Monday, November 10, 2014

How to Beat the Mavs

After opening the season with home games against Boston and Utah, Dallas got a cold dose of reality on Sunday against Miami, who came into the AAC and administered an Old Testament style beating to the home-team. The Heat got out to a 9-point lead in the first quarter and never looked back from there. Everyone talks about how the NBA is a league of runs - the Mavs didn't make a run. It was a very un-competitive game.

That was the theme of Rick Carlisle's post-game press conference, where the coach made several remarks about the team's lack of competitiveness and willingness to fight. He was not in a very good mood, to say the least. The players all echoed him in the locker room, talking about the need to bring effort more consistently. Maybe it was just a case of a team playing their 3rd game in 4 nights, but it's never that simple in the NBA.

NBA guys are trying pretty hard on a nightly basis. There are the occasional exceptions, but for the most part, everyone is trying out there - they are professionals being paid large sums of money to maintain a certain baseline of performance. So before you start talking about effort and chemistry and intangibles, you want to look at the line-ups first. What match-ups were happening and why where they getting beaten so badly?

The way Miami played was designed almost perfectly to beat Dallas. They could (and did) exploit every weakness on this Mavs team. The game was the basic blueprint for how to beat Dallas:

1) A big man who can take Tyson Chandler away from the basket. 

Chris Bosh absolutely destroyed the Mavs - even Chandler didn't have much of a chance of guarding him. He went for 20-10-5 on 7-10 shooting. If you leave Bosh open on the perimeter, he's pretty much automatic, so you really can't put guys like Wright and Dirk on him. The problem is that even if Chandler can make Bosh work for points, playing him 20+ feet from the rim means there's no one to clean up other guy's mistakes.

Bosh got most of his assists picking apart the Mavs from the high post. It was almost laughable how easy it was. With Chandler on Bosh, it was only a matter of time before someone on Miami would have an open lane to the rim behind him.

2) Guards who can play out of the post and attack the rim. 

The way the Heat inverted their offense absolutely destroyed the Mavs - Dallas has absolutely no size on the perimeter, so they are really going to struggle against a team that can space their big men and force the guards to play 1-on-1 in the paint.

Dwyane Wade: 20 points, 10 assists, 9-18 shooting
Luol Deng: 30 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 13-19 shooting
Mario Chalmers: 18 points, 4 assists, 6-9 shooting

This is kind of what it looked like all night. Notice how far apart Miami's players are from each other and how crisply they move the ball.

Dallas starts 2 under 6'3 guards in Monta Ellis and Jameer Nelson and they bring in two even smaller guys off the bench - Devin Harris and JJ Barea. There's nowhere to hide all these guys against a team like Miami which can attack you from multiple spots on the perimeter. When you put a guy who can't defend on a guy like Wade, Deng or Chalmers, they are going to light them up, especially with the amount of space Miami creates in the half-court.

3) Pack the paint to clog up the pick-and-roll

This is weird to say about a team with Dirk Nowitzki on it - Dallas doesn't do a great job of spacing the floor. They went 9-29 from 3 and a lot of those were open looks. Miami was conceding the outside shot in order to prevent the Mavs from living at the rim like they had in the first week of the season. When the guards are getting to the rim and throwing lobs to Chandler and Wright and creating shots for Dirk, the offense looks amazing.

The Celtics and the Jazz were respecting everyone's outside shot, which gave the Mavs way too much room to carve up the back-line of their defense. The Heat were like, let's make some of these guys beat us from the outside. They were sticking all over Dirk, obviously, but everyone else was given more room to fire away.

Here's how the first 6 guys in the Mavs perimeter rotation did from 3:

- Monta was 2-5, with both of his makes coming from the corner. He's a non shooter from 3.

- Jameer was 2-7. He can shoot 3's, but he has been really ineffective when you make him drive at the rim. He's shooting 4-15 from 2-point range this season. He's not a great spacer because you can always just run at him and make him put the ball on the floor. Being 5'10 doesn't help either - one of the things that made Calderon so great was his 6'4 release point.

- Parsons was 0-4. He is really struggling to play off-the-ball. You don't necessarily have to respect his catch-and-shoot game. More on him in a minute.

- Al-Farouq Aminu was 0-2. He is 3-7 from 3 on the season, but teams are more than willing to live with that shot.

