Mavs-Nets All-Access: Video Visit With Dirk
Hope dangling as a glowing bulb in the dark, dancing just beyond our reach. We extend, stretching for it with hesitant vulnerability. A flash of movement, stabbing spikes of teeth and a return to silent darkness. We wait in the void. The bulb returns. Forgetting our former, we become entranced by the possibilities again, and once more stretch out only to find a greeting of furious teeth.
An anglerfish has a stem that arcs out from its head, acting as a lure to smaller fish that are drawn in and then consumed by a reflex reaction from the anglerfish once the "lure" is brushed (perhaps you remember one such fish from "Finding Nemo''). Predator and prey … both reacting to a lure, one tricked into hope, the other snatching it away.
As the Dallas Mavericks fall to the Brooklyn Nets, 113-96, we're forced to wonder if Mavs playoff hopes are the anglerfish, the prey … or both.
The Continued Conundrum ...
Over the last three games, Dirk Nowitzki has hit 74.2 percent of his field goals. Unfortunately, he has not led the team in attempts for any of these games as he has taken only 31 total shots, (10, 11, and 10) and the Mavs are 1-2.
During the same span, Mike James – owner of the worst field-goal percentage for any player the Mavs have employed this season, now at 35.0 percent – has taken 30 attempts, hitting 40 percent of those.
This isn't to disparage Mike James, but there's something wrong with that picture.
Here's what Rick Carlisle had to say when asked about the lack of shots for Dirk over the past three games ...
"If you really watch the game, (Dirk's) touching it," Carlisle said. "It's just teams work to take his shots away. That's why balance is so important to us. It's why we don't want to be in a situation where we're pounding it to him every single time. It takes a big toll on him … when we have to go to him, we go to him."
There's certainly logic and truth to his statement, but is it the complete truth?
It can be reasonably argued that the Mavs needed to go Dirk during the second and third quarters, when Dallas was outscored by 18. During that time, despite being on the court for 17:32, he attempted only two shots, including zero in the third period.
Looking back to the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder, while Kevin Durant was taking his 11 attempts on the way to 19 points, Dirk again went without a shot attempt.
These are not signs of a team able to go to their best offensive player when they need to.
Inability to feed? Inability to help? Both?
"They (defenses) don't leave me much anymore,'' said Nowitzki. "Then it's up to the guys to make plays. It's as simple as that. I can't wrestle every time getting the ball. You can't do that for 48 minutes. I've got to pick my spots.
"I'm going to keep picking my spots and be aggressive when I need to."
The Video Visit with Dirk:
Balance is important to any team, but the scales cannot be viewed as properly aligned when the team's least efficient shooter is taking as many attempts as the most deadly … as has been the case over the last three contests.
Is there something more significant? ...
Perhaps we're focusing on the wrong part of that quote from Carlisle. Should we be drawn to one sentiment in particular: "… we don't want to be in a situation where we're pounding it to him every single time. It takes a big toll on him …"
Is this the true heart of what we're seeing: a desire to prolong Dirk's career, to not risk over-burdening him in chase of an eighth playoff seed?
Dirk is 34-years-old and attempting his fewest field goals per minute since his first three seasons in the league.
As unreasonable as Dirk Nowitzki's attempts, or lack thereof, may seem … considering the surrounding circumstances, could the notion of trying to extend his career, to do all possible to avoid overly taxing him in this moment, be equally reasonable?
Still, there's something there ...
It's hard to imagine the Mavs not considering the long term impact on Dirk's body by relying too heavily on him, and given the evidence of their offseason actions it seems impossible to deny, but even if you factor this in there are undeniable moments where the ball is clearly designed to get to Dirk … only it doesn't.
Whether it's Darren Collison picking up his dribble so far out as to allow his defender to slink back to cutoff any thought of a pass to Dirk as he sets up at the top of the key, or Mike James watching Dirk fight for position for several seconds, then drive on his own just as Dirk finally gets there; there are clear instances of those with the ball in their hands not going to Dirk even after he's put in the work to receive the pass.
With this in mind, quickly name one pass-first player on the Mavs roster.
If you stuttered, it's only because there isn't one (we don't include Chris Wright in this statement, only because we haven't seen him enough to know).
Darren Collison, Mike James, Vince Carter and OJ Mayo are the Mavs primary ball handlers … all are scorers first. Given that, there should be little surprise when they try to score.
Video Visit with Deron Williams ...
Deron Williams scored 31 points, including 26 on 11-of-18 shooting in the second half, and added six assists.
"My family is here, my friends are here, and I grew up a Mavericks fan,'' said Deron, savoring the night. "It's always good to come back here and play."
That dangling bulb of hope ...
Coming into Wednesday's matchup with the Nets, the Mavs had been 19-12 since January 10th … that's a winning percentage of .613. Coincidentally, that's a winning percentage that would have put them at 50 wins if stretched to a full 82-game season.
During that 31-game span, they posted a point differential of plus-4.0. From the 2008-09 season to current, Dallas has posted a better point-differential for a season only once: in 2010-11, when they won a championship with a differential of plus-4.2.
