Monday, January 31, 2011

You Can Call Me a Dreamer but I'm Not the Only One

Warning: the following is something I'm completely making up and theorizing. It has no basis in fact or any truth whatsoever. Consider it very (and I mean very) wishful thinking.

Jim O'Brien was canned over the weekend from his Indiana Pacers gig. The Pacers are a meddling 17-27, have some decent talent, but are stuck without any sort of plan. I know, you don't come here to read about the Indiana Pacers. And Kelly Dwyer wraps it up way better than I ever could. I bring this up to make some wild connections -- this firing could open the door for Danny "The Park Ranger" Granger to be put on the trading block. Here's another dot to connect. Sasha Pavlovic is not returning to finish out the season with Dallas. That means the Mavericks have another roster spot. Could that be used for a blockbuster trade! Maybe. Or more likely used for roster flexibility when the injured Roddy Beaubois comes back into the fold as Tim MacMahon notes. But I'm not here to write about coherent, rational thoughts, dammit.

With O'Brien's firing, Larry Bird is obviously trying to salvage a mediocre season with stealing a playoff spot. You have seen how awful the East is right? He's also trying to duplicate the Charlotte Bobcats plan of firing the head coach, get the temporary boost and try to coast to that 7th or 8th seed. I could go on all day how horrible a plan this is and how in the NBA especially, you need to either be rebuilding or a contender. Grabbing onto the bottom of the playoff barrel is about the worst thing you can do in the NBA year after year. If you aren't close to contending, you need to fall into the lottery, pick up some talent, clear cap space and completely rebuild. Larry Bird has yet to realize this with the Pacers. Granger was picked 17th overall in 2005 and for what he's done so far, that's great value. But Bird was fooled into believing he already had his franchise cornerstone, disregarding the bad teams Granger was scoring on. Granger scored enough that the Pacers haven't picked higher than 10 since he was drafted. Instead the Pacers were stuck with another 17, an 11, 13 and some 10s. Remember, after Oklahoma City drafted Kevin Durant in 2007, they had three more top five picks follow him in Jeff Green, Russel Westbrook and James Harden. The Thunder had some pretty miserable years before breaking out in the playoffs last year. But that's what it takes.

Anyway, back to how this deals with the Mavericks. If the firing of O'Brien doesn't inspire the Pacers to rip off their next five or six games, or go 8-2 over their next 10, maybe Bird will finally get it into his head that he messed up, and it's time for a clean slate (again, considering the history, this is a big maybe.) He has a team that is full of complementary players with specific roles. They're missing a Kobe, LeBron, Howard or Dirk (which I know are hard to find, but I digress). If Bird wants to do it the right way, he needs to move Granger and watch his team free-fall to some consecutive top-three picks. For all the faults that Bird has had as a man in charge of basketball operations, he's had some good success in the first round of the draft. Danny Granger, Tyler Hansborough, Paul George are all very competent NBA players that could easily slide right into a contending team's rotation. Now that the Mavericks have an open roster spot, Alexis Ajinca's trade exemption, Caron Butler's expiring contract and young talent in Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones, could make a push to get Granger, if the Pacer's finally decide to wave the white flag.

And Granger would be an almost perfect and seamless fit -- if he can lay off the trigger finger. Granger has shot 42.8 percent last year and is shooting the exact same so far this year. He took a little over seven three-pointers per game last year and is putting up 5.6 per this year. He likes to gun. Of course, that might have to do with the pace that O'Brien had his team running up and down the court last year as the Pacers are one of the more up-tempo teams in the NBA (Indiana was second in pace last year and are seventh this season). Despite this reputation, Granger did have the ability to get to the rim. He took 4.5 shots at the rim per game last year and is at a respectable 3.5 per this year (especially for a shooter). I even made sure to check and see if Indiana's high pace led to him getting a lot of finishes on the break. In both this year and last year his assisted shots at the rim are at 39.3 and 40.5 percent, respectably. Given the fact that surrounded by better teammates, an inefficient offensive player like Caron Butler could contribute, I have no doubt Granger would flourish alongside Dirk and Jason Kidd given his more adept offensive skills. He wouldn't be cheap (he's owed over $45 million from this season through 2014) but he would be the best scoring-teammate Dirk has ever had in his career.

