Read the NBPA’s story on Deron Williams

Mavs point guard Deron Williams was featured today on the National Basketball Players Association’s site for his involvement in April’s National Autism Awareness Month.

Williams has been involved in the month’s efforts for years now, including hosting an Autism Awareness Night at American Airlines Center earlier this month. Click here to read the full story.

Prominently featured in the article is Williams’ six-year-old son, D.J., who was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old. Deron and his wife Amy adopted D.J., in addition to raising their three other children: Deron Jr., Daija, and Denae.

The article begins with a heartwarming story about Deron watching Game 4 of the playoffs with D.J. in the locker room. Deron had suffered a setback just moments before, forcing him to exit the game and, ultimately, ending his season. Dejected, he sat in the locker room.

According to the story:

But a special guest and surprise moment, behind closed doors and away from the cameras, gave Williams the best distraction he needed in his state of dejection.

His wife, Amy, who was in attendance in Dallas, brought their six-year-old son named D.J., who has autism, to the locker room so he could watch the game with his father. It was a rare occurrence, and Williams was in awe that D.J. knew every player as he cheered for each one. D.J. also read off every player’s name when he walked by each of their lockers, like ‘That’s Wes Matthews! He’s iron man!”

The article’s author, Jared Zwerling, reports D.J. is now doing much better in school and doesn’t even need to visit doctors anymore. That’s terrific news.

Aside from his involvement with National Autism Awareness Month and the organization Autism Speaks, Williams’ own foundation, The Point of Hope, is heavily involved in raising awareness and funds for those affected by autism. He’s hosted a “Dodge Barrage” fundraiser and tournament in years past, and Zwerling reports the event will take place in Dallas this September. This year he’s also considering adding an art show, having developed an interest in pop, abstract, and figurative art while living in New York City.

Williams’ and his team’s season might have ended earlier than they’d hoped, but members of this organization continue to be a tremendously positive influence in the community, and Williams is certainly no exception.

Deron Williams played his best floor game of the season in win against Portland

Postgame: Deron Williams

Mavs PG Deron Williams dishes on his 31-point 16-assist performance in Sunday's OT win over Portland.

On Sunday afternoon Deron Williams did something no other Maverick had in 20 years.

Williams became just the second Maverick since at least the 1983-84 season to finish with at least 30 points and 15 assists in a game, and the first since Jason Kidd accomplished the same feat in 1996. But at that point, Kidd was just 22 years old. Only four other players in the last 30 seasons have recorded a 30-point, 15-assist game at an older age than Williams (31 years, 268 days), according to Basketball-Reference.

Lost in the recognition and celebration of Dirk Nowitzki’s 40-point masterpiece was Williams’ equally timeless performance — 31 points, 16 assists, four 3-pointers, and three steals.

What stood out more than the eye-popping numbers, though, was just how comfortable Williams appeared behind the wheel of the Mavs offense. With Chandler Parsons out on Sunday with a sore right hamstring, there was a playmaking void which needed to be filled, and Williams stepped in. The Mavericks didn’t miss a beat, as Williams’ 16 dimes generated 40 points. Six of those them went to Nowitzki, as the two-man partnership eventually overwhelmed the Blazers in overtime.

A point guard’s most important job — more than scoring, more than passing, and more than bringing athleticism and quickness to the team — is ensuring his team always finds a good shot. That’s a difficult thing to quantify, as “good shot” can mean so many different things. A Nowitzki one-legged fade is a desirable shot for the Mavericks, but the same shot by any other player in the NBA is more often than not a losing proposition. A contested three-pointer by Stephen Curry is a good shot, but you don’t want many other guys taking the same one. Every player is different and every system is unique, so a point guard must always be aware of his teammates’ strengths and weaknesses and he must know the spots they want to get to on the floor.

Williams certainly hasn’t struggled in that regard this season, as the Mavericks have scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, according to NBA.com. But Sunday he took his ability to create good shots for others to the next level, using a combination of changing speeds, controlling tempo, and dribble penetration to knock the defense off balance.

The Mavericks track a stat called Pace21, which measures how quickly the offense gets the ball across halfcourt. The goal is to do so in three seconds or less (with 21 seconds or more remaining on the shot clock — hence “Pace21”), either by pushing the ball off a miss or turnover, or sprinting up the floor after a basket. The faster you set up in the halfcourt, the higher the odds the defense isn’t ready for what’s coming. This season, the Mavs have scored .08 points per possession more when they get the ball across in three seconds or less than when they do not, according to the team’s analytics. That might not seem like much, but an extra .08 points on 60 possessions a game means five points. That’s the difference between a win and a loss.

Here’s a play illustrating the importance of tempo and how manipulating it can lead to easy buckets. In the play below, Williams races the ball up the floor then slows up to assess the situation. Because he pushed the tempo, point guard Damian Lillard is guarding center Salah Mejri, and Al-Farouq Aminu is defending Williams. Advantage: Williams.

The point guard acts as if he wants to run a pick-and-roll to exploit the physically over-matched Lillard, but he changes direction and attacks Aminu instead, drawing in Mason Plumlee in the process. That leaves Nowitzki wide-open for a mid-range jumper. The pass is very nice, of course, but what really set that play up was Williams’ control of the pace. He pushed the tempo, then slowed up, then attacked quickly.

