Shootaround: Jameer Nelson

Mavs PG Jameer Nelson talks about how easy it's been to get acclimated in Dallas, matching up against the 76ers and more.

As the Mavericks head into the third part of their four-game homestand, the opponent which awaits them is one that, beneath the record, is one of the most interesting teams in the league. The Philadelphia 76ers are win-less so far in 2014-15, but the roster is being built in such a way that we might not see concrete win/loss results this season or even next. Philadelphia has a bevy of first- and second-round picks in upcoming drafts that general manager Sam Hinkie hopes to put to good use and build a young team that can grow together and compete for championships in years soon to come. So far, the talent is there. The plan is for the wins to closely follow.

In many ways, what Hinkie and the Sixers are doing is playing out a basketball experiment in front of our very eyes. Coached by former Spurs assistant Brett Brown, Philadelphia played at the league’s quickest pace last season and is off to the third-fastest start to this one. This young bunch is basically attempting to run teams out of the gym with athleticism and ferocity. And, if you don’t believe a last-place team can play with the latter, what do you make of this KJ McDaniels gif? (courtesy of r/Sixers)

That block was so vicious that even Tyson Chandler must have watched it a few times in awe. The thing is, though, Philadelphia has several of these guys. McDaniels, a rookie, is shooting 42.1 percent from three this season and has already filled a reel with highlights from just his first few games. Nerlens Noel, meanwhile, was the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft but missed all of last season due to injury. The big man is now completing his de facto “rookie” season, similar to the way Blake Griffin did a few years ago, and he’s started off well, averaging 7.2 points, 1.6 steals, and 1.8 blocks per game. Dwight Howard is the only player since 2010 to average those marks in a season. If Noel can keep that pace up, he has a shot at winning Rookie of the Year.

Then, of course, there’s Michael Carter-Williams, the reigning ROTY. He was just the third player in league history to average at least 16 points, six rebounds, and six assists in his debut season, joining Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson. Not only are those numbers rare historically. Only LeBron James joined MCW in averaging those numbers last season. He shares a backcourt with Tony Wroten, maybe the most surprising player of the young season. The 21-year old Wroten is averaging 21.9 points, 6.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.7 steals so far in 2014-15, just an insane stat line that would thrill any fantasy owner.

Of the aforementioned players, only Wroten has played at the AAC before. Noel has missed games this season due to injury and Carter-Williams has yet to make his season debut, but both are considered probable for tomorrow night’s tilt, according to multiple Philadelphia news outlets.

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Joining this young core sometime in the future will be Joel Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick in 2014. Embiid is set to miss at least most of this season due to injury. Many believe his ceiling is higher than anyone else currently on the Philadelphia roster. Also on that list is Dario Saric, a Croatian player who is still overseas but is apparently NBA-ready. And the thing that will make Hinkie happiest about it is that these young players will be 76ers for the next several seasons, assuming of course that Philadelphia elects to re-sign them after their rookie deals expire. All told, just two players on the 76ers’ roster have more than two years of NBA experience. We’ll be seeing this lighting-quick team for many, many years to come, so we might as well get to know them.

As if you needed another reason to see the game, the Mavs will be giving out reusable bags, courtesy of Sprite, Albertsons, and Salvation Army Angel Tree. The Mavs have already given out some pretty serious swag this season, and they’re going to continue spreading the love from now until April.

But enough about Philly’s future. Let’s take a look at how these young guns stack up with the Mavs’ veteran core.

OFFENSE
Mavs Offense 76ers Defense
Points/100 poss. 112.3 (1) 105.1 (23)
eFG% 53.0 (T-4) 53.2 (27)
TOV% 11.9 (3) 19.5 (1)
Off/Def Reb% 25.4 (16) 70.3 (T-28)
FT/FGA .235 (25) .323 (22)

Philly’s hopes of slowing down the vaunted Mavs offense rest squarely on the shoulders of Noel in the middle and Wroten on the perimeter. Both players have the potential to be excellent defenders in this league. Wroten, who stands roughly 6′ 5″, has a wingspan measured at 6′ 9″ at the Draft Combine in 2012. He’s got a lot of length for a shooting guard, and that will help him stay in front of Monta Ellis on the perimeter. Ellis did score 24 points in the team’s first meeting last season, a game Dallas won by three points at the AAC, but Wroten recorded a defensive rating of 92, a terrific mark for any player.

