Editor’s note: Stats reflect games played through Jan. 18.
The Mavs are already halfway through the season. Crazy how time flies, right?
As we rapidly approach the All-Star break, exactly who teams are is becoming a bit more clear. Generally, it’s very difficult to draw conclusions about what a team does and doesn’t do through the first 20-30 games in a season because, as we learned in December, midseason trades can completely shift the foundation of a team. Players come and go, injuries occur, and so on. But Dallas has already played 41 games this season and more than a dozen with Rajon Rondo, so we know enough about this team to consider how it stacks up against the rest of the league.
One thing that’s made that even easier is SportVU, NBA tracking technology that takes into account literally every aspect of a game you can think of. How quickly are players moving? Where do they like to shoot? How effective are they at sharing the ball? All those answers and more are readily available to coaching staffs around the league, and a small (albeit extremely useful) portion of that data is made publicly available by the NBA, giving stat heads a chance to really dig deep to analyze the game.
The Mavericks stacked up well in many SportVU areas last season. For example, Dirk Nowitzki was near the top in catch-and-shoot points per game (and is again this season). Monta Ellis was prolific at driving the ball (as he is this year) and he also generated plenty of points per game off of assists. But with a new team and a slightly different system, where do the new Mavs rank this season in key categories?
First, let’s start off with how the Mavs as a team stack up when it comes to driving the lane. We know that was a huge point of emphasis for the club heading into the season, as the additions of Chandler Parsons, JJ Barea, Raymond Felton, and Jameer Nelson signaled that Dallas would look to get downhill from all angles. Even after Nelson was traded for Rondo, Dallas has still been a superior team in terms of capitalizing off of drives to the rim.
Dallas scores more than three points per game more on drives per game than second-place New Orleans, and that’s the only club that even comes close. You simply do not see massive gaps like this in most statistical categories in any pro sport, but the Mavs are head and shoulders above every other club when it comes to scoring points on drives to the basket, a combination of elite finishing skills and excellent passing ability.
The only club in the top-10 in team points per game on drives which scores more points per drive than Dallas is the Toronto Raptors, who do on a much more limited basis. The Raps drive to the basket 1.5 times fewer per quarter than the Mavericks, a significant difference. Dallas not only attacks the basket at a massive volume, but also does so super-efficiently, which makes this offense one of the most difficult to stop in the NBA.
On an individual basis, Monta Ellis grades out well yet again this season. He’s one of just six qualified players in the league in the top-12 in both team points per drive and individual points per drive this season. That’s a pretty impressive stat, especially considering who else is in that company.
Ellis is 10th in the league in team points per drive, meaning the Mavericks score 1.2 points every time he gets into the lane moving toward the rim. The biggest beneficiaries of his penetration are Tyson Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki, of course, but as you see below, Ellis also scores plenty of points himself, and rather effectively, too.
Only eight players in the league score more points themselves per drive than Ellis, but only four of them drive the ball at a similar rate. For example, Gordon Hayward leads the league in points per drive, but he gets to the rim three times fewer per game than Monta. In addition, three players ahead of him on the list shoot a lower percentage on rim drives. His efficiency is even more impressive given how defenses have approached this offense since the Rondo deal, virtually packing the paint with at least three defenders on almost every possession. Defenses know what’s coming and Ellis and the Mavs still generate points at a league-leading rate.
We knew Rondo was a court maestro when the Mavs acquired him in December, but he’s been able to create more from less than just about anyone else in basketball.
The Mavericks score 19.5 points per game off of Rondo’s 8.1 assists. That’s 2.41 points per dime, better than both Chris Paul (above him) and Stephen Curry (beneath him). It means he’s been able to find shooters behind the three-point line and that those guys have been able to convert those looks. Dallas players have generally done a good job scoring off of Rondo passes, scoring field goals on 57.4 percent of Rondo’s assist opportunities. That’s a two-pronged stat: 1. It means the players are shooting well when catching a Rondo pass, and 2. It means Rondo demonstrates good judgment, delivering the ball to the right players at the right time in the right spots. He’s already shown that he understands where certain players want the ball, which is especially impressive considering he’s been here less than a month.
There are plenty other SportVU stats available. It’s fun to check them out. For example, how well does Tyson Chandler protect the rim? How good is Dirk at shooting off the catch? Which Mavs have traveled the farthest distance this season, and who moves the fastest? These and the ones above are stats worth keeping an eye on throughout the rest of the season.