** This ended up playing a huge role in my life. Believe it or not, running an independent blog about basketball isn't all that lucrative. This was eating money for me. Also, check ball! I don't always get these types of things right, but damn I defy you to find anyone else who was saying this in February of 2011.
The Dallas Mavericks are getting 16:1 odds to win the NBA title. They might not win a championship, but that number will be getting significantly lower as we get closer to April.
Moving towards the trade deadline, the Mavericks were a few pieces away from being serious threats to win an NBA championship: they needed someone who could create his own shot off the dribble from the perimeter, and they needed a quick guard to match up with the new breed of lighting fast points.
Adding Peja Stojakovic and upping Shawn Marion’s minutes at the small forward position has more than filled the “vacancy” created by Caron Butler’s injury.
Rodrigue Beaubois, a second year 6’2 180 guard out of Guadalupe, returned from a season-long foot injury against the Kings last night. He can fill both roles; he’s exactly the piece Dallas needed.
Offensively, everything still revolves around Dirk Nowitzki. In his 13th NBA season, he’s finally figured it out: I am taller than almost everyone who guards me. I have a fundamentally perfect jump-shot which I release over my head. I can pretty much get an uncontested jumper whenever I feel like it, and I hardly ever miss uncontested jumpers!
Of the top 20 scorers in the NBA, only four players shoot over 50% from the field — Dirk, Blake Griffin, Amare and Dwight Howard. The other three players, the three most explosive dunkers in the NBA, do most of their damage near the rim: 69% of Howard’s shots are within 5-feet of the basket, with Griffin at 47% and Amare at 35%. Dirk is only at 12%!
It’s absolutely preposterous that a player who shoots jump-shots 88% of their time has a field-goal percentage of 52%. It’s something the game of basketball has never really seen before.
The Mavs surround Dirk, one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA, with a bevy of extremely skilled veterans. Jason Kidd (35% from beyond the arc), Jason Terry (34%), Peja Stojakovic (a career 40% 3-point shooter), DeShawn Stevenson (41%), JJ Barea (33%) and Beaubois (41% from beyond the arc last year) can all spread the floor. And Shawn Marion, at the age of 32, has transformed himself into an extremely efficient half-court scorer, with a dizzying array of one-handed floaters reminiscent of Antawn Jamison, averaging 11.5 points a game on 50% shooting.
Here’s a good way to think about how potent the Mavericks are offensively: they play two athletic seven-footers at center, and surround them with a combined 27 All-Star appearances and a former Sixth Man of the Year on the perimeter.
When Beaubois and Dirk are on the floor, Terry, Kidd and Stojakovic can spot up along the three-point line and wait for open looks. Jason Kidd was 6-7 from three against the Kings; expect more such shooting nights to occurs in the future.
What’s most impressive about the Mavericks offensively is how crisply the ball moves around the perimeter and how little wasted motion there is — they are a team of hungry and smart veterans who know exactly what they are doing.
This is Kidd’s 17th year in the NBA, Dirk and Peja’s 13th, Terry and Marion’s 12th, Stevenson’s 11th and Chandler’s 10th. You don’t last ten years in the NBA, the highest level of basketball in the world, unless you really understand how to play the game.
But Dallas has always been an offensive juggernaut, what’s different about this team is their defense. It all starts up-front, with Tyson Chandler (7’1 235) and Brendan Haywood (7’0 263) patrolling the middle. Chandler, who has the ability to guard back-to-the-basket bigs like Dwight Howard and face-up forwards like Amare, has been a revelation. He should be the second-team center, behind only Howard, on the All-Defensive team this season.
The Mavericks would have won championships in 2003 (when they lost to the Spurs in the WCF), 2006 (the Finals team) and 2007 (the 67-15 team that lost to the Warriors in the first round) with Chandler on their roster.
They are an extremely versatile defensive team. Haywood can guard centers, Chandler can guard 4/5 big men, Marion can guard 3/4 swing forwards, Stevenson and Kidd can guard 2/3 scorers and Beaubois can guard point guards.