Early in the third quarter a similar play unfolded, with the Mavericks running (and completing) a pick-and-roll five seconds into the shot clock. Portland switched everything defensively, which left an off-balance Noah Vonleh defending Williams, who quickly crosses Vonleh behind the back to create even more confusion.

By now, Williams’ move is almost complete. He crosses over one more time to get past the Blazers big man, then draws the help of a defender, and finds a wide-open Wesley Matthews in the corner for three. In the box score it’s only going to show up as an assist, but on the film you can see he manipulates the tempo, the opposing defense’s switching scheme, and he draws in help defense before finally delivering the stat we see in the paper the next day.

You don’t always have to push the tempo to find a good shot, though. In the play below, Williams attacks Allen Crabbe off the dribble, eventually ending up at the free throw line in acres of space. He then makes a dribble hand-off to Charlie Villanueva, who then drives and finishes at the rim.

Williams establishing a position at the free throw line is big, here. Villanueva has been very good off the bounce this season, and he’s an athletic guy at the power forward position. But if he receives the ball higher on the floor, it’s not likely that he can beat the defense to the rim in the span of 25 feet. However, because Williams got so low relative to the defense, Villanueva makes the catch practically at the elbow, requiring only one dribble and two steps to get all the way to the rim. No defender can help in such a small amount of time. (Not that any defender could, anyway, as Portland switched yet another screen, leaving C.J. McCollum at the rim and Plumlee at the three-point line.)

Finally, the Mavs found a creative way to get Williams isolated in the post on a smaller defender. Late in the fourth quarter Dallas ran a 1-2 pick-and-roll between Williams and Raymond Felton to switch the smaller Lillard onto Williams, who then easily dribbles down to the block and backs his man down. Watch Williams direct Matthews and Mejri to clear out as he sets up the play.

The point guard is small enough to back his man down all the way to the restricted area before Plumlee finally offers some help. At that point, all Williams has to do is drop off a pass to the cutting Mejri, who then makes a nice reverse dunk. Again, in the box score this is just going to count for an assist, but Williams made this whole possession happen by exploiting the defense and putting himself — and his teammates — in a favorable position.

The biggest challenge a point guard faces in this league is making his teammates’ jobs easier. Against Portland, Williams not only did that, but he made it look easy. He was aggressive from the opening tip and seemed to embrace the added responsibility with Parsons out of the lineup. Moving forward, Williams will likely assume more playmaking duties within the flow of the offense, which means he’ll be in a position to do these same things the rest of the season. If he can play at the same level he did Sunday against the Blazers — not in terms of output or production, but in command and control — the Dallas offense will be in good hands the rest of the way.

Lineup change pays off in Mavs win at Charlotte

It was bound to happen eventually, and last night it did.

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle changed up the starting lineup, replacing Zaza Pachulia with Raymond Felton. Dirk Nowitzki started at center with Chandler Parsons at power forward as the Mavs tested a small-ball group against the hottest team in the NBA. Before last night, the Hornets had won a league-high seven straight games, while the Mavs had lost a league-high five consecutive contests and had slid down to eighth place in the standings.

After Saturday’s loss to Indiana, Carlisle pledged to make changes if necessary to give his team the best chance to win. The early returns following that change have certainly been positive, as a first-half blitz saw the Mavs lead balloon to as much as 19 in an 11-point win. However, Charlotte plays a much smaller starting group than most other teams in the league, so there’s no guarantee the lineup change will carry over to future contests. Still, the Mavericks have been rolling out enough small-ball groups lately that this is now officially a trend, so it’s worth looking at what’s made those units so effective and how it can translate to success down the stretch as Dallas continues on in the crowded playoff race.

The smaller the lineup, the more the ball moves

When Dallas can spread the floor with three players who can attack off the dribble, defenses are forced to rotate to absolute perfection. But by moving Chandler Parsons to the power forward spot, the Mavericks can play four guys who can penetrate and, next to the best-shooting big man in NBA history, that creates a terrible dilemma for defenses. Five-out basketball causes all sorts of problems for opponents because from a defensive perspective it can turn each play into five individual games of 1-on-1. When teams run traditional halfcourt sets with two big men, a defense can survive if one guy makes a mistake or has a disadvantageous matchup. But in 5-out ball, the offense can exploit every single matchup, which means you’d better stick to your man and keep him out of the paint, because you’re not going to get much help if you’re beat. All of your teammates are defending guys 25 feet from the rim, so who would normally be the traditional help man could be as far as 30-40 feet away from you. Each individual defender is on an island.

Of course, the offense wants the defense to help in those situations because it creates open jumpers on the outside. Here’s the Mavs’ first offensive play in last night’s game. Notice how this is set up: There are five offensive players all between 20-25 feet from the rim as Raymond Felton plays one-on-one up top.

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Felton makes a quick crossover move on Kemba Walker and attacks the paint. Marvin Williams’ instincts take over, knowing that if he doesn’t slide down to help on the driving Felton, the Mavs guard will more than likely have a layup. But watch what happens when he helps.

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Parsons is wide, wide open. It’s an easy three-pointer. Here’s the full play.

But driving the lane doesn’t always lead immediately to a shot, and that’s OK. The Mavs often attack and then pull the ball out and either reset the offense or swing to a player who becomes open as the defense falls off-balance. The Mavericks drove the lane 42 times in last night’s game, according to team analytics, and the club scored 50 points during possessions with a paint drive.

