Saturday, December 18, 2010

Charles Barkley Likes the Mavs! Hooray!

Charles Barkley isn't the most articulate analyst for the NBA. In fact, if you listened to him talk just normally, you'd wonder why he has a job that requires him to speak to a national audience. But if there's one thing the man knows, it's basketball. Maybe not as in-depth as some other guys and scribes out there, but I feel that of all the former players that have these gigs, Chuck useless his former experiences to the best degree. He's honest, and if he thinks a team sucks he says they suck. He's refreshing in a world where TV heads are more concerned with image and how they are perceived by the public. Well, anyway, here's Chuck talking about the elite teams in the West. The juicy part is at the very end of the video:

Awesome! Dallas is good! Hooray! Celebrate, dance in the streets!

In all seriousness, Charles has always had a love/hate relationship with Dallas. It's been well documented  how Chuck either thinks the Mavs are fantastic or Dirk can't win squat. I think ever since Dirk changed his game to be a more tough-minded scorer in 2005, Chuck has approved. Best team in Texas? That's a bold claim considering the Spurs are one game off the pace of the 72-win Chicago Bulls of 1995-96. Sweet! Keep it up, Chuck.

(Hat tip to Daily Thunder for the link)


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Friday, December 17, 2010

The Emancipation of DeShawn Stevenson

When the Mavericks shipped away Josh Howard before the All-Star game in Dallas earlier this year, the prized packages of the deal were of course Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. Unfortunately, to many NBA scribes, Dallas had to take on DeShawn Stevenson and his fat contract, considering his usage. Stevenson hauled in over $3.8 million last year and exercised his player option for $4.15 million for this year. Sounds like a lot for someone who could barely score three points per game last year.

Fast forward to this year - Dallas is looking nothing special with a 3-2 start after a puzzling loss to Memphis and getting blitzed by Denver. From what we now know, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry went to Rick Carlisle and pleaded for them to insert DeShawn Stevenson into the lineup. Weird, considering Terry was enjoying a good start shooting wise, and was the starter. But the team realized that the bench was lacking. Terry accepted his role as the sixth man once again and Stevenson was put into the lineup.

Great, now what?

How about a 50% 3PT percentage. Which is higher than his overall percentage of 48. Pretty shocking considering Stevenson's last three seasons shooting the three were horrendous: 32%, 17% and 27% respectively. This is all well and good, with the theory that Stevenson is now giving the starting lineup a little more of a defensive edge without losing the shooting pop from Terry. But I wanted to dig a little deeper. Like it is in baseball, defense is the hardest thing to classify with statistics in the NBA. All the NBA really has are the defensive stats of rebounds, steals, blocks and defensive rating. For me, I wanted to dig a bit because really, the eye test wasn't really passing Stevenson on the defensive level. I didn't think he was awful, but he did have a propensity of letting his man drive past him - only to be erased by the beauty that is Tyson Chandler.

In the digging I discovered the Stevenson's defensive rating is 107, which is actually three higher than Jason Terry's 104. I think this is more of Terry's improvement, as it's the lowest number Terry has posted in his career. Now, defensive rating isn't the be-all, end-all number. After all, Zydrunas Ilgauskas is fourth in the league in defensive rating and I’m pretty sure your little brother could spin him in a circle. It is a fair argument though, as I’ve wondered if Stevenson should be allotted more minutes.

I think the fairest way to look at the question is this: Stevenson’s biggest value to the team is hitting spot up three pointers while holding water until Terry enters the game midway through the first quarter. In games such as Wednesday against Portland, what good is Stevenson if he is 0-for-4 on threes? Especially since as mentioned above, his defense isn’t even significantly better than Jason Terry’s.

I think Dallas fans have to just be happy with what Stevenson is giving them in short bursts. Stevenson’s niche on the team is the type that can wear out if played too long. So, rule of thumb: if DeShawn is knocking down threes and doing this, upwards of five times a game (like he was against Utah last week) let him pay 20+ minutes, which he did with 21. If not? Keep Jason Terry in, wait for Roddy B and the Mavericks suddenly have a depth problem (the good kind) at the guard spot.

(Advanced stats courtesy of


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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Next Evolution?

If there is one thing that Dirk Nowitzki has never been given enough credit for, it's how he's changed his game throughout his entire career. Entering the league as a skinny, shy teen with a beautiful jumper, Dirk learned the hard way about the physical and athletic nature of the NBA and how it is unmatched in any other form of basketball around the world.

He adjusted. He learned the NBA style, the pacing and realized he needed to spend hours and hours in the gym to condition and tweak holes. Paired with Don Nelson, Dirk flourished and truly "arrived" in the 2002-2003, in which he averaged 25.1 points, 9.9 rebounds (can we just changed that to 10?), a then career high of three assists and led the Mavs to the brink of the NBA finals, falling to Steve Ke...err the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Finals after he injured his knee and sat out the last two games.

