Postgame: Rick Carlisle
Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle weighs in on Monday's game against the Cavs, Raymond Felton's performance, Dwight Powell's return and more.
There’s almost no other way to say it: Raymond Felton put on a clinic last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The veteran point guard scored a modest 8 points on 4-of-6 shooting, but it was his floor game — 7 assists versus a single turnover — that stood out the most and led to some of the easiest offense you’ll see in an NBA game.
Felton is entering his 11th season, so he’s been doing this for a long time. That’s certainly working to his advantage in Rick Carlisle’s offense, a system which favors experience over potential. Both Felton and Barea, the two point guards who figure to back up likely starter Deron Williams once he returns from injury, play on the ball with a lot of poise. They’re always in command of the offense and they make running point guard in a wide-open offense look easy, and that level of comfort allows them to see and make plays that other guys simply might not be able to make.
Carlisle has made pushing the pace a point of emphasis so far in camp, as it’s the team’s goal to generate as much offense as possible as early in the shot clock as possible, before opposing defenses have the chance to get set. Often, that means running a quick pick-and-roll in the opening seconds of the shot clock, such as one Felton ran with second-year big man Dwight Powell in the forward’s preseason debut. But, as we’ll find out, sometimes patient pace is the best way to go.
Felton’s hesitation dribble after coming off Powell’s screen made that play happen. If the point guard would have immediately passed to Powell, the big man would have been in no-man’s land: off-balance, not quite in position to shoot, and too far from the rim to go up for a layup. Likewise, if Felton turned the corner at full speed, he would have run right into Jack Cooley with nowhere to go. Instead, he took an extra bounce, which not only gave Powell an extra tick to start rolling, but it also lulled Cooley to sleep. So while the Mavs did ultimately run a pick-and-roll six seconds into the shot clock, creating a shot just two seconds later, it was Felton’s extra ounce of patience that really opened the floor.
That isn’t to say that taking a hesitation dribble is always the right answer. Felton also showed he can turn the corner at full speed and force the defense’s hand.
The Mavs turned a five-man offense into a two-versus-one with Felton and Powell against Kevin Love. In this instance, you don’t want Felton hesitating, because you want to get to the rim as soon as possible while you still have a numbers advantage. If Love commits completely to Powell, it’s an easy floater for Felton. If he commits completely to Felton, it’s a dunk for Powell. Either way, it’s a likely two points for Dallas.
Pushing the pace doesn’t just create 2-on-1s, though. It can create 3-on-2s or 4-on-3s in “secondary break” situations. (A secondary break is essentially a quick transition from defense to offense when more than one defender is getting back. It’s one team pushing the tempo against another without flying down the floor like someone would after making a steal, for example. Offenses can seamlessly transition from a secondary break into a proper offensive set.) It’s becoming Dallas’ goal to run a secondary break every time its opponent scores, no matter what the situation, so long as they have the numbers advantage.
Here’s an example of Felton and Dirk Nowitzki in a secondary break exploiting a gaping hole in Cleveland’s defense.
First off, this is incredible spacing by Dallas. Just four seconds into the shot clock, both Justin Anderson and John Jenkins had already made it to the corners, opening up space in the middle of the floor for the Mavs’ pick-and-roll. Normally, Nowitzki wouldn’t be going near the basket that early in the possession, but he noticed Love wasn’t getting back quickly enough, so he simply kept moving.
That’s where Felton’s awareness came into play. He wisely brought the ball up the floor with his head up, looking to make an early pass. Most point guards would be content with jogging or walking it up the floor and then slowly drifting into an offensive set. But Felton always plays with his eyes up, looking to advance the ball as often as possible. (J.J. Barea does this a lot, as well, often linking up with Devin Harris in such situations.) If Felton hadn’t been looking up, there’s no way he would’ve found Nowitzki in time. But he had that pass picked out two or three seconds before he actually let the ball go.
The Mavs run a secondary break virtually every time they bring the ball up the floor with the deliberate intention of getting to the rim as quickly as possible. This forces opponents to get down the floor — and fast — but Dallas is capable of getting easy baskets anyway. Here’s another example of a secondary break gone right for the Mavs, thanks in large part to Felton — and Justin Anderson’s leaping ability.
By now, there was under a minute left in the first quarter and the Cavs knew to get back on defense with purpose. Even still, Dallas was able to get a dunk. How? It all starts with Felton. That play originated after Cleveland missed a shot at the rim. All five Dallas defenders were near the lane when the shot was missed, but Dallas turned it into a numbers game. Count the players.
It started off with two Cavs at the rim but three back in transition against basically zero Dallas attackers, as all five players were around the rim. But the Mavs immediately broke out into a secondary break after Salah Mejri secured the rebound, making it 4-on-3…
…and then they just kept going, making it 3-on-2.
That’s the point of a secondary break. It’s the offense telling the defense: “We are coming hard right at you.” It’s an odd position to be in for any defender at any level of basketball, because teams simply aren’t used to facing a downhill-sprinting offense after scoring a basket. And as soon as both Cavs defenders turned their attention toward Felton, it was all over. Anderson was able to get behind the defense like a speedy NFL wideout against a safety, and Felton the quarterback was able to hit him with the deep pass for a score. It’s academic.
“Ray played great and he’s been one of our best players in training camp,” Carlisle said after the game. “It’s not a surprise that he’s playing like this. It’s just we haven’t seen him in a while, so it’s good to see him back out there. He played 19-and-a-half good, hard minutes, and he was a big reason we had the lead at halftime.”
It was only a preseason game, sure, but this isn’t out of the norm for Felton. He does everything Carlisle asks of his point guards, and the head coach asks a lot. Carlisle doesn’t want his floor leader to score 25 points a night, but he expects him to control the tempo and make things easy for the players around him. That’s exactly what Felton did last night — the Mavs scored 112.2 points per 100 possessions while he was on the floor — and should he continue to play that way, he’s going to begin demanding more attention not only from defenses, but also from the Mavs coach himself.