It's a pipe-dream, but I think something Mark Cuban is definitely keeping his eye on as Indiana transitions to its new coach and considering Dirk's window tightens its hatches a little more every season.

(Advanced stats courtesy, as always, from the lovely


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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Take Dat Wit Chew: The Rice of Passage Podcast Episode 2

Our second foray into the magical world of podcasting.

Listen as we discuss Adam's facial hair, cocaine benders, J.J. Barea's value, updates on Roddy and Peja and Tyson Chandler's individual defense.


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Friday, January 28, 2011

J.J. the Savior

Every team has one: the scapegoat. The one guy that takes the rap for everything, regardless whether it's his fault or not. The Rangers have Michael Young. The Cowboys have Roy Williams. The Stars have...uh...someone. For the Mavericks, it is without question, J.J. Barea. The under six-foot-tall guard from Puerto Rico has permanently entrenched himself under the skin of the die-hard fanatics (and even the casual ones)

And yes, there is some good reason. He's never posted a PER at or above 15 (the league average). He's never shot 45 percent or better. His only way to contribute defensively is taking offensive fouls. When he's in the game, the Mavericks almost 100 percent of the time run a zone, which no matter how well you run it, is still an inefficient defense in the NBA. He's a post-up waiting to happen.

But regardless of all that, Barea is just a back-up point guard after all. He has his small role, and regardless of your opinion of it, he fills it well. Back-up point guard is one of the hardest positions in the NBA to fill -- ask the Lakers, Celtics or Knicks. Barea is also the only Maverick guard to average his most shots at the rim per game. You can't argue his fearlessness to get to the rim.

So what JJB has done for the Mavericks this week has been nothing short of spectacular and a pleasant surprise for Dallas fans. He's made 17 of his last 22 field goal attempts, which is a ridiculous number for himself. He's finally making threes, having the highest three point percentage since January. Against the Clippers on Tuesday, he single-handily kept the Mavericks from being run out of the gym by scoring 18 points in the first half, on his way to 25 total. Against the Rockets on Thursday, he provided offense when there wasn't any in the Maverick's abysmal second half. His late runner/jumper/gift from the basketball gods with 32.9 seconds to go gave the Mavericks a two possession lead as they closed the game out with free throws and gave him 19 points.

While this is all well and good, people need to temper expectations. Barea is the definition of a streaky scorer -- he scored a season-high 29 points against the Bucks on Jan. 1 only to follow that up with two made field goals in 19 minutes the following night in Cleveland. After scoring in double figures for three consecutive games from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, he went six consecuative games failing to get back to double figures in scoring. Let's not get carried away here: Barea's role on this team is to keep the offense afloat and score. He isn't a defensive stopper or anything else. He has to change the pace with his ability to get to the basket.

This is why I feel that the public thinks that when Roddy Beaubois returns, JJB's minutes should almost vanish. I don't completely agree with this. I do feel that Barea shouldn't be played instead of Beaubois but along side him. Beaubois hasn't proved himself capable of running the offensive sets and taking care of the ball when in charge of the offense. That job still belongs to Barea until Beaubois shows he can handle it. I feel that the two can co-exist (although, there are defensive limitations with that lineup)

In the end, these two games might not mean much in the next week. Barea will more than likely cool off, and the public's hatred will rise yet again. But with Dirk Nowitzki still not being Dirk Nowitzki, any offense from any source I will gladly take -- even if it is just for a couple of games.

(Advanced stats courtesy of Hoopdata)

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jason Kidd and His Mysterious J

When the Mavericks traded away Devin Harris to bring in Jason Kidd there were essentially two sides: the side that couldn't believe they packed up and shipped away their future and the side that was finally grateful for having a real, legitimate point guard since Steve Nash left years before. And it was heated both ways. There wasn't a lot of middle ground and it was for good reason -- the Mavericks seemed to be spiraling in mediocrity after failing to capitalize on the two greatest teams of the franchise in 2006 and 2007. I for one, actually found myself teetering in that middle ground. On one hand I was thrilled, the lack of an efficient point guard in Dallas killed them in the playoffs when half-court execution is put at a premium. (Note: See, I even said they needed to bring in another point guard and move Terry to the bench after being bounced in 2005. Now you can all laugh at my hilarious and embarrassing Xanga page and my writing skills back them) On the other, I was worried that Devin Harris would become an All-Star in New Jersey, leading them to many victories for years to come.

