After firing head coach Alvin Gentry, little but the prized training staff remains of the once proud Suns. Then 13-28, the Gentry’s Suns were suffering not from poor coaching but nearly a decade of self-sabotage from the organization’s leadership. Then, in choosing an interim head coach, GM Lance Blanks bypassed longtime assistants Dan Majerle and Elston Turner in favor of Player Development Coordinator Lindsay Hunter, who has no coaching experience at any level. Majerle was so incensed that he quit, and Turner hasn’t attended Suns practices or games since. To bring this time of ignominy to a close, Jermaine O’Neal reportedly got into a “heated verbal argument” with Blanks though both have downplayed the issue.
The juggernaut that was the Seven Seconds or Less Suns has finally succumbed to the harsh desert conditions. It is convenient to point to 2008, when D’Antoni left to Coach the Knicks, as the beginning of the end, but that ignores the fact that they went to the Western Conference Finals in 2010 under Alvin Gentry. It is convenient to point to 2012, when Steve Nash was at last traded to the Lakers, as the beginning of the end, but that ignores the two playoff-missing seasons before he was traded. No, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we can see that the Suns have been in retrograde ever since 2004.
A look at the wins and losses would suggest the Phoenix Suns are a well-run organization. Since Robert Sarver bought full control of the team in 2004, they’ve done won 61% of their games, advance to three Western Conference Finals and propagate the most well-known offense the league has seen since the Triangle. But the examining process, not just results, reveals that, under Sarver’s tenure, the Suns have run the cheapest and most
Dear Dallas Mavericks,
I confess that I picked you to lose to Portland two months ago. I thought you were a washed up, disjointed mess of not-so-gently-used parts that Coach Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki had bundled together and awkwardly lugged through the regular season. You had lost your last nine games against Western Conference opponents entering the playoffs. The present and future looked bleak.
Then you swiftly, comprehensively dismantled the Los Angeles Dynasty and snuffed out Oklahoma City, a yawning colossus just waking to its own potential. Perhaps I should have known you would be too much for the Heat as well.
Like a skilled and confident boxer, the Heat could swallow a team in one flurry. They dropped their hands at times–could be staggered by a stiff jab–but always Miami had the knockout punch cocked. Always they were a threat to unleash a devastating combination of unmatched speed and power.
I wonder if you knew, after limping into the playoffs, that your greatest quality would be your ability to weather any and all onslaughts—even from the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? We sure didn’t.
But that doesn’t much matter now, because you did it and did it all together, with exceptional grace and skill.
So thank you for the kind of basketball you play. It was a joy to see each player in his right place, performing his role to perfection. There’s so much to be said for just not making mistakes, and for the intelligence and preparation it takes to take full advantage of the mistakes of your opponents. So much to love about your discipline and execution, the trust that was evident in each pass whipped crosscourt to an open shooter. Or maybe he wouldn’t shoot it, and keep it moving to
Everyone knows that if the Mavs can win the franchise’s first NBA title, Dirk Nowitzki will be the Finals MVP. His production, both scoring and rebounding, has been constant and extraordinary, and his impact on his teammates’ play is unmatched.
But who has been the second most important Maverick?
Maybe Shawn Marion, whose unexpected offense—on the glass and in the post—and iron-nosed defense on LeBron James has utterly negated a presumed mismatch for Miami.
One might offer Jason Terry, who has played well late in both Maverick wins. He’s been inconsistent, but backed up his tough talk after Game 3 by driving at will against LeBron James in the final moments of Game 4. As Terry’s 4th quarters have gone, so have the Mavericks. He was shut out in two losses, but averaged 8.5 points in the 4th quarter of their two wins.
But if you factor in consistency, minutes played, and impact on both ends, there’s plenty of evidence that the Mavericks second most important player is Tyson Chandler. Rick Carlisle has needed the former #2 overall pick’s best, too. With Brendan Haywood injured and ineffective, Chandler’s minutes have increased in each game this series, from 33 in Game 1, to a whopping 43 in Game 4.
Chandler has contributed meaningfully in all the categories you would expect for a fast, active 7-footer with questionable touch: defense and rebounding. His rebounds have gone up in each game, from four in Game 1, to 16 in Game 4. In the Finals, with Chandler on the bench, the Heat’s rebounding rate skyrockets from 47.4% to 56.9% and its Offensive efficiency goes from 98.26 points per 100 possessions–worse than any team in the regular season–to 114.3 points per 100 possessions—better than any team in the regular season.
Specifically, Statscube tells
Last week I described the role an advanced scout would take in preparing for the Finals match-up. Here’s Part II of an abridged version of what those scouts might have found.
Once Dallas is in the half-court defensively, they rely on a rotation-based man to man defense with doses of their 2-3 zone sprinkled in. While the 2-3 look is the base, it essentially morphs into a match-up zone due to the NBA defensive 3-second rules. They rarely use it for an extended period of time and tend to employ it on dead balls or after timeouts for a handful of possessions.
They have great positional flexibility with both Kidd and Marion able to guard at least three different positions. Neither are what they used to be, but this flexibility allows Dallas to hide some of their weaker defenders easier against non-threats. Given their size in the front court, they look to funnel teams toward the middle of the floor with their pick and roll coverage due to the ability to consistently have a shot-blocking threat protecting the rim at the center position.
The interesting part of the Mavs defensive scheme is the way they protect Dirk. A team defense based on rotations (as opposed to stunting) naturally and necessarily puts its players in a position to rotate into a mismatch. Given Nowitzki’s offensive value to Dallas, it is an absolute must to keep him from getting into foul trouble or being ground down by tough, physical match-ups.
The twist in the Mavs’ scheme basically requires Dirk to avoid any potential mismatches by only switching or rotating onto other non-threats. The following video shows you Dallas’ rotation out of trap of Kevin Durant off a pick and roll. This is a good look at how a typical
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.
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
Zone defense isn’t man-to-man, and it isn’t manly. It’s what boys play in college and high school, what your JV team ran because the other team couldn’t shoot. No elite NBA defense could ever employ a zone with any consistency and success. Well, until one does.
The Dallas Mavericks are surrendering the league’s fourth lowest Opponent FG% (43.3%) while endeavoring to have the best zone defense in the league. It’s likely they already possess the best zone defense in NBA history. The world of NBA coaching is a thrift store for gently used ideas and people (EG- Doug Collins has a job?), so it was a brave decision for coach Rick Carlisle to devote so much time and energy to a culturally disdained and previously unsuccessful tactic. (Trivia knowledge: Zone “D” was legalized only ten years ago and was first outlawed in 1947).
But why are zones, for lack of a better word, lame? There is always an underlying tension in basketball between the team and the individual, between movement and isolation. For years the NBA has been successful in marketing its players as individual offensive virtuosos, and there’s a reason the Hip Hop culture infused basketball uber-magazine is called SLAM instead of BOUNCE PASS. Many American NBA players learn this culture along with the game, and it seems that playing zone is anathema to the in-your-face, mano y mano warrior image. Yet good defense is always communal act, and the best NBA defenses, like that of the Lakers or Celtics, go into a zone look whenever possible to disrupt strong-side pick and rolls or isolations.
Don't stare, it's just two dudes who like playing zone
But beyond the cultural belief that zone is the Vanilla Ice of defensive philosophies, there are plenty of practical reasons why zone