If you have heard the show at all after Mavericks playoff games going back to the Michael Finley-Don Nelson era, you certainly have heard me say, "The Mavs cannot win by trading 22-footers for 2-footers." What that means to me is simply this: The Dirk Mavs seem to design offenses that free Dirk and his mates up for open perimeter looks. This has served them well many nights in the last decade, but as is the case with any perimeter-based offense, there are just nights where you cannot "throw it in the ocean".
On the other end of the court - perhaps, again partly because you have a 7-foot power forward named Dirk - the Mavericks are usually not able to force playoff opponents to settle for jump shots in the 4th Quarter. Too many times, whether it was Mike Bibby, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Baron Davis, Manu Ginobili or someone else, the penetration into the paint doomed the Mavs when the game turned into a half court match of wits.
These playoff games often come down to a contest of execution in the half-court game. On offense, The Mavericks' best chance was the high pick and roll of Nash/Dirk or Terry/Dirk. On Defense, the inability to force contested jump shots, put the pressure on the offense to never lose serve. To make matters worse, the offense would not draw many fouls. The defense would be under constant stress as slashers ate the Mavs for lunch.
And that is how you lose 16 of 18 road playoff games. Simplistic explanation, but sometimes simple is all you need to explain basketball. You have one of the truly special players of this generation, and yet nobody has been able to figure out how to win in the playoffs with Dirk as your centerpiece.
And that leads me to this project. First, understand that although this project has been in my head for several years, this is the first time I have actually sat down and tried to figure it all out on paper. There are some flaws in the logic that I need to sort through (perhaps with your help). Second, my idea seems so simple that there is a good chance someone else has already thought of it. I don't want you to think that I believe I am the first person to ever think of this, because there are so many smart people following this game that surely this has been out there before. I just haven't seen it anywhere, and that is why I want to see what you think.
My idea is this: Rather than making the claim that the Mavericks "settle" for perimeter shots consistently and claim that the opponent does not, maybe there is a way to actually prove it. I can never measure defensive intensity. I cannot measure desire. I cannot measure the harshness of officiating. BUT, I can measure how far the Mavs and their opponents are from the basket when they shoot the basketball.
The NBA keeps a full play-by-play of every game in which they list the rough estimate of the distance from the basket for every shot attempted in each game. What if I merely tabulated all of the shots and found the average distance for that night's shots? It sounds so simple, and yet it would seem to reveal whether a team was "settling" or "taking it to the hoop".
So, I did. WIth tons of tabulation help from TC, below are the findings of the entire series between San Antonio and Dallas; Until we figure out a real catchy name for this simple metric, let's call it "Average Distance per Shot", or, "ADS".
|Mavs ADS||Game||Spurs ADS|
Now, you may look at that chart and aside from a few observations the numbers might all seem very close. A few things like, Wow, according to the Spurs ADS in Games 3 and 6, in particular, they were getting a ton of shots from a very close range. However, I am not happy with the findings, because in Game 5, the Mavericks had their worst ADS of the series (15.0), but I think most of us feel that was the game where they took the ball to the basket the best. So why is their ADS so bad? Because late in the game when it was decided, the bench players started launching 23 footers to kill the average.
But, when I broke it down by Quarter, you will see that in the 1st Half, the Mavericks dominated the ADS stat on both ends of the court. They were shooting from close range more often, and forcing the Spurs further away from the basket, on the way to a 53-46 halftime lead. Then, up 82-64 entering the 4th, the game was basically garbage time for the rest of the contest. Look below at Game 5 by Quarter:
|Mavs ADS||Game 5||Spurs ADS|
I think we are starting to see that a full game does not tell us a whole lot of information, but, when you start to break it down by Quarter, we see where the trends in the game were shown on the scoreboard.
