Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Help Wanted: Mavericks Need More Reliability On Offense To Contend

In the not-too-distant future the Dallas Mavericks are going to need some help on the offensive end. This is admittedly a bizarre statement to make on the heels of an thrilling come-from-behind home win in which the Mavs scored 112 points, but in light of their injury woes, a look at Tuesday night’s box score provides cause for concern in Big D.

The problem with the way in which the Mavs beat the Clippers (112-105, after trailing for much of the first three quarters) is that it’s totally unsustainable- not so much the always-fun 50-90-40 (FG/FT/3-pt), though you don’t want to count on it- but the hot hands that made those shots and lack of viable alternatives on the nights when they go cold. Yeah, Dirk and Jason Terry characteristically combined for 48 (though Dirk’s 20 came on an uncharacteristic 6-15 FG) and Shawn Marion made four of seven shots and scored 10 points (about what you’d expect), but the other two Mavs to crack double figures played, VERY generously, a bit over their respective heads.

First off, we have Tyson Chandler, who was perfect from both the field (5-5 FG) and the free throw line (11-11!) en route to 21 points. While Chandler is a fantastic all-around player in the midst of an excellent season, he’s only averaged more than his current 9.6 points per game (on an impressive 68% FG and 78% FT) once in his career (11.8 with the Hornets in 2007-08) and, well, dude didn’t miss a single shot! If he’s less than perfect and merely turns in an outstanding 4-5 FG, 9-11 FT performance, there’s no guarantee that Dallas comes away with a win. Plus, as great as he’s looks this year, Chandler only suited up in 96 games over the past two seasons, so the Mavs might want to be careful about putting too many eggs in his basket, lest injury strike.

Funny thing is, despite Chandler turning in the fifth perfect 20+-point game of the season, the honor of “most uncharacteristically heroic Mavericks performance” goes to goes to Jose Juan Barea. Normally just an elfish nuisance with hair gel, Barea was unstoppable, making 9 of 12 shots (including 3 of 4 3-pointers) and all four of his free throws in lighting the Clippers up for 25 points in 33 minutes. Now I’m not gonna say that this performance is an outlier, but how comfortable can the Mavs be relying on a 5’10” 8-point per game scorer and 40% shooter to hit three-quarters of his shots and play a starring role in a seven-point comeback win at home over a 3-13 (now 3-14) road team?

Now, Mavs fans, lest you think I am trying to diminish your feel-good win (and it really was impressive and fun to watch), I will concede that a combined eight points (on 2-11 FG, 1-8 on 3s) is less than you’d normally from Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood, but not by that much! Two of those three (Kidd and Stevenson) are not exactly efficient scorers to begin with (34% and 43%FG respectively; admittedly they’re not this bad, but let’s be pragmatic here), and the trio’s 58% underperformance relative to their season average (eight points, v. 18.8 points per game this season) was more than covered by Chandler and Barea going bonkers (46 points, v. 18.2 points per game this season, or +153%).

In the absence of the out-for-the-year Caron Butler (and his 15 points per game) and the injured-but-expected-back-soon (let’s believe that when we see it) Rodrigue Beaubois (7.1 points per game last season), at look at the rest of the Mavs’ roster (Sasha Pavlovic? Brian Cardinal? Ian Mahinmi?) does little to inspire confidence that the scoring cavalry is on its way. It’s worth noting that the Mavs have added once-prolific sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic, who was recently waived by the Toronto Raptors. Peja can still hit the three ball (37.5% on 3s over the last two seasons), but chronic back issues (i.e., don’t go away) have cost Peja at least 20 games in three of the last four seasons, including 69 games in 2006-07, and drained him of any ability he once had to cut to the basket. As a result, he has become entirely one-dimensional, with more than 50% of his FGA over that stretch (6 attempts per game) coming from behind the arc.

Are the Mavericks really comfortable with the idea of having their status as a contender rely so heavily on a steady stream of career nights from average (at best) offensive players? I’m guessing not, which means there’s a move to be made with this crew. A couple of ideas:

Prince, who’s $11.1M contract expires at season’s end, is a lead-pipe lock to leave the Pistons the first chance he gets (if the team’s crappy rebuilding job hadn’t sealed it, the coach's treatment of his championship buddy probably did the trick). This, along with the Pistons being firmly entrenched in the NBA’s bottom third and in dire need of financial relief ($65M owed over the next two years to Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva), pretty much ensures that the next 37 games are a mere formality. This being the case, why not swap Prince for Butler, who represents ~95% of the cap relief, and add an athletic young piece in the process?

Meanwhile, from the Mavs’ perspective, this deal is an absolute no brainer. They’re already paying Butler the remainder of his near-$11M salary, so why not swap Jones for Tayshaun, who will fill much of the defense/toughness void (we didn’t even get into that!) created by Butler’s absence, give them no worse than 15 efficient points per game? With his deal expiring this summer, it’s essentially a riskless lease.

Other than financial relief, there’s not a lot to this from Sacramento’s perspective. The Kings would take on the remainder of Butler’s salary, which comes off the books this summer, in exchange for a talented frontcourt scorer in Landry, who’s got a $3M salary that expires this summer and will NOT be re-signing in Sacto, and Garcia, a moderately-efficient-but-mediocre combo guard that’s owed $11.9M over the next two years.

Meanwhile, the Mavs would receive an excellent inside scorer in Landry, whose 2010-11 dropoff in efficiency suggests that he’s better suited for a supporting role on a strong team than a leading role. While he won’t replace Butler’s defensive intensity, he is a strong and active body and will rebound at a similar rate. Additionally, Garcia would play a valuable role for the Mavs, providing either scoring and ballhandling depth in the backcourt, or an insurance policy should Beaubois’ return be further delayed.


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