- JJ Barea was 1-3. He has never been a great outside shooter. He uncorked a vicious airball off an off-the-dribble 3 - the thing must have missed the rim by 2 feet.

- Devin Harris was 1-2. He is 10-25 on the season but he is a career 32% three-point shooter who shot 31% last season. The 3 is a shot he will get all season. He had an airball of his own from 3 - as a defender, once you see a shot like that, you are not respecting the jumper any further.

The lack of shooting pretty much shut down Wright. He had 4 points on 2-2 shooting in 18 minutes, which is really low by his standards. He just had no room to operate in the paint.

Rick Carlisle made a few adjustments to his rotation in the second half, which you could start to see play out over the next few games. He brought in Richard Jefferson and Jae "The Beast" Crowder, the two guys on his bench who most closely resemble 3-and-D guys. At some point in the second quarter, it dawned on me that the Mavs would need both of those guys this season and I began to get worried.

- Jefferson was 0-2 in only 7 minutes, but he had 3 rebounds and 1 steal, so he was making an impact as a bigger body on the perimeter.

- Crowder might have been the player of the game, with 15 points on 5-6 shooting in 12 minutes. Carlisle went out of his way to praise The Beast in the presser, so expect to see more of him in the next few games. He's locked in on offense - he's clearly trying to prove a point about being benched. Whatever he can give them on that side of the ball is a bonus, because he's one of the only guys who can guard bigger wings at all.

Inserting Crowder and Jefferson into the rotation solves multiple problems - not only does it improve their overall perimeter size, it adds more spot-up shooting and allows Chandler Parsons to play with the ball in his hands more.

As it stands, the Mavs have way too many guys who replicate each other's skills. CP, Monta, Jameer, Devin, JJB - all these guys are inconsistent perimeter shooters who need the ball.

The underlying problem is that you have too many guys taking the ball out of Parsons hands. If you are giving him $15 million a year, you are expecting him to be more than a secondary play-maker who attacks close-outs. After six games, it's pretty obvious that you don't want him taking the ball away from Monta or Dirk, so there's really only a few other options in terms of getting Parsons more touches.

The idea would be to have Parsons in fewer 2 PG rotations. You want him in a second unit group where he can play as a point forward from the PF position, with some combination of Harris, AFA, Crowder and Jefferson on the perimeter and Wright or Greg Smith at 5. The basic idea is to put a lot of athletes who can shoot around Parsons and let him play in space.

That would also be the best way to leverage his abilities on defense. Here's my read on his D - if he's the worst defensive guy on the floor, you probably have a pretty good D. If he's one of the best defensive guys on the floor, you probably have a pretty bad one. That's why he was such a good fit in Houston, playing in space next to a bunch of really athletic guys.

The other possible adjustment is having Ray Felton take Barea's minutes as a back-up PG. He's bigger and he's a better outside shooter, so it's at least worth trying when he gets healthy and his four-game suspension ends.

The Mavs are going to need to do some line-up juggling, but the good news is that their coach is one of the best jugglers in the game. Carlisle usually does a pretty good job of finding line-ups that work - if there's an answer on his roster to the dilemma you give him, he will find it.

What I'm not sure about is whether there's an answer on hand. Maybe RJ and The Beast play well. Maybe they don't.

Let's take a look at the schedule and see what we can find out in the next few weeks.

Tuesday - Sacramento. Stopping Rudy Gay is one of the keys to beating these Kings. The good news is they don't have a second perimeter scorer who really scares you - although Darren Collison should be able to blow by most of the Mavs perimeter defenders. Foot-speed wise, only Aminu has a chance of staying in front of him.

Thursday - Philly. I want to live in a world where Tony Wroten can average 17 FGA's on an NBA team. He's certainly going to be able to dribble into open shots against Dallas. If he can just make them, he will score a lot of points.

Saturday - Minnesota. We'll see how they are doing without Ricky Rubio. Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins are in town, so that should be fun.

Then it goes at Hornets, at Wizards, Lakers, at Rockets, Pacers, Knicks, at Raptors, at 76ers. They have a real soft schedule coming up and not many of those teams can hurt you like the Heat can. The upcoming games that jump out are Houston, New York and Toronto. Those are the teams who can spread the floor and hurt you from multiple spots on the perimeter.

If all goes according to plan (and even if it doesn't), the Mavs should win a lot of games in November. However, if you want to know how they are going to stack up as a playoff contender, look at how their perimeter D fares in those three games.

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