This is how hope is born. This is what pulls us from the depths, allows some to hesitantly believe.
Then, games like Wednesday night take place … and the pendulum swings back the other way.
If you want a sliver of silver lining: including the Nets, making it the last 32 games, Dirk has averaged 17.5 points points, 46.8 field-goal percentage, 42.9 3-point percentage, 7.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 turnovers … showing a return to Dirk-like efficiency.
The NBA highlight reel ...
Where's the Mayo …
OJ Mayo finished with nine points, 4-of-9 field goals, five rebounds, six assists and four turnovers.
Since February 13th, Mayo has played in 17 games. Over that stretch his scoring has dropped significantly.
His averages over the last 17: 12.8 points, 44.9 field-goal percentage, 39 3-point percentage, 3.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.9 turnovers … taking only 11 shots per game.
Here's the Video Visit with Mayo:
At first thought, it seemed like his lessening role in the offense (at least in the scoring department) could be a side effect of Vince Carter's improved play and increased role, but Carter is taking virtually the same number of shots in the last 17 games (10.4) as he was in the previous 50 (10.2).
Could it be the return of Dirk? Over the last 17 Dirk averages 13.4 shot attempts, and again virtually the same previously (13.1 in 22 games).
In fact, you can go up and down the roster and only two players have shown a significant increase in shot attempts per game. One is Brandan Wright (who's sky-high conversion rates doesn't label this much of a concern), from 5.0 in the teams first 51 games up to 7.5 in the past 17.
The other is Mike James, who has also taken over much of the ball handling responsibilities, with shot attempts up from 3.2 attempts in his 14 games to 8.1 in the last 17.
This isn't to crush the contributions of James, but it's probably not a positive to see shots migrate from the player that may be your second best offensive option, and showed some success as the team's first, to the least efficient player on the roster.
On the other side of that equation, is the fact that James averages only 1.3 turnovers per game in the last 17 games … and Mayo's turnovers have gone down from 2.8 prior to 1.9 in the last 17 … and the Mavs are 10-7 in those games, compared to 22-29 in the first 51.
In essence, are you trading one to 1.5 turnovers per game for a handful of less efficient shots?
And, given the respective records, is it a tradeoff you have to take … or is recent record simply a benefit of having Dirk at much nearer full strength?
PJ's take from the Nets room ...
Yes, DB.com even catches up with the other coach ...
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Before the game, Mavs owner Mark Cuban -- criticized for not personally travelling to New York for the Deron courtship to instead tape his "Shark Tank'' TV show -- called Dallas' free-agency swing-and-miss "old, old, old, old news.''
In fact, of course, eventually succeeding in such a quest is paramount for the Mavs organization. So it's "news'' of a sort. And fans know it, which is why some AAC ticket-holders showered Deron with boos.
Deron knows it, too. His effort here was not an accident.
*Brook Lopez scored a season-high 38 points and tied his second best rebounding night of the season with 11 … including seven offensive boards, the same number as the entire Mavs team.
*Brooklyn closed the game on a 22-8 run.
*Mavericks guard Rodrigue Beaubois has undergone surgery for a broken left hand. He's out indefinitely.
*Mavericks forward Shawn Marion missed his eighth straight game due to a left calf strain.
*Reggie Evans finished the game with 22 rebounds, five on the offensive end … in the second quarter Evans equaled the rebounding total of the Mavs team with eight, and doubled their offensive boards (2-to-1).
*Mavericks forward Jae Crowder recorded 10 points (4-7 FGs, 2-4 3FGs) in 22 minutes against Brooklyn. He scored in double figures for the third time in his last six games (13th time this season).
*Chris Kaman played just over 21 minutes, scored 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting, and grabbed four rebounds. Kaman has shot 14-of-23 (.609) from the field over his last two games.
*Dirk led the Mavs with six rebounds, pushing his career total over 9,000. In doing so, Dirk became only the tenth player in NBA history to total over 24,000 points and 9,000 rebounds.
The other nine: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Shaquille O'Neal, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Garnett and Patrick Ewing.
That's a pretty impressive list to be a part of.
DONUT 12: The Final Word ...
It may seem like a large finger of blame is being pointed in the direction of Mike James with some of the numbers above. (We hope we show respect for his climb in pieces like our recent Q-and-A with him.) That is not the case. While James has certainly played a role, he is not the sole wearer of blame, but a single individual on a team that has shared their wealth of mistakes, of failure.
Only once this season has this team won more than six of any 10 games, and that came with seven wins in the 10 prior to the Nets. James has been present for this team's strongest stretches. He didn't create the model of inconsistency this team has adhered to, merely fit into it.
As we note in First Impressions, this is a team that was implored by its coach to "stay in the moment'' ... and it failed to do so.
Again and again, that lure dangling before rows of anglerfish teeth has called to us with a siren's song of hope. And, again and again we've felt the sensation of our hope breathing, trying to find its way back to strength.
Whether our hopes are ultimately devoured or are fed and realized, that fate will not be decided by an individual, but by a team.
What comes will come by the name on the front of the jersey, not the back.