That high a volume of attacking creates an equally high volume of passing, and no team has done more of that since the All-Star break. In that time, the Mavericks lead the NBA with 352.9 passes per game, and in last night’s contest they made 366 passes. Seven players made at least 30 passes, an astonishing number. So not only is the team spreading the floor with quick guys, but they’re quick guys who can read the defense and make the right pass to lead to the most desirable shot. It’s a fun brand of basketball to play and watch, but it’s not fun at all to defend.

A quick note on the defense: Dallas switched on almost every screen last night, a luxury small-ball lineups tend to use religiously as it streamlines defensive coverage and mitigates any potential confusion in the pick-and-roll game. Also, Wesley Matthews was absolutely terrific against Kemba Walker in the fourth quarter, slowing the guard down after he went on a tear in the fourth quarter. Defense is part of the game, too, and the Mavs performed very well in that area last night.

Parsons and Dirk

Small-ball means Parsons plays the 4 and Dirk Nowitzki plays the 5. That’s a good thing for the Mavericks.

Since the All-Star break, Dallas has scored 1.411 points per possession in 77 minutes with that frontcourt duo in small-ball lineups, according to nbawowy.com. The Mavs have a 67.4 effective field goal percentage in those situations, an absurd rate. By comparison, the 59-win Warriors lead the NBA this season with a 56.2 eFG percentage.

On an individual level, Parsons has shined next to Dirk, with an 89.5 eFG, 88.6 true shooting percentage, and 68.4 field goal percentage in situations when he’s at the 4 and Dirk as at the 5.

Taking each player’s skill sets into consideration, though, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that they perform so well in those roles. Parsons has been playing more and more 4 lately, and it’s not crazy to think that, someday, he could make the transition to that position on a full-time basis. Meanwhile, Nowitzki has the same edge over centers today that he did against power forwards in the early-’00s in terms of quickness and exploiting opposing bigs’ discomfort defending on the outside. Centers naturally gravitate toward the rim so most aren’t going to think to stick tight to Nowitzki when he’s 25 feet from the basket, a mistake Nikola Jokic made last week that resulted in three Mavs points.

Parsons, meanwhile, has elevated his game to unprecedented heights in 2016. He’s averaging better than 20 points per game in the last two months and he’s rivaled by only Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard in terms of efficiency among high-usage players. He’s also climbed into the top-10 league-wide in points per possession among players with at least 750 possessions this season, according to Synergy Sports.

He ranks second in spot-up points per possession among players with at least 150 such possessions and he’s climbed up into the top 20 percent in PPP as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, in transition, and coming off cuts. His game is becoming more and more well-rounded as he’s even creating for himself at a high level this season, scoring 0.95 points per possession in isolation, ranking ahead of players like James Harden and DeMar DeRozan.

Power forward is arguably the most important position in the modern NBA, as your personnel at that spot will dictate the type of team you will be. If you have a stretch-4 shooter like Dirk, you can run a 4-out pick-and-roll and create driving and passing lanes for your point guard. However, if you have a dynamic scorer and facilitator like Parsons, who at 6-foot-10 (with a ratchet) can attack the paint, finish, pass, and shoot off both the catch and bounce, you can play 5-out and run your opponent ragged.

There aren’t many (or perhaps any) traditional power forwards in this league who can defend Parsons for 20-30 minutes a night, and there aren’t many centers who can do the same with Dirk. For the record, last night they combined for 47 points on 17-of-32 shooting and 20 rebounds. That combination is just lethal, and we’ve already seen the type of damage it can do, albeit on a fairly limited sample size compared to the Mavs’ rotation before the All-Star break.

The back end of the rotation

With Felton moving into the starting lineup, reserve minutes sprang open on the wing. Deron Williams battled foul trouble in the first half (before going supernova in the fourth quarter) which opened the door for rookie Justin Anderson to see some action. He scored only one point in eight minutes, but he made a play I can’t ever remember seeing before.

Charlotte’s Nic Batum drove the lane on a fast break and rose for the layup, but Anderson flew in literally out of nowhere and rejected the shot with his left (strong) hand, then grabbed the rebound with his off-hand in mid-air and launched a fast break the other way.

The Mavs have brought in plenty of super-athletic wings in the last decade-plus, from Gerald Green to Rodrigue Beaubois to Al-Farouq Aminu and more. But I’m not sure there are many people on the planet who can make the play Anderson made. Look at it this way: Not only did he block the layup, but he also got the rebound, preventing a Cody Zeller put-back dunk. Then, he made the outlet pass, ran the floor, collected a pass, drove the lane, and drew a foul going for a layup.

It was no secret coming out of the Combine that Anderson was one of, if not, the most athletic players in the NBA Draft. His combination of wingspan, verticality, and explosiveness gave him the physical makeup that every scout craves. As the season has worn on, he’s become more comfortable within the flow of the offense and playing defense at the professional level, adjustments which trouble pretty much every rookie. But no amount of coaching can teach a player to make the play Anderson did, which is what made him such a tantalizing prospect to begin with.

It’s unclear whether he’ll see more playing time as the race heats up and the season winds down, but that was a huge momentum play, and I’m sure it gave the rook a significant confidence boost. If nothing else, it’s a highlight play we’ll watch in awe for quite some time.