Noel, meanwhile, is another physical specimen. He’s a shade under seven feet tall with a 7′ 4″ wingspan, making him an ideal rim protector. The Dallas offense is founded upon perimeter players knifing their way into the lane and finishing at the rim, but Noel’s presence alone is enough to alter those shot attempts. That, combined with Wroten’s defense on Ellis, could force Dallas into tough situations in the pick-and-roll game.

The Mavs’ counter to Wroten’s presence could be playing more through Chandler Parsons, who will be guarded by a combination of Luc Mbah a Moute, Hollis Thompson, and JaKarr Sampson. All players are long and lean, as is Philly’s entire roster, more or less, which gives Parsons a strength advantage that could play pivotal anytime he makes an off-ball cut or makes a strong move to the rim.

The 76ers do not have a player shorter than 6′ 5″, but they also are relatively small up front. Mbah a Moute and Brandon Davies have been splitting shifts at the power forward position this season, with 6′ 10″ center Henry Sims occasionally playing alongside fellow center Noel. Brown is in a tough position if he elects to put Noel on Dirk Nowitzki, as the Mavs could easily exploit the void left at the rim if Noel is drawn 20 feet away to check the Dallas superstar. That means it’s going to be one of the smaller guys, which will allow Dirk to have free reign in the post and slightly easier looks from the outside.

The “pick your poison” theme will be alive and well when these two teams square off. Philly is equipped to defend one element of the Mavs offense — Chandler/Ellis pick-and-rolls and the ensuing drive-and-dish options that come from it — but Parsons and Nowitzki have significant advantages at their positions. If the Dallas offense comes out clicking, it has the potential to create too many problems for the Sixers to solve.

DEFENSE
Mavs Defense 76ers Offense
Points/100 poss. 107.4 (26) 93.5 (30)
eFG% 53.6 (28) 47.7 (20)
TOV% 19.2 (3) 17.9 (T-25)
Off/Def Reb% 69.2 (30) 23.1 (T-22)
FT/FGA .264 (8) .292 (20)

Offensively, the 76ers are almost exclusively an inside or outside team. Just 14 percent of their field goal attempts come from between 10 feet and the three-point line, per Basketball-Reference, and only Houston and Portland attempt a higher volume of three-pointers per game. More than 31 percent of Philly’s FGA this season have been treys, and they’ve converted at a 33.1 percent clip. These types of teams rely on inside-out ball movement, which means it’s very important for Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris, JJ Barea, and Ellis to limit guard penetration as much as possible.

More than 15 percent of the Sixers’ field goal attempts have come with between 22-18 seconds left on the shot clock, per NBA.com, considered “very early” in the possession. (For reference, Dallas attempts just 11 percent of its FGA in that time frame.) They attempt more than four three-pointers per game during that time frame. They’re looking to run and run and run and run some more, whether off a make or miss, meaning it’s going to be necessary for the entire Mavs team to track back on defense off of any long miss.

As it will be MCW’s debut, it will be interesting to see how much of the offense flows through him versus running it through Wroten. Carter-Williams is 6′ 6″, giving him almost a half-foot size advantage over Jameer Nelson. But Wroten has been so effective this season that I wonder if it will be him who gets most of the quarterbacking duties until MCW becomes more accustomed to the system. That means Ellis might have a heavy defensive workload on his plate. To that end, we might see more Jae Crowder and Richard Jefferson off the bench than usual, as those players have the size and strength to limit Carter-Williams and Wroten on the outside. Fortunately, Dallas’s depth plays in its favor once again.

We haven’t seen a team like the 76ers on or off the court in a long time. It’s always a treat to see teams going through complete, top-to-bottom overhauls, especially when it’s through a youth movement, as you can see the players grow and improve together over time. Philadelphia has so much young talent on its roster that it’s hard to see this thing not working out, unless of course injuries continue to sideline the youngsters for extended periods of time. We only get to see these guys once per year, so every time they roll through town between now and 2016 it’s like we’ll be seeing a completely new team. Although their record might suggest otherwise, this team is one you want to see, and one you’ll want to continue watching in the future.

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