Toward the beginning of the second half against Minnesota on Saturday, Chandler Parsons missed a long three-pointer. Tyson Chandler back-tapped the board to Monta Ellis at mid-court. What happened next, mid-play, could be the Mavs’ best and most unstoppable set, and it was all basically improvised.
1. ESTABLISHING THE SET
Ellis and Parsons had headed back down the floor to play transition defense. Typically off a long shot, the Mavs will send between two and as many as four players back to limit opponents’ fast break opportunities. That also plays to Tyson Chandler’s strengths, who’s probably the best back-tapper in the NBA. I can’t tell you how many offensive rebounds he’s secured this way — and a player only gets credit for a tap if the ball goes directly to a teammate. Chandler has nearly perfected what seems like an impossibly difficult thing to do.
Once Ellis got the ball back, Chandler moved up to set a ball screen. Dirk Nowitzki recognized the developing play, and signaled to Ellis that he was going to set a pick as well. In the picture above, Zach LaVine is guarding Ellis, Kevin Martin is on Jameer Nelson, Andrew Wiggins is checking Chandler Parsons, Anthony Bennett is on Nowitzki, and Chandler is Gorgui Dieng’s man.
2. FORCING THEIR HAND
Ellis took Nowitzki’s screen, sending him into the middle of the floor. The Wolves now have a choice to make. Dirk’s screen was solid enough on LaVine to essentially remove him from the play, forcing the Wolves to slide a defender over to Ellis or else he’ll have an easy layup. But where is that help going to come from? Dieng can’t leave Chandler or else the Mavs will execute another alley-oop — the Mavs lead the league in dunks — and Wiggins can’t really afford to abandon his man, Parsons, or else he and Nelson will have a 2-on-1 with an entire half of the court to work with.
That leaves Bennett as the only possible player who can conceivably stop Monta. Problem is he’s guarding Dirk Nowitzki, who has 27,000 career points and is off to the hottest shooting start of his career. Bennett simply can’t afford to leave him wide-open.
3. READING THE DEFENSE
All that’s left now is for Ellis to make his choice based on what the defense has shown him.
Bennett and Dieng both have to at least feign help, to perhaps force Ellis into a pass. But the 2-guard is not only quick enough to blow by big men anyway; he’s also patient enough to make the right decision en route to the rim. Dallas scores 14.5 points per game (3rd in the league) on 10.4 Monta drives. The guy makes it look so easy. So, too, do Chandler, Wright, Dirk, and all the other beneficiaries of his drives. Wright and Chandler, especially, are really taking advantage of Ellis’s ball movement. They’re shooting 100 percent and 86.7 percent, respectively, on shots following passes from Ellis, per NBA.com.
The biggest problem for the Wolves throughout this entire sequence, however, is that they had less than three seconds to make all of those decisions. And, based on the way they defended the play, Dallas could have gone three directions. Ellis could take the shot, which he did. He could have dumped off to Tyson Chandler, as well, and he could have dished it out to Parsons for three. Instead, he took the easy points. Here’s the play at full speed.
Wiggins, Bennett, and Dieng all leaned Ellis’s direction, but only Dieng actually contested the shot — and he only did once Ellis had already left the ground.
The best part about the above play is that it could result in a different shot literally every time they run it. Every player on the floor is just one pass away from Ellis, and considering every player on the court is also a scoring threat, the defense truly has to pick its poison. Opponents can stop one or maybe two of the options, but it’s impossible to stop all five. Dallas can get whatever it wants from this set whenever it wants, which has sort of been the theme of this offense to this point in the season — the Mavs score a league-high 115.5 points per 100 possessions, 5.8 points more than any other team in the NBA. Per Basketball-Reference, this Dallas offense is the best of all-time by 1.7 points. Obviously, the sample size is still small, but wow. What a stat.
We don’t see this play very often, which makes it even more impressive that the Mavs were able to get into the set two seconds into the new shot clock. Their famed “flow” offense has shredded the league for years now, but we’re seeing Rick Carlisle’s best offense yet.