Even years after the trade, in 2011, there doesn't seem to be a consensus on what was better. Kidd looked brutal against the Hornets in the 2008 playoffs. Harris looked fantastic for the 2008-2009 season. Then Kidd looked great against the Spurs in the playoffs in 2009 and Harris broke down in the 2009-2010 season. Then Kidd looked horrible again in the 2010 playoffs. It's almost a toss up as Harris tries to regain his All-Star form.

But regardless of what you think of the trade, credit had to be given when Kidd, somehow, shot 42 percent from three last season. The biggest knock on Jason Kidd (or Ason Kidd as he's been pegged before) was he couldn't shoot. And they were right. Kidd is a 40 percent overall shooter in his career and his three point percentage has always hovered in the low 30s during his time in Phoenix and New Jersey. His shooting renaissance in Dallas should be chiseled into whatever statue gets made of Jason Kidd after he retires -- it's that noteworthy. But before a monument to Kidd should be built, he needs to stop doing the very thing that plagued him throughout his entire career until last year -- shooting horribly.

If you haven't noticed, Kidd is having an unbelievably bad shooting year -- 34.2 percent to be exact. That makes him the sixth worst shooting point guard in the NBA this year. Care to know who is above him? Grab a tissue.

Marcus Banks (a whopping 0 percent and three games played)
Acie Law (15.8 percent in only 11 played games)
Sherron Collins (25 percent, 15 games played, 50 pounds overweight)
Jeremy Lin (31.6 percent, 17 games played)
Johnny Flynn (33 percent, 20 games played, one awesome name)

Yep, I know what you're thinking. Even Derek Fisher is shooting better than Jason Kidd. And you have to go five more spots past Kidd to find the next player that has played in at least 40 games (C.J. Watson with a 36.9 percentage and 45 games played.) If you had hope that maybe Kidd is respectable from three and his knuckleball layups aren't falling, prepare to grab another tissue as he's only hitting 33 percent from downtown.

I wish I could tell you some magical statistic that is the fault of all this. I wish some advanced stat genie could appear and tell me that if Kidd improves this, the results will come. But there isn't. The only way Jason Kidd can recapture his shooting stroke is to, well, find it. I'm hoping Kidd didn't have to sacrifice his soul for just one great shooting season from three because if there's a team that could use it, it's Dallas. Kidd needs to shoot better, that's all there is to it. With Dirk Nowitzki getting healthier by the day, hopefully the spacing and looks will get better. The problem is Kidd hasn't been shooting the ball well at any point this season, even with a healthy Dirk drawing double teams.

All the shooting woes have led to Kidd's 7.9 points per game average, which would be the lowest of his entire career. Two more depressing notes before I leave you to gauge your eyes out: Kidd isn't even averaging one full shot attempt at the rim per game (he's at 0.7). I didn't even know that was humanly possible for a player that averages over 30 minutes a game. Here's the other -- Kidd is averaging more assists than points (8.3 to 7.9). In the history of the NBA, only two players have done that. Mark Jackson in the 1996-1997 season and Johnny Moore in the 1981-82 season. As the article I linked to notes, Rajon Rondo is on pace to join that club as well (and he's still on that pace right now). The big difference? Rondo is shooting 52 percent from the floor. While I think I would still trust Jason Kidd to hit a big three in a big game over Rondo, that confidence is slipping. For the Mavericks to have any continued success this season, Kidd has to regain his shooting touch and be a threat on the weak side of Dirk double teams. There really isn't any other way around it. 


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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Having Fun Yet?

As a Maverick fan, it can be very easy to forget why you love basketball in the first place. Combined with the recent history of the other Dallas/Forth Worth teams, there's a very depressing atmosphere around this area -- especially about its basketball team.

And I can't really blame you. The horrible 90s teams. The frustrating yet spectacular "Big Three" era. The departure of Steve Nash. June 2006. Late April 2007. The Hornets first-round series. The Nugget series of 2009. The Spurs...every single time (except 2006). All the jump shots. The apparent lack of toughness. No psychical presence down low. The lack of a real point guard. Over-paid players past their prime. All valid complaints during the decade of relevant Mavericks basketball.