The move to small-ball was a resounding success last night, as it’s been for much of the season. And, looking at the schedule, the Mavs play their next five games against teams which don’t play traditional centers (Cleveland, then Golden State and Portland twice). This lineup could stick for a while, or perhaps it was a one-time thing to match up against a specific opponent in one specific contest. Either way, the Mavs have certainly found something with that philosophy, and their success in small-ball stretches could ultimately determine how far they go the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs.

Inside the Mavs’ post-All-Star offensive explosion

Since the All-Star break, no team has scored more efficiently than the Mavericks.

Dallas has scored 116.0 points per 100 possessions in five games since the break, which leads the NBA. To give you an idea of just how dominant that is, Golden State’s 112.6 rating leads the league for the entire season. Now, as Rick Carlisle pointed out, the Mavericks have had a relatively easy stretch of schedule in the back half of February, so this is no time for his players to revel in their own success — “We can’t fall in love with ourselves,” he warned Monday — but there’s no denying the Mavs have shown positive signs of progress in the last couple weeks.

You can’t control who you play in this league, but you can control how well you play, and Dallas has done just that as of late. For example, in the six quarters (plus an overtime period) since halftime against Denver on Friday night, the Mavericks have scored 206 points. That’s an awful lot of points, and outbursts like that don’t happen by accident.

One huge source of the Mavs’ offensive success, especially in the last few games, has been the team’s nearly exclusive shift to a 4-out offense. Earlier in the season Dallas would play plenty of minutes with two traditional big men on the floor, but lately that hasn’t been the case, as Chandler Parsons has picked up almost all of the backup power forward minutes, even in situations when he was at a size and strength disadvantage. Against Minnesota on Sunday night, Parsons frequently matched up against the much bigger Karl-Anthony Towns or Gorgui Dieng, and he even guarded Jahlil Okafor last weekend in a win against Philadelphia.

The Mavericks have once again uncovered and embraced the pure, wide-open 4-out offense that has separated good offenses from great ones in recent seasons. And while the offensive surge the team is enjoying has been short-lived — so far — there are plenty of trends and sequences worth taking a look at that can help to explain why the Mavericks have been playing so well, and how that can perhaps translate into future success. And, when you’re talking about a good team performing at a high level, it only makes sense to start with the stars. On this team, that’s the “Four Horsemen:” Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki, Wesley Matthews, and Deron Williams, and, conveniently, much of their individual success is tied to one another. Let’s see how.

CHANDLER PARSONS

There aren’t many players in the NBA whose numbers will jump off the page like Parsons’ this past month. Dating back to Jan. 18, the forward is averaging 20.3 points on 53.5 percent shooting from the field and 50.5 percent from deep, to go along with 5.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists. He’s getting buckets and he’s doing it efficiently.

First and foremost, Parsons has scored a ton of points at the power forward position. While correlation doesn’t always equal causation, one could make the case the move has benefited Parsons to a huge degree.

Dallas has of course been creative when it comes to getting its rising star in position to take advantage of a mismatch, too, even when Parsons is playing small forward. You’d expect nothing less from Rick Carlisle. Here, Parsons sends an inbound pass to Nowitzki, who immediately flips it back to the forward and sets a ball-screen, forcing the defense to switch. Then Parsons — out of a classic triple-threat position, no less! — drives right around the outmatched Kenneth Faried and has his bucket counted after the Nugget commits a goaltending violation. (Click to view the .gifs.)

At one point against Minnesota, Parsons found himself guarded by the much bigger Dieng in the corner. As he prepared to catch a Raymond Felton pass to the corner, Parsons took a step toward the basket, putting himself in position to attack immediately off the catch. That’s a smart move, especially when he already has a quickness advantage over his defender, as it makes him impossible to stop en route to the rim.

What has really stood out about Parsons’ play this season, particularly in recent weeks, now that he’s inching closer toward the finish line of his recovery process, has been his play in transition. He’s scoring 1.311 points per possession in those situations this season, which ranks second in the NBA among players with at least 100 transition possessions, according to Synergy Sports. Against the Timberwolves, he scored eight fast break points himself.

With between 22-18 seconds left on the shot clock, he’s got a 68.8 effective field goal percentage this season, which ranks 10th in the league among 139 players with at least 50 attempts within that range. With between 18-15 seconds remaining, his eFG climbs to 69.3 percent, which ranks second in the league among 160 players with at least 50 field goal attempts in the range. That is some seriously effective offense early in the clock, which makes the fact that he’s now beginning to implement Nowitzki’s famous trailing three into his game even more terrifying for opposing defenses.

WESLEY MATTHEWS

As scorching-hot as Parsons has been, Matthews has been equally sizzling. He’s hit 15 of his last 31 three-point attempts, averaging 17.0 points in his last four games. During that time, he has a 72.2 eFG% on catch-and-shoot jumpers, including a 48.1 three-point percentage.

As the Mavs’ offense has heated up in other areas, especially as 4-out has become more prevalent, it’s opened up better opportunities outside for Matthews to exploit. On this play, the Mavericks work the ball all the way around the horn off of Raymond Felton’s penetration, and Matthews ends up with a wide-open corner 3.

