Is It Coming Together?

Beyond all the obvious reasons, last night's game was important because it was the first time that the Mavericks with Jason Kidd have outperformed the opponent's defense and offense at the same time. In the previous nine games, our offense had outperformed in some games and our defense in others, but putting together a complete game had eluded them until last night. Why is it important? Well, let's look at the previous nine games with Kidd.

First of all, when I talk about "outperforming" a team's offense or defense I'm talking about efficiency, which looks at how many points a team scores in an average possession. These are generally reported as "points per 100 possessions." These are powerful statistics, because they include all the elements of a game, including offensive rebounds, steals, and things hard to assess statistically like defense. For example, if a team has a defensive efficiency of 100, it means that it allows an average of 100 points in 100 possessions by the opposition. An offensive efficiency means you score 100 points in 100 possession.

In looking at an individual game, if a team has an overall defensive efficiency during the season of 100 and yet during the game they allow an offensive efficiency of 105, you can say that their defense underperformed. There are nuances, of course. If a team with a season long offensive efficiency of 120 faces a team with a season long defensive efficiency of 100 in a game, it is likely that the the game will end with an efficiency somewhere in between.

Another good reason to compare a team's average efficiency for the season with how they do in a single game is that it effectively removes any bias toward the quality of the opposition. For example, if the Grizzlies have a defensive efficiency of 106.0, and our offense performs at a level against them of an efficiency of 105.0, then we underperformed. However, if we had that same offensive efficiency of 105.0 against San Antonio, which has a defensive efficiency of 103.3, then the Mavs overperformed. This puts the Nets game in the proper perspective. It isn't that we beat a lousy team, it's that we beat them in a fashion that was greater than expected on both sides of the ball.

Okay, with that out of the way, I judged the Dallas offense and defense in these pure efficiency terms for the previous nine games with Kidd. An important part of that was looking at how we did in individual match-ups. Ideally, we would find a scenario where both our offense and defense would "outperform" the opposition.

All numbers are from ESPN box scores and the knickerblogger.net advanced stats page.

Offense

If you look at it in terms of pure scoring efficiency, our offense is much worse with Kidd. Our efficiency over his first nine games is around 107.8. Before Kidd joined the team our offense stood around 112.5. That's a big drop. In comparison to other teams, our offense fell from eighth to the roughly 16th. There's more to it than this, however. What if we played 9 defensive powerhouses, for example? Let's look at the game-by-game story.

First of all, the teams we played had an average defensive efficiency of  107.7.  That's good, but not exceptional. So we can't really say that our offense suffered due to us playing a string of defensive monsters. However, if our offensive numbers are higher than the oppenents' normal defensive numbers, then it doesn't matter what the number actually is--we outperformed the defenses we faced.

Unfortunately, the difference here is negligible. Our offense during the stretch had an efficiency of 107.8, while the teams we faced had an average defensive efficiency of 107.7. Since the team offense before Kidd arrived was around 112.5, the bottom line is that our offense was dragged down to the level of the defense of the competition, rather than performing at our former level.

So the Mav's offense is suffering with Kidd in the line-up. The question is: Can we expect to see it improve? This is possible. The trend is certainly how we would want it to go. The Mavericks underperformed the opposition's defense in the first four games with Kidd, but outperformed the other team's defense in four of the past five games. Also, the team's offensive efficiency overall in its past five games (against mostly playoff-level competition, mind you) is 111.5, a much less dramatic drop from our pre-Kidd level of 112.5.

The frustrating but simple truth is that it is still too soon to tell. Looking at the sample of nine games does not give rise to optimism. But looking at how the offense trended during those nine games makes things look much better--the longer Kidd has been with the team, the better the Mavs have done offensively.

Defense

At face value the Mavs defense is worse than it was pre-Kidd, with an efficiency of 108.6 compared to 107. Like the offensive story, however, the devil is in the game-by-game details. The opposition we played during the nine game stretch had an average offensive efficiency of 108.6, so we basically played to the level of the opposition's offense.

Basically, our defense was mediocre before the Kidd trade, and it's slightly worse--but still mediocre--with Kidd.

Again, the question is whether we can expect any improvement. We noticed that there was a nice game-to-game trend on the offense end. Are we seeing something similar on defense? That would really be reason for optimism. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. Our defense out-performed the opposing offenses in three of the first four games. But in the final five games, opposing offenses out-performed our defense four times. Clearly, this is the complete opposite of what we've seen on the offensive side.

Again, it is too soon to tell, but there is a clear trend, and it doesn't look good: Our defense is getting steadily worse the longer Kidd is with the team.

So what the %&$*# is going on?

It is certainly trendy to rip on Avery Johnson, to rip on the trade, and to look at the losses that have piled up and see a team that is simply no longer elite. The reality is that things aren't that clear cut. In fact, if you look at the trend above, there is an interesting phenomenon: The Mavs defense did well during one stretch, and the offense did well during another stretch. In fact, last night's Nets game was the first time since Kidd arrived where both our offense outperformed the opposition's defense and our defense outperformed the opposition's offense.

The future of the Mavs season and potential in the playoffs rests upon the the likelihood of the Mavs repeating last night. As of yet the Mavericks have yet to fire on all cylinders with Jason Kidd for an extended stretch. If they can do that on a consistent basis, then the Mavs will have as good a chance to make a finals run as any. If they can't, then the Mavs are looking at the kind of inconsistency that kills teams in a playoff series--assuming they even make the playoffs.

What about Shaq and the Suns?

While the Mavs story could develop in a number of ways, there doesn't appear to be any silver lining with the clouds surrounding the Suns. The Suns defensive efficiency with Shaq is a league worst 114.7. It has allowed opposing offenses to outperform in 7 of its 9 games. On offense, they have gone from elite to mediocre, although they continue to show flashes of brilliance. In 9 games, their offense has out-performed opposing defenses in five of them.

For the Suns, the real story is their dreadful defense. In the past, they could count on their offense to simply outscore the opposition, but with a defense this bad even the best Suns offense of the past few seasons would have been hard-pressed to score enough to win.

But what about their wins over Boston and San Antonio? Well, this is where efficiency can be a huge help. In both games, the Suns played fantastic and efficient defense. The trouble is that in both games their offense underperformed. Again, it is too soon to tell, but it has to be troubling that the few times the Suns play strong defense, it has a significant negative impact on their offense.

This is why the Mav's win over the Nets is actually a much brighter story for the Mavericks than the Suns win over the Spurs is for their team: The Mavericks with Kidd have finally shown that they can dominate on both sides of the ball in the same game. The Suns with Shaq still can't say that.

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