But there's a key word there: relevant. I understand that during what appears to be another ordinary year for Dallas (after seemingly starting unordinary) you don't want to read a gushy piece about the Mavericks. Especially from a guy that's about as positive as a storm cloud. But watching last night's game against the Clippers, I had the feeling that a lot of Dallas fans almost wish they could be in the Clippers scenario: Loads of young talent, with pieces that work and will only continue to get better. A bright star the will soon take over the league in a few years. I get it. It's intoxicating to watch a young team before they are even close to maxing out their potential. The same happens for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sometime I wonder if Dallas fans are really Dallas fans anymore. The Thunder have become everyones second favorite team (and for good reason) almost to the point where I can't tell which team the fan base likes anymore at times.

These moods also intensify when the Mavericks are playing garbage basketball. 87 points against New Jersey. 77 against Chicago. 89 versus Detroit. 70 in Memphis. I get it. It's not fun to watch, it's not great basketball and there are other teams out there that are shinning with more youth and personality.

But take a moment to realize that Dallas has won 50 games every season since the 2000-2001 season. They've been in the playoffs every single year. And they've been a lock, as well. Consider that other franchises (even the great ones) don't have that sort of security. The Knicks haven't been to the playoffs in ages. The Bucks are always grasping for that 8th seed. The Pacers and Pistions were constant title contenders in the 2000s and are now fighting to stay out of the lottery. Remember the greatness of those Kings teams 10 years ago? Now they have the worst record in the Western Conference. Even the Lakers were stuck in a mud of mediocrity after their three-peat.

I'm saying this to let people understand the kind of commitment and smarts that make up the Dallas front office and the team. And also because last night was just pure fun. It had been months since a Maverick game had made me feel that giddy and take a trip on my emotional elevator. Hell, J.J. Barea looked like an All-Star, a far cry from his punching-bag self (or should I say, piƱata?) Shawn Marion looked like the Phoenix Shawn Marion. I think even Jason Terry thought he was still chucking away in Atlanta. Tyson Chandler was like the Norse God of basketball. It was fantastic and refreshing to watch. 

Now this is the part where people tell me, "Yeah, but still no title. And we're not getting any younger. And that was against the Clippers." But that was better then what the Mavericks have thrown out there in the last week or so. I haven't seen the AAC that alive, that rowdy in quiet a bit. It was fun again to watch the Mavericks.

I'm sorry that the last few posts haven't dived deep into advanced stats on why some things are working (or not working, i.e., Jason Kidd) but I felt that I needed to say this. People are pretty depressed about the Mavericks. There is still reason to have some hope and be appreciative. Funny that it has to come from me. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go sacrifice eight goats to a greater power.

Just kidding.


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Monday, January 24, 2011

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Dirk Nowitzki is hurting. It's obvious. Watching him right now is like watching him during his rookie season - limited to just a jump shooter and nothing else. He isn't rebounding well and he can't seem to get any lift on any of his awkward fade-a-ways. It's painful to watch.

But he had to come back. Worse than watching Dirk struggle with his knee was watching the Mavericks struggle without him. The New Jersey Nets were a perfect bounce back game after being ransacked in Chicago. They didn't have the defenders to throw at Dirk. Sure, they have Kim Kardashian's boyfriend but not even her intoxicating derriere sitting in the front row could provide ample defense (or distraction).

Except it did. Once again, Dirk struggled to get any lift on his jumper. He was short. He was off-left. He was off-right. He even had an air ball (which makes me struggle to recount any previous Dirk air balls.) It looked like the Mavericks were doomed to once again fall to an inferior opponent because Dirk's teammates failed to step up. The saving grace was that Dirk realized he was struggling and forced himself to the free throw line (eight times, in fact)

After Devin Harris shot something that only in theory could be described as an actual basketball shot, the Mavericks had one more chance. I honestly was worried. Usually this is Dirk time. Give him the ball at the high post, right at the free throw line. Let him back his defender down and draw the double. Or drive facing the basket, spin and fire. We've seen it before, and it's glorious. But for once I wasn't so sure. Dirk was 6-for-23. He was flat. I almost wondered if the Mavericks should use Dirk as a decoy and get an open look for someone else.

How stupid am I?

