Premium Mavs: Creating A 'Brand'

Besides inside-practice notes on Delonte, Dirk and Jae, goes 1-on-1 with Rick Carlisle as he reviews our stat thesis: Elton Brand is an 'elite' defensive big. So 'elite' that he can mentioned in the same breath with Tyson Chandler, Rick? 'Well,' Carlisle tells us, 'that's not preposterous, but ...' Premium Mavs inside:

Is Elton Brand, like Tyson Chandler, an 'elite defender'?

There's no denying the defensive impact that Tyson Chandler had on the Dallas Mavericks championship team. He was easily the best defensive center in the history of the Mavericks' organization and his rebounding, shot blocking and toughness were huge factors in the Mavs' success.

Chandler also went on to bring that same defensive intensity to the New York Knicks last season and won his first Defensive Player of the Year award. While the Mavericks' starting center this season, Chris Kaman, is a much more offensive-minded center, the Mavericks believe they will have a defensive anchor in Elton Brand coming off the bench. (Or starting at the 4, depending on Dirk's knee.) As heralded as Chandler is on defense, we dug through some advanced stats and ask Carlisle if there is an argument to be made that Brand can have a Tyson-like impact.

"Well,'' Carlisle tells us, "that's not preposterous, but ... let's put it this way: Brand on defense proves the old saying that there are a lot of ways to skin a fish.''

We tried to correct Rick on the chestnut; it's "skin a cat,'' right? But we don't want to argue with him about Brand vs. Chandler. Nor do we want to pretend that stats definitively prove otherwise.

And still ...
The distinction between the two defenders has everything to do with perception and defensive strengths and style. Elton Brand's strength is as a one-on-one post defender. Oddly enough, these types of post defenders are often over looked by most people in comparison to big men who play great help defense such as Chandler.

"I've talked with (Sixers coach) Doug Collins about Elton,'' Carlisle tells us. "And he points out that he defends much bigger guys well because he's got a strong and broad base. Brand plays 'strong' inside, if you know what I mean.''

Chandler's defensive presence was huge for the Mavericks because he could sometimes make up for poor defense played by perimeter players -- and he did so "above the rim.''

"That's a big difference,'' Rick tells us. "Brand doesn't do it above the rim like that.''

This type of defense catches the eye because it sometimes involves swatting the shot of a driving guard into the third row. It is spectacular and worthy of oohs and ahhs.

However, noticeable swaps do not always make a player a complete defender. For example, Serge Ibaka led the league in blocks last year because he is an exceptionally instinctive help defender, but he is not exactly a great post defender. If Ibaka were to face the Spurs he would have (and certainly has had) trouble guarding Tim Duncan. But he would still have an impact on the game by altering the shot of, say, Tony Parker around the rim.

Tyson Chandler affects games in a similarly great way. Check out this video of an especially impressive defensive effort by Chandler while a member of the Mavericks.

Chandler was impressive in this clip because of the amount of ground he covered while playing defense. It seemed like no matter who took the shot Chandler was going to contest it in some fashion. But notice that Chandler did not have to play any actual post defense on DeMarcus Cousins, the offensively talented center for the Kings. The Kings attacked in a way that played to Chandler's defensive strengths.

On the other hand, post defenders are not always credited for their excellent defensive play. Elton Brand is also an undersized big man. The perception of big men under 6'9 is often that they are not exceptionally skilled. If they play good defense it is just because they are "outworking their opponent on the glass."

But Brand's size (he is listed at 6'9) does not prevent him from making scoring difficult on anyone trying to post him up -- including, as Rick notes, men who are longer than he is.

Last season Brand allowed only 0.59 points per post-ups, which ranked in the top three in the NBA. He also allowed just 0.67 points per possession to roll men in pick-and-roll scenarios, which was second only to Kevin Garnett according to Basketball Prospectus' Kevin Pelton.

Some may also be surprised that some of the more basic defensive stats also favor Brand rather than Chandler over the past six seasons. Here are the statistics of blocks and steals per game for the two players since 2007 (excluding 2008 when Brand only played eight games).