There are only five defenders on the floor at any given moment, so if you can draw two or more into the lane on a drive and then kick the ball out and move it around the arc, there’s just no way the defense stands a chance. Basketball players are the best athletes in the world, but even they aren’t capable of covering 30 feet front-to-back and 50 feet side-to-side. Sharp ball movement and precise spacing is simply too much for defenses to counter.

David Lee’s passing ability opened up a great look for Matthews against Minnesota. The Mavs’ new big man made a pass to a cutting Devin Harris from the top of the key, which forced Matthews’ defender, Shabazz Muhammad, to mull over sliding down to help out. Lee’s pass actually led Harris just a bit too far for the 2-guard to take a layup, but Matthews moved as soon as Muhammad turned his head, and ultimately he wound up wide-open for another trey. The Mavs had zero players in the lane as this play developed, which opens up a ton of real estate to work with on offense. Matthews, once again, took advantage of the resulting impact on the defense. No matter how athletic the opponent is, playing 5-out basketball like this is playing chess while the defense is playing checkers.

Also promising for Matthews is this: In his last four games, he’s also hit half his shots when he touches the ball for more than two seconds, indicating he’s getting more comfortable creating shots for himself and scoring in ways other than simply catching and shooting. He’s attacked off the bounce and he’s posted guys up, and the latter element in particular has set him apart from other players at his position in recent seasons.

DIRK NOWITZKI

The Big German is shooting well as of late. He’s hit 30 field goals combined in his last four games, the most he’s hit in any four-game stretch (without missing a game) since sinking 31 between Dec. 1-7. In the five games since the All-Star break, he’s made multiple 3s in four of the five games.

Nowitzki sliding to the 5 showed just how much respect opposing teams still give him, even at age 37. When he made the move against the Nuggets, Denver coach Mike Malone was forced to pull starting center Nikola Jokic from the game so his team wouldn’t have a serious matchup problem on the defensive end. Nowitzki remains too quick and just plain too good on the outside to be defended by big men who lack experience checking guys in that area of the floor.

Now, when teams go small against the Mavericks, that also opens up opportunities on the inside for Nowitzki as a conventional roll man. In the play below, there’s no one but a point guard to impede the 7-foot German’s progress to the basket.

One solution is to collapse the weakside defense down into the paint in order to clog things up so Dirk doesn’t have such an easy look at the rim, but that leaves shooters wide-open on the far side of the floor. Nowitzki has always been an underrated passer, and this play demonstrates his court vision.

The most notable thing about the two plays above is how simple they are. The pick-and-roll is one of the oldest plays in the book, but as teams have begun playing smaller and smaller and dotting the floor with more shooters, there’s a lot more nuance when it comes to defending it. Rotations have to be precise, communication has to be strong, and decision-making has to be instinctive and immediate.

As a defender, you can’t hesitate. If you do, you risk being burned for either a dunk or a three-pointer. Dallas made 18 shots inside the restricted area against the Timberwolves, for example, with many of them coming out of pick-and-roll sets. The Mavs have also made double-digit 3s in six of their last seven games, too.

DERON WILLIAMS

Williams has averaged 8.0 assists plus secondary (“hockey”) assists in his last seven games, a huge step up from the 4.3 he averaged in his previous six appearances. In these last four games, his teammates are connecting on 51.4 percent of their 17.5 field goal attempts per game following a Williams pass, including 61.4 percent on 11.0 2-point shots.

Sometimes a point guard’s best trait is knowing when to score and knowing when to distribute the ball. Williams has done a terrific job walking that line this season, as he’s been one of the best closers in the NBA while also operating at the helm of a Dallas offense that’s beginning to sharing the ball at an extremely high level. The Mavericks have dished out 20+ assists in seven straight games, their second-longest streak of the season, and recorded a season-high 34 against the Wolves. Williams finished with nine dimes in that game against 10 field goal attempts.

He also has the awareness to know when to take the shot, when to swing the ball, and when to attack. The decision isn’t always an easy one to make, but Williams has been in this league a long time and he has a better feel for the game than most guys in this league will ever develop. This play is a good example.

His first thought was to swing the ball to Parsons in the corner, but the Nuggets defense had already committed to taking that away. Once that failed, rather than trying to gather himself and take a forced three-pointer, Williams instead saw a wide-open driving lane and attacked the rim, forcing an already scrambling Nuggets defense even further out of position, resulting in a wide-open trey for Matthews in the corner.

Plenty of other players on the roster have contributed in the last four games, including new addition David Lee, who’s been stuffing the box score since putting on a Mavs jersey for the first time. But the core of Parsons, Matthews, Nowitzki, and Williams has been so in-sync the last several games, and that’s the biggest reason for the Mavs’ success of late. The hope, of course, is that this wave of momentum can carry the team all the way through to the playoffs, but there’s still plenty of basketball left.

If Dallas continues to play 4-out, move the ball effectively, and take advantage of mismatches at various positions, scoring won’t be an issue for the Mavericks. They’ve played inspired offensive basketball, especially in the last six quarters. The numbers speak for themselves.

Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams lead the Mavs in crunch time once again

Celtics vs. Mavericks

Dirk Nowitzki scores 31 points and grabs 11 rebounds as the Mavericks beat in the Celtics in overtime.

Through three quarters last night, Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams combined to shoot just 6 of 22 from the field. Neither could get clean looks at the basket against Boston’s pesky defense, which ranks second in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions.

