Mavs SmallBall: Is 3-Guard Lineup Working?

DALLAS - By reputation, Rick Carlisle 'likes' using three smallish guards together. And at 2-1 after the win at New Orleans, by the record, it's working. Let's take a deeper look:

First let us state that while we recognize the benefits of SmallBall, especially if it plays to the strength of your roster or the weakness of your foe ... and while we recognize that the Dallas Mavericks, inside their analytic studies, believe that perimeter players who can break down a defense and get to the line is the direction of the NBA ...

We like size. We like bigs. We think basketball is a big-man's game.
So we think Greg Smith as a third center has value. We'd rather have Charlie V sitting on the end of the bench that someone 10 inches shorter sitting down there. We think what makes Chandler Parsons special is that his gifts come in a 6-9 package.

So we watched with fascination when on Saturday night, Dallas won in New Orleans, 109-104 (our game story here) while going against a Pelicans team that starts a trio of guards, Tyreke, Holliday and Gordon.

There is a history with this, of course. Part of Carlisle's championship legacy is going to be starting JJB at the 2 in the NBA Finals against the Heat in 2011 ... and using Kidd and Jet in that same backcourt.

But this is a new group. New Orleans was a different challenge. What would Rick do to combat that? And how would his combatants fare?

In the first half, Dallas only used the three-guard attack for a few seconds; when Ellis picked up an early second foul, and they went to a conventional lineup instead.

So the first-half result? Dallas, pretty much with conventional personnel groups, were a plus-14.

Along came the third quarter, and Rick went "3G'' with 7:24 left, and the Mavs up 72-64 after a free throw. He went back to what we'll call "conventional'' with 1:47 left in the period.

And what had occurred during that time? The Mavs found themselves down one after the free throws.

The net third-quarter result? According to our calculations, a minus-9 for the "3G'' lineup for its approximately six-minute stint and a minus-8 for the conventional lineup and its approximately six minutes.
In the fourth quarter, Carlisle went with the "3G'' lineup with just past seven minutes remaining, with Dallas up two. ... and then conventional again, t just past four minutes left in the game, while up seven.

Net fourth-quarter result: A plus-5 for the "3G'' lineup (about 3 minutes) and a plus-3 for the conventional guys (about nine minutes).

We can draw some conclusions:

*"Conventional'' was excellent in the first half, when "3G'' went virtually unused.

*Both concepts were poor in the third and positive in the fourth.

*Overall in the game, the "3G'' lineup was minus-4 (in about nine minutes) while the conventional groups were plus-9 (in about 39 minutes).

*And a side note: In the 101-100 lost at San Antonio, "3G'' was used quite a bit, and in the "RUN DMC'' win over the Jazz on Thursday, our notes say "3G'' wasn't used at all until the last three minutes when the game was already effectively over.
Now, Carlisle himself is quick to say that in terms of "sample size,'' the Mavs "need 10 games'' to actually have a statistical feel for trends. (The samples continue tonight at the AAC with Boston rolling in for the 7:30 tip.) We also know that no matter the sample, Devin Harris is quite often going to be the first guy off the bench and will quite often replace Dirk ... so you go SmallBall there with intent.

And there is no denying this: In addition to the Mavs' collection of smalls being break-you-down rim attackers -- that goes for starters Monta and Jameer, Devin immediately off the bench and now JJB in the mix, too -- "3G'' gives Rick a unique defense feel, too. Devin is Dallas' best perimeter defender, Jameer is a try-hard guy there, and Barea, like Devin, has a gutsy knack for drawing the charge.

But "3G'' can make it tough to get easy baskets; ask the Pelicans, who got a flock of zeroes from Eric Gordon on Saturday. Maybe New Orleans rolls that way because it has to. But with the Mavs, and all that front-court versatility?

We're going to need a bigger sample size of SmallBall to prove that bigger isn't better in Dallas.

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