It's far too early to pass judgment on the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks. Two convincing wins and one gut-punch loss do not dictate how the season will progress, nor do they provide enough evidence to firmly grasp any statistical indicators. Only 3.6 percent of the season has dripped its way into the record books.
For the sake of comparison, this is the equivalent of defining an NFL team by less than three quarters of their opening game … or binding a baseball team to the results of their first five games, while ignoring the 157 to come. With over 96 percent of the season remaining, or 79 games, it's simply not enough to act as the foundation to sound, season-based assumptions.
Ask the question of Mavs people behind the scenes. They will whisper you that answer.
Yet, while attempting to attain the stated goal of freeing Jason Kidd from the burden of unnecessarily cumbersome minutes, it is one of these shooting guards being asked to play out of position and carry a talented second unit. And to this point, it hasn't been a success.
That doesn't mean it won't or can't improve (see the disclaimer above). Only three games have been played. Yet, there must be some small level of concern in watching a bench that includes Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood give away leads granted by strong starts. Perhaps it's nothing more than awaiting the return of Roddy B to normalize a rotation temporarily askew due to Terry's move into the starting lineup.
Or, perhaps it's a symptom signifying the lack of a capable point guard to run the offense when Jason Kidd takes his rest.
There are stats to support the lack of production thus far from the man being asked to fill the role, JJ Barea. Of Mavs players who have seen more than 50 minutes of action, Barea has the worst PER (8.9), the worst offensive-rating (80) and the least amount of win-shares per 48 minutes* (0.005).
Statistically speaking, these numbers feel closer to arbitrary than truly indicative of what Barea brings to the team … though they also feel like an accurate representation of his performance thus far. With such a small sample size, one game, or even a particularly strong quarter, can significantly alter the cumulative statistics.
Over the course of the season, we can expect Barea's numbers to level out and likely see him finish around 13 in PER, an offensive-rating hovering around 105, and a win-share per 48 minutes in the neighborhood of 0.069 … which is exactly what he's done over the past two seasons. He's better than he's performed this year, but he's likely about the same as what we've seen over the past two seasons.
As a player, he is a respectable backup (as we looked into here). Yet, in the past we've also seen Carlisle unable to place enough trust in Barea at the point guard position to give Kidd the desired rest. In the first three games this season, Kidd is averaging just under 33 minutes per game, or about three minutes less than he's averaged over the course of the past two years in Dallas. We've also seen the team struggle with Kidd on the bench.
Again, it can't be stressed enough that it is only been three games. Things can change quickly, and one game can alter the stats to a great degree. The majority of this idea is based on the eye test and recent history prior to this season, not just the limited collection of stats. Yet, we do have three games (only) to go by with the infancy of this season.
Over those three games, Jason Kidd has a plus/minus of +44, meaning the Mavs have scored 44 more points than the opposition while Kidd has been on the court. The Mavs as a team have outscored opponents by 30 for the season (giving them a +10 in point differential for those keeping track), meaning they've been outscored by 14 when Kidd has been on the bench … which easily translates into the backup point guard(s) carrying a plus/minus of -14.
Given this, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Barea has a plus/minus of -27 for the year. The cause for the mismatch in numbers is the fact that Barea's total takes into account more than just his backup point guard numbers.
Should a bench that includes players the caliber of Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood regularly seeing the court with either Dirk Nowitzki or Caron Butler, as Carlisle seems to keep one of the two on the court at almost all times, be losing leads … especially when they are being matched up against opposing bench players?
Marion has been outstanding in adjusting and conforming to playing from the bench. Haywood wasn't a significant factor early, but seemed to come on strong in the Clipper's game. When looked at individually, the excuses aren't there. On paper, the bench should be able to sustain or even build upon leads.
On a positive note, at least as far as hope is concerned, we did get a glimpse of Dominique Jones being given the opportunity to initiate the offense for a small stretch in the game against the Clippers. While still more of a shooting guard, he had moments of fluidity that included attacking and kicking to open players, either getting direct assists or leading to one follow up pass for an open look.
With a three game sample size being too small, these few minutes are far from enough to build too much hope. But, it was a pleasant sight to behold and easily the best play in the games that count we've seen from the rookie … especially when you pair any offensive proficiency with the defensive talent Jones holds, but has yet to fully control.
The depth on Dallas is real, but the lack of depth at one position has stolen their overall impact to this moment. It's certainly far from the point of no return, but the Mavs must start to get better play from the backup point guard position regardless of the name on their jersey. It may not be a season killer, but that's not to say it cannot carry negative influences … such as an extra loss here and there, or extra minutes that must be lobbed on the shoulders of Jason Kidd.
Kidd needs his minutes to be kept at a reasonable level, and the Mavs need whoever backs him up to make that a feasible task to undertake. It's a reasonable request. After three games, we have questions. Over the course of the season, we'll find answers.
*Win Shares per 48 Minutes:
Win Shares are a cumulative stat that divides a team's total games won amongst its players by their individual game contributions, giving a higher number, or more credit to the stars (high contributors) of a given game.
Definition per Basketball-Reference.com:
Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (available since the 1951-52 season in the NBA); an estimate of the number of wins contributed by the player per 48 minutes (league average is approximately 0.100). Please see the article Calculating Win Shares for more information.