Shootaround: Tyson Chandler

Mavs C Tyson Chandler talks to the media after Rajon Rondo's first practice with the team. He said the guard brings grittiness and a high basketball IQ they'll need tonight against the Spurs.

This is going to be a strange game.

First, it’s the debut of new Maverick Rajon Rondo, who will be in the starting lineup tonight. Rondo learned the playbook in between last night and this morning, apparently, a pretty impressive feat. Tyson Chandler would agree.

No word yet on whether or not Dwight Powell will be active tonight, but even if he is there’s no guarantee he’d play. The Mavs like his skillset and potential, though, so Powell is definitely a player worth getting to know.

On top of new faces in new places, the Spurs are in town. You never know what’s going to happen with those guys, especially on the second night of a back-to-back. San Antonio lost a triple-overtime thriller last night, and head coach Gregg Popovich has a reputation of resting his older core guys when playing two games in two days. It’s virtually impossible to predict how Popovich will manage the rotation, and who will even be in the rotation to begin with. But, as Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle says, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing against on the Spurs, because they can all beat you.

Mavs Offense Spurs Defense
Points/100 poss. 113.6 (1) 99.1 (3)
eFG% 53.7 (2) 48.0 (7)
TOV% 12.5 (T-4) 13.9 (T-21)
Off/Def Reb% 26.4 (T-11) 78.5 (2)
FT/FGA .270 (21) .243 (3)

The Spurs’ defensive strategy is pretty complex, but the philosophy is fairly simple. San Antonio is going to play fundamentally sound defense around the rim — that is, Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, and the other bigs are going to play straight-up, vertical defense at the rim and will not commit fouls. The Spurs just don’t allow teams to get to the charity stripe. They also clean the glass more effectively than just about anyone, made possible in part because Popovich plays tall lineups by today’s NBA standards. A Duncan/Diaw or Duncan/Splitter frontline has more size and strength than many others in the league, except for the Grizzlies, Kings, and a few other clubs. Dallas, meanwhile, has a very good offensive rebounding team, but Brandan Wright had a lot to do with that. It remains to be seen if Greg Smith or new Maverick Powell can attack the offensive boards the way Wright did.

However, given Popovich’s penchant for resting Duncan anytime they play games two days in a row, the Mavericks might not have to deal with his rim protection and rebounding. That would mean heavier minutes for reserves Matt Bonner, Aron Baynes, and possibly Jeff Ayres as well. Bonner is a terrific three-point shooter while Baynes and Ayres have touch around the rim. Splitter may or may not play — you really never know with the Spurs — but his defense on Dirk Nowitzki was a huge factor in San Antonio’s victory over Dallas in last year’s playoffs.

The Spurs will be without backup point guard Patty Mills, who’s missed the entire season, and they’ll likely be playing without Tony Parker as well, who’s recently been nursing a hamstring injury. That leaves Cory Joseph as the lone point guard on the roster. He played more than 43 minutes last night against Damian Lillard, and next up for him is guarding Rajon Rondo. That’s a tough assignment for the young Joseph, but it’s one to watch. Danny Green typically guards Monta Ellis when these two teams meet, and as Green is a very good defender, Rondo has the better matchup this evening. (That’s going to be a huge problem moving forward for opponents: You can guard Ellis or you can guard Rondo. Most teams can’t guard both. Don’t forget about Chandler Parsons, either.)

From a Mavs perspective, I’m interested in seeing how the offense operates with both Rondo and Ellis on the floor. Both players are terrific with the ball in their hands, so how Rick Carlisle balances the facilitating duties will be something to follow closely. By all accounts Rondo has a very high basketball IQ, but it’s still going to take time to completely assimilate him into the offense. I’m curious to see if Dallas slims down its offensive playbook at all tonight, although, to be fair, the Mavericks barely run any set plays anyway. It’s mostly just pick-and-roll, pick-and-roll, pick-and-roll, and that comes second nature to Rondo. Playing with Dirk and Tyson Chandler is going to make that much easier for him, too.

Mavs Defense Spurs Offense
Points/100 poss. 105.1 (20) 105.0 (T-11)
eFG% 51.4 (24) 51.1 (T-8)
TOV% 17.2 (2) 15.0 (T-13)
Off/Def Reb% 71.6 (29) 24.0 (21)
FT/FGA .274 (T-15) .277 (T-15)

If the Spurs are indeed going to be without Tony Parker again tonight, the Mavs clearly have an advantage at the point guard position on the defensive end. Rondo is a good defender with great on-ball and off-ball instincts; he averages nearly two steals per game for his career. He brings with him a tenacity on the defense that the Mavs have lacked since Shawn Marion left this summer via free agency. A lineup of Rondo, Devin Harris, Al-Farouq Aminu, Dirk, and Chandler would be one of the best defensive units in the game, so I’m sure it’s something Carlisle will consider using as time goes by. That’s not even factoring in Ellis, who racks up a bunch of steals, or Parsons, who plays solid defense night in and night out.

The Spurs will also likely be without Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who has a torn ligament in his right hand. There’s a good chance the entire Spurs core five from the Finals win will sit this game out, but that doesn’t mean the team is any less dangerous than it typically is. The shorthanded Spurs took red-hot Portland to three overtimes last night before finally stumbling down the stretch. Joseph has proven that he’s capable of running the offense, putting up 10 points, seven assists, and eight rebounds against Portland. Rookie Kyle Anderson is an intriguing prospect on the perimeter. He scored just two points last night but grabbed nine rebounds and added three steals.

Obviously, if the Spurs are playing without Parker, Duncan, Leonard, and Manu Ginobili, you’d expect the Mavs to have the upper hand defensively. Adding Rondo into the mix might even give Dallas the upper hand on that end of the floor on most nights, which is something we weren’t able to say during the past few seasons. He has the past performance and current ability of a lockdown defender at the position, especially when partnering with Chandler defending pick-and-rolls. Dallas is now a much more difficult team to attack than it was the last time the Mavs took the floor, and that’s a good thing.

There’s going to be a lot of emotion at the AAC tonight. Rondo’s debut, Spurs in town, first home game in a week. The atmosphere is going to be electric and it should be a good game, because these teams always seem to play classics, regardless of who suits up for San Antonio.

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