Monday, December 28, 2015

Mavs vs. Bucks

The story of this game was the Bucks starting unit. In a game that Dallas won 103-93, the plus/minus numbers of the Milwaukee starters kind of says it all:
  • Giannis: -22
  • Jabari: - 13
  • Monroe: -18
  • Middleton: -18
  • MCW: -18
Dallas got out to a 34-24 lead in the first quarter and never really relinquished control of the game. The Bucks 2nd unit got them back in it but they were never able to completely dig out of the hole the starters dug for them. The Milwaukee 1rst unit came out really flat and playing with no energy and it just kind of felt like they were drawing dead all night. There was just no way for them to be competitive with that line-up they were throwing out there - the Mavs starters weren't even playing that well it was just that it was so easy to stop the Bucks starters and so easy to score on them that they really didn't have to do much to rack up a big lead.

The first problem is that Middleton is their only starter who can shoot 3's. Even a team full of old slow guys like the Mavs can defend you if everyone can just back up and hang out right outside of the paint every time you have the ball. There's no room for Giannis to get to the rim or for Monroe to post up or for anyone to do much of anything. It's almost as if the Bucks were constructed under the idea that the illegal defense still exists and everyone has to stay connected to their man.

The second problem is that Greg Monroe and Jabari Parker might be the worst front-court in the league in terms of being able to defend in space and protect the rim. They aren't exactly the fleetest of foot guys to begin with and Jabari is still coming back from an ACL injury while Monroe has been dealing with a knee issue. The result is two guys who can't really hedge on the perimeter and can't provide much of an impediment at the front of the rim and it's almost impossible to play defense if you are playing 0's at the 4 and the 5 position.

The third problem is that Giannis and MCW need to be playing uptempo aggressive basketball based around trying to force turnovers and get out in the open court, where their length and athleticism is a plus and their lack of shooting ability is mitigated. Instead, they are being forced to hold the ball, enter it into the post and play in the half-court. The Bucks are playing at the 26th slowest pace in the league and it makes little sense considering the skill-sets of the guy who have the ball in their hands for most of the game.

It's hard to come to many conclusions about Milwaukee's long-term future considering that Jabari is still basically a rookie coming off a serious injury and everyone else is young but it's probably time to start thinking about them given the way they have been playing this season.
  • Can Jabari and Monroe fit together? From the perspective of creating advantageous match-ups for these guys, Jabari should be at the 4 and Monroe should be at the 5. The problem is that may not be tenable in the modern NBA when it comes to playing team defense and spreading the floor. That's kind of an issue when you gave one guy a max contract and you made the other guy a No. 2 overall pick.
  • Can MCW and Giannis fit together? Both guys need the ball in their hands and are most effective on offense when they are playing in the paint. That would be a difficult dynamic to manage regardless much less the disaster that is Milwaukee's floor spacing. It feels like their minutes should be staggered as much as possible in order to maximize what each guy can do.
    • I was watching the Bucks vs. Warriors game the other day and the resemblance between MCW and Shaun Livingston was uncanny. That really seems like the future for MCW - backup PG on a good team. He doesn't even need to become a great long distance shooter if he can continue to refine his post game and he should be a good player in the league for a long time even if he never reaches the stardom that people were projecting for him during his ROY season.
  • For me, the over-arching issue hanging over this team right now is Jabari Parker. If they are going to maximize his game, they are going to have to build the roster around him. The question is will he be good enough to justify doing that? His future is just very murky because you can't really hold it against him that he looks kind of slow and kind of fat at the moment. The key for him is developing a 3-point shot - if he's nothing more than an average athlete who creates a lot of mid-range jumpers off the dribble it's hard to be too excited about him.
The Bucks got back in the game when their 2nd unit came in and they started playing a game that resembled modern basketball. They brought in guards who could shoot off the bench - Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo - and big men who could move their feet and run - Miles Plumlee, Johnny O'Bryant III. All of a sudden, Milwaukee was spreading the floor, moving the ball and getting out and running the other way. 

In a night when Deron Williams was out, Dirk Nowitzki couldn't buy a basket (3-15) and the Mavs weren't playing with a ton of energy, it was almost enough for the Bucks to steal a win.

The one guy who did bring it for Dallas was Zaza Pachulia, who had to enjoy a revenge game against his former team who basically gave him away for nothing in order to give his starting spot to Greg Monroe. Zaza vs. Greg was the most intriguing match-up coming into the game from a storyline perspective and Zaza did not disappoint, pushing Monroe around the court, stoning him on the block and generally outplaying him on both sides of the ball. There was one sequence where Monroe missed a wide open 12-footer off a drive while Zaza drained his on the other end of the floor which kind of highlighted the ways in which they do (and do not) make their teammates better.
  • Another telling sequence happened late in the 4Q when Giannis had Dirk guarding him at the 3-point line and wide open lane to the rim when all of a sudden Monroe barges into the post and demands the ball only to throw up a weak shot over Zaza. I'm pretty sure I'd rather have Giannis drive the ball in that situation. 
A few other observations from this one:
  • The Bucks were a tough match-up for JJ Barea because there was just no one for him to guard. They go 6'7-6'7-6'11-6'9-7'0 in their starting line-up and they bring in two big guards (Mayo and Bayless) who hunt for their own shot off the bench. The Mavs ended up closing the game with Ray Felton out there instead of Barea and I really hope that happens more often. Barea scored a bunch of points in his first two games as a starter replacing DWill and Rick Carlisle has always had a soft spot for him but Felton's net rating is +7.0 and Barea's is -1.3 and that seems about right to me.
  • Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews had one of their best games playing together and you are starting to see the outlines of a reasonably competitive team when those two guys are healthy and playing 35+ minutes at the wing positions. The NBA is becoming a wing league and those two guys should be one of the best wing combos out there with all the different things they can do on the court. They are certainly getting paid like they are. My guess is that when everyone is healthy, this team's best line-up is going to be Felton - Williams - Matthews - Parsons - big man.
  • Dwight Powell better start knocking down the 20+ foot jump shot or he's going to start getting his minutes cut as everyone gets healthy. The ability to knock down that shot is going to be the key for Powell in terms of reaching his ceiling as a player. If he doesn't have range on his jumper, he's going to be a pretty limited player at the NBA level.
  • You saw it with Johnny O'Bryant III tonight. He knocked down two open mid-range jumpers and all of a sudden the Mavs had to close out on him and it opened up driving lanes to the rim and allowed him to impact the game in a number of different ways. PF's have to be able to step out and shoot in the modern NBA. 
    • It also helped JOB to be going up against Dallas because Mavs PF might be the worst defensive position in the league. Dirk, Charlie V and Dwight Powell is not a trio that's going to be stopping many people. That's something to keep in mind when you start thinking about the playoffs with this team. I'm not even sure the Mavs are going to be competitive in a 7-game series with those guys having to defend and that's why I'm thinking Parsons at the 4 is the way they are going to have to go.

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