Dirk, of course, promptly took the ball and used one of the best pump fakes the NBA has ever seen and rattled home the game winner with exactly six seconds left on the clock. New Jersey couldn't recover as their final possession could of been best watched with the the Benny Hill song playing in the background. It might be a one-point victory over one of the worst teams in the league. It might have been one of Dirk's worst shooting nights. But don't down yourself in the negatives. Just know that Dirk is the Dallas basketball messiah and his resurrection in the final seconds on a cold night in New Jersey was, well, biblical. Let's just hope he's back for good this time. And never doubt his crunch-time abilities again. Lesson learned.



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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Take Dat Wit Chew: The Rice of Passage Podcast Episode 1

The last few weeks have felt like a straight arm to the groin for Mavericks fans. Naturally, you would want to extend that pain by listening to a couple of guys bitching about the state of affairs in Mavland.

You might ask, "Why would Josh choose to do a podcast with someone who seems determined to steer the conversation away from the game every chat?" It is quite simple really, I own a microphone. Two of them, in fact. I may not have extensive basketball knowledge, but I can talk to people that do and I guess that makes me more qualified than any of you. Anyway, Josh and I will try to throw up a new episode every Sunday for your listening enjoyment/enragement.

We need you. Please listen or at the very least put it on in the background while smoking meth or buying your wife a lovely piece of salted pork. Any comments or questions you have will be greatly appreciated. We aren't above begging, but I would like to avoid it if at all possible. So open your earholes and let us in.

Download the .mp3 file directly here!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Grasping at Straws

Nostalgia is a tricky thing. It can be a warm security blanket that reminds you of the glory days, when times were better and men were men. But when those distant memories revert to the present, the result is usually not as good as you remember.

Case in point with the Dallas Mavericks reportedly on the verge of landing one time nemesis Peja Stojakovic after his contract has been bought out from Toronto. Peja, as many dedicated Mavs fans remember, was the sharpshooting wing from the arch-rival Sacramento Kings back when the Mavericks and Kings played nationally televised games on Christmas of who could score 130 points first. Ah, the good old days.

Obviously, Dallas needed to make a move to acquire some sort of wing player that could make shots. Sasha Pavlovic, you were nice against the Lakers, but after watching the debacle in Chicago, it's clear Dallas needs someone a bit more proven and a bit more...uhm...good. But is Peja the answer? If this were 2004, yes. Now? About as definite a 'maybe' you can get.

I think the first thing that needs to be debunked is that Peja isn't a worthless player. I feel that Twitter was giving Peja a bad rap last night, as if the Mavericks had genetically cloned Steve Novak from the bottom of their roster, gave him a new hair cut and a fake mustache, and trotted him to the world as the answer. As awesome as that might be, it's a little better than that. Peja is still a quality contributing player in the NBA. If you can give a mulligan to this year (due to injuries and his rotting time spent in Toronto) Peja was still shooting at a decent clip well past his Sacramento years. In his first full, healthy season in New Orleans, Peja knocked down 44 percent of his threes, while scoring over 16 points a game - much similar to what Caron Butler was doing this season. I was even surprised how productive he was in Indiana for half a season after being traded from the Kings, scoring 19.5 points per game and shooting above 40 percent from three.

Once again, this is not to say Peja is in All-Star form. He's not. He's been ravaged by injuries and still is a bit of a one trick poney. He isn't a facilitator - at all (career assist number of 1.8). With the age rising and injuries to go along with it, his respectable rebounding numbers have fallen off. And by no means is he even close to a defensive weapon. There was a time when you could say Peja was no-brainer All-Star but fans have to realize that those times have passed. Peja is at the point of his career where he is best suited to being a role-player. Someone who plays 15-20 minutes, can knock down a couple of threes and be on his way. If Peja is brought in (and on any contract more than a couple million) and plays 30 minutes a night and starts, you're going to start to see his flaws exposed. That's what being a role-player is. You have your niche, but if overexposed, that niche becomes a crutch and teams counter the one positive you bring to a team.

Two things bother me the most about the Peja reaction: The two extreme sides (the ones that are stuck in 2004 and think the Mavs have added an All-Star and those that think the team just brought Jon Barry from his talking head position) and then that this could be the last move Dallas makes this season. I still feel Dallas needs to make a "splash" move (such as acquiring a Kevin Martin/Danny Granger level player, as slim as those chances may be) to become a true title contender. But who knows. The last player the Mavericks took a gamble on that had succes in New Orleans before breaking down in his next stop turned out pretty well.