But the game once again caught up to Dirk. Realizing that Dirk is mainly a jump shooter who likes to launch threes and mid-range jumpers from the high post, coaches started throwing wicked double teams and smaller athletic defenders who could keep up with Dirk's subpar handling and stay in front of him and still contest his jumper. Now, Dirk never experienced a "lull" because of this, because he is so good. In fact he's never shot under 45% from the field except his rookie season. But people watching could sense that people might be starting to figure out ways to at least manage Dirk and not let him dominate a game.

When Avery Johnson took over for the last 16 games in 2005, he knew Dirk could be even better. It helps that Dirk knew too. It was a radical transformation that not only Dirk pursued, but thrived in. Dirk utilized his best assets more efficiently: Less threes, more back to the basket and more free throws. In 2003-2004, Dirk averaged 5.5 free throw attempts per game. In 2005, he sky-rocketed to 9.1. He averaged one less three per game (a trend that continued till now.) Dirk had turned into everything people thought he wasn't: A tough-minded scorer that doesn't just rely on a jump shot to beat you. The culmination of this change is displayed in this beautiful, epic play during the Mavericks most magical season: The and-one to tie Game 7 against the Spurs in the 2006 playoffs.

Since then, Dirk has been at his usual pace: about 25 points, 8-9 rebounds and ridiculous shooting percentages (including the ultra rare 50 FG%-40 3PT%-90 FT% in 2007). The rebounding is declining, but that's a topic for another post. What I'm talking about with what is happening to Dirk this season could be another evolution of his game.

Dirk is 32. In NBA years, that's getting up there. Add in all the playoff games and international basketball and Dirk's body has taken a beating. Maybe that's why Dirk is averaging only 5.8 free throws per game, his lowest since 2004. Oddly enough, Dirk is technically taking less mid-range shots (16-23 feet) than last season (83. to 7.7) but remember, he's taking one less shot per game so the percentages differ. What's most interesting is that Dirk's mid-range shots are being assisted on a whopping 83.5% of the time. Overall, 65.1% of his shots are being assisted, a career high. If you watch how Dallas is running its offense this year, Dirk is now coming off screens at a higher rate, almost looking like a 7-foot Ray Allen. Dirk is being run off the baseline (thanks to Tyson Chandler screens) and is catching and shooting almost immediately, taking away much of the iso-heavy driven offense that we've been accustomed to seeing over the last five years.

It's an interesting wrinkle and Dirk is responding with ridiculous numbers, shooting over 55% from the field and 40% from three. I can't help but wonder if Dirk is utilizing the catch-and-shoot more for a couple of reasons: 1.) Tyson Chandler gets more involved in the offense, able to slip picks and be open for dunks/alley oops when teams close hard on Dirk's catch and 2.) Maybe Dirk is saving his body for the playoffs. After all, in last night's win versus Portland, we saw the Dirk we were accustomed to seeing in the last minutes of the game: Give him the ball, and get the hell out of the way and he'll score, come hell or high water.

(Advanced stats courtesy of


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Monday, December 13, 2010

The Mavericks are Amazing...And in Second Place

Oh, poor Mavericks. You've changed a lot. You've turned around your defense to make it one of the best in the league. Tyson Chandler is a candidate for both defensive player of the year and most improved player. Too bad non-locked in NBA fans and fair-weather Maverick fans aren't buying in.

What are the reasons? They're numerous. For starters, how can a team drastically change this much with the changes of Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson when Brendan Haywood has regressed? But a big reason? The Spurs. Yep. Still good. Really good.

So any non-believer can just say "blah blah blah, the Spurs are better." It's hard to sway fans and doubters that only look at the standings and see "1. San Antonio: 20-3, 2. Dallas: 19-4" even though the Mavericks handled the Spurs in San Antonio earlier in the 12-game win streak. But the Spurs are playing some pretty efficient basketball.

They're second in the NBA in offensive rating and eighth in defensive rating. And, try this on for size: The Spurs are 11 places above the Mavericks in pace. Yes, the Spurs play a faster pace than the Mavericks. The Tim Duncan, half-court, defensive oriented Spurs play faster than the run-and-gun, trigger-happy, Nellyball Mavericks. I understand philosophies have changed for both teams, it's just awkward to see.

I think what concerns me most about the Spurs is they're playing exactly how I thought they'd play...last year. The addition of Richard Jefferson, I thought, would lead the Spurs to an NBA title last year. It really was their missing piece, as the Spurs desperately needed a fourth scorer since Manu, Parker and Duncan all get banged up with injuries during the regular season. What I thought would make them unstoppable is all four playing well and healthy. And this year is proving the case.

