Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Mavs vs. Kings

That was a crazy game. NBA games are like anything else - if you go to enough of them it becomes routine and you start to get jaded by the experience. But that 2OT thriller between the Mavs and the Kings was more than worth the price of admission. That was everything you could want in a professional basketball game and it makes the "grind" of going to 42 of those home games a year more than worth it because you never know when you are going to get something like that.

Most of the 4Q and the 2OT's came down to Dirk Nowitzki vs. DeMarcus Cousins and it was fun to watch two of the most unstoppable 7'0 in the league trading baskets. Dirk hopped in the time machine in a game the Mavs absolutely had to have (they play the Pellies tomorrow night in a game that already looks like a loss after how many minutes they all played tonight) while Cousins scored from all over the floor, whether it was taking Zaza into the post or raining rainbow 3's on pick-and-pops.

All that said, I thought the most interesting stuff in this game from a tactical perspective came in regulation, as the Mavs junked a lot of their normal rotations and went in a whole new direction with their line-ups.
  • After playing Dwight Powell and Charlie Villanueva in almost every game this season, the Mavs went with Chandler Parsons as a small-ball 4 on their 2nd unit and played a lot smaller across the board. That's a move that I've wanted them to make for awhile and I thought it worked like gangbusters.
  • There are a number of positives they can take from that line-up switch:
    • Powell and Charlie V had about outlived their usefulness. Neither one of them plays much defense or protects the rim at all, which negates a lot of the usefulness of even playing a two big man line-up in the first place. Charlie V can shoot 3's but he can't put the ball on the floor and finish around the rim while Powell can play as a rim-runner but he can't stretch the floor. It's hard to find a big man on this roster who can really complement either of those guys. 
    • Playing with Parsons at the 4 opens up the floor and allows the Mavs to play 3 guards at a time, which is really the strength of this team. It means more minutes for Deron Williams, Devin Harris, JJ Barea and Ray Felton while also giving them more space to play in and more driving lanes to the rim. It does make them smaller across the board but it's not like they were playing any defense with CVbelieve31 or Powell out there anyway.
    • It gives Parsons a lot more room to operate when he's out there - he's playing in a truly spread floor surrounded by 3 shooters + ball-handlers and one rim-runner. He can run pick-and-rolls constantly and there's almost always a play available to him, whether it's the drive, the shot, the pass on the perimeter or the lob to the rim. If you are ever going to get a return on your $15 million a year investment in Parsons, it's going to be from playing him as a small-ball 4.
    • Maybe most importantly of all, being paired with Parsons at the 4 frees up Javale McGee to do what he does best, which is create havoc at the front of the rim on both sides of the ball. Check out this stat-line: 13 points (6-8 shooting) and 11 rebounds and 2 blocks in only 17 minutes of action. All those minutes came with either Parsons or Dirk at the 4. 
      • McGee was the Plains Capitol Bank Player of the Game (the official bank of the Dallas Mavericks) tonight and my guess is that was the fewest minutes that a PCB game-winner ever played. 
  • From a big picture perspective, I'm just about done with the traditional PF in the modern NBA. That was the key lesson to me in the rise of the Golden State Warriors. I don't care how good a PF is at posting up or creating his own shot or crashing the boards or protecting the rim - I'd rather play 4 wings around a 7'0, run endless pick-and-rolls and spread out the floor. It's one of two extremes for me - unless I'm playing a two-way 7'0 shooter like LaMarcus Aldridge or Karl Towns at the 4, I'd rather take my chances and have a 6'8+ wing give up size to a traditional big man.
    • Long story short, when Dirk is retired, I'd think long and hard about moving Parsons to 4 more or less permanently like what the Indiana Pacers are doing with Paul George. I don't care if CP25 is always guarding 4's or if they have to bring in another wing like CJ Miles to do the dirty work - the point is to have 4 wings out there. That's the modern NBA in a nutshell.
    • As much as I appreciated the way Dirk turned back the clock tonight, my guess is the Mavs best line-up would look like this - Felton, Williams, Matthews, Parsons, McGee.
  • The downside of going with that line-up reared its ugly head on Tuesday as well, as Parsons went down with a hip injury late in the 4Q. I'm not sure you can say there's a direct correlation between him playing at the 4 and what happened but that is the concern when you are asking a smaller player to give up his body and bang with a bigger one, although George Karl mostly matched up with Carlisle and played 4 smalls as well.
    • Carlisle had an interesting quote about the injury after the game: "He had to leave the game and couldn't return because he got hipped in his knee on one of Cousis illegal screens."
This was a game the Mavs absolutely had to have because the Kings were out three players - Omri Casspi, Rajon Rondo and Willie Cauley-Stein. They were basically playing a skeleton unit because they have two guys on their inactive list who are never going to play - Eric Moreland (whose out for the season with a foot injury) and Wisconsin rookie Duje Dukkan - so they can't even really fill out a roster at the moment. The only guy who dressed and didn't play for them was Caron "Tough Juice" Butler who it seems was mostly just signed to be a locker room guy in Sacramento more than anything else.
  • If you look at the advanced numbers, Casspi is a plus-minus All-Star (with a net rating of +15.2) and Kosta Koufos has been absolutely dreadful (-9.9) in large part because of the dynamic I was talking about with Parsons. When Casspi is at the 4, the floor is spread wide open and the Kings are almost impossible to guard and when Koufos is in the game they are usually playing 2 C's at a time and the result is a spacing catastrophe. Pretty much everyone on their roster has a positive rating when playing with Casspi and pretty much no one has one with Koufos.
    • Koufos had what I guess is a typical Koufos game - 0 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 fouls in 17 minutes and a plus-minus of -3 in 17 minutes. When everyone is healthy, I'd think long and hard of having Cauley-Stein back up Cousins and just play small around them with the rest of the rotation. 
  • The 4 man was the story of the Kings for this one. The two guys with the worst plus-minus were Quincy Acy (-5) and James Anderson (-7) who had to play a stretch of the game as an uber small-ball 4 because of the injury to Casspi. Given the way the game went tonight, I feel pretty comfortable saying Sacramento would have won had he played.
  • Rudy Gay had 31 points on 20 shots in large part because he was playing as a small-ball 4 next to either Cousins or Koufos and the Mavs had no one with even a prayer of guarding him when Parsons wasn't in the game. When Dirk is guarding Gay 1-on-1, you might as well just give the Kings 2 points and go the other way and save everyone the trouble.


  1. Is Blake the only traditional PF in the league that you would still play at the 4? He couldn't really play the 5 full time, right?

    Generally, what is your Mavs lineup against Clips? Does Dirk defend Griffin a little better than Parsons? Would you have Parsons guard Griffin in your best line-up or stretches of a game?

    1. LMA, Bosh, Porzingis and Davis as well though I'd only play them at the 4 if I had a special 5.

      The Clips and the Spurs are the two teams out West who would pose huge problems to Parsons at the 4. The Mavs really have no one who can even try to guard Blake either way. They used to be able to switch Tyson onto him but that's not Zaza's game. I might think about dusting Jeremy Evans off the bench and getting him in there.

    2. Another great article. This point is what i hope OKC realise in time for the playoffs. They would lose little defense and no rebounding if they just slide Ibaka to C and Durant to PF, but then could play a 5 out offense.

      I understand the political reasons why they had to pay Kanter, but he will probably end up not getting a lot of playing time in the playoffs if OKC adopt this approach. Basically an overpaid end of the bench player.