Sunday, April 27, 2008

Blame J-Ho

I don’t have a lot to say here, except that (1) thank goodness at least Dirk is playing well, and (2) Dallas isn’t going to win a playoff series when both Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse have 4 straight awful scoring games.

Howard's lines:
  • Game 1: 4/16
  • Game 2: 3/10
  • Game 3: 5/16
  • Game 4: 3/16
Overall, that’s 15/58, or 25.9% field goal shooting for the series. Howard has also made a good number of free throws, so he’s managed 12.8 points per game, along with 6.5 rebounds.

Stackhouse’s lines:
  • Game 1: 2/9
  • Game 2: 4/10
  • Game 3: 0/2
  • Game 4: 1/5
Overall, that’s 7/26, or 26.9% field goal shooting for the series. He’s averaged 5 points and 3 rebounds.

Jason Terry’s numbers are somewhat better:
  • Game 1: 3/7
  • Game 2: 5/8
  • Game 3: 8/18
  • Game 4: 6/16
Terry’s totals have been 16.5 points on 44.9% shooting, which is pretty close to his season average. His play was impressive for most of tonight.

So here’s the problem: assuming we give Kidd at least a little bit of credit for his 7 rebounds and 6.3 assists (lame for him, but still obviously a valuable contribution), that means that Brandon Bass has been Dallas’ fourth best player this series, after Dirk and Terry, and Kidd. That’s a bad sign for the team, since ideally, Bass should never be better than the fourth best player on the court for the Mavericks at any give time.

I’m actually starting to feel sympathy for Avery Johnson. It should be outrageous to have Devean George (a stiff, in my book) taking 7 shots in a playoff game, except that the Mavericks really don’t have anyone else passable to bring off the bench. In the second quarter, Dallas was running Barea, Stackhouse, George, and Bass alongside Dirk. Nowitzki is a great offensive player, but he’s simply not dominant enough to score a bunch of points when there are four stiffs on the court with him (with apologies to Bass), which means the Hornets don’t have to guard anyone else.

As far as I can tell, for the Mavericks to succeed, they need two solid scorers on the floor at any point in the game. If Howard were scoring like he’s supposed to, Johnson could save Terry for the sixth man, to come in alongside Stackhouse for the second unit. But with Howard playing badly, Dallas needs Terry for the first unit; then with Stackhouse playing badly, Dallas is left without any dependable scorers in the second unit. The result is what we saw tonight: a strong start, followed by a huge drop-off when the bench comes into play.

All this adds up to how the Hornets could win even when Chris Paul didn’t have a great game: tonight, Dallas shot 36% overall, and 3 of their top 5 scorers didn’t show up. That’s essentially been the case for the series so far, so it’s little surprise the Hornets are up 3-1. In theory, the series could still turn around if the Mavericks played according to their talent. Unfortunately, there’s no real reason to think that they will.

11 comments:

jeremy said...

Of course, everything that has happened in this series was completely foreseeable. It's been clear for 22 months that the Mavs are finished as a championship contender.

This is what happens when you build your team around a guy who can't a hit a shot unless he's in rhythm and who can't stop anybody on the other end.

scoots said...

This suggests to me that you just haven't been watching this playoff series. Dirk has been *by far* the most consistent scorer in the series (a lot more consistent than Chris Paul or David West), and has hit plenty of big shots. He's also been an excellent defender, believe it or not, and he's been a beast fighting for rebounds.

None of these games has come down to the last minute, and those are the only situations where Dirk is weak.

I think the Mavericks should have a reasonable expectation that Howard, a 20-point, 7-rebound guy, would show up for this series. If he had played well in either game 1, or game 4, the Mavericks might be tied 2-2.

All that to say, I do think it's likely that the Hornets are simply the better team. But what happened on the court last night was a stagnant Mavericks offense more than anything else, and a *lot* of it was Howard throwing up bad shots, and missing shots that he should hit.

Also, coming back to Avery Johnson, I'm convinced by dallasbasketball.com's "absolut truth" article yesterday that Avery takes a lot of the blame for shifting in a second unit that couldn't play yesterday. Nowitzki, Howard, and Terry should all be able to play 40 minutes in a playoff game, which means that at least two of them should be on the court at all times. Frankly, if you add Kidd to that list, at least *three* of them should be on the court at all times (that leaves 12 minutes rest for each one).

To have Devean George, JJ Barea, and Jerry Stackhouse on the court at the same time was just absurd, especially when that made Brandon Bass the second option after Dirk. The Mavericks lost a lot of ground on the scoreboard when that unit was on the court.

jeremy said...

Dirk has been great in this series. He has always been great in the first round (with one ignominious exception). I have no argument with that.

What I'm saying is that any analysis of this team that focuses on Howard, Stackhouse, or Terry misses the point that the Mavs are built around a flawed superstar. That became clear against the Heat and was punctuated by the Golden State series, which, amazingly, everyone seems to forget.

Unless the Mavs bring in a player who can take over in crunch time and put a hurtin' on the opponent's best player, they are not going to win a championship. Simple as that.

micah said...

I ready to give up on Avery. That decision to have that collection of guys with Barea in the game was a stupid one. If you remember, he did something similar in game three at the same point in the game but the Mavs were able to weather the storm.

I thought he made some terrible play calls last night as well. It seemed like he was trying to get Stack going at some points. The playoffs are not a time to try and get someone going. If they are not making shots then give the ball to someone else. He did the same thing for Howard when it was apparent he was having trouble hitting the rim.

I was at the game last night and kept thinking "if we lose this game I want it to be because Dirk is missing the shots, but it seemed like there were too many possessions in the second half where Dirk didn't even touch the ball.