But, as so often has been the case this season, both players stepped up big-time when it mattered.

The fourth quarter belonged to Nowitzki. The German scored 14 points in the frame — his highest-scoring period all season — mystifying Celtics defenders with a bevy of post moves and big shots, including a four-point play which pushed the Mavs’ lead to 94-89 with under two minutes left.

After Boston responded with six straight points to claim the lead, Nowitzki hit a pair of free throws to put Dallas in front. Following a Celtics miss, Williams then knocked down two of his own to put the Mavericks in front by three.

Then we went to overtime, when the fun really began.

There’s perhaps nothing more exhilarating in sports than watching a basketball player (or players, in this case) take over a game, especially when it comes in crunch time. This season, there hasn’t been a better duo in the NBA when it comes to producing in tight games than Nowitzki and Williams, who rank 5th and 10th, respectively, in total points scored in the clutch. (NBA.com defines clutch as the final five minutes of a game while either team’s lead is five points or less.) Of the top 10, the Dallas duo ranks first and second in nearly every efficiency stat, too. It’s not just volume; these guys are dominating.

Of those top 10 in total clutch scoring — a list which includes names like James Harden, Jimmy Butler, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George — Williams ranks first in field goal percentage (51.0) with Dirk a close second (49.1). Nowitzki’s three-point percentage (41.7) is the envy of the lot, except for Williams, who boasts a torrid 47.4 percentage from deep. Williams has hit 95.0 percent of his free throws in the clutch, second in the group only to Nowitzki (95.7). They’ve combined to hit 41 of their 43 free throw attempts in clutch situations.

Those two have fueled a Dallas offense which leads the league in clutch offensive efficiency at 125.9 points per 100 possessions. The Mavs’ 54.8 effective field goal percentage in those situations also leads the league by a healthy margin, as does Dallas’ 61.7 true shooting percentage and its 4.31 assist-to-turnover ratio. No team turns it over in the clutch less often than the Mavericks, who give it away on just 5.4 percent of their possessions. No other team is below even 7 percent.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that the Mavericks scored 20 points in overtime last night, 17 of which came from Nowitzki and Williams. They combined to shoot 4 of 6 from the field, 3 of 3 from deep, and 6 of 6 from the free throw line. It’s the most points Dallas has scored in a single overtime period since Dec. 2, 2004, according to Basketball-Reference.

The most surprising element in play is how neither Nowitzki nor Williams will take credit for how good they are when it comes to closing games out. The night D-Will hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win a double-OT thriller against Sacramento, here’s what Deron Williams had to say when asked about why Deron Williams so comfortable in the closer role.

“(Dirk) just makes the game so easy,” he said. “It’s the same thing when I was out and J.J. (Barea) was in there. Just run pick-and-roll with Dirk and they’re gonna mess up somehow, because they don’t want to leave him. He just makes the game easy for everybody and gets people open by just his presence.”

After last night’s game, here’s what Dirk Nowitzki had to say about what makes Dirk Nowitzki so good late in games.

“D-Will has been fantastic for us down the stretch, making shots, making plays for other guys,” Nowitzki said. “He was extremely great tonight. Those two big 3s (in OT) were massive for us.”

Postgame: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki dishes on closing out the 118-113 overtime win over the Celtics.

This is their chance to spit fire about how they hit huge shots to win a game, and yet they’re instead deflecting praise from themselves and toward their teammates. It’s a decisively veteran postgame move, and that only makes sense. While Williams gives Nowitzki credit for making his job easier, Nowitzki does the same in regards to Williams. That’s the truth, to be honest. Those two play off of each other symbiotically. Both make each other’s jobs easier, just like the Nowitzki/Jason Terry partnership that lit up the league for the better part of a decade in the 2000s and early ’10s. When it comes to closing games, sometimes it’s just easier to throw out the playbook and work the two-man game to see what you can find. Put the ball in a reliable pair of hands and let the magic happen.

In the play below, the Mavericks run a Dirk/D-Will pick-and-roll. Boston’s defense immediately double-teams Nowitzki, and this is where the Mavs’ collective passing ability comes into play.

Def breakdown D Will 3

Zaza Pachulia catches at the free throw line then swings it behind him to Chandler Parsons. Parsons then attacks the lane to collapse the defense before kicking it out to Williams for three. The four players involved in that play — and Wesley Matthews, who was spotted up in the corner — are all veteran players who know exactly what to do when a defense shows a certain look. Boston doubled, so the Mavericks instinctively made that sequence of passes. Everyone knows exactly where to be, where to go, and what will happen next.

Williams also knows when to be ready to shoot, as evidenced by his immediate triggering of the jump shot off the catch in this situation.

D Will pindown

The point guard got his defender in a bad position by setting a screen for Nowitzki. Williams then comes off a screen of his own, set by Pachulia, and launches a three. The Mavs run this play fairly often, and it doesn’t always result in a three-pointer. Williams just knew his defender was out of the play and took the shot the defense gave him. Often in crunch time you see guys make things harder than they should be because they’re either thinking too much or the defense is buckling down to eliminate the easiest option. But the Mavericks have the depth and versatility to find good looks late in games, largely because of Nowitzki’s gravity and Williams’ savvy.

The first play wouldn’t be Parsons’ only contribution to the win, however. On the opening possession of overtime, he capitalized off of Williams’ penetration.

