Losing to the Rockets as badly as we did was hard. Really hard. After winning 9 straight against clutch city (and as a Houston native, I'm fully aware of this stat and it was deeply important to me) losing in such a spectacular fashion re-kindled the questions we've been asking this whole season: "where did we go so wrong?"
Most of what I've read about the collapse of the Mavs this season has been defensively minded, and rightly so. We've allowed a sad 104.1 points per 100 possessions this season, 19th in the league. It's not the worst, but it's not even close to acceptable. In fact, the Collison-Mayo-Crowder-Marion-Brand lineup, one of our most commonly used lineups pre-dirk-recovery, and still one that comes up while Dirk's on the bench, has allowed a shocking 120+ points per possession. In fact, surprisingly enough, this is true of almost every major lineup that includes Marion at the power forward spot.
That said, a lot of our defensive woes are fairly well documented, and I'll get to them later anyway.
As bad as our lineups are with Marion at the four spot defensively, they're even worse offensively, scoring a pathetic 77 points per 100 possessions. Why? A lineup of Collison-Mayo-Crowder-Marion-Brand has a number of offensive weapons: Collison running the break with Mayo and Marion who are still fairly spry, Brand crashing the offensive glass, Mayo as the bailout iso player, etc. How can that lineup just be so BAD?
The answer is lies in our pace and spacing. Our 102.9 points per 100 possessions (not bad, 13th in the league) hides some important information. We're a fairly efficient transition team, the 5th fastest in the league, per NBA.com. However, other teams that run anywhere near that quickly (the Rockets and the Nuggets come to mind) also tend to be significantly more efficient at overall scoring than we are. In fact, the only team in the top 8 in pace that scores less efficiently than we do is the Bucks (100.1 points per 100 possessions to 3rd overall in pace). What this tells us is that despite an efficient and prolific transition game, we have one of the most stagnant half court offenses in the league.
Going through our heavy-minutes players' shot charts tells the story. Here's a link to Collison's:
Now lets look at Mayo:
To be fair: Mayo takes a pretty good percentage of his looks from the corner threes and under the basket, where you'd want them, and his Points Per Weighted Shot indicates efficiency from the corner, the middle of the three point line, and under the basket; all very good things. But he also takes the majority of his shots from the elbows, which is bad. Very bad. He takes almost 15 percent of his shots from the right elbow, the majority of his shots from the elbows and the top of the key, and only converts a sad 29 percent from the top of the key.
Hopefully I don't even need to show you Dirk or Kaman's chart to know where they take their shots. That said, Dirk is obviously an exception to the "mid-range jumper is evil" rule, but the fact that he - along with the rest of the team - lives there creates another big problem in spacing. This offseason, we inadvertently stacked a team with mid range jump shooters. Not only is that bad percentage-wise, but it's made worse by defense's ability to clog the middle and the paint. This is where Marion comes in: he spends even MORE time than the rest of the team in the mid-range due to his lack of a 3 pt shot, and the only time he comes out is to set a pick. Even when he gets the ball inside, he has a terrible conversion percentage, per vorped.com. An already stagnant half court offense suffers even worse when we try to jam him in there.
But have no fear, there is a saving grace: Vince Carter and Jae Crowder. Especially together. Vince's shot chart looks close to perfect. He takes the majority of his shots from outside the arc or right under the basket, converting on more than half of those attempts and putting up highly efficient points per weighted shot numbers. Crowder hasn't been nearly as efficient (or really a weapon to speak of) but his shot choice is almost as good, and he presents the kind of "three-point-never-midrange" threat that we need to space our half court offense. AND, as we've been learning recently, Carter and Crowder have both been playing - if not stellar - pretty darn good perimeter defense.
Let me prove it: The Mike James-VC-Crowder-Dirk-Brand lineup has scored a brilliant 126 points per 100 possessions and allowed a solid 95. In fact, since James has become a burgeoning 3-pt threat and a smarter half court off ball player than Collision, the spacing still works with the James-Mayo-Crowder... combo, and you get roughly the same points per 100 poss. stats. The offense is about as solid with Collison in instead of James, but our defense drops pretty steeply (something to remember this offseason). A Collison lineup will outrun slower defenses, and then the Crowder lineups flounder a bit, given that he's slower and VC isn't on young legs anymore. But Crowder lineups have got the half court efficiency to bring us out of this hole we've dug for ourselves on that end, so we need more of them. Soon.