1. Why was our rebounding so poor?
It is not because the Mavs have stopped focusing on closing out opposing possessions and are sprinting up the court like the Phoenix Suns do. Nor is it necessarily a lack of effort--most of the Mavs players playing are rebounding about as well or better than you would expect. The best explanation comes down to personnel: The Mavs are without the best offensive rebounder in the NBA, Erick Dampier and one of the better rebounding small forwards in the league, Josh Howard.
While it is true that Diop has rebounded well, his offensive rebounding has not come close to what Dampier can do, and that means that his rebounds are likely taking rebounds away from other Mavs, as opposed to the other team. This is one of the things that many fans don't appreciate about Dampier, his rebounding complements Dirk, who is an excellent defensive rebounder. Josh Howard's loss really hurts, as his spot has been filled by players who simply don't rebound as well as he does. The only exception were the times when Dirk played small forward beside Bass and Diop, a front line that looked pretty good last night.
2. The Hawks scored 101 on us; what happened to our defense?
The Mavericks defense was much less consistent last night when compared to the Cavaliers game, but they didn't play awful. In fact, the Mavs defense was dominant for some significant stretches. Also, the score is misleading--the pace of the game was much faster than the Cavaliers game. Look at it this way, the Hawks shot 45.6%, which would have ranked the Mavs as the 11th best defensive FG% for the season last year. So while the Mavs defense still needs to improve, even when they are playing inconsistently, they are pretty good.
3. You mentioned fouls as being important after the Cavaliers game. The Mavs fouled a lot tonight. What happened?
Well, let's look as the Spurs as our goal. They are a team that plays very strong defense and yet doesn't foul a lot. Last year they averaged 19.4 fouls a game. To put that in perspective, in an average Spurs game they rarely let their opponents in the bonus. Last year the Mavericks averaged 22.4 fouls per game. It may not look like a lot, but 3 fouls a game is a very big difference. So let's set the goal for the Mavs this year to improve their foul situation to below 20, ideally closer to 19.
This year the Mavs after two games are averaging 22 fouls per game, but the range is huge: A wretched 25 last night against Atlanta and an exceptional 17 against the Cavaliers. So where are we? Well, we don't know. It's just too soon to tell. Plus, the whole dynamic will change as Howard and Dampier return to the line-up. But last night was not a good sign.
4. Any more thoughts on the offense?
If you doubted that Westphal and Avery had changed the Dallas offense, last night should have been an eye-opener. Dirk attacked from different angles in the paint, and he often started with the ball beyond the arc. You almost couldn't predict where he was going to get the ball. The point guards played almost an entirely paint-focused game--Devin and Barea attacked the rim, while Terry quarterbacked pick and rolls with Dirk. The only real exception were the shooting guards, which brings me to...
5. Did the shooting guards really stink as much as it looked last night?
Yes, yes they did. You can also include small forward play in this, as our shooting guards were also covering for Josh Howard. With the point guards penetrating at will, and Dirk playing close, you absolutely need your shooting guards to nail mid-and long range shots. Last night, they simply failed to deliver. It is tempting to say that at least Terry delivered from the shooting guard spot, but Terry generated 16 of his 20 points from the point guard position. Stackhouse, Hassell, and Jones were a combined 1 for 13 from 3 point range. That's inexcusable.
6. But at least they played strong defense, right? After all, these are the guys that shut down LeBron.
Absolutely not. The Hawks guards shot well, and the Mavs defenders were slow to cover. Tyronn Lue just hit dagger after dagger with little resistence.
7. So is the shoooting guard position a problem or not?
It is and it isn't. On offense, I am concerned about their performance. However, the entire team is embracing both new players and a newer system. So comfort and time may lead to more consistency. On the other hand, that's no excuse for flat out missing shots. On defense, I'm not quite as concerned. They played pretty poorly, but their performance dropped significantly when Diop wasn't on the floor. I read recently that the guards have the luxury of playing aggressive in-your-face defense with a rock like Diop behind them, and that is absolutely true. Look at the Spurs when Duncan is on the floor anchoring the defense in the paint.
8. Is Diop that good on defense?
Yes, he is. The Hawks have some incredibly athletic forwards, who take particular relish in pounding dunks when they get the ball inside. Practically all of them struggled with Diop on the floor. Diop ended the game with the Mavs' best +- (+8), and you can be sure that it wasn't due to his offensive game.
9. Is Barea the real deal?
Yes, he is. Barea was one of only three Mavs with a positive +/- (Diop and Stack were the other two). His ability to finish with either hand and his incredible court vision are translating well to the NBA, despite his size. Even his turnover was good in a strategic sense--He drove to the hoop, and as the Hawks defense collapsed Barea passed to a cutter in the lane. A good defensive play by a trailing guard broke up the play, but the message was sent: Barea can not only drive, he'll see the sliver of sunlight to make the pass.
On defense, I was shocked to see him draw an offensive foul on the single biggest defensive problem he'll face as a pro: A much taller and heavier guard simply backing him down into the lane by pure strength. Barea held his ground and as he was rather effortlessly pushed backward, the ref called the offensive foul. We can't count on Barea getting that call consistently, but if it happens enough, opposing guards will have to figure another way to abuse his size disadvantage.
10. Monitoring minutes
Dirk logged another big minute game (38 minutes), but he was pulling double duty, playing small forward and center at different points in the game. Let's see how the minutes play out after Josh Howard comes back. As a point of comparison, the Hawks' Joe Johnson played 46 minutes.
Avery, whether through necessity with injuries or a newfound respect for using the regular season for more than winning the number one seed, is giving young players significant minutes. Not only that they are playing in key moments. With the Mavs needing a score in the final minutes, Barea was on the floor. The same could be say for Bass.
We will see how things change as Josh and Dampier return, but as of right now it certainly appears that Avery is making a point in working in his young players with promise.