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Thursday, January 20, 2011


While I was thinking throughout the day on Wednesday about how I should critically attack the Mavericks through the written word, the unthinkable happened - they beat the back-to-back defending champions. Pretty decisively (enough to have a 16-point lead at one point). In the fourth quarter. This is great. It ends the worst streak the Mavericks have been on since Dirk's hair looked like this. It showed Jason Kidd and Jason Terry have pulses and that Dallas can beat one of the best teams in the league even without Dirk being, well, Dirk. But there's a caveat: the Mavs didn't play all that particually well on defense. As Rob Mahoney points out, it's nice to see the Mavericks win and against a great team, but holding the Lakers to a 120 points per 100 possessions isn't going to cut it. Dallas was hot from deep, played some decent defense in the third quarter and stopped the bleeding.

In a way, the Mavericks during the six game losing streak were having an erection lasting longer than four hours. On Wednesday they went an saw the doctor to get it taken care of. But that doesn't mean another four hour erection isn't on the way. Dallas still has their problems and if you can forgive the worst analogy I've ever written (or the best), the Mavs still need to string together consecutive competitive games before we can finally declare them "back." As Mark Followill said on 1310 The Ticket this afternoon, tonight against Chicago will be the real test to see if the Mavs are back. After all, he said, if this team couldn't get up to play the defending champs at home after a rough stretch, then nothing would.

Last night was a great night for a Maverick fan. But it wasn't the solution to the last week or so of problems. As some have mentioned, it was almost expected. There's still the issue of the small forward spot (Peja?), why Shawn Marion can't start, is DeShawn Stevenson coming back to earth (yes) and how is this team even doing this well with a starting point guard hitting 33 percent of his shots entering last night's game?

There will be a time and place for all the criticisms of this Maverick team to be laid out over here and to plan for what to do before the trade deadline. And by no means have the Mavericks fixed any of those after last night's game. But it was a nice change a pace. Instead of listening to talking heads and writers squawk at the sinking ship that is the Mavericks, we were temporarily relieved. Consider me thrilled.


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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Once More, with Feeling?

I have a fond memory of Devin Harris. I remember when his lanky 6-3 frame came into the American Airlines Center for the first time. It was my last season being a season ticket holder for the Mavs, which was Harris' rookie season.

I specifically remember one play about halfway through his rookie season, against the revamped and Steve Nash led Suns. Harris stole the ball with the Mavs down three, late. He sprinted past a backpedaling Nash, leaped towards the rim and contorted his body as Joe Johnson smacked him to the ground. Harris splash landed a row or two into the baseline seats as the ball did a victory lap or two before rolling into the basket. And one. Tie game. Holy cow. I was sold.

Harris might not have been the prototypical passing point guard, but he was the only other paint presence that the Mavericks had from 2004-2008 besides Dirk Nowitzki. Harris averaged 4.2 shots at the rim per game from 2007 to 2008 (farthest Hoopdata goes back to tracking his time in Dallas) and I can take an educated guess that the number stayed the course before that to his rookie season. Harris was a slasher, score first point guard in the mold of Tony Parker. Except he was bigger than Parker - more athletic with an ability to defend elite guards. Who can forget Harris' insertion to the starting lineup in the epic 2006 playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 2? Harris scored 20 points, got the the free throw line nine times, and seemingly flipped the momentum switch back in the Mavericks favor, essentially neutralizing Tony Parker and helping Dallas win the series.

Harris fell out of the loop during the 2006 Finals (and we'll speak no more of that series, thank you.) After the embarrassing first-round flameout to the Warriors in 2007, the 2008 season started with a rather blah feeling. Well, at least to Mark Cuban. And when Cubes is feeling antsy, no one is safe. Harris was shipped away along with the Mavericks near-foreseeable future assets to bring in Jason Kidd. After a rough opening stint, Kidd has emerged as the Mavericks second-most important player, bringing up the games of everyone around him (including Tyson Chandler, Dirk, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, etc.)

