Game Preview & Thread: Mavericks at Knicks

The Knicks have lost five of their last six games, so things are pretty dreary at the opponent. To make the postseason the Knicks have to go on a major run to end the season, so perhaps they’ll get back to winning tonight as they host the Dallas Mavericks.(LOL). To get a better idea of what the Knicks are up against tonight I brought in Kirk Henderson of Mavs Outsider and Tim Cato of Mavs Moneyball.

Enjoy!

The Mavericks come into New York on a two-game winning streak and currently hold the 8th spot in the Western Conference. Do you think the team holds steady and makes the playoffs?

Kirk: Right now, I think most Mavs fans would say yes without reservation. I’ve been taking the schedule a month at a time because it’s been clear the March and April slate of games were going to be brutal for Dallas. The Mavericks have played above expectations, are 11 games over .500 and are STILL 8th in the West. So to answer your question, I’d give a tentative yes, though seeding will go down to the final day with Phoenix, Golden State, and Memphis right there in the mix for the 6-7-8 seeds.

Tim:I don’t see Minnesota getting back into the playoff picture — it’s a four-team race for the final three spots in the West, in my eyes. Between Golden State, Phoenix, Memphis and Dallas (2.5 games separates them all), it may just come down to the schedule. I think the Mavericks’ fate will be decided one way or another in the first half of March, where they some of the top teams in the league. If they can stay afloat and at least not fall back by more than a game or two, I like their chances of making a strong April push.

The Mavericks have eight players on the roster with above-average PER’s, but which role player(s) would you say have been the most critical for the Mavs success this season?

Kirk: I’d have to say Devin Harris. He’s only played the past 15 or so games, but he came back from his toe surgery at just the right time. He’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades in a deep guard rotation for Dallas. Everyone knows that Monta Ellis is going to put his head down and drive at the basket. The same goes for Jose Calderon and shooting the ball from deep. Harris gives Dallas that x-factor off the bench that opposing teams can’t always match. He’s still surprisingly fast and a good enough shooter to cause havoc. When you pair him with Vince Carter and Brandan Wright, the Maverick bench unit is pretty formidable.

Tim:Brandan Wright and Vince Carter are the two players off the bench who can change a game or spark a big run. Wright can struggle on defense in some match-ups, but he’s a lethal pick-and-roll finisher and slips the pick better than anyone in the league. His favorite pick-and-roll handler is Vince Carter, who’s more man than amazing these days but still can explode for some scoring bursts when needed.

Offense is definitely not an issue for this year’s Mavericks team, but are 23rd in the league in DRtg. Why have they struggled so much defensively?

Kirk: Whatever the question is, if Samuel Dalembert is the answer then you’re doing it wrong. When three of your five starters are Dirk, Ellis, and Calderon, there are going to be holes, massive, endless holes in a defense. Shawn Marion is 35 and a capable defender, but he and Dalembert are not able to cover for the lack of defensive ability in the rest of their teammates. This was always going to be the case, though, which is why Dallas has often embraced absurd line ups featuring DeJuan Blair as the starting center. The goal of a basketball game is to score more than the other team and on most nights the Mavericks are able to overwhelm their opponents.

Tim:Up and down the roster, the Mavericks just have lots of weak defenders who play major minutes. It starts with Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, includes DeJuan Blair and sometimes Wright, and of course has to include the 35-year-old Dirk. In fact, the team being as high as 23rd in the league is a testament to Shawn Marion’s ability to be everywhere at once, and Rick Carlisle’s sheer brilliance on hiding poor defenders. If the defense can play well enough to avoid losing games for the Mavericks, the offense can and has bailed them out time and time again.

The Knicks are giving up 106.2 points per 100 possessions, 27th in the league, but how would you go about slowing down this Mavericks offense if you’re the Knicks?

Kirk:Goad Monta Ellis into a tough shooting night. He’s the spark Dallas uses to get going most games, mainly through high screen and rolls with Dirk. If Ellis has an even marginal chance at taking a shot, he’s probably going to. When he’s off, it causes problems for the rest of the Dallas flow. Dirk Nowitzki will still get his no matter who is guarding him, but Calderon and the rest of the offense tend to rely on Monta’s drives to open things up for them. New York is really well suited to shutting down Dallas, as they did in the first match up.

