Pounding Money: LJ and JRW talk Spurs @ Mavs

Before the first meeting between the Spurs and Mavericks this year, I did a podcast with LJRotter (the head honcho over at Mavs Moneyball) and we engaged in a small amount of trash talk. In preparation for tonight's game, we decided to do an email exchange (like I did earlier this week with a rational and sane Laker fan) and see how that went. Beyond the jump you'll find a bit more MVP talk, some analysis of minutes played, and a look at who in Dallas can score besides Dirk. But first, the keen insight and respected analysis of leading TV personality, Dirk Nowitzki, during Dallas' game against Toronto on Tuesday. (Go here to join their side of the conversation. Be sure to behave.)


Well, said, Dirk, bravo.

jollyrogerwilco:

So, LJ, the Mavericks are playing some really fine basketball and there are a ton of things to touch on with them having such a terrific year, but a lot of that gets eclipsed with him being out due to injury. I just read that one of the things that could bolster the MVP argument for Dirk is the HUGE difference between the way the Mavericks play depending whether he's on the court or not. Yes, that award is largely a popularity contest, but there's no arguing with these numbers which I've blatantly lifted from here.

Mavericks This Season
With Dirk Nowitzki On/Off Court

ON

OFF

Pt diff/48 Mins

+13.3

-13.7

Pts/48 Mins

104.7

83.9

Opp Pts/48 Mins

91.4

97.6

FG pct

49.9

42.1

3-pt FG pct

38.5

29.0

A delta of TWENTY-SEVEN points per 48 minutes? That's insane. At PtR we've recently had a discussion about who the star of the Spurs is, and whether it's even an important conversation to have - turns out that for our team, it's not. After Tuesday's game with the Lakers when I look at the names of the top four Spurs scorers and see Parker (23), Blair (17), Jefferson (15) and Hill (10) - I feel silly for having even raised the star question. But if you see a 27 point swing when one guy takes a seat, then the questions aren't about whether you have a star on your team, they're about how you can you keep him healthy and whether anyone else on the team can help to stop the bleeding when he's hurt or resting. What do you think?

LJRotter

Well, JRW, there's really no argument about who the star of the team is, and with Dirk having already won the MVP award in 2006/2007, the league clearly recognizes how vital he is to the success of the Mavericks. If you take a look at the last two games, first a win in Oklahoma City and then a loss at home to the Raptors, I really think there are more things at play than just the health status of our franchise player. For one, even Coach Carlisle said that Dirk being out of the game on Tuesday was no excuse for their poor offensive showing. The Mavericks have proven in the past that they are capable of beating even quality teams when Dirk is out with injury (which, I might add, happens very rarely). The fact of the matter is, this Mavericks team is by no means a young team, and they have had a series of very hard-fought, close victories in a very short span of time. They did get a 5-day rest over the holidays and came back to beat the Thunder in a really intense, physical game. But it would appear that they fell into a classic back-to-back trap game with a sub-par team, and they came out flat against the Raptors.

The Mavericks have a really strong bench, with big names like Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, and of course Jason Terry coming in to relieve their starters. There's no reason they shouldn't be able to come in against the 10-20 Raptors and play the same game they've been playing to give them the stellar season they've had until now. In all fairness, we probably put too much pressure on Terry to come in for the fourth and have another phenomal closing period. When he didn't, we were all disappointed, and seemed to forget the fact that he was the leading scorer for the team with 18 points. To make a long story short, Dirk heals quickly, and this was by no means a devastating injury. The concern isn't so much keeping him healthy, it's keeping his supporting cast healthy and ready to step up in his absence. We were most concerned about Chandler's fragility, but he has proven to be in better shape than we could have hoped this season. Roddy Beaubois is still nursing his foot, but I think the team is being overly cautious so as to avoid reinjury. We've been winning without him, so the team will only improve once he returns.

As the new year rolls around, it's clear that the Spurs are having an unbelievable start to the season. Dirk said it himself- no matter how many games the Mavericks win, they can't seem to pull any closer to the Spurs' record. Do you think they will be able to keep up this breakneck pace? At what point do you think they will need to start preserving themselves for the (inevitable) playoffs?

jrw

I'll get to your question about preserving the team, in a moment. But first, I wasn't just referring to the back-to-back in reference to Dirk's plus/minus numbers. Those stats were season long ones. The Mavs take a 27 point hit every time Dirk takes a seat. OK, that's a per 48 minutes stat, but on a night he plays 36 minutes, that's almost a 7 point swing he has to make up. Dirk makes you guys that much better and it's quite an accomplishment. (Notice how I'm not saying that the rest of your team stinks?) Now let's get into the issue of maintaining the pace versus preserving the players.