But now there are reports that the prodigal son might return. The fabulous reporting Mark Stein says that if Carmelo Athony heads to New Jersey, Harris could make it to Dallas. To get Harris from Denver (if the Melo trade even goes down) Dallas would almost assuredly use Caron Butler's expiring contract as Denver is desperate to get under the luxury tax. There are plenty of questions to consider: How would Harris (who requires to be the primary ball-handler to get to the rim and control his offense) mesh with Kidd in the same back court? During Harris' best year in New Jersey - 2009 - Harris had a 28.4 usage percentage. To put that in perspective, Dirk's career average of usage percentage is 27. So, for Harris to be at an "All-Star level" (and I use that term loosely), Harris has to be in control of the ball more so than Dirk. Remember, when Harris was first here, the team's primary point guard was Jason Terry, who we all know is much more effective the less time he's using the ball.

Another thing I wonder is what kind of Devin Harris would the team be getting? Since his All-Star season of 2009, Harris has been plagued by injuries and sputtered to averaging a little under 17 points last season and this season. His highest field goal percentage in New Jersey has been 43.8. He still hasn't learned a three point shot. He apparently doesn't make his teammates any better (although that's tough to do in New Jersey these days.) The one thing that makes Maverick fans sleep well at night is his free throw attempts. Harris has averaged a clean seven free throw attempts per game so far in New Jersey, including a career-best 8.8 attempts per game in 2008-2009. In that same season he also shot a smidge under six shots at the rim per game, a great number for a guard or anyone else that isn't Dwight Howard or Tim Duncan. Heed that stat, however - that number has decreased all the way to 3.8 - a seemingly average number that almost has to deal with his injury woes.

One last nugget about our former friend: his defensive rating hasn't been anything to write home about. Harris has always had the reputation for being a great individual defender, but it's a reputation that is thrown around loosely. Remember, Caron Butler was supposed to be a "rugged, tough" defender, and his defense has been barely average in his time in Dallas. I wanted to take into the account that Harris has played on some bloody awful defensive teams in New Jersey. So I compared his individual defensive rating to his overall team's defensive rating during his seasons in New Jersey and here's what I found:

Devin Harris Defensive Rating             New Jersey Nets Team Defensive Rating

         2008-2009: 111                                                  2008-2009: 111

         2009-2010: 112                                                  2009-2010: 110

         2010-2011: 110                                                 2010-2011: 108

Interesting. New Jersey's defense as a whole was worse when Devin Harris was on the court, not off it.

Now, this isn't to say Devin Harris would make Dallas a worse team if he was brought over (as long as Caron Butler and J.J. Barea were the only trade casualties and not Roddy Beaubois) , but to say that there are better options out there for the Mavericks if they decide they need to take an opportunity of a shrinking championship window.

(Advanced stats courtesy of


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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An Ode to Caron

Oh Caron. How we hardly knew ye.

Caron Butler has been a very maligned player in his short time with Dallas. In fact, I'm one of his biggest opponents. When the Mavericks acquired the forward from Washington last year, I believed at worst, the Mavs had simply exchanged Josh Howard for another with a better contract and a longterm solution at center.

How fast things change. After the first week or so of 2010-2011 campaign people were wondering if DeShawn Stevenson was actually the best player acquired in the trade. It was an honest argument. Brandon Haywood is a shell of his former self (which is really saying something), Butler looked incapable of making layups and Stevenson simply could not miss from deep. When the Mavericks switched gears after the loss to Chicago and ripped off 17 of their last 18, we saw a new Caron. Or at least, I thought.

It looked like Caron had that swagger back. He looked mean and angry on the court. Like any man that wanted to cross him was a fool. He was fitting in on the sidelines and in the locker room. He even put this in JJ Barea's locker. He was a hero.

As I came to write this piece - a eulogy or sorts - for Butler, I was surprised at the stats. Butler is scoring at a worse clip than last year. He's rebounding less. His assists are down. His turnovers are up. I even dug deep into advanced stats, hoping to find something that would prove my eye test right. There wasn't much. His assist and rebounding rates are down, turnover rate up. He's actually shooting worse from 16-23 feet range. Where, oh where, could I find some stats that would back up my claim that Butler was becoming a positive force for Dallas? I found it in something Butler has usually been poor in - three point shooting. Butler was shooting a career high 43 percent from deep, which raised his overall FG% to 45 (higher than last year) and bumped his effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage up as well.

(Note: eFG% makes three pointers worth more in FG% and TS% is the same except it weights free throws as well)

All in all, I was a little disappointed in my quarry of justifying my first positive thoughts in Caron Butler. I've come to the conclusion and agree with Mr. Dwyer - Caron is merely an average player, fitting into a system that needs an average player at that position.