After being abysmal last year, Jefferson is shooting 46% from three and averaging 14.3 points per game. He's feasting off the corner three, getting good looks from Manu and Parker's penetration and Duncan's double teams. Manu is averaging a little over 20 a game and is probably having his best and most efficient season ever. What's nuts is Duncan isn't averaging a double-double for the first time since 1954. Every year we say this is the year he's declining, but it's proven that he takes it easy during the regular season save for the big games, then kicks it up a notch in the playoffs.

All that said, the Mavericks kicked their ass in San Antonio. Just jump the Spurs in the standings, and the lukewarm fans will come flooding in.

(Sorry, had to homer up the end of that post realizing I just wrote an entire post about the San Antonio


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Friday, December 10, 2010

You're Welcome, Miami Heat

Remember when the Miami Heat were the worst team in professional sports? OK, maybe it wasn't that bad. But after that Mavericks destroyed them a week or so back, all the talk was how it couldn't work, what's wrong and if ERICK DAMPIER would be the solution.

Now the Heat are rolling. They've won six straight. They ruined Cleveland basketball, again. They can't be stopped. ERICK DAMPIER.

They also had the most publicized players-only meeting on this decade. Seriously. They might of sacrificed four goats and the blood of a lesser being. You can never be too sure with these things.

So, from TROP, you're welcome Miami Heat. You needed a butt-whooping for the Mavericks, and although you wont thank them for it, I'll be the bigger man and tell you you're welcome.



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Thursday, December 9, 2010

If Not Then, When?

When Tyson Chandler was deemed unavailable for Tuesday night's game against the Golden State Warriors, it was a given that Brendan Haywood would be the starter. His second stint in Dallas has brought its fair share of hate ranging from apathetic to Erick Dampier-like. The rational observer (me) kept thinking that we should wait before we declared shenanigans.

Well, it might be time to go get your brooms.

As you might of known from watching the game, Haywood started but did not finish. In fact, he did not play the entire fourth quarter of Dallas' 105-100 win over Golden State. Ian Mahinmi finished the game, and in the process got his first double-double in his three year NBA career. Watching the game, I didn't think there was any other alternative. Mahinmi was active, energetic and looked like, you know, he was having fun playing a game he loves for money.

Signing Brendan Haywood to a six-year, 55-million dollar deal wasn't outlandish at all over the Summer. The Mavericks didn't make it a secret that Erick Dampier was on the move and the team needed to retain Haywood after his productive second half in 2009-2010 that showed flashes of greatness wrapped around some slight mediocrity. With how rare a traditional center is in this league, it seemed as if Dallas didn't sign Haywood to that deal, any other number of teams would. (Interestingly enough, Miami was the other team in hot pursuit. I wonder how the this past summer would of gone down if Haywood was inked to a similar deal by the Heat. Would Miami try to trade him for scraps? Just sign LeBron and Wade? Very curious "what-if?")

But at the very least, Haywood had the opportunity to prove to Dallas that he can still compete. He can still give Tyson Chandler a run for his money. But I think after being outperformed in training camp, the preseason and now obviously in the regular season, it's safe to say that Haywood is in no way going to live up to the money he's been given...this year. The Maverick coaching staff has been watching these two since October. They knew that Chandler was going to give this team something special and he's paying off in more ways that we could of imagine.

Haywood meanwhile is stuck on the bench, barely registering 20 minutes a game as every Maverick fan panics as Chandler rests on the bench, wondering how soon he can come back in whenever he takes a seat during a game. The numbers aren't pretty either: 4.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and a staggeringly, absolutely, no-good, terrible 25 percent free throw percentage. He's also turning it over at a career high rate and averaging his lowest total rebounding percentage in a full season since 2007-2008. Just for fun, let's go ahead and throw in career-lows in offensive rating (99) and win share (an appalling 0.8).

Tyson Chandler hasn't played a completely healthy season in over two years. While his latest sit-out was due to an uncontrollable stomach virus, it's highly likely that Chandler is a spill on the floor away from missing up to a week. Haywood was supposed to make us feel warm and fuzzy, but now it's cold and dilapidated. Don't get me wrong, Mahinmi's contributions on Tuesday were almost Tyson Chandler-light. But if Mahinmi ever passes Haywood on the depth chart with a healthy Chandler, the Mavericks are going to be faced with numerous questions once the off-season rolls around (For example, how much do you resign Chandler when you've just been burned twice by giving centers large deals?)

Haywood had an opportunity on Tuesday to silence the doubters. What's sad is, he didn't even have to do much. He just had to improve Dallas' chances of winning while on the floor and show some life. His numbers (4 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks) seemed hollow. They seemed Erick Dampier like.

And hey, at least Dampier could set one helluva screen.


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