First, who is it that most needs to be preserved? Really, we have to be talking about the Big Three here because no one else is really playing enough minutes to worry about. I mean, sure Hill's playing over his career average, but he's just 24 years old. The dude should be taking on a heavier load. Bonner is 30 and he's over his average too, but year before last he played this much, and there are those who expect the finally healthy Splitter to eat into the Red Rocket's burn time as the season wears on. And that's it for guys who are playing more than they're accustomed to. Yes, even RJ's minutes have gone down.

Which brings us to the bigger names -- but since Parker and Duncan are both playing below their career averages (and Tim is down to 28.9 from 36.2, whew!) then I guess I should say bigger name, as in Manu Ginobili, or the-33-year-old-who's-playing-like-he's-fully-healthy-for-the-first-time-since-game-one-of-the-2008-playoffs. He's currently at 31.8, which is 3.8 minutes more than his career number. But he's not exactly burning the candle at both ends when you consider the best players on the West's other contenders. Pau Gasol is averaging 38.2 and I'm sure you know that even though Dirk is at 35.4 (down 1.2 mpg vs his career avg) when the Mavs are in close games, Dirk hardly comes off the floor. He has played 39 minutes or more in 9 games already this year. The same just isn't true for Manu, who only has one such game.

So I come to my conclusion that the Spurs have reached their current record without really leaning too heavily on any player, or group of players -- and the corollary that even when Duncan and Ginobili have horrible offensive games (as they did against LA, Manu's due to a cold), the Spurs are still capable of playing at an exceptionally high level, even against the better teams in the West. And that's something that I just don't believe can be said yet about Dirk and the Mavs.

Now, since you guys are playing such good defense this year, why don't you put me in my place by showing me that Dirk isn't the only one who can score?

LJ

Do I come across as the kind of gal who needs to put people in their place? (Don't answer that.) And in regards to the Big German, I can't argue because without him we're doomed, I tell you. DOOMED.

/clears throat

As I was saying, this season has been a little different than previous seasons, and I think a lot of that has to do with two main goals the Mavericks set forth for themselves this summer. First and foremost, win Dirk a championship. All of the trades and acquisitions have been made with this in mind, and many close to and even within the organization have surmised that this group may be the closest thing they've had to a championship-caliber team. The second goal relates to the first, and that is to find a Robin for our Dark Knight. There are a couple of players on the team who seem poised to take over that role, but for some reason haven't been able to fulfill it entirely yet.

Let's start with straw-chewing forward Caron Butler. He was a central piece of that Wizards trade last year, mainly because he's a scorer and it was thought that he'd be able to slide right in and play along side or even for Dirk to supplement the offense. Between 2007 and 2009, the guy was averaging around 20 ppg, playing nearly 40 minutes. Since coming to Dallas, those numbers have both dropped considerably. Last season his mpg dropped to just over 34, and his scoring hit its second lowest point ever at 15.2. This season his numbers have fallen even more, to just 30 mpg and 14.9 ppg. So I guess he's not the sidekick we were hoping for.

So what about Jason Terry? I know you guys just love him, and we at MMB have a love/hate relationship. When he's on, he's the JET. When he's not-so-on, he's the cropduster, jacking up shots and turning the ball over at will. But you can't deny the 6th man is a scoring threat off the bench, and he's shooting above his career average percentage this season, which can only mean he's taking smarter shots. His minutes are down, however, with just 32 minutes of burn per game. He's still good for about 16 ppg, so he's reliable in that regard, but he can't match Dirk's offensive output.

Who else? Shawn Marion came to the team and became a threat off the bench, but we like to use him defensively. His scoring is just a bonus. Jason Kidd has never been a scorer, and his freakish percentage from three has dropped from last season to a more modest 34%. The good news is that he's playing a whole lot less per game, so maybe we'll have the guy around in the playoffs. Maybe. Oh, and what about our monstrous center duo? The beastly Tyson Chandler and the angry Brendan Haywood? Well Chandler is getting some good burn time, and he's scoring almost 9 ppg, which is, eh, and his buddy Haywood is putting up an abysmal 4 points in the 18 or so minutes he plays. So there's that.

I guess the short answer is, Dirk is all alone out there, and we've managed to win because he's the überman and he puts the whole team on his shoulders game after game. The hope is, by spreading out minutes and making sure no one is too fatigued, the team can spread the scoring out just as evenly and Dirk will still have to score a ton, but everyone else will pitch in. Fingers crossed that Beaubois comes in and goes off, scoring 20+ points and breaking ankles left and right.

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