MAVNALYSIS: Rick & The Minutes Limits
Throughout the course of your sports consumption, you've undoubtedly witnessed numerous teams have their seasonal fate altered or even determined by the impact of injury. It may be as glaring as the brightest star, the sun which all other aspects of the team orbit around, being plucked from the sky, or as subtle as the quiet void left in the absence of an often overlooked pinprick of light, role player proved vital, leaving an inch-wide celestial crevasse appearing insignificant to the naked eye but stretching out into infinite darkness, causing an undercurrent where the smallest change flows into something more.
If you've spent time following the Dallas Mavericks this season, you've undoubtedly felt the team's internal stressing of the importance of health, of its indirect sibling: depth … they share one parent and can often have a fairly well-mannered coexistence, though they may also feel the pain of one in the body of the other: twins … with different mothers.
When health takes a hit, so does your depth.
At one time or another, it feels everyone from Mark Cuban to Rick Carlisle to Dirk Nowitzki to Jason Kidd to … anyone else you want to mention … has touched upon the desire to simply see this team reach the playoffs, and do so healthy.
The depth assembled for the 2011-12 campaign should have made this goal much easier to attain, spreading the punishment of this brutally compressed and often chaotic season over the surface of nearly a dozen sets of shoulders, rather than resting it solely on a few. You can certainly point to the disappointing performances of some meant to comprise this "depth," such as Lamar Odom's almost complete lack of impact, as thieves towards this greater purpose. However, it's hard to reach too far without finding that health has been a contributing factor towards this team's ailments in the standings.
It's not an excuse, or rather, it doesn't excuse some of the poor play we've been exposed to … of which there have undoubtedly been plenty of instances thus far. It does not forgive multiple occasions when the team simply didn't appear willing to put forth the four quarters of exertion needed to compete in or win specific games. As so many around the game have become prone to saying, "It is what it is."
That said, it's impossible to deny that injuries or health issues have played a role in how this season has unfolded for the Mavs. Beyond the sporadic, unreliable play of a few -- you may choose to wave your finger at a lone individual if you wish, though when viewing the season as a whole that portrayal is incomplete – the depth has been compromised, just as the issues it sought to alleviate have been impacted.
Through 50 games, Rick Carlisle has done a wonderful job of limiting the minutes of an older roster. Despite the wealth of absences, only one player is averaging over 31 minutes per game (Dirk at 32.5), and only four are over 25. The core of the rotation has essentially stretched out over 11 players.
For the numbers to follow, we'll constrict our focus to these 11. They are (in order of minutes averaged per game this season): Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Delonte West, Brendan Haywood, Roddy Beaubois, Lamar Odom, Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright.
We'll also only be looking at any games the players on this list received a "DNP" (Did Not Play) regardless of the reason. Obviously, for some there are factors beyond health/injury that come into play. For example, Brandan Wright has not played in 17 games this season, but most of those were by coach's decision, not injury.
We're also going to count the game Jason Kidd left on Jan. 27 after less than two minutes and the game Brendan Haywood exited after one minute on March 5 as "missed."
With those criteria in mind, the picture may be slightly shifted from reality, but we don't want to throw away instances in which Carlisle's choices on the bench were limited for any cause, even if the reason was not planted firmly in injury determined unavailability (see Kidd's rest, Dirk's four game "get right" period, Odom's other kind of "get right," or absences due to person reasons … even if those reasons were born directly from the wishes of Carlisle).
Of the Mavs 50 games, at least 10 of these 11 players have seen the court 19 times. Conversely they've played 31 with two or more of those 11 "missing," 15 with three or more out and one with four.
It should come as no surprise that the team's record slips in direct correlation to the rising number of players absent.
# of Plyrs Out...Totls...Ws-Ls...(Win %)
1 or less 19 14-5 (.737)
2+ Missing 31 14-17 (.452)
3+ Missing 15 5-10 (.333)
4 Missing 1 0-1 (.000)
For those curious as to how the team has survived in the games specific players have missed, here is that list (again, we're only looking at the 11 previously noted and counting the game for Kidd and Haywood in which they left almost immediately due to injury):
Plyer Gs Out Ws-Ls (Win %)
Dirk 4 3-1 (.750)
Terry 2 2-0 (1.000)
Shawn 3 2-1 (.667)
Kidd 12 8-4 (.667)
Vince 5 3-2 (.600)
West 21 10-11 (.476)
'Wood 11 4-7 (.364)
Roddy 10 6-4 (.600)
Odom 6 0-6 (.000)
Ian 3 0-3 (.000)
Wright 17 8-9 (.471)
When looking at these numbers, it's hard not to notice the glaring fact that the more players missing, the worse the record. This is to be expected, and you'd expect to find similar results in almost every team. So, what conclusions can you reach from this information?
First and foremost, injuries have certainly played a role in the Mavs successes and failures, just as they do for every team. Again, this does not excuse the judgment that this is a roster who has appeared to coast at times, appearing to prefer to reserve reservoirs of energy rather than scratch and claw for each and every win, particularly if faced with a significant deficit.
In the 22 Dallas losses, they are averaging 89 points while allowing 99.1, a point differential of -10.1. In their 28 wins, they average 99.7 points while holding opponents to 88.8, a point differential of 10.9. A broad interpretation of this would imply that this team plays drastically different when ahead than when behind. The fact that they are 2-17 in games they trail at any time by 10+ points, yet 26-6 when achieving a lead by the same margin, would seem to further support this hypothesis.
The records also show how much this team misses Delonte West and Brendan Haywood, two of their top defenders. The Mavs have played 21 games without West and managed to win only 10 of them. Haywood has missed 11 games, where Dallas has faired even worse, winning only four.
Depth is a great characteristic to have, but carries with it an inherent staircase descent in talent from peak on down … as you are forced to take additional steps into that depth, you move further down the stairs … playing without players of the importance Haywood and West carry has a clear detrimental effect.
No excuse, only a fact.
If you're searching for a silver lining … sort of … this also hints towards the notion that we really don't know what we have in this team. In the 15 games the Mavs have played without at least three of the above players, they are 5-10 … and those have come against teams with a combined winning percentage of .567, including the Thunder, Lakers and Spurs twice each (1-5 in those games).
Would things have been different with full health? Maybe. Maybe not.
Chemistry is a fragile entity attacked on countless fronts by forces that coarsen the path to its continued existence, such as diminished practice time, fatigue, roster turnover and the lack of a true preseason or training camp. We noted the obstacles these traits provided as the season began. Though we may have ceased to mention them on a daily basis, as we've all grown tired in hearing them ad nauseam, their influence has not waned.
You can point to the fact that an already cramped time has been sliced away, leaving little in the form of a platform to turn things around, to suddenly "click," just as you can hope that once health returns "chemistry" may rise due to nothing more than the talent on the floor, to the addition of pieces so often missing. At this point we don't know.
There is credence to the fact that this team is constructed to perform in the playoffs, just as there is truth to the fact that the health of the roster is inherent to provide the whole of that blueprint. While this may not be enough to conquer the doubts that have justifiably risen, perhaps it may also provide a breath of hope.
Without all the stars in place -- and Delonte and Haywood hope to be in place soon -- constellations are but a chaotic splatter of light. However, once they all fall into place, the picture can form. Now, we wait to see just what that picture is.
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