Blocks per game:

Chandler Brand

2007: 1.74 2.24

2009: 1.22 1.59

2010: 1.10 1.05

2011: 1.08 1.32

2012: 1.44 1.63

Steals per game:

Chandler Brand

2007: 0.50 0.96

2009: 0.33 0.59

2010: 0.33 1.09

2011: 0.49 1.14

2012: 0.90 0.97

Chandler takes charges at a slightly higher rate than Brand and he does also accumulate more defensive rebounds, but both are very efficient rebounders on both the defensive and offensive glass.

At the end of the day, Chandler's high level of "activity" gives the perception of better defense, but Brand puts up very similar defensive stats by "skinning a fish'' in a different manner.

Brand's versatility will also be a huge asset to the Mavs as he can effectively guard both centers and power forwards. On Mavs' media day Brand claimed that over the past five years he has guarded everyone from Kevin Garnett to Yao Ming, and he is correct.

Depending on Dirk's health, Chandler might be on the floor more for the Knicks and will likely put up better statistics, but Brand will possibly have a very similar defensive effect on the Mavericks as Chandler did in 2010.

The "toughness" aspect that Chandler is always credited with absolutely applies to Brand, who has never been known to back down from opponents. Brand also claimed that he led the league in flagrant fouls last season, adding with a contradictory smile that he was not proud of the statistic.

Mark Cuban and the Mavericks have been criticized for their willingness to let Chandler leave the Mavericks through free agency as he was a defensive anchor to their roster. This was and still is a fair criticism. However, Chandler signed with the Knicks for $58 million. This season the Mavericks were able to acquire a big man in Elton Brand who may be able to fill that defensive anchor position for a much cheaper price of $2.1 million.

So is Carlisle willing to let these stats and advanced stats suggest that Brand is Chandler's equal? No.

"But you're right in saying that there are spectacular things that some guys do that on the surface outweigh the subtle things other guys do,'' Rick says. "If you're making the argument that Brand does those subtle things well enough to be called an 'elite' interior defender, you're making a valid argument.''
Delonte update:

Carlisle and general manager Donnie Nelson are scheduled to visit with Delonte West following an angry incident in the post-game locker room after Monday's preseason win over Houston at the AAC. The Mavs immediately suspended West for "conduct detrimental to the team'' and will be working to "resolve the situation quickly'' in the Tuesday meeting, Carlisle says.

"He's been suspended and we're going to talk to him today a little bit later, Donnie and I, and hopefully get it resolved quickly,'' Carlisle says. "It was a conduct issue and we're addressing it.''

A trio of things could be at play here: One observer tells us West was unhappy when he left the floor on Monday, possibly over having played just 17 minutes in the game. Additionally, Monday was his mother's birthday, a seemingly emotional time for Delonte. And third, West deals with bipolar disorder, which can be managed with medication but can result in outbursts when not properly managed.

Carlisle isn't sure if West will play in Wednesday's home game against the Suns but reiterated his plan to "get it resolved quickly. But until we talk to him and hash through it, I won't know for sure.''

I did ask Carlisle if he believes West is completely aware of having stepped over a behavioral line. Rick says the player is fully aware of that.

DJ in trouble:

Center D.J. Mbenga, recently released from the Mavs with the plan to transfer him to Frisco, was arrested for public intoxication at 4 a.m. today and then reportedly engaged in a confrontation with police. It is alleged he was exiting a Dallas restaurant when he put his hand on a police officer's chest, engaged in an argument with the officer, and then challenged him to a fight.

O.J. Mayo spoke on West: "We have a great locker room. I'm pretty sure guys will give D-West a call and make sure all is well.'' ... More on this later, but I asked Rick about Dirk's unorthodox decision to continue to delay a scope on the knee. the coach indicated that Nowitzki simply views surgery as a last-last resort. "Like my good friend Bill Walton says, 'It's only 'minor surgery' when it happens to somebody else,' Rick tells me. ... The Mavs did not open their practice to the media but I'm told that move was about the team being scheduled to watch film and not related to the West situation. In addition to Mayo meeting the media, over the course of the day I bumped into Jae Crowder, Chris Kaman, assistant coach Darrell Armstrong and assorted staffers and the mood was not out of the ordinary at all -- a suggestion that all agree that the Delonte situation will soon be resolved in a positive way. ... How did Crowder respond to a 20-point game in his home preseason debut - a game in which the rookie was terrific but struggled at the FT line? Jae tells me he shot 100 FTs at the end of the Tuesday practice.

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