Tim:Start with Dirk. Double him, not just when he gets hot, but from the very start. He won’t commit the turnover in most instances, but that’s not the point. The Knicks need to get the offense out of rhythm and flustered, and not being able to rely on the number one option to get them quality shots is the first step in that direction.

Who ultimately wins tonight and why?

Kirk: New York in a close one. Dirk will put up a lot of points because that’s what Dirk does, but Melo out duels him because Dallas doesn’t have anyone who can remotely contain him. Add in the fact that the other match ups really favor the Knicks; New York has size in the guard positions that Dallas can’t match. It’s also the third road game for Dallas and a team this old travel can wear them down. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mavericks won, but I expect this to be a frustrating loss for Dallas fans.

Tim:A month ago, I would have said New York. But the Mavericks have won nine of 12, mostly by taking care of Eastern Conference teams that they’re better than. I’m not sure the Knicks offense can keep up, so plan for a 120-110 style shootout.

2010 Game Thread: Mavs at Knicks

Dallas Mavericks

TEAM POSS EFF eFG TO OREB% FT/FG
New York Knicks-Offense 93.7 106.3 50.7 15.3 23.4 19.4
Rank
9
20
11
12
28
28
Dallas Mavericks-Defense 92 104.9 48.7 15.2 25.6 19.6
Rank
19
11
9
18
9
1
New York Knicks-Defense 93.7 107.9 50.6 15.6 26.8 22.2
Rank
9
19
21
13
17
13
Dallas Mavericks-Offense 92 107 49.5 14 25.1 22.1
Rank
19
14
18.5
3
21
20

By the standings the Mavs are one of the West’s premier teams, but perhaps they’re not all that they’re cracked up to be. Dallas is 3rd in the Western Conference, but their point differential is only 8th best. From a four factors standpoint they’re just above average on defense and average on offense. When the Knicks have the ball, don’t expect to hear a lot of whistles. New York is 28th at drawing fouls, and Dallas is the best team in the league at denying their opponent free points. On offense Dallas is great and holding onto the ball (3rd in four factors turnovers), but they don’t do anything else particularly well. For their reputation as an offensive juggernaut, their eFG is sub par (tied for 18th) and worse than New York’s (50.7% to 49.5%).

2008-9 Game Thread: Knicks vs Mavericks

The Knicks face a slumping 2-7 Dallas team at home this Sunday evening.

The Mavericks are on a five game losing streak and consider this a must-win.

From the Star-Telegram via Mavs Moneyball:

“We’ve got to get a win somehow,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “Scratch, fight, whatever it takes. It’s not pretty. We’ve got to find a way to win this game in New York. New York has got incredibly better and they’re a run-and-gun team now. We’ve got to find a way to get in there, get some stops and find a way to win the game.”

New York is looking for their second 3-game win streak of the season. Tip-off is at 6pm.

Euro Trip

What’s the best course of action for America’s best 18 year old basketball player? The answer depends on what year it is. Decades ago a player probably would have gone to college for 4 years to refine their game, possibly get an education, and prepare themselves for the NBA. Although Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins skipped college and went straight to the pros in the mid 70s, this wasn’t a common decision. In fact for 20 years no other player took this direct route. Even Shawn Kemp and Lloyd Daniels went to college, although neither played in an NCAA game due to off the court issues.

But as time passed, the options for an 18 year old baller increased. Due to some combination of the NCAA increasing its eligibility standards for incoming athletes, the popularization of high school athletics, the increasing amount of underclassman opting out of college, and rising NBA salaries, many players opted to go straight to the pros. When Kevin Garnett decided in 1995 to forgo college and apply for the NBA draft it was a controversial decision. But over the next few years as Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and Jermaine O’Neal made the same jump (and with a good degree of success) it became more common for players to skip college.

Consider the options at this time for a high school senior that was likely to be drafted in the first round. They could go to college where competing against Division I players could expose a player’s flaws. Waiting an extra year could result in a deeper draft class, and the player would get drafted later. Or the player could suffer an injury, and they would never get drafted at all. Each of these could cause a player to potentially lose millions of dollars. On the other hand a player’s NCAA play could enhance his draft standing, sending him to the top of the draft. Because most first rounders earn at least $1M a year, the difference between $4M and $1M in terms of life changing opportunities isn’t worth the risk of losing it all. For most athletes, the smart choice meant going to the NBA as soon as possible.

