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Mavericks Should Rethink Their Defensive Assignments

The Oklahoma City Thunder were finally able to take advantage of some misconceptions on defense against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 2. These problems were also visible in Game 1 but it didn't hurt the Mavs too much. Mainly because it was overshadowed by the win and Dirk's performance but also because one guy wasn't able to hit anything: Russell Westbrook. That changed in Game 2 and the Mavs suddenly looked pretty human on the defensive end. Here's what spelled trouble in Game 2 and some conclusions how the Mavericks could adjust.

I only counted straight Isolations, PostUps, Pick and Rolls here. No transition baskets or Putbacks and such stuff.

DeShawn Stevenson can't guard Russell Westbrook
Westbrook simply wasn't able to hit a shot in Game 1. He blew layups and bricked everything. But as stated before he was getting quality looks. Stevenson was permanently caught up in screens set by Perkins