NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04: Once and future teammates? (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
After 10 excruciating days, the Dallas Mavericks have finally made their move in the 2012 offseason, and though it is far from the outcome we all most desired, I think all in all yesterday provided us a glimpse at what Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson are capable of.
Thinking that the team would have little in the way of resources left to acquire a true point guard, Dallas then pulled off one of the more head-scratchingly one-sided trades in recent memory, dealing non-stater Ian Mahinmi, who most had assumed would be lost for nothing, for two productive players in Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones. Both have just one year left on their contracts, and the former fills a major need as a young, cheap, starting-caliber point guard with upside. I don't think it homer-ish of me to say that, on paper, this trade seems like something of a coup. Certainly, to go from the seven players Dallas had under contract Tuesday night to the team Dallas might have tomorrow night if they do what many expect and add Elton Brand and Delonte West into the mix, would be a shocking turnaround. Dallas may not be title-favorites, but a chance at keeping their playoff streak going seems far more plausible.
I'll leave it to SB Nation's Tom Ziller(who just put up an article on the Mavs' weird offseason) to sum it up best:
Not really sure how the Mavericks always manage to come out alright.— Tom Ziller (@teamziller) July 12, 2012
So, who are these new Mavs, exactly? Well, let's find out:
The 7'0, 265-pound center was born in Michigan(not Germany), staying local to play his college ball at Central Michigan. Other famous Central Michigan attendees? Jeff Daniels, Dick Enberg, the guy who invented the Slide Whistle, and in the world of basketball, one of my all-time favorites, "Thunder" Dan Majerle. Kaman had German grandparents, and, after befriending our own Dirk Nowitzki, earned dual citizenship so he could play for the German national team starting in 2008.
Kaman was taken sixth overall in the 2003 draft by the L.A Clippers. Most of the guys taken ahead of him you've probably heard of. One of his teammates his first five years in L.A was Elton Brand, who we might be getting to know later.
After a slow but steady rise in playing time, Kaman began his seven year streak of double-digit scoring in 2005, his third campaign, and enjoyed an All-Star selection a few years later. Injuries took his starting spot with the Clippers and eventually made him trade-bait in the pursuit of Chris Paul(by the way, if management gets their wish, he'll likely be trade bait...for Chris Paul, or Dwight Howard).
On offense, Kaman features a fairly capable post-game and probably the first thing you'll notice about him is that he is very skilled handling and shooting with his left hand, as well as his right. Expect Carlisle to utilize him often inside, and while he's not exactly Hakeem Olajuwon, he will definitely make the offensive horror-show that was Brendan Haywood attempting post moves a distant memory. One thing to note is that Kaman experienced a down-year in terms of shooting close to the basket. This may be due to accrued wear and tear sapping his (already limited) athletic ability, but if somewhat healthy again it is possible his shooting percentages could see an uptick, especially now that he'll be playing alongside Dirk. If he's not on the low-block, Kaman also has great range for a center, and can reliably hit out to 18 feet(he hit 45% on shots between 16-23 feet). I jokingly said to some friends yesterday that with Kaman, Dirk, and Brand, 90% of Dallas' offense is going to be a big man taking a midrange jumpshot. That might not be that much of an exaggeration.
At the other end, Kaman's size and instincts make him a strong team defender. I will admit, I was shocked when I looked at the Synergy stats for Kaman his last couple of years with the Clippers: they were outstanding, and that was on a pretty god-awful defensive team. They dropped off a little in New Orleans, but, again, health could see his play normalize. His defensive +/- the last three years were +5.50, +5.21, +0.56. If these numbers are greek to you, take my word for it, that's pretty good. Also worth noting is that despite the dip the third year(this past season), his adjusted +/- overall last season was +2.80, so it's possible that Synergy undersells his work due to the unexpectedly stout nature of the Hornets' second unit under defensive guru Monty Williams. Kaman blocks shots pretty well, despite a lack of hops and short arms, and is pretty strong on the defensive glass, ranking 15th out of 55 qualifying centers in defensive rebound rate. The rub: he, like Dirk, is very poor on the offensive boards, and when you put the two of them together and subtrack Haywood(who, for all his flaws, is one of the best offensive rebounders in the sport), expect Dallas to be at or near the bottom of the league in second chance points next year.