Inside out Parsons 3

Parsons also showed his value once again as the third option behind the Nowitzki/Williams duo, attacking the rim and collapsing the defense once again before making the right play in swinging it to Williams, who then swung it to Nowitzki, who then put the game away.

Parsons create Dirk corner

If the Mavericks can turn their dynamic duo into a terrific trio, so to speak, they could become an even better crunch-time team. With Pachulia’s screen-setting ability and the constant threat of a Matthews three-pointer, the floor will always be open for Nowitzki, Williams, and Parsons to make things happen. The Mavs showed once again last night why it pays to have so many players who can step up when it counts and close out a game.

Deron Williams vuelve a sonreír en Dallas (Deron Williams smiles again in Dallas)

A veces nos olvidamos de la importancia que tiene el bienestar de un jugador fuera de la pista en su rendimiento dentro de la misma. Estar en una situación incómoda, con tensiones en el vestuario, o con demasiada presión, inevitablemente pone en riesgo el rendimiento en la cancha, pues lo queramos o no los deportistas no son robots capaces de aislarse de todo lo que les rodea. De la misma forma, estar cómodo en la parcela extradeportiva normalmente va a ayudar a que el jugador pueda centrarse más en todo lo que ocurre en el juego, aumentando así su nivel. Es lo que podríamos asegurar que está pasando con Deron Williams en su primera temporada en los Dallas Mavericks.

Williams considera Texas como su casa, después de haber crecido allí y de estudiar en The Colony en el instituto, cuenta con numerosa familia en Dallas, y reconoció que el elemento principal que busca en los Mavericks es la estabilidad. Los Mavs, al mismo tiempo, también buscan estabilidad con Deron y el resto de su plantilla, al tratar de dar de una vez por todas con un bloque competitivo y con capacidad de crecimiento que poder mantener durante los próximos años.

Según el medidor de “continuidad de plantilla” de Basketball-Reference, los Mavs se encuentran entre los equipos que menos continuidad han tenido en las últimas temporadas. En los últimos cuatro años, solo el pasado verano regresó más de la mitad de los jugadores con respecto a la temporada anterior (un 55 por ciento de ellos), algo en lo que Dallas compite con Lakers, Knicks y 76ers. Comparándolo con esas franquicias, tiene mucho mérito haber estado en Playoffs en dos de las últimas tres temporadas cambiando tantos jugadores cada año, pero es necesaria una mayor continuidad para dar el siguiente paso.

El base que ahora dirige a los Mavs quizás no sea el Deron Williams All Star que peleaba con Chris Paul por ser el mejor base de la liga. Las lesiones nos quitaron esa versión. Pero eso no quiere decir que no sea capaz de rendir como uno de los mejores bases de la competición, porque eso es precisamente lo que está haciendo en estas primeras semanas de temporada regular.

Deron se siente cómodo en el ataque de los Dallas Mavericks. Su sincronía con Rick Carlisle es evidente, y su producción es la mejor para un base titular en los Mavs desde el Jason Kidd de 2011. Williams controla el tempo del partido, sabe cuándo buscar a un compañero, y sabe cuándo debe arriesgar él. Promedia 74.8 pases por encuentro, segundo de la NBA después de Rajon Rondo según los datos de NBA.com, está en el top 5 en asistencias que acaban en tiros libres, y también en el top 10 de asistencias secundarias, es decir, pases que acaban en asistencia. Al jugar Dallas muchos minutos con dos bases, Williams no acumula un gran promedio de asistencias por partido, pero las estadísticas avanzadas sí que le colocan entre los mejores a la hora de encontrar a sus compañeros.

Muy importante es también el rendimiento de Williams en el clutch, con cinco minutos o menos para el final y cinco puntos o menos de diferencia. En esos momentos Deron Williams tiene un Net Rating de 27.5 puntos por cada 100 posesiones, así como un ratio de 8 asistencias por cada pérdida, el mejor de la NBA en ese sentido.

“Esperaba que jugase genial y eso ha hecho,” dijo Rick Carlisle sobre Williams hace unos días. “Es un gran jugador. Con lo que más ha tenido que luchar es con las lesiones … una doble operación en los tobillos hace dos años y otras cosas. Ha trabajado extremadamente duro para superar esos contratiempos y volver a un buen nivel, y ese trabajo duro está dando sus frutos.”

“Ha sido un gran movimiento para mí,” dijo Williams de su fichaje por los Mavericks. “Simplemente formar parte de esta organización y de este equipo está siendo algo genial, está siendo un nuevo comienzo.”

Su capacidad para encontrar a Dirk Nowitzki en situaciones favorables para el alemán es algo que tampoco se debe subestimar. Los Mavs dependen en gran medida del acierto de Dirk para poder abrir a las defensas, y Nowitzki anota con un 52.5 por ciento de acierto cuando el asistente es Williams, con un 46.7 por ciento si el intento es de tres puntos.

El control del balón de Deron es el termómetro del juego de los Mavs. Para bien o para mal este equipo juega al ritmo que marca Williams, y eso se refleja en el impacto que tienen sus pérdidas y asistencias. Cuando Deron Williams comete 4 o más pérdidas en un partido, los Mavericks tienen un balance 1-3 (12-6 en el resto). Cuando Deron reparte 5 o más asistencias en un partido, los Mavericks tienen un balance 11 – 6 (2 – 3 si no llega a esa cantidad).