Avery has some good qualities and might one day be a great coach one day, but we need someone who isn't working on a learning curve while Dirk is in his prime. Avery just makes too many mistakes.

scoots said...

@Jeremy:

I don't think your comment makes any sense at all. For one thing, we're talking about the first round, so it doesn't matter if Dirk supposedly "always" chokes in later rounds. In this round, he's playing very well -- probably even better than Chris Paul (Dirk is averaging 28 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.3 blocks; Paul is averagin 24.8 points, 11.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 2 steals), and certainly more consistently than Paul.

In direct contradiction to your statement about Dirk fading in later rounds of the playoffs, Dirk’s only two *bad* playoff series were both in the first round--against Houston 3 years ago, and against GS last year.

Dirk’s best playoff round was actually probably the Western Conference Finals against Phoenix a couple of years ago, when he averaged 28 point and 13 rebounds on 46% shooting. In game 5, Dirk saved the series for Dallas by getting 29 points and 8 rebounds in the last 16 minutes of the game, turning a 7-point deficit into a blowout win.

As for the Miami series, I’ll remind you (again) that that Dirk only had 2 bad games -- one of which the Mavericks won, and the other of which they lost. In the other 4 games, Dirk averaged 26.3 points (on 45.5% FG) and 11.5 rebounds. Also, in game 5, Dirk had a nice assist to Dampier for a dunk to take a lead with 10 seconds left in regulation, and then with 9 seconds left in overtime he hit a huge jumper to take a 1-point lead. Wade answered both times, which is why the Heat won. That means Wade was better, but it doesn’t mean that Dirk didn’t do what he was supposed to do.

As for crunch time, when the Spurs come down to the end of the game, everyone knows they give the ball to Manu Ginobili rather than Tim Duncan -- both because Ginobili is a great finisher at the ends of game, and because Duncan is a lousy free throw shooter. When the Shaq/Kobe Lakers came down to the ends of the games, the ball went to Kobe, both because he was a great finisher and because Shaq was a lousy free throw shooter. Those two teams have 6 championships between them, and I don't think anyone is saying that Shaq and Duncan are fundamentally flawed just because they don't always take the big shot.

One player cannot win a championship by himself: Duncan needs Parker and Ginobili, Shaq needed Kobe, and I daresay Jordan even needed Pippen (who also happened to make the NBA 50-greatest-players list a few years back). Bird may have been the best ever at the ends of games, but he also had Kevin McHale and Robert Parish on the team, and Magic had James Worthy and Kareen Abdul-Jabbar. Hakeem Olajuwon had Clyde Drexler.

Even Karl Malone, who was never quite good enough, surely wouldn't have gotten as far as he did without John Stockton.

ALL of these guys for the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Rockets, and Jazz are hall-of-famers, and all of them made the NBA's greatest-50-players list a few years back.

I'm not sure who exactly you think Dirk is supposed to be, but I don't see anything in the last 30 years of the NBA to lead me to think that any player can win a title if the other good players on his team don't show up.

jeremy said...

There is a key difference between Dirk and the others you mention. Shaq, Duncan, Jordan, Magic, and Bird were leaders. Dirk is not.

Another difference is that, with the exception of Duncan, they all could be mean as hell.

You can manipulate the numbers to prove anything you like. But it's the intangibles that separate the losers from the champions.

scoots said...

It is most certainly *not* the intangibles that separate the losers from the champions. In the case of all the examples I gave (which account for 21 of the last 28 championships), it was having at least *two* great players on the team that pretty obviously made the difference. Dirk has never had that.

scoots said...

In response to my lengthy response to Jeremy above, I should say that I just read this from Bill Simmons on espn.com:

"The Chris Rock Award for "Most Glaring Negative In An Otherwise Tremendous Résumé"

You know how Chris Rock's movies are jaw-droppingly bad, to the point it's inconceivable that the same guy who gave us an influential HBO show and two Hall of Fame stand-up specials could make so many crappy movies, and this has to be mentioned any time he's evaluated against other comics? I feel the same way about Shaq's free-throw shooting. It's the turd in the punch bowl of his career. Not only will he go down as one of the worst playoff free-throw shooters ever, but let the record show teams proactively fouled him as a tactical advantage and it worked to the point that he was removed from dozens of playoff games, sometimes even in the last two minutes. As powerful and unstoppable as he was in his prime, I just don't see how anyone could rank him above Moses, Hakeem or Kareem because of one seemingly minor flaw that really wasn't that minor."

Justin Burton said...

Not to be too surly, but I derive a tremendous amount of joy from watching Devean George run around in a jersey that doesn't say 'Lakers' across the front and realizing that he's not my problem anymore. He's never encountered a shot he didn't like, a defender he didn't think he could take, or a game he didn't think he could dominate.

He always played for us as if he'd never even heard of Kobe Bryant, much less realized that he could pass (huh?) the ball to him.

scoots said...

Thanks for the comment, Justin. So uh, congratulations on seeing the second round for the first time since Shaq left.

Justin Burton said...

Yeah, I gotta say, I like the new strategy of not losing to the Suns in the first round. It seemed like a radical idea, but I think it's working out okay.

If anything supports your idea of needing supporting players (besides the whole of NBA history, of course), it's Kobe, the most dominant player in the league for the last three years, being completely unable to get the team anywhere until he finally got some team help with an assist from Chris Wallace.

I am still with you that the Mavs aren't finished, that, if they play up to their talent, they could still handle the Hornets. I'm thinking the series might still see seven games.