This progression continued for about 10 years until the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement set the age limit to 19 for a player to join the NBA. Hence players could no longer make the jump directly from high school to the NBA. Basketball pundits thought this move was to force players to go to college, and the term “one and done” (a prospect who went to college for one year only because they weren’t eligible to apply for the NBA draft) gained popularity. However it may not have been NBA Commissioner David Stern’s intention to send prospective employees to college. In fact when asked about the “one and done” phenomenon recently on Pardon the Interruption, Stern remarked something to the effect of “this is not an NBA problem it’s an NCAA problem.”

And indeed it is. Not only have college players shortened their amateur career, but many have skipped it entirely. Take for example the most famous underclass team: Michigan’s Fab Five. The three most talented players (Webber, Howard, and Rose) all left before their senior year. It’s no longer news when a player applies for the draft. These days it’s news when a player stays around for another year (e.g. 2006 Gators). In this last NBA draft, 4 of the top 5 players were underclassmen on Final Four teams. This attrition must hurt the pool of talent available to NCAA schools.

However there may be another option in the future for young basketball players. Earlier this week the New York Times said that top point guard prospect Brandon Jennings was considering playing in Europe, and yesterday ESPN has confirmed that Jennings has made his decision to go overseas. There are three factors which have opened up this possibility for Jennings. The first is the increased NCAA academic standards. (“Jennings has committed to play at Arizona and his adviser, Kelly Williams, has said that he will find out if Jennings qualified on Friday.”) The second is the age limit to the NBA. (“Even if he enrolls at Arizona, Jennings is expected to spend only one year with the Wildcats.”) The third is that the NCAA doesn’t pay its student athletes, while European teams do. According to the New York Times, “[Jennings] would most likely get a minimum of $300,000, including salary and endorsements”. Although Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress says he can’t see a top European club offering Jennings more than $100,000.

Naturally college coaches are against such a move. (“[Memphis Coach John Calipari] cited the language barrier, games against more physically dominant competition, and the cultural adjustment for a teenager.”) But for a single year in Europe, a player could make enough money to pay for four years of college (one year at Rutgers University costs $20,096). Playing against more skilled players would make them more NBA ready. Teenagers frequently compete in European professional leagues. Knicks draft pick Danilo Gallinari was playing in Italian Serie B1 League at the age of 15. Spain’s Ricky Rubio debuted in the Euroleague at 16. And of course living in another country is a great life experience. Consider that college students typically consider studying abroad as an opportunity.

Ultimately the NCAA is largely responsible for creating these conditions. They make billions off of student athletes while paying them relatively next to nothing. For years they’ve been able to exploit athletes whose desire is to play professionally by controlling a monopoly to the doorsteps of the NBA. The relationship between the NCAA & young athletes have been a one sided affair. According to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

Every student who goes to school, post high school is given every opportunity and encouraged to maximize their effort and optimize their resources to achieve their goals. Unless of course they happen to attend a school that is a member of the NCAA and their goal is to be a professional athlete.

Jennings could become his generation’s Kevin Garnett and high school players might consider going overseas the better choice to a year of college. Should he return to the NBA, it will become a viable option, especially for those worried about meeting academic standards. What happens next is unclear. It’s highly unlikely that the NCAA makes a major change, since they won’t pay their athletes. One possibility is the emergence of a basketball minor league, but this interview with the former GM of the Utah Flash shows that the NBDL isn’t ready to fill the void.

An example, we had Brandon Wallace on assignment from the Celtics, he was a draft pick and they sent him to us. He was on our roster, he played for us. And in January, late December, the Celtics cut him and we had no rights to him. And that didn’t make any sense to us. We tried to make it work, we talked to his agent, but we just couldn’t get it worked out. And I think that was a source of embarrassment for the league.

With European leagues breaking up the NCAA’s monopoly on young basketball players, don’t expect things to stay the same. Depending on the contract, European teams can receive up to $500,000 from NBA teams for a drafted player. With Jennings opening the door, foreign teams will have incentive to recruit America’s best underage basketball prospects. Eventually some organization is going to want to keep these players from going oversees. The NBA would have a motive since they would be paying an extra half million dollars for some of their draft picks. The NCAA might want to make a change before their basketball empire crumbles. And the NBDL could take advantage of this opportunity to make themselves a proper minor league. One thing is for certain, future 18 year old basketball prodigies will have more than one option to consider.