Darren Collison was a month away from turning 7 when Jason Kidd was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks. Now he'll be replacing him. Like Kidd, Collison is a Cali-boy, and enjoyed a successful four year run at UCLA. Other famous UCLA attendees? A lot of people, let's just move on.
Taken 21st in 2009, Darren Collison exploded in the second half of his rookie season when an injury to Chris Paul promoted Collison to starter. In February, he averaged 21.6 points and 8.3 assists on 49.6% shooting, and in March he went to the tune of 16.9 points and 9.1 assists on 50.9% shooting. Now, a couple of things to deflate these numbers. #1, Collison was playing over 40 minutes a night on a Hornets team with limited alternatives at point guard, so the raw numbers get a bit of a push in that regard. #2, the New Orleans scorekeepers are rather infamous for handing out assists to the home team on plays that have no business being called assists.
Still, even with those minor tweaks, you get an idea of the kind of talent Darren Collison has. In the wake of those final two months of his rookie year, it seemed possible that Collison was on a collision course with stardom. Unfortunately for him, he was traded the next offseason to accommodate Chris Paul. Oh, by the way, here in Dallas, if management gets their way, he might ended up being traded to accommodate Chris Paul, or Dwight Howard.
Collison is a point guard, unlike every other guard currently on the Mavs' roster, but don't let the pretty assist numbers above fool you: he likes to score. I suspect the biggest reason that Collison experienced a bit of a disappoining third season is that Frank Vogel tried to pump his brakes a little bit and get him share the ball. Collison saw a career high in pure point rating, but posted the worst true shooting percentage of his career and saw his usage rate drop considerably from where it was in his rookie season. Hopefully, Rick Carlisle will let him shoot more often, because he can do that pretty well, as a career 36.3% three point shooter and 85.3% free throw shooter, who can also get to the rim with his terrific speed. In terms of his shooting at the rim, his two seasons in Indiana presented great contrast: last year he shot 52%, which is nothing too special, and the year before 62%, which is phenomenal for a small, 6'0 160-pound waif of a guard. You'd think that Collison would be devastating in the pick and roll, with the combination of speed and shooting touch, but Synergy stats rates him as below average in P&R situations, and sees his success primarily in isolations. Hopefully, Carlisle can get him to run the two-man game with DIrk effectively. The thing that I imagine I'll keep saying for every player Dallas ever signs while Nowitzki is here is that "well, they should improve, because now they're playing with Dirk". This is advantage in having one of the most uniquely gifted and efficient offensive players of all time. He is the ingredient that makes every sandwich better.
On defense, Collison is short and wafer-thin, and can get bullied accordingly by the current era of big, strong powerful attacking guards. All three years in the league his teams have averaged fewer points per 100 possessions when he was off the court. This isn't to say that Collison is awful; he's just physically limited. To his credit, he doesn't foul often, and is not known as a gambler(which also means he doesn't rack up steals). Essentially, it seems he's the type of guy who plays within himself and doesn't try to do too much. If Dallas flanks him with strong man defenders like Shawn Marion and Delonte West, I would think he'd be OK.
Last but not least, Dahntay Jones. Taken 14 picks after Chris Kaman in the '03 draft out of Duke, Jones still probably remains famous for this dunk, but while he hasn't enjoyed quite the same success in the NBA that he did in college, I think he could turn out to be an important piece in this trade, much as DeShawn Stevenson was in the Caron Butler/Brendan Haywood deal.
On offense, Jones does two things I really like: he can spot up for three(42.9% last year, 37.15% going back to '06-'07), and he draws fouls at a fairly high rate. He is athletic, and sometimes gets out of control, but has greatly improved since his early days in Memphis as a ballhandler and team-offense player, which is pretty good, given that offense isn't where he earns his living.
Jones makes his money primarily for tough, hard-nosed defense. This should quickly endear him to his teammates and coach Rick Carlisle. His synergy numbers, opponents-PER and +/- all paint him as a level below-elite stopper, but still pretty strong. Jones has the physique and quickness to stay in front of wings and out-muscle them. As he is now on the wrong side of 30, some of the physical gifts may dissipate, but all in all I think Jones is an excellent role player, and it would not surprise me to see him start alongside Collison, much in the role Stevenson had, beginning the game as a tone-setter and playing 20 minutes or so.