Thursday, April 10, 2008

In Rhythm

We’re seeing a trend here:
  • Against the Lakers on March 2, with the Mavericks trailing by 3 in regulation, Kidd sets up Dirk for a nice 3-pointer, which he hits with two seconds left to send the game into overtime.
  • Last week against Phoenix, with the Mavericks up 4 late in the game, Kidd gets the ball to Dirk off a pick at the top of the key. Amare Stoudemire is forced to close out on Dirk, who quickly makes a nice head-fake and then drives past Stoudemire, then hits an off-balance fade-away off his bad leg with 32 seconds left to basically seal the win. (If you haven’t seen the play, it’s at the 1:40 mark of this video.)
  • Last night against Utah, because Dallas is out of timeouts after Deron Williams ties the game with 5 seconds left, the Mavericks inbound the ball and push it up the court quickly. Eddie Jones finds Dirk for an open 3-pointer, which he sinks with less than a second left to win the game.
One point here is that it’s nice to see Dirk hitting big shots, even if one of them (the one against the Lakers) didn’t result in a win. But the more important thing (as I argue here and here) is that he hit all three of these shots in the rhythm of the game and off of good passes, not in isolation sets. I’m not sure if Dirk just psychs himself out when he has too much time to think about a shot, or (more likely) defenses just know how to guard him when he gives them plenty of time to get set, but these plays that are less planned just seem to work more often.

In my last post, I criticized Avery Johnson for pulling Dirk with two early fouls in the Phoenix game, even when Avery admitted during an on-court interview a few minutes later that Dirk is good at avoiding fouls, and that he wasn’t really worried about him fouling out of the game. The needlessness of the automatic benching after the second foul is something Mike Fisher at has harped on for a long time, and that some of the TV commentators have mentioned occasionally as well.

What bugs me is that Avery follows basketball orthodoxy even when he admits it doesn’t fit the situation, and this is exactly what happens late in games when the Mavericks call the standard timeout to set up a careful half-court set to go for the game-winner. Considering how seldom those work for the Mavericks in particular, surely they would be better off just getting the ball into Kidd’s hands and pushing it up the court in late-game situations, trying to catch the defense off-balance and find one of their outstanding shooters (Dirk, Terry, Stackhouse) with an open shot in rhythm. Other teams do this (especially in the NCAA, if I remember correctly), and it appears to be the Mavericks’ best shot at actually winning those game.

Last night’s game was a huge relief, both to get the team into the playoffs and to see Dirk hit a big shot when it really mattered. We’ve seen he can make those in the playoffs too, but it’s up to the coach and the team to put him in situations where he’s best. I have to admit I still have some hope for this season.


JKnott said...

The good thing about this season is that there's no 67-win historic regular season, and first-place seeding, to build up expectations. I can watch the playoffs knowing that no matter what happens, they can't possibly do as badly, in comparison to their regular season, as they did last year. Any success will be against a much better team record- and seeding-wise. It reminds me of those halcyon days of yore when the Mavs were underdogs. Wasn't that fun?

scoots said...

Yeah, I was still in college when they beat Utah during Dirk’s first playoffs. Looking back, in their 7 consecutive playoffs, the Mavericks have lost in the first round only twice. The breakdown:

Lost round 1: 2 times
Lost round 2: 3 times
Lost round 3: 1 time
Lost round 4: 1 time

They’ve lost to the Spurs twice, the Kings twice, and the Suns, Heat, and Warriors once each.

That’s an 8–7 series record, which is guess is so-so, though I don’t have time to compare it with what other teams have done in recent years. I should say, though, that they beat the Kings without Webber and the Suns without Stoudemire.

Anyway, Jason, I’m with you -- looking forward to the wide-open playoffs this year. If the Mavericks play the Lakes (as the standings are aligned now), it will certainly be another gut-check for Dirk, going against Kobe. That series should be a blast.

Jeremy said...

Your analysis is dead on when it comes to the regular season. Unfortunately, freewheeling, in-rhythm basketball ends in late May.

As for the underdog theory of the Mavericks, well, there are two kinds of underdogs. The early oughts Mavs were underdogs, but they were on the way up. There was a sense that they would eventually get to the top, and the only question was when.

These Mavs are underdogs, but they are on the way down. We have seen what they can do, and it gives little reason for hope.

In any case, underdogs don't fare well in the NBA. Unlike the single-elimination tournaments of the NFL and NCAA, the NBA playoffs have a way of rewarding the best teams. And the best teams in the West are LA, New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Utah.

Jeremy said...

This is off-topic (or on, given that much of this blog is an apologia for Dirk), but Simmons has some fun remarks today about the greatest MVP races ever. Among other things, they highlight the pedestrian nature of Dirk's numbers (25-9-3) the year he won MVP.

Regarding my comparison of Dirk to Karl Malone, I owe the Mailman an apology. Dirk's career numbers (22-9-3-47% FG) are not even close to Malone's (25-10-4-52% FG). Maybe Dirk is not a HOFer after all.

Anonymous said...

I just saw a stat that Dirk has made only 5 of 24 potential game-tyong or go-ahead field goals with less than five seconds left in regulation or overtime in his career. It would interesting to know how many of those were isolation and how many were in rythym as you point out.

scoots said...

Yeah, well I guess two of them are this year: the one against LA and the one against Utah. Then a third was against Phoenix in December of last season, where Dirk hit a 19-footer at the buzzer to win. So that makes two in rhythm and one isolation.

I can’t remember the others. His layup against San Antonio in the playoffs was with a lot more than 5 seconds left, and his go-ahead jumper against Miami in the finals was with 9 seconds left. In April 2006 he hit a 3-pointer to send a playoff game into overtime against Memphis, but that was with 15 seconds left. (Perhaps not coincidentally, all 3 of those shots were in the same playoffs.)

Can anyone think of the other two? They have to have been last season or the year before, because ESPN posted a stat last season that Dirk had missed the first 13 of those shots (5 seconds, tie or go ahead), and that he had made 3 in a row, the third one being the shot against Phoenix in December 2006.

Maybe Dirk had a put-back off of an offensive rebound at some point?

Jeremy said...

Neal Pollack is always entertaining.