Remember Game 3 in San Antonio? The game made famous by Manu's broken nose, JJ Barea's 32 minute stint, Danny Crawford's record continuing in Mavs games, and the Mavs fade in the 4th tells us plenty:
|Mavs ADS||Game 3||Spurs ADS|
This game showed us that it wasn't just the Mavs offense. Actually, the offense is about as good as get it gets for the Mavs with an average shot distance of 13.0 for a full game is the best they did in this series. But, it was the defense in this game (and if you saw this game, you will remember that Manu and Parker got in the paint over and over and over again) driving the Spurs' ADS down into single digits! For the game, the Spurs ADS was barely above 10 feet (10.3) which is the lowest number of the entire series.
Look at each quarter of Game 3; In every Quarter but the 1st, the Spurs are standing a full 4 feet closer on EVERY shot! This is the fundamental problem that the Mavs are trying to fight every year at playoff time. When teams are "quality opponents", they generally have the ability to play their most vicious defense at key moments. If one team can make another team stand 4 feet further on every single shot, over the course of 50 shots, that will be next to impossible to overcome, it seems.
Now, look at Game 6:
|Mavs ADS||Game 6||Spurs ADS|
In the elimination game, with both teams knowing how well the Mavericks opened Game 5 by attacking the rim and owning the paint, the Spurs decided to take it back in Game 6. Every single Quarter, the Mavs were forced much further away from the basket than the Spurs. 3 feet on average. When the Mavs took the ball to the basket some, the Spurs did more. And as the game continued, the Mavs creeped back because they hit some long shots, but no team can sustain it. You can get hot, but you can never stay hot. If you can stay hot for a game, you cannot sustain it for a series. Trading long shots for short shots is the formula for disaster.
Again, the average distance of every shot a player or a team takes seems like a rather easy way to determine how aggresive the team is attempting to be. There are surely flaws in it. Here are a few:
* If the sample is too big, it will not recognize the intensity drop of "garbage time". Not every position is against the same intensity. A possession in a tie game with 30 seconds to play versus a possession against a 25 point lead cannot be compared.
* Shots that result in fouls are not included as "Field Goals Attempted". Obviously, if a player is fouled trying to dunk, he gets rewarded with 2 free throws, but would not have any bearing on his "ADS". This is a problem.
* Desperation heaves from 75-feet would really throw off the sample. Therefore, I do not include desperation heaves in the statistics. I could not think of any other solution to that.
But, beyond that, I feel like this is so basic and yet so telling. It tells us that every team shoots from the perimeter, but some teams shoot much more from the perimeter. It tells us a team like the Spurs - due to penetration and the presence of a post scorer - shoot from very close to the basket quite often. And, of course, it tells us that the Mavs are trying to win a game in which they rely on 20-footers falling in crucial moments. In all of these games, as the game got later (And intensity is turned up) the Mavs had to keep backing up to get shots. Always a bad trend because sometimes those shots fall, sometimes, they get eliminated before May 1st.
Like I said, someone may already keep this stat. Or, maybe it is so simple it has no practical application to NBA minds. But, it would seem to me that if you take 10 footers instead of 20, you have a better chance of making them. Note: Of course, a wide open 20 footer is easier than a contested 10 footer, but over the course of a sample, I believe this evens out quite a bit. Uncontested lay-ups are way easier than uncontested 3's. Contested dunks are easier than contested 3's, and so on.
If the Mavs are more aggressive, their ADS drops from 15.0 to 12.0. When they get more passive it raises from 12.5 to 17.0. And we can see that when we watch the game. We also know that Jason Kidd is nothing but a perimeter shooter anymore. We see it, but now we know that his ADS in Game 6 was "23.0", but Roddy Beaubois in Game 6 had a shockingly low "10.3". Yes, Roddy took a few 3's, but he also took quite a few "1-footers" to show he was aggressively taking it to the rim.
In a future post, I want to look at every player on the roster from an "ADS" standpoint, as well as stars in the league like Kobe Bryant and Lebron James to see what all of this means.
But, for now, let me know what you think.