Dallas needs to find some shooters
January 31, 2013 Leave a comment
Ian Levy of The Two Man Game wrote this morning that while Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle has historically done a good job of tinkering with lineups to find the most effective unit, the starting group Dallas has run out since Dirk Nowitzki came back from injury has been terrible offensively and defensively.
The five-man group of Darren Collison, OJ Mayo, Shawn Marion, Dirk and Chris Kaman is being walloped to the tune of 14.5 points per 100 possessions, an embarrassingly bad mark especially considering the starting lineup should typically be one of the two or three best lineups on a team. The offense is especially lacking: Dallas ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of points per possession but the 94.3 mark the starting lineup produces would rank 3 points less than the Wizards and 8 points less than any other team. Luckily (I guess), the lineup’s defensive efficiency is only 1-2 points worse than the team average, so, there’s that.
The cause of this miserable situation on the defensive end is pretty clear: Kaman and Nowitzki are both slow on their feet and neither are outstanding rebounders, meaning the Mavericks’ bigs can’t guard big guys, block shots from little guys or end possessions by crashing the glass. That’s a recipe for disaster. However, the offensive problems are puzzling, as each of the five players are not inefficient players in their own right. (Levy points out Kaman’s true shooting percentage is his highest since 2009. While this might be true, the percentage is still pedestrian by NBA standards, even below the league average for centers who have played at least 20 games.) But as a unit, the group fails.
Below is a shot chart from Two Man Game that shows where this lineup’s field goal attempts come from. Note: The corner 3 and shots at the rim are the most efficient shots in the game, and many teams (the Spurs, most famously) take a majority of their shots from those locations.
Pretty striking numbers. The Mavs’ supposed best lineup has taken only seven corner 3s while on the floor. Not surprisingly, this lineup has taken an extremely high number of mid-range shots. That’s where Dirk thrives. But Dirk also defies most of the trends in the NBA. The key is surrounding him with players who can shoot from the areas Dirk rarely goes. A Kirk Goldsberry paper published last year charted shots from every single player in the league from 2006-2011, and calculated the percentages from each of those points. Here are the results. (Note: Red is good, blue is bad.)
The easy conclusion to draw: Shoot from the corners and shoot from the basket, because those are the easiest places to score. However, look again at the Mavericks’ shooting chart and you’ll notice Dallas almost never shoots from those places.
Why is it so important to balance Dirk with players who can shoot from those locations? Take a look at Dirk’s shot chart from the same time frame (bottom left chart on page 5 of Goldsberry’s paper). Dirk is brilliant from the left side of the court from mid-range and from the right elbow extended to the 3-point line. Take a quick peek back to the shooting chart above and you’ll notice that’s where most teams rarely ever shoot and rarely ever score. I’d guess Dirk’s buckets probably constitute a majority of the conversions from both of those locations. This, along with his size and ability to pass out of double-teams, makes him a matchup nightmare. However, he should be the only Maverick shooting from that range.
Marion, Kaman, Collison and Mayo actually lead the Mavericks in shot attempts at the rim, but Mayo and Collison are the only two of the four who attempt more than one 3-pointer per game. Mayo, though he’s been slipping lately, is a good 3-point shooter. However, he and Collison rarely venture to the corner, where 3s are easier to make. Marion is one of the team’s worst shooters from distance. Basically, what this means is teams can clog the lane and leave Dallas’ guards and wings open for 3 while focusing on Dirk in the mid-range. Teams will let Kaman shoot because, although he’s shot well by his standards this season, he falls below league average in terms of true shooting percentage. Without the threat of the 3-point shot, it’s really, really hard to get to the basket in the NBA. Good luck scoring, Dirk!
What does Dallas need to do? At this point, the season is essentially over, so there’s no point in making a risky trade to try to acquire someone who can shoot from deep. Floor spacing is so incredibly important, especially when a team’s best player thrives in the middle of the court. Carlisle, a lineup magician (remember, it was his insertion of JJ Barea into the starting lineup that basically won Dallas the championship in 2011), can probably find a solution. Vince Carter is a more suitable option for Dirk than Marion, as Carter can shoot the 3. Kaman’s head injury might be a blessing in disguise, as Bernard James, an energetic shot-blocker, and Brandan Wright, Dallas’ smoothest inside scorer, will receive more playing time. Pairing Dirk with a more athletic big worked in 2006 and it worked in 2011, so why wouldn’t it work now?
Breaking up a pitiful lineup might not save the Mavericks’ season, but it will at least make the games a little more competitive, and might actually normalize Dallas’ shot distribution which will increase efficiency on the offensive end.