during a chaotic season. But when Mark Cuban starts talking about being “opportunistic,” I see Carter and Marion as “sell high” causalities for bigger moves in the off season.
Prediction #3: Big Fish alert. It may be crass of me to say this right before the playoffs, but if the Spurs embarrass the Lakers, I see Dwight Howard as a flight risk. Would he want to play on a Kobe-less Lakers next season? Would Dallas look like a kinder and friendlier environment for the sensitive center? I’m reaching here. Among these free agents—Josh Smith, Jose Calderon, Chris Paul (yeah right), Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Nikola Pekovic, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap—someone is coming to Dallas.
Prediction #4: Corey Brewer. He will be incredible in the post season, and we’ll all wonder why the Mavericks gave him to Denver for nothing.