Their 39-16 record and +3.3 point differential is a little deceiving; Dirk missed nine games with a Cheddar Bob-looking knee injury earlier in the season. The Mavs went 2-7 without him.
Against the elite of the NBA — the Lakers, Spurs, Celtics, Heat and Magic — Dallas is 7-3. And all three of those losses have come without Dirk.
They’ve already swept Boston and Miami, and have three games left against San Antonio and LA.
The Spurs, with a commanding seven-game lead on Dallas, pretty much have the #1 seed locked up. So Dallas would face LA in the second round in a series that might determine the championship.
There’s only one team Dallas doesn’t really want to see in the first-round: the Denver Nuggets. Dallas’ biggest weakness is defending super-athletic perimeter players who can get to the rim; Denver has four — Melo, Ty Lawson, Aaron Afflalo and JR Smith. There’s no team that would breathe a bigger sigh of relief if Melo heads East than the Mavericks.
The Lakers are the biggest obstacle in Dallas’ path. Lamar Odom, a long-armed and quick-footed 6’10 230 forward, is the best defensive match-up for Dirk in the NBA. He might be the only player in the league who can consistently contest Dirk’s shot — in two games at Staples Center last year, Dirk shot 5-14 and 7-18 and he went 5-15 in the Mavericks’ victory over LA this season.
This is where Beaubois becomes crucial: he’s the only other Maverick besides Dirk who can consistently create his own shot. And he’s exactly the type of lightning fast point guard LA has traditionally struggled with; against the Thunder (Russell Westbrook) and the Celtics (Rajon Rondo) in last year’s playoffs, the Lakers had to cross-switch Derek Fisher with Kobe on defense.
But Kobe, like the rest of the Lakers, isn’t operating at 100%. How could he? LA, in making the last three NBA Finals, has been in 67 playoff games the last three years. They’ve effectively crammed four seasons into three years, which doesn’t even count international play for Kobe, Odom and Pau. There’s a reason only one team — Bird’s Celtics — has been to four consecutive NBA Finals in the last forty years.
And if the Mavericks can get by LA, their road to a title gets a lot easier. Since Tim Duncan can’t guard Dirk on the perimeter, the Mavericks have always presented match-up problems for the Spurs — Dallas is the only team besides the Lakers to beat a prime Tim Duncan in the playoffs.
The Mavericks can put Chandler on Tim Duncan, while the Spurs have not had an answer for perimeter-oriented big men like Dirk since Robert Horry’s retirement. DeJuan Blair is 6’7, Antonio McDyess is 36 and Matt Bonner is … Matt Bonner.
Four teams look capable of making the NBA Finals out East — Chicago, Boston, Miami and Orlando.
With Chandler and Haywood, the Mavericks won’t need to double Dwight Howard, which has been Orlando’s undoing in their recent playoff losses. Boston depends on out-executing their opponents on offense and out-muscling them defensively; they won’t be able to do either against Dallas. And at this point in their careers, Kevin Garnett no longer has the foot-speed to keep up with Dirk.
Miami has two holes defensively — they can’t guard low-post scorers (Dirk) or lightning-fast point guards (Beaubois). And Dallas has the size and athleticism up front to prevent LeBron and Wade from taking over the paint.
The Mavericks’ toughest match-up would actually be the Chicago Bulls, the dark-horse team in the East. Dallas lost two nail-biters to Chicago this season; the Bulls have two long-armed 6’10+ defenders in Noah and Taj Gibson to throw at Dirk, and Dallas, like the rest of the NBA, has no answer for Derrick Rose defensively.
But Dallas could count on Tyson Chandler to shut down Carlos Boozer, as Boozer, at 6’9, has traditionally struggled against long, athletic defenders in the playoffs. This would put a tremendous offensive burden on Rose, since Chicago doesn’t have any other shot-creators on their roster.
With an aging roster vulnerable to injury and a possible gauntlet of Denver/LA/San Antonio/Chicago to overcome, the Mavericks shouldn’t be the favorites to win the title. But at 16-1? I like those odds.