Regardless, I still feel cheated with Caron's injury. Come to think, just a couple of weeks ago, the Mavericks were riding high. They just defeated Oklahoma City in OKC (no easy task) without Dirk (a really uneasy task). Dirk's injury wasn't serious, and it looked like the Maverick's were world beaters. I was personally at that OKC game (part of my friend's yearly ritual of making it up there for Mavs/Thunder). I remember turning to one of my buddies as we walked back to the hotel room and telling him "Man, this team is different. I can't put my finger on it, but we might do something special this year. I think we're the best in the west."Was I a few beers in? Of course. But it was an honest opinion that other people shared. How fleeting something as being atop the NBA world can be. What's worse was Butler continued to get better. In the seven games before he was injured, Butler averaged just a tick under 20 points per game. That's like Jason Terry but a four inches taller Jason Terry! Regardless of what the stats said, Butler was getting better and contributing to a team that was looking poised to make a deep playoff run. My eye test was making me a *gasp* fan of Caron Butler.

None of this matters anymore. Butler's time in Dallas is officially done. There is little to no chance that the Mavericks resign Butler after his contract expires at the end of the year (assuming he even makes it to the end of the year as a Maverick, which is now very much in doubt). With his time over, many will remember his open-shot-into-contested-shot pump-fakes, his mindless dribbling, his love of the long two pointer and missed layups. I'll remember him for the two-week stretch where the Mavs were world-beaters and Butler seemingly, got it.

(Advanced stats courtesy of


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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cruel and Unusual

Caron Butler grasped his right knee as he held it close to his chest. The pain was obvious. The man known as 'Tuffjuice' looked like someone shot him in the leg. When Butler was able to get up and walk off to the locker room on his own will, he probably fooled a lot of us during the game. Maybe it isn't that bad, maybe he'll come back soon, maybe it's just Dirk all over again.

Judging from the postgame comments in the Mavs ugly loss to the Bucks, Butler might not be around for quite a bit. Combined with the worrisome Shawn Marion injury (his thigh and hammy nagged him quite a bit last year) and Roddy Beaubois' seemingly amputated foot (seriously, he broke his foot in early August. All was said that three months at the latest. It's been four going on five now with absolutely no timetable whatsoever) the Mavs are in serious trouble.

The only light at the end of the tunnel is Dirk's injury is not serious and he is supposed to be back when the Mavs come back to Dallas after today's game with the Cavs. But combined with a three game losing streak, it's obvious that this is the lowest of the low for the Mavericks right now. A team that looked just as poised to beat any other team in this league less than a week ago now looks like it will limp into the playoffs for another first round embarrassment.

Needless to say, this is about as stinko as it gets. Dallas has been free of the injury bug for a majority of the Dirk era, save for a few ankle sprains and broken faces. The only time I can remember injury potentially hurting a Maverick team like this one was when Dirk went down with a brutal sprained knee injury in the 2003 Western Finals against San Antonio. Hope shouldn't be lost just yet, however. Butler still hasn't been diagnosed and Mark Cuban is not one to let his team rot away if the injuries to Marion and Butler due turn out to be incredibly serious. But what to do? With Butler's injury, it will be almost impossible to move him. That leaves Brendan Haywood and JJ Barea or dumping one of the French Towers.

An interesting possibility would be Kevin Martin, the awkward, yet silky smooth (if that makes sense) shooting guard for the Houston Rockets. Being able to package Haywood and JJB to acquire him of course is a pipe dream - one that I've been wishing for since Josh Howard was put on the trading block. Martin looks even more salivating this season, with the 20 plus points and the very interesting record he's on the verge of completing. Would Houston be dumb enough to take on Haywood? I'm not too sure, unless they are that desperate for a center with Yao Ming on the cusp of retirement.

If Butler is done for the year and the Mavericks make no move to replace him, it'd be hard to be excited for the year. A lineup of Kidd, Stevenson, Marion, Dirk and Chandler is all well and good, but that vaunted Dallas depth would be nixed especially is Jason Terry keeps trying to build himself a second mansion with all the bricks he's collected over the last week or so. Don't get me wrong, I've ripped Butler a fair number of times on Twitter and over here. But losing 'Tuffjuice' for the season would be hard to swallow.


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