Balance de Dallas según las asistencias / pérdidas de Deron Williams.

Pérdidas & Asistencias 4 pérdidas o + 3 pérdidas o – 5 asistencias o + 4 asistencias o –
Balance y porcentaje de victoria 1-3 (25%) 12-6 (66.6%) 11-6 (64.7%) 2-3 (40%)

“Me siento bien,” dijo Williams. “Creo que tenemos un buen equipo, con muchas variables y muchos jugadores llegando de lesiones, por lo que no podíamos saber cómo de rápido encajaríamos. En este punto de la temporada creo que nos hemos adelantado a lo esperado, pero tenemos aún mucho que trabajar y mejorar.”

Pero el verdadero medidor del nivel de Deron es su aportación en defensa, especialmente según se acerca el final de los partidos, como vimos contra los Portland Trail Blazers.

En las segundas mitades de los partidos, Williams sube su nivel defensivo y solo permite un 40.4 por ciento de acierto a su par, un 2.1 por ciento menos el porcentaje habitual de su rival. Si nos vamos al último cuarto esos números se acentúan, con su emparejamiento anotando solo con un 36.2 por ciento de acierto.

Defensa de Deron Williams en el 4º cuarto / Williams defense, 4th quarter

Deron defense 4th quarter Lanzamientos defendidos / defended FG attempted Porcentaje permitido / defended FG% Porcentaje habitual / usual FG% of the shooter % Diferencia / Difference %
Global / Overall 2.5 36.2 43.3 -7.1
3 pt 1.1 30.0 32.6 -2.6
2 pt 1.4 40.7 46.5 -5.7

Si nos fijamos en la defensa del pick and roll, la situación más habitual del baloncesto actual, Williams se encuentra por encima de la media, permitiendo 0.73 puntos por posesión, colocándose con ese dato entre los 20 mejores defensores de pick and roll entre aquellos con un mínimo de 80 defensas de ese tipo.

“Ahora formo parte de una organización donde siento que encajo,” explicó Williams después del último partido en New York contra los Knicks. “Creo que necesitaban un base como yo, y aquí he podido crecer, tener el balón un poco más en mis manos, y todo esto está siendo genial para mí y para mi familia. Hay mucha más positividad en Dallas, y creo que necesitaba eso en mi vida.”

Mavs five-man unit is the best in the NBA

The best five-man, high-volume lineup in the NBA this season by volume hasn’t been the undefeated Golden State Warriors starting lineup. It hasn’t been a Spurs group, or any unit with Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, or James Harden.

Nope. Of the 26 lineups with at least 70 minutes played this season, the best five-man lineup in the NBA has been the Mavs’ group of Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Dirk Nowitzki, and Zaza Pachulia. In 71 minutes played, that group has a league-leading +31.5 net rating per 100 possessions, including a league-leading 131.5 offensive rating. That means that unit is scoring 131.5 points every 100 possessions, an absurd rate.

But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. That’s the lineup Dallas often finishes games with, and it’s the group that carries the team while Chandler Parsons still battles through a minutes restriction. That unit turned what appeared to be a road loss in Boston into a thrilling road win. Those five players closed out wins against the Pelicans and Lakers. Without that group, Dallas isn’t 8-4 and in third place in the West.

What’s most surprising about that group, though, is that essentially four of those players are new to the team. Nowitzki has been here for ages, of course, but Felton played just 281 minutes last season, his only other with the Mavericks. He and Nowitzki shared the floor for just 108 minutes during the 2014-15 regular season, according to NBA.com, so it’s not like they have a long history of working together. Williams, Matthews, and Pachulia, meanwhile, all joined the team this summer.

Players Team Net Rating
Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, Wesley Matthews, Dirk Nowitzki, Zaza Pachulia Mavericks 31.5
Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams Thunder 20.6
Jarrett Jack, Joe Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Thaddeus Young, Brook Lopez Nets 19.8
Kemba Walker, P.J. Hairston, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Al Jefferson Hornets 18.0
Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Tayshaun Prince, Kevin Garnett, Karl-Anthony Towns Timberwolves 17.7

The Dallas coaches and players have all praised the club’s high basketball IQ, and there’s perhaps no greater indicator of a smart team than seeing eye-popping stats like these: That group has a 2.47-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, ranking second-best among those 26 lineups, and its 67.6 true shooting percentage is miles ahead of the second-best Clippers’ starting lineup, sitting at 62.3 percent. One other notable element: It plays at a very slow pace relative to the rest of the groups on the list, which both reflects past success and bodes well for future success in crunch time, when the game usually slows down. In short, there’s nothing not to like about that group.

It’s no guarantee that those five will continue playing at this high a level for the rest of the season. But, again, this is a group of five players who have little to no history of playing together. Even Williams and Matthews shared the floor sparingly in their one-season partnership in Utah. As they continue to grow used to each other and learn everyone’s tendencies, odds are they can continue playing very well and potentially improve in other areas, particularly on defense.

“We’re still getting comfortable,” Williams told Mavs.com. “Still finding my way around out there. I think we all are still figuring out how to play with each other. Those things take time.

“Very rarely do you have a team in their first season (together) where they just kind of connect and click right from the start, but I feel confident in how we’ve started so far, and we’re gonna continue to get better.”