With a playoff spot guaranteed, and the season over in a number of days, now is the time to start assessing the Mavs as a playoff team. This is the first in a series of articles heading into round one, where I'll look at the Mavs various strengths and weaknesses. I'll start with a broad view and then focus on individual players and elements of the team. Today I look at overall defense.
While some online press have recently outlined that the Mavs have abandoned defense as a core value, my perception has been quite a bit different. Certainly, I felt the Mavs began the year with lackluster defensive effort (and I wrote about that in my review of the first half of the season). My conclusion then was simple: The Mavs just weren't making an effort on the defensive end. But as the season has gone along, I've seen the defensive intensity ratcheted up, especialy since Jason Kidd has joined the team.
As how a team is performing directly heading into the playoffs is of critical importance (witness Golden State last year), I decided to see how the Mavericks overall defensive efficiency (points given up per 100 possessions) has trended from game one to last night. If the team started with a mediocre defense but has ended the season with some dominant performances, then that is excellent news come playoff time.
To get a picture of how the team has trended while also removing the game-to-game fluctuations ("noise"), I averaged the season defense in ten game increments. The only exception was that I wanted to get a view of Kidd's impact, so I used his arrival as a cutoff point. Here are the results. Note that lower is better, because it means you're giving up fewer points:
One of the first things I noticed was the large spike of very poor defense heading into around game 20. If you remember back a few posts, I noted that it appeared that coach Avery Johnson pulled back the tempo of the Mavs offense, taking the keys away from Devin Harris. It's not unreasonable, looking at this data, to conclude that Johnson saw serious erosion on the defensive side due to Harris' lack of control of the offense, and thus pulled things back significantly. In terms of defense, it clearly worked. The Mavs defense improved significantly as the Mavs offense dramatically slowed its pace.
After around game 40, the Mavs defense started to degrade again. And then an amazing thing happened--the Mavs traded their "all defense" point guard (at least according to John Hollinger) Devin Harris for an aging point guard whose best defensive days were presumably behind him, Jason Kidd. The impact can clearly be seen in the graph. Shortly after Kidd arrived, the Mavs defense got all medieval. In fact, over the past 12 games, the Mavs defensive efficiency is 102.9, which would put the team at fourth in the league, closely behind San Antonio.
As far as looking to the playoffs, you couldn't ask for a better view of the Mavs defense than what we see here. We trade for a new point guard, and he has practically an immediate impact on the defense, and the trend since his arrival is from good range to the dominant range. In fact, the Mavs performance has actually been even better than these stats show, as one of the nuances here is that in this trend toward defensive dominance, the Mavs played some of the best offensive teams in the league, including the top FIVE offenses in the league--Utah, Phoenix, LA Lakers, Golden State, and New Orleans. Quite simply, the Mavs are heading into the playoffs playing playoff defense.