Last week, in my Mavs/Pacers Donuts, I speculated on what type of team the Mavericks hope to be.
I wondered (and still wonder): will they be the team we saw on opening day -- hoisting nearly 50 three-point attempts and hoping that more of them start to fall? Will they trend toward a more conventional offense -- one that relies on drives to the basket to create trips to the line, or to open up better looks from outside?
I had some theories that I planned to write about this week, but a lot of my speculation required that I spend a few more games watching Dirk play the 5 spot on defense—and we know that hasn’t happened. He did seem to work on a healthy level at the Tuesday practice, a session, by the way, that Wesley Matthews sat out with a foot issue but should not keep him out of action on Wednesday for Mavs at Utah.)
Said Dirk today regarding illness absences: "The guys are already joking in the locker room that I'm only playing once a week from now on."
Anyway, instead, this week I want to take a look at the Mavs three-point shooting.
Here’s what I can tell you, based on our very limited data (three games as I write this):
- After taking 48 three pointers against the Pacers, the Mavs took “only” 29 threes in game 2 and 30 in game 4. I say “only” because 30 threes per game is still enough to get you in the top five.
- Only Brooklyn averages more threes per game than the Mavs (37.3 to 35.7)
- The Mavs’ 3-point shooting percentage in games 1 through 3 was: 37.6% in game one, 27.6% in game two, and 37% in game three. (so, turns out, without former 3-Point competition winner Dirk Nowitzki in the lineup, things don’t suddenly get better)
- Dallas has the second most 3-pointers attempted per game, but they’re tied for 10th in conversion percentage. So, it could definitely be worse (it IS worse for 19 other teams).
- No player in the NBA has taken more threes than Wesley Matthews (33 so far). This includes one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history: Steph Curry (he’s taken 28). Curry has made .429% of his shots. Matthews has made .182% of his. If you’re not doing the math in your head, Matthews has made 6 of 33 shots beyond the arc.
- Of 121 qualified shooters, only one player is shooting threes with worse success. Klay Thompson has made only 3 of 21 attempts (.143%). Wes Matthews is 120th on that list. Nobody else in the NBA is hitting less than 20 percent of their threes.
Those numbers do paint at least some kind of picture—but without HOF shot-maker Dirk Nowitzki out there, it’s hard to tell which of those trends is lopsided. Does Wes Matthews take 25 shots in game three if Dirk is out there to take a few himself?
Does Dirk hit more of his three-point attempts than the guys he’s taking shots from? History says yes.
But, maybe worse than those two questions comes this next one: How much leash do you give Wes Matthews to continue shooting his team out of ballgames? It’s amazing when he rises up and hits a killer three-point shot, ice in his blood, that ties the game. But, those rare heroics shouldn’t lead to the confirmation bias that Matthews is "clutch.''
What they should do is lead us to the question: would the Mavs have needed those heroics if Wes drove to the basket more often? If he took higher-percentage shots, would they instead have the lead in some of these games?
Balk at me if you like, but this is a case when The Eye Test meets the metrics. I never want to see Wes take a three-pointer these days, and neither does the box score. Wes himself thinks otherwise, rather defiantly noting, "I’m not worried about my shot. Y’all can worry about it. I won’t. I’m gonna stay aggressive and shoot my shot. They’re gonna fall."
But ... how much better would this Mavericks team be if Wes Matthews only shot the ball eight times a game? Zero times a game? Sounds like a crazy question, but let’s examine it just looking at three point attempts:
- The Mavs have made 37 three-pointers on 107 attempts (that’s 34.6%)
- Wes Matthews has made 6 three-pointers on an NBA high 33 attempts (that’s 18.2%)
- If you remove Matthews' attempts the Mavs would have 31 threes on 74 attempts (41.9%)
- Without Matthew’s shots factored in, the Mavs move from 10th to 4th in 3-Point percentage, and they’d still have a healthy 24.6 attempts per game (11th in the league).
I don’t mean to pick on Matthews. I love his defense. I love his tenacity. (And Dallas has other issues, too, as we address here in "Locked On Mavs,'' starting with poor first-quarter defense.) But, regarding Wes ... tenacity and aggression look good on offense as WELL as defense. The Mavs are probably a better team if Wes drives to the basket more, or looks for his teammates first, before taking (and missing) a three.
But, worse than that—right now (EMPHASIS ON RIGHT NOW) the Mavs are a better team if he never shoots the ball again this season. It’s not just that everyone on the team is more likely to hit a three than Wes—nearly everyone is the NBA is more likely to hit a three than Wes.
As the old joke kinda goes, “If you don’t know who the worst three-point shooter in the NBA is, maybe it’s you.”
Right now, anything, from any other player, is more likely to yield positive results for the Mavs on offense. For a team that lost once by a point, and once in overtime, those small margins become magnified.
As coach Rick Carlisle notes: "It’s become a game of inches, you’ve gotta win the game of inches to beat talented teams with great talent."
Add to that: Wes is a fantastic player without the ball. He grabs a pretty decent 4.7 boards a game (which includes a couple of offensive rebounds). But, it’s tough to get more offensive boards when you’re taking so many shots, so far from the basket.
Wes is so good at fighting for space, and at moving around the floor, that even a miss by another player is a better result than a miss by Matthews. When someone else misses, it means that Matthews is available to watch the play unfold, scoop up a few more hard-fought offensive rebounds, and then probably get some nice easy second-chance buckets.
I’m not down on Matthews as a whole. I think he’s a fantastic defender, I think he’s got fantastic heart, and he works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen play the game. He hustles, he gets rebounds, he makes his man work hard for points. That he’s doing all of this on a rehabilitated Achilles is inspirational.
I'm with Wes when he says, "I’m gonna play both ends of the court. I’m gonna give you everything I have every night." That doesn’t make him a lights-out shooter. That doesn’t make him a better distributor. That doesn’t automatically win basketball games.
Right now, tying Wes Matthews' hands together on offense wouldn’t be much worse than watching Wes Matthews rise up to shoot. The fact that this isn’t all that hyperbolic is a big part of why the Mavs are 0-3 to start the season.