Mavs Formula? Top-5 Offense, Top-10 Defense

DALLAS - LeBron thinks Dallas has a top-four offense. Carlisle thinks Dallas must have a top-10 defense. We think there's a formula that speaks to a very specific and positive result if the Mavs achieve both statistical goals.

The The Dallas Mavericks ’ offense is going to turn heads this year. At this point its less of a prediction and more of an understood fact that this Mavericks’ roster has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to scoring options that can play off of each other.

LeBron James admitted as much when the Mavericks traveled to Cleveland to face off against the Cavaliers. James praised Dallas “top three or four offenses in the league.” He would know something about the subject, as his Cavaliers are one of the few teams that should rival Dallas in offensive firepower just as any roster graced with James’ presence is liable to do.


And the Mavs themselves don't hide their confidence in this area.

From Dirk: “I think we can score with the best of them in this league."

From Tyson: “We’re still learning, we’re still trying to figure out each other. But it can definitely be explosive offensively.”

Dallas was an extremely efficient offense last season and probably an underappreciated offense in retrospect. Relying largely on Monta Ellis/Dirk Nowitzki pick-and-rolls with great depth and good shooting, they rarely struggled to score against any team. This season the roster is even better equipped to put the ball in the basket. With the addition of Chandler Parsons the team has two secondary options who look to be perfect complements to Nowitzki. Even the depth has improved this year. Dallas will be able to put serious pressure on even the best defensive teams. ... and when talks to guys like Monta about "Three Secrets'' to add to their bag of tricks ... well, it's frightening in a good way.

Head coach Rick Carlisle isn’t talking about where the offense will be ranked, however. He has remained adamant that the Mavericks will need to find a way to become a top-10 defense. Dallas was in the bottom half of the league in most significant measures of defense last year, but even Carlisle admits that they were a roster with individually flawed defenders.

This year, the Mavericks have individual players who excel at certain defensive aspects – most notably Tyson Chandler, who will be asked to anchor the defense and improve it through sheer will—accompanied by solid defenders in a good system. In other words, a top ten defensive performance this season is by no means a given, but certainly a possibility.

So is say, a top-five offense, accompanied by a top-10 defense, the key to a deep playoff run for the Mavericks?

If we go back and use history as an indicator we see how difficult it is to accomplish these two things over the course of a season. In the past five seasons only eight teams have accomplished it. (We are measuring this based on John Hollinger’s efficiency rating which basically measures the number of points scored by or against a team per 100 possessions. See, John? doesn't totally hate you!) Surprisingly, only one of them went on to win a championship, but only one of them didn’t make it to at least the second round and that was due to a catastrophic injury.

Here are the results:

2013-2014 LA Clippers - Lost in the second round (OKC)
2012-2013 Miami Heat (No. 1 offense) - Won Championship
2012-2013 Oklahoma City Thunder - Lost in Conference Finals (SA)
2011-2012 Chicago Bulls (No. 1 defense) - Lost in First Round (PHI)*
2011-2012 Oklahoma City Thunder - Lost in NBA Finals (MIA)
2010-2011 Miami Heat - Lost in NBA Finals (DAL)
2009-2010 Cleveland Cavaliers - Lost in the Second Round (BOS)
2009-2010 Orlando Magic - Lost in Conference Finals (BOS)

*This was the series when Derrick Rose injured his knee in the game one. The Bulls lost four straight immediately following the injury.

There are also a few things of note that didn’t fit into these exact criteria. In the past five years the Spurs have never been a top-five offense and top-10 defense in the same year, but they have had both a top-11 offense and top-11 defense in each of the last five seasons.

The Mavericks’ 2011 championship team was a top-8 offense and a top-7 defense. They would have only needed to average .3 points more per 100 possessions to have been a top-five offense and qualified for this criteria

Said Rick of this year's club: “We know, to be as good a team as we want to be, we’ve got to get into the top 10 in defense. And that’s going to be challenging. On paper right now, we’re somewhere in the middle of the pack if you go on individual analytics. I don’t see it happening overnight, but I believe we can do it. We got pieces that fit.”

Watching Monday night’s 108-103 preseason victory over the Grizzlies with all this in mind and we can see reason to be hopeful that reaching an offense/defense balance is possible for this team.

The offense certainly did its part and can be summed up with two words: ball movement. The Mavericks swung the ball around like a team full of skilled, unselfish veterans. The fourth quarter was occupied by the bottom of the roster for both teams, but the Mavericks were very impressive up until that point. Through three quarters, the Mavericks had 26 assists on 36 made field goals. To put that in perspective, the Grizzlies had 14 assists in the entire game.

All five starters scored in double figures by the third quarter and Devin Harris and Al-Farauq Aminu combined for 25 points off the bench. Tyson Chandler and Monta Ellis led the way with 14 points each.

Defensively, the Mavericks showed a few options to improve their chances of defending. Surprisingly one of those options is going small. Parsons played a chunk of minutes at the power forward against perhaps the best front line in basketball. Parsons held his own against Zach Randolph in the handful of possessions that he was stuck guarding him.

Parsons’ defensive versatility will be important. If he can hold his own against slower and stronger power forwards then he will always have a mismatch to expose on offense. He also has great range guarding wings and he has a great knack for tipping away entry passes.

A lineup of Harris, Ellis, Aminu, Parsons and Chandler is actually a viable defensive unit with great speed and offensive creators. Anytime that Aminu and Parsons can share the court it will help prevent opposing guards from getting to the rim with ease.

Nelson and Ellis are such effective offensive players that they will play the majority of the game together and that will be a defensive liability in terms of size and penetration. However, the right mix of lineups as well as schemes — like Carlisle’s break-glass-in-case-of-emergency zone defense — can go a long way in terms of compensating for that weakness.


Barring unforeseen injuries, the Mavericks will have a top-five offense. They have so many different ways to score that they can’t even utilize them all in one game. Defensively, the potential to be in the top-1- is there, but it will be an ongoing process. Chandler’s presence is the key to both of these things. His finishing ability opens up even more driving opportunities for guards and his defensive acumen is well established.

If Dallas can reach that top-five/top-10 status? History suggests it's a formula that can help them claw their way deeper into the playoffs.

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