Scouting the Dallas Mavericks: Offense

Last week I described the role an advanced scout would take in preparing for the Finals match-up. Here’s Part I of an abridged version of what those scouts might have found.

Offensive Scheme/Philosophy

The Mavericks are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league and it’s based off a few simple principles. They not only space the floor perfectly, but the majority of the players know exactly what their role is. The scheme obviously all centers around superstar Dirk Nowitzki, but Rick Carlisle and his staff should get credit for consistently putting their players in positions to be successful.

Before arriving in Dallas, Carlisle had the reputation as a set-heavy coach. He’s scaled that back quite a bit with the Mavs. Carlisle looks to control the flow early most games with a few sets involving his grinders, typically defensive specialist DeShawn Stevenson.

This certainly isn’t the best use of personnel; but it still is a great piece of coaching. Calling sets for a player like Stevenson or Tyson Chandler early helps keep them more engaged on the defensive end of the floor. It’s not that these players need the touches or they won’t compete on defense, but most players tend to be more focused when contributing on both ends of the floor. So whether it’s an on or off ball screen, Stevenson usually gets a touch or two within the first three possessions.

Beyond the opening moments, Carlisle’s set calling comes in standard settings (after timeouts or dead ball situations) or when Dirk is out of the game. The rest of the time Dallas generally plays out of a relatively simple 3 out, 2 in motion-style offense that relies heavily on ball screen action, spacing, and keeping the floor spread for Nowitzki isolations.

The Mavericks will enter their possessions at times with a guard curling around and screening for a post. Here is an example of it being used as a motion entry:

Most of the time the Dallas possession will start with a ball screen entry. Typically, Dirk will screen for a ball handler and look to roll, pop, or slide to a preferred spot on the floor (normally the pinch post or the mid-block extended) and the rest of his teammates react accordingly.

Every perimeter player is asked to execute ball screens, but most are run by the two Jason’s (Kidd and Terry) and everyone’s favorite Puerto Rican, J.J. Barea. Kidd and Barea have extremely different ways of operating coming off the pick and roll. Kidd rarely takes more than two or three dribbles before making a quick pass in order to take advantage of a scrambling defense. He is the ideal set up man for Dirk because his decisiveness, unselfishness, and size all allow for him to get the ball back to Nowitzki quickly after the screen while his defender is still recovering from the hedge and the big German has the advantage.

Barea, meanwhile, is quite the showman. He will flirt with the screen for multiple dribbles while the screener (normally Nowitzki) gets positions himself for a good screening angle. Once it’s set, Barea’s job is to penetrate the heart of the defense looking to score or create catch-and-shoot opportunities for the shooters spread around him.

Shawn Marion, Stevenson, and Peja Stojakovic are not very threatening ball-screen players but consistently look to score when they are involved. Terry is of the same mindset, but he is a much more explosive player and is particularly dangerous coming off ball screens going right. The Mavericks take advantage of his strong, right hand drives a handful of times per game with this set/concept:

Nowitzki starts off by ball-screening on one side of the floor and sliding to the baseline for his preferred positioning in the mid-post extended. Because Dirk is so dangerous and his defender is involved in the hedge, X5 is forced to either completely rotate over or at the very least, position himself halfway. The ball handler (either Kidd or Barea) will look to immediately swing to the Terry who immediately receives a step up screen from the Chandler. With X5 completely out of position to hedge, Terry usually has no one impeding a drive toward the basket with his strong hand.

Post-up opportunities are few and far between in the Dallas offense unless you’re a 7-foot German. Occasionally, Shawn Marion will get the opportunity to post via a set play or mismatch and Jason Kidd as made a few cameos down there this post-season as well, but outside of that, it’s non-existent.

The two centers, Brandon Haywood and Tyson Chandler are asked to work the baseline area for lobs, drop passes, as offensive rebound opportunities. Chandler takes a on a much larger role as a screener, his ability to screen or slip than race to the rim puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the opposing defense. Hayward will act as a screener as well, though it’s typically when a second ball is required in a given possession.

Shawn Marion, mainly known for his versatility on the defensive end of the floor, is also asked to take on two totally different roles in the Dallas offense. During the times when he is at the small forward position, Marion is fills one of the three perimeter spots in their base motion.

While the rest of the perimeter players are mainly asked to spot up outside the three point line, Marion’s unorthodox shot make this less than ideal for him. Instead, he looks to use his skills a cutter to make plays going toward the rim, particularly when the defense is focused on Nowitzki in an isolation situation as shown here:

When Dirk is out of the game, Marion mans the 4-spot for the Mavs and assumes the duties asked of both Chandler and Haywood. Outside of the rare times Terry screens for Dirk, he is the only Maverick used both as a ball handler and a screener in pick and roll situations.

While the Mavs aren’t running and gunning with reckless abandon, they do run selectively off blocks, steals, and even on makes. Carlisle also gives Kidd, one of the smartest players in the league, the ability to push when he feels he can create an advantage.

Dallas’ selectiveness with their transition game is based off their need to avoid the type of bad shots that lead to run outs against them. Due to an older and relatively un-athletic roster, Dallas has problems with athletic teams than can convert quickly from defense to offense and by focusing on good shot selection, Dallas can mitigate that problem.

Twitter: @Bkoremenos

Check out the Mavericks offense scouting report!

All play diagrams created with Fast Draw

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  3. Working/Not Working: Boston-New York (2), Orlando-Atlanta (2), Dallas-Portland (2)
  4. Perkins killing Thunder spacing, offense
  5. HoopSpeak’s NBA Finals Preview: a gentleman’s debate


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