I have really enjoyed watching the Mavericks in the last week and a half, because after many rearrangements of the deck chairs on the Titanic, the Mavs finally made some very broad-based changes to the fabric of the their team in the last few months that have modified the way this team can do business.
Mavericks basketball in the Dirk era has always been very good. He is a talent, and the front office has found ways to put people around him that compliment his game as best as they could. But, it only worked to a point.
To review the Mavericks from late last season, allow me to take you back to a blog entry from last March after a bad road loss against the Lakers -
Lost In Los Angeles - March 16, 2009 :
The Lakers are the Mavericks nemesis these days, and if yesterday is any indication, it isn’t because they have some magic mojo against the Mavs, it is simply because they are significantly better all over the floor. I enjoyed the ABC TV guys debating it, and I thought Jeff Van Gundy was spot on about this team when he suggested that this team isn’t inconsistent. “They just aren’t that good”.
Now, you can look at Dirk and suggest that the best player on the team, and one of the top dozen players in the NBA is the problem – but that remains a silly past-time if you ask me.
Isn’t the biggest problem with the Mavs the following:
At any given time yesterday, the Lakers had 3 mis-matches with which to attack yesterday – AND, at the same time, the Mavs had only about 2 scorers on the floor.
That is right. They have bad matchups on offense and defense. That is a rare double.
Here is how the Mavs opened the game defensively:
Dirk guards Odom
Dampier guards Gasol
Barea on Fisher
Kidd on Ariza
Wright on Kobe
As you can see, the most obvious mis-match is Damp trying to guard Gasol, but there is nobody else he could even consider guarding. I have no idea why he was on the floor to begin with, but both halves, Carlisle thought he would try it. Then, Barea gets posted up when Fisher decides it is time. Kidd leaves Ariza to help on Kobe and Ariza starts nailing shots.
Then, Barea and Dampier must sit down, and when James Singleton or Brandon Bass and Jet Terry enter the game, now, Dirk tries to guard Gasol (not very well) and Bass tries to cover Odom.
This doesn’t even mention Kobe. Kobe can destroy pretty much anyone in the league, and although Antoine Wright looks like he is doing pretty well, Kobe gets a quiet 28-8-5.
Here is an equally horrid part of the game. The Mavs have, at all times, at least 2 to 3 guys on the floor who are pretty much worthless on offense. Seriously. Barea, Wright, Singleton, Dampier, and Bass are 5 of the top 8 options right now on this team, and none of them can create any of their own offense. Barea and Wright can spot up and shoot 3’s. Singleton, Bass, and Dampier can occasionally hit an open 15-footer and put back a rebound.
So that leaves only 3 guys who can get you anything on offense above very basic levels of production. And Kidd cannot shoot unless he is left wide open off the pass. As far as creating things, he is great – but to whom shall he create this offense?
Dirk and Jet. Night after night. Dirk and Jet.
Let me ask you a question; Don’t you think the opposition knows this? Don’t you think the Lakers have some idea about this? They stick Gasol on Dirk and then help the whole night with Kobe and friends. Jet still gets one-on-one coverage, because he does most of his scoring from 25 feet. And yesterday, he did it very well.
That leaves Dirk to a) be the only scorer inside the 3 point line, and b) the key to the Lakers defensive efforts. Phil Jackson will do everything he can to not let #41 beat them.
You knew there were big issues again when the Mavs shot 48% in the 1st Quarter, held Kobe to 0 points, and were down 9!
The Mavs are short. Even with Josh Howard back, they are short a player or two.
And that isn’t going to change until the Mavs front office changes it.
That was what I felt last March - and obviously that did not change against Denver in the playoffs. The major beefs were simple:
1) - It was still a team largely based on jump shots. They did not get easy points.
2) - It was a team with 1-dimensional players. At any given time you had either an "offensive" line-up or a "defensive" line-up. You could not find 5 guys who could do both.
3) - It was a team that was not overly tough or difficult to play against.
So, how do you change to fabric of an entire team? You could do what many fans do, which is to blame Dirk for not being Kobe and Kidd for getting old, or you could try to methodically and with some level of stealth offer an opportunistic move here and there to slowly (but quickly - it was only May, 2009, right?)
First, the Shawn Marion move allowed you to put a guy on the floor that is both athletic (surely the most athletic of anyone on the squad at the time) and defensive minded in a frame that is comfortable on both ends of the court. Not near the offensive force that he once might have been, but you are not afraid of passing him the ball in the late stages of a key game. Unlike Josh Howard, he doesn't mind the ball when it matters.
Then, the bold strike on All-Star weekend, where you accomplished so much with one move that many of us thought it was just a dream.
1) - You went and got a 2-way wing player who can defend, can score, is tough, is composed, and is ready to rumble in Caron Butler.
2) - You also grabbed a guy who may be the best big man that Dirk has ever played with in Brendan Haywood - and I am pretty comfortable saying that after only 5 games. He is active. He is vertical. He has hands. He seems to have a brain. He seems to have the stomach for the fight. I think I am in love.
3) - You subtracted a guy in Josh Howard who had to go for so many reasons. He need a fresh start, but no more than the Mavs did. His mentality merged with Erick Dampier to show the NBA that the Mavs just don't have the bottle. They were the same tired team that spit the bit in 2006, 2007, and 2008. There was no reason to believe that it was going to continue to happen. Josh, who once had so much promise, now was the poster boy for what had gone wrong.
All in one move!
So now, the Mavs may not have what it takes to move past Denver or Los Angeles - we don't know the answer to that. But, we do know that they did everything in their power to change things.
1) - They can now get points in the paint. They can take the ball to the rim, they can get easy put backs with Haywood and Marion leaping in the paint, and they have guys who can finish Jason Kidd opportunities with more than 19-footers.
2) - They can run the same 5 guys on both ends of the court without dramatic mismatch issues at crunch time - Dirk, Kidd, Butler, Haywood, and Marion/Terry make up a 5-man unit that makes sense. They can all hold their own at both ends of the court. There is nobody with a pork chop hanging around their neck waiting to be taking advantage of by the opponent.
3) - And most importantly, it looks like a team that is not enjoyable to play against. I don't think these new additions fear a street fight. I don't think they will say "excuse me" when bumping into you, and no, I don't think they will let Kenyon Martin nail Dirk and just watch quietly.
They did it. Without changing their cap future, trading Dirk, or "blowing it up", they have actually followed a plan and figured out a massive over-haul on the fly.
Will it work? I don't know, but for once, I feel like I am not watching the same episode.
And that is all anyone can ask.