Mavs Midseason Moments
This video makes us feel all types of ways. Check out which plays made our midseason moments as we get ready for the second half of the season!
The morning of opening night, I wrote about five key stats to keep an eye on this season. They were five numbers I thought could determine the Mavs’ level of success in 2016-17, but also would tell the story of the season overall.
I understand Oct. 26 was a long time ago. That was before Yogimania, before Dirk Nowitzki missed almost two months, before the presidential election, and before the Cubs won the World Series. In case you don’t remember any of them, here’s the link to the full article.
This isn’t exactly the midway point of the season (we’re already two-thirds of the way through, if you can believe it) but it’s a good time to stop and reflect on what we have witnessed so far. Dallas has essentially played two seasons so far — one without Dirk and one with Dirk — and not surprisingly the Mavericks experienced two unique levels of success in those circumstances, beginning 4-17 before rebounding with an 18-17 showing through the next 35 games. Since Nowitzki’s return on Dec. 23, Dallas is 14-13.
He hasn’t been the only Maverick injured, of course, but he’s the only player in the NBA who’s about to score his 30,000th point, so he’s still a pretty significant figure in this thing. Considering the other injuries as well, there have been so many moving pieces this season that it’s been tough to gauge just exactly who or what these Mavericks are. I think the last month-plus has been a good indication — since moving Seth Curry into the starting lineup and committing full-time to Nowitzki at center, the Mavericks look much more Mavericks-y on offense.
That said, numbers from three months ago don’t necessarily mean as much as numbers from three weeks ago, but those numbers aren’t going anywhere, so we’ve got to consider them, too. So here are opening night’s “five stats to keep an eye on” revisited, plus a bonus stat.
Harrison Barnes’ usage rate
After posting a 15.9 percent usage rate in his last year as a Warrior, meaning he “used” about one-sixth of his team’s possessions while he was on the floor, Barnes has seen his involvement increase all the way to a whopping 26.2 percent, nearly unprecedented in the Dirk Nowitzki era. The last Mavs forward to have a usage at least that high while also playing 30+ minutes a game was Josh Howard in 2008-09. Monta Ellis was the only other Mavericks player to even qualify, but he was essentially a point guard.
Barnes has thrived as a go-to scorer in Dallas, flashing consistently the ability to score in isolation, post-up, face-up, and dribble-drive situations, particularly against bigger, slower power forwards or against overpowered point guards in switch-off situations. His move to power forward has unquestionably fueled his career-high 20.1 points per game outburst this season; it’s difficult to imagine the Mavericks running the same sets they do now for Barnes if he played small forward. The floor geometry simply wouldn’t be the same, and he wouldn’t have athletic advantages nearly every night.
Watching him now, it’s hard to believe that he’s doing things on a nightly basis that he never did in four years at Golden State. He was primarily a spot-up shooter last season, but this year just 37.0 percent of his field goal attempts have come off a catch-and-shoot.
He’s scoring efficiently in general, but where he’s been particularly impressive is after taking 3-6 dribbles. On 4.1 shot attempts per game in that range, he’s shooting 45.3 percent from the field, better than Russell Westbrook (41.4 percent) and Stephen Curry (40.7), and comparable to James Harden (45.6).
Barnes is receiving an unexpected workload at an unexpected position, and he’s produced at a level that no one could ever have predicted. You could ask this of several players, but where would the Mavs be this season without Barnes?
Team assist percentage
Perhaps directly related to Barnes’ sky-high usage rate is the Mavs’ relatively low assist percentage. After assisting on 59.2 percent of team buckets last season, good for 13th in the league, Dallas has done so on just 55.8 percent this season, which ranks 20th.
The Mavericks played an iso-heavy brand of basketball without Nowitzki through most of December, but since his return on Dec. 23, the number has climbed to 57.3 percent. There’s little to no correlation between assist rate and winning games; rather, it’s simply a reflection of how effectively the ball flies around: Is a team creating ball movement that consistently generates makeable shots?
Not surprisingly, Deron Williams benefited greatly from Nowitzki’s return to action. For a time, he was the most efficient pick-and-roll player in the NBA, creating 1.177 points per possession deriving from the P&R. His injury suffered shortly after Nowitzki’s return necessitated the signing of Yogi Ferrell, who has fit in pretty seamlessly, but it did create an efficient playmaking void; since his injury on Jan. 26 (and following his return) the team’s assist rate is back down to 54.5 percent, which ranks 21st.
So, if you’re keeping score at home, the assist rate was down at the beginning of the year, and then it was high, and then it was low again. If overall team health can finally swing toward the Mavs’ favor, that number will probably climb quite high again.
Dirk Nowitzki’s minutes per game
Highlights: Dirk drops 24 vs. Pistons
Watch all of Dirk's 24 points against the Pistons Wednesday night.
Nowitzki’s absence is what prompted the Mavs to move Harrison Barnes to power forward, which truly has him looking like a star. But since the lineup change on Jan. 12, which will prove to be a very significant date should the team end up making the playoffs, Dallas has needed him on the floor.
In the 18 total games the Mavericks have played since Jan. 12, Dallas has scored a whopping 113.2 points per 100 possessions in 466 minutes with Nowitzki on the floor, which is the best on the team of any rotation player’s on/off splits. In 408 minutes without him, Dallas has scored 105.6 points per 100 possessions — a league-average-level rate, but also the lowest on the team.
Reading that statistical research will bring you to the same conclusion you could have deduced simply by watching Mavs basketball for the last two decades: Dallas is good when Dirk plays. However, at 38 years old, he can’t play 38 minutes a night anymore, or even 33, like he did in 2013-14.
This season he’s down to 26.0 minutes per game, though that number is so low in part because of early-season minutes restrictions. In his last 10 games, he’s played 28.1 minutes per game. That seems like a nice, round number for him to play the rest of the way, leaving potential room for him to play 32 or more on a night when the Mavs might need it most. (For example, he played 37:08 in the Feb. 9 overtime win against Utah.)
Deron Williams’ clutch field goal percentage
In 2015-16, Williams was the most-efficient of the high-usage clutch scorers in the NBA, the only player with at least 100 clutch points who shot at least 50 percent from the field, and also the only one to shoot better than 50 percent on 3-pointers. His offensive heroics helped Dallas to a +16.0 net rating in the clutch (last five minutes of the game, score within five points either way), second-best in the NBA behind only the Warriors.
This season the Mavs are -9.3 per 100 possessions in the clutch, which ranks 24th in the NBA. Since Nowitzki’s return on Dec. 23, though, they’re +5.8, which is 11th. Dallas lost a ton of close games early in the season as the younger players went through the learning process late in games. That experience seems to have paid off lately for guys like Barnes and Seth Curry, who have come up with some huge late buckets in 2017. (In case you were wondering, the Mavericks are +11.6 in the clutch since that fateful Jan. 12 date.)
Williams has appeared in only 14 games that met clutch criteria this season, and he’s shooting 40.9 percent from the field on only 22 attempts, and 2 of 10 from deep. Barnes has been the most-involved clutch player this season, shooting 28 of 53 from the field and 4 of 8 from 3.
I suppose as long as a team has one reliable clutch guy, that team will be in good shape. Last season it was Williams, and this season it’s Barnes. (And you’ve always got Dirk to worry about, and he’s hit a few huge clutch shots lately, too.)
Wesley Matthews’ 2-point percentage
Matthews Hits The Floater
Wesley Matthews attacks the paint and makes the tough basket plus the foul.
In 2015-16, Wesley Matthews shot a career-low 43.2 percent on 2-pointers as he battled through the recovery process following a ruptured Achilles the year before. Leading up to that injury, he had been shooting a career-best 53.4 percent on 2s, and in the two years before that he’d been above 47 percent. Somewhere in there seems to be a reasonable landing point for him this season, now more than one year removed from suffering one of the most devastating injuries an athlete can suffer.
This season his 2-point mark is up to just 44.0 percent, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest it’s on the upswing. For example, since Christmas Day Matthews is shooting 46.7 percent on 2s, and since Jan. 12 it’s 54.1 percent.
Somewhere along the way this season Matthews appears to have gained a step. Personally, I think it coincides with his almost full-time move to small forward, as opposed to the off-guard spot he manned before. He’s always been big for a shooting guard, but he’s smaller than many 3s in this league, so he can use that quickness advantage to attack off-balance defenders. Also, he’s shooting 2.1 percentage points better from 3 this season, so teams are starting to respect his jumper even more, which can lead to zany close-outs.
And there’s the whole Dirk-at-center thing, too, which throws off defenses to the point that Matthews faces little to no resistance at the rim these days so long as he can get there.
His recovery from that injury has truly been remarkable. He said earlier this season that he wants to be better than he was before the injury, and statistically he has been, at least lately. Since Jan. 12 he’s averaging 16.1 points, 4.8 boards, and 3.3 assists on 46.9 percent shooting from the field and 40.6 percent from deep. All of those numbers would be the best or second-best in their respective categories of his career.
Bonus: The Mavs have been a pretty good defensive rebounding team, despite what it looks like
On a per-game basis, the Mavs are the worst rebounding team in the league, pulling down just 38.3 boards a night, nearly three fewer than any other club.
But, with context as my aide, I am here to tell you it isn’t that bad.
First off, the Mavs play the second-slowest pace in the league, at just 93.64 possessions per 48 minutes, meaning there are fewer available rebounds to be had. Second, Dallas hardly ever pursues offensive rebounds, ranking dead-last at just 7.9 per game. But that’s a conscious decision on a team-wide level because the Mavericks value eliminating transition opportunities for their opponents over the possibility of gaining a second chance by swarming their own rim with rebounders. Besides, the Mavs play small and 5-out, usually, so it’s not like guys are in position to get them, anyway.
The best way to determine which teams are good and not good at rebounding is to go by volume. How often does a team get a rebound when one is available? In that regard, the Mavs shine. They rank eighth in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage (the rate at which an available defensive rebound becomes a defensive rebound) at 77.4 percent. That means that they have been good for the most part at ending a possession after a single opponent’s miss.
Dallas has fallen a bit since the team’s full-time commitment to small-ball on Jan. 12, however, tied with Golden State for 20th in DREB% at 75.9 percent. Opponents have gathered at least 10 offensive boards in six of their last seven games, with Dallas going 3-4 in that time. The toughest showing was an 18-board game by the Blazers, creating a massive second-chance points disparity that proved ultimately too huge for the Mavericks to overcome.
That game is more of an outlier than anything, though. The Mavs did a great job of keeping teams like the Spurs, Cavs, and Thunder off the offensive glass late in January. And if you can believe it, Dallas has actually been better when opponents have gathered 10+ boards (10-11 record) than when they haven’t (12-23), because the Mavs’ small-ball style has made up the points difference with 3s on the other end.
Looking ahead, therein lies the challenge of walking the line like the Mavs. They’re playing small around Dirk to produce points, but defensive rebounding is one obstacle they must overcome in order to do so. It takes commitments from the guards and wings to hold down their end of the bargain — like Matthews getting six or seven boards a game, as he’s said Rick Carlisle has asked him to do. Or Barnes getting seven or eight. Or the guards combining to get 10.
Regardless, despite what the per-game rebounding numbers look like, the glass gap isn’t as wide or strong as you might think. Sometimes numbers tell the whole story, and sometimes they don’t.