Tonight’s 4 Factors (vs SEA, 12/12/07)

Knicks lose to Sonics, 117 – 110

	Pace	Eff	eFG	FT/FG	OREB%	TOr
SEA	95.0	123.2	61.1%	22.2	22.2	12.6
NYK		115.8	50.5%	14.7	40.4	14.7

The Knicks finally got their act together on offense. Unfortunately, they also had perhaps their worst defensive performance of the season as well, considering the competition. Seattle had been 29th in offensive efficiency coming into the game, scoring less than 100 points per 100 possessions. And yet they came onto the Knicks home turf and blew the doors off, scoring 7 points per 100 possessions more than the average offensive output of the NBA-leading Dallas Mavericks.

Folks, sorry to bail so soon, but I think this is my last installment of the 4 factor game reviews for this season. With more than a quarter of the season gone, the Knicks have shown they are at the bottom of the NBA barrel. They have the 26th worst offense, the absolute worst defense, and the worst Pythagorean expected win % in the league. It’s no fun writing about how bad they are after each game, and it’s probably no fun reading about it either. Here’s to the lottery.


4 factor stats were acquired using the ESPN4Factors script by Cherokee of the ABPRmetrics board. Firefox users can use this script (after installing the Greasemonkey extension) to see 4 factor stats automatically displayed in all NBA boxscores on espn.com.

Mavericks, Raptors Stave Off The Grim Reaper

Down 3 games to 1, both the Dallas Mavericks and the Toronto Raptors won last night to force a game 6 in each of their respective series. The similarity didn’t end there. Both teams took double digit first quarter leads, only to lose them down the stretch. Dallas had to rally from a 9 point deficit with only 3 minutes to go, while Toronto had to curtail a Vince Carter drive & kick-out three pointer to Nachbar with a 2 point lead in the final possession.

Both teams are led by their big men, who have had trouble. Toronto’s Chris Bosh has had trouble scoring on Jason Collins, and has been in foul trouble most of the series. In game 5, Bosh picked up his second foul only 7 minutes into the game, and was on the floor for a total of 24 minutes. Meanwhile Nowitzki was ridiculed publicly by his coach for not being aggressive enough against the undersized Warriors. Dirk seemed to shy away from the ball in the second half of game 5 until the final minutes.

Normally I’m not big on the NBA’s first round, but these two series combined with the splendid Rockets-Jazz matchup have made the first round quite fascinating.

Small Ball, Smaller Ball

The hot basketball story of the playoffs is how the Golden State Warriors used a ?small ball? strategy to upset the host Dallas Mavericks in game one of their opening round playoff match-up. Golden State?s head coach, Don Nelson, sought to maul Dallas with the superior quickness of a smaller, more versatile line-up that could switch defensive assignments at will, effectively sticking Dirk Nowitzki with a body wherever he turned.

The Warriors started a point guard, three shooting guards, and a combo forward at ?center.? Their tallest starter was 6?9?. Small, right? Sure, except Dallas wasn?t much bigger. They came out with two point guards, two small forwards, and a power forward as their ?center.? It?s not like the Warriors were mites among giants. They were undersized at exactly one position: Al Harrington giving up three inches to Nowitzki. This wasn?t a case of just the Warriors going small?the entire game was small.

Between DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier, Dallas employed professional centers for only 18 minutes of game time. The Warriors used their own professional center, Andris Biedrens for 8 minutes. Nelson is said to have done this because he wanted to exploit match-ups, but it?s a more curious move than publicly imagined when you considering the facts. If anything, center was the one position that Dallas this season had trouble defending, allowing opposing pivot men a healthy 16.9 PER against them. No other position fared better than average against Dallas. If you looked at the numbers and wanted to attack Dallas, you would have thought to start Biedrins?not to mention the fact that the giant Lithuanian had a monster game against them when Golden St. interrupted their winning streak.

Therefore, what makes the Warrior?s strategy of replacing Biedrens with a guard is that it goes away from what’s already been successful. Yet, it worked. Now it’s up to Dallas to adjust. One wonders if Dallas goes with a big line-up in game two if they’ll actually be solving their match-up problems. They might be forcing Nelson’s hand into putting Biedrens back into the line-up. Considering the facts, this might not lead to the outcome Dallas desires.