Donuts: What The NBA Will Copy From Dallas

It's a copycat league. And your Mavs are now the Big Cats. They are already stealing your top assistant coach. Soon they'll want some of your newly bejeweled players. So what else gets copied from the World Champions? We pinpoint it in Donuts:

DONUT 1: Copycats!

There will almost certainly be teams convincing themselves that they, too, can win with a big white guy as their centerpiece. Good luck with this; more than ever, our believe that there is NO "The Next Dirk'' out there is strengthened.


There are other bigs, other whiteys, other Euros and other shooters. But there is not another UberMan, with all that he brings to the court and beyond.

DONUT 2: Throwing money at problems? Yes, some will mimic Mark Cuban's spendy ways, forgetting that he actually spends more frugally now, with a budget in mind, then he did in the days when every trade included at $3 mil sweetener.

DONUT 3: A team-oriented philosophy? That's what Rick Carlisle would push for … and is, with repeated references to the Mavs having "played the game the right way'' and such. But consider this: How wrong, exactly, was Miami's "way'' in winning 58 in the regular season and then achieving the NBA Finals? Had Dallas not captured the fourth win first, would the Mavs' way have suddenly been wrong?

The Mavs obeyed Rick by ignoring "role definition'' and instead rolling with "role acceptance.'' "Be Ready'' was embraced. "Unselfishness and balance'' became living, breathing things.

But let's not forget: The Mavs tried to sign LeBron, too.

So no. Playing without multiple superstars is not the optimal plan. Listen, as soon as Chris Paul or Dwight Howard or Deron Williams announce they want to come to Dallas, the Mavs will "kitchen-sink'' their teams to death, OK?

Mark my words on that. Remember "kitchen sink.''

So what is left to copycat from the World Champion Dallas Mavericks?

DONUT 4: The zone defense.

The Mavs' original "book'' on the zone defense was written by Del Harris – with his boss, Nellie, kicking and screaming all the way as he was dragged into a new school of thinking a little more than a half-decade ago.

Avery Johnson had his impact on it, certainly. But under Carlisle, with great help from Toronto-bound Dwane Casey and Tim Grugrich, the Mavs now use the zone defense more than any other team in the NBA (many of whom are reluctant and still doing the kicking-and-screaming thing) …

And they do it better than anybody else, too, obviously.

DONUT 5: I've heard coaching minds say Carlisle "junks it up'' with the zone defense and they mean that as a compliment … kinda. I think it's more accurate to say Dallas disguises well what it is doing; Mario Chalmers admitted the Heat went entire half-quarters before quite catching on, at which time, of course, Carlisle issued another change.

DONUT 6: I would also argue (and so would members of this staff) that the Mavs didn't use the zone as a "cover-up'' for the individual weaknesses of guys like Dirk. (Jason Terry also gets thrown into this mix sometimes, but the fact is, he actually thrived at many moments on defense this year, becoming fairly astute as anticipating in passing lanes and staying in the grill of larger foes.)

But Dallas didn't play the zone all the time. (One estimate for the regular season puts it at 15 percent of the time.) And Dallas didn't play it as a sign of weakness. The Mavs used it as a billy club. They attacked with it. And won a title with it.


When Barea was on the floor and in the zone, especially in the postseason, he became a full-court press pest. When Stevenson was on the floor and in the zone and required to play the 3, he survived as an undersized forward. Sometimes even Jason Kidd played the 3 in the zone and he wasn't victimized because his individual talent meshed well with the system.

DONUT 7: Isn't the zone a proven way to control the one- or two-superstar teams whose stars really only have the ability to create one-on-one off the dribble, and who often don't shoot consistently well from the perimeter?

Isn't what the Mavs just did to Miami a sort of blueprint we'll see used elsewhere in the future?

Know this: It didn't just work against Miami in the Finals. It worked against Miami in the two regular-season games, also -- both Mavs wins. According to Synergy, in those two games when shooting against the Dallas zone, Wade and LeBron James were a combined 3-of-17.

Miami knew it was coming. Miami never solved it.

DONUT 8: Over and over again this season, Dallas befuddled teams when it switched into the zone. As a result, often even relatively good shooting teams struggled on most nights. And teams that are generally poor perimeter shooters (an NBA epidemic!) went in the toilet.

The textbook on the zone defense is unchanged from your middle-school days: It protects and can close down the paint. It forces teams to succeed from the perimeter (and in the case of LeBron and Wade, lures them into thinking they are "open'' from there.) It makes it easier to "pinch'' and double-team.

And yes, it can be a disguise.

DONUT 9: It also requires a great deal of communication and "help'' and the assignments must be carried out properly. One huge feather in the cap of this coaching staff: Ian Mahinmi, as of a few months ago, had little idea how to move and help inside a zone.

Next thing you know he is playing important minutes as the backup center on a title team that won it with … a zone defense.

The Mavs' teaching staff helps. So does the "savant'' work of Kidd. And so does the vocal contribution of Tyson Chandler, the first communicative big man – a 7-foot traffic cop -- this Mavs era has ever seen.

I think if we look back and study film, we will see Brendan Haywood best defensive work coming when Dallas was in a non-zone defense. Big Wood on Aldridge and on Bynum? I bet the Mavs played to what they hoped might be Big Wood's strengths there.

The zone at its most effective certainly came when All-NBA Defensive honoree TY was in the middle. (And will be again next year once the two sides come to a financial meeting of the minds. That's not an insult to anybody. In fact, it offers a teaching opportunity to Big Wood so he can soon be equally effective no matter the circumstances.

DONUT 10: So many commentators spoke of the zone so disparagingly all season long. Many calling it a "weakness'' and "gimmick,'' the equivalent of a fastball pitcher thinking a knuckleballer is something less than manly. But now it has Larry attached to it. Now it looks like a shortcut (a shortcut blazed by intellect and labor) to success with spare parts like DeShawn Stevenson (a non-rotation player last fall) and Brian Cardinal (subject to the "him-or-Steve Novak'' debate in camp) … because every team has a Stevenson type and a Cardinal type, right?

DONUT 11: And then there is this: Carlisle and Dirk and other speak a great deal on their faith and belief in one another. That was necessary from the start regarding the use of the zone … and it had to come from the start so Dallas could spend its 82 games making sure the rotations and the assignments and the decisions and the kinks were all ironed out.

And once playoff time came, how many obviously blown assignments did our naked eyes find? Not many. The Mavs were comfortable and confident in the structure and stability of their "gimmick.''

DONUT 12: One thing about a copycat league (which they all are): There is not only a bullseye on the originator, there is also the creation of defined ways to counteract the originator that becomes the champion.

I think one of the reasons the zone was so effective is because few other teams practiced it enough … so they didn't go against it themselves every day and were therefore uncomfortable opposing it in the games.

I recall a moment in the NBA Finals when LeBron, seeing Dallas was in a zone, plunked himself right in the middle of it, right at the free-throw line, planning to slice it apart from the inside. I believe Van Gunday said something positive about LeBron's move, noting that such positioning is among the ways to beat a zone.

The football equivalent for, say, a tight end: You find the seam in the zone and you sit there. One man, two men or no men may come to guard you. … and things open up from the inside out.


So it is in basketball. Van Gundy saw it. LeBron saw it, too … but only that once. I don't know that King James used that zone-busting trick any more than that one time in the entirety of the series.

Next year, though? That will be among the counterpunches to Carlisle's zone.

And how do you best respond to someone else's reactive move? Negate by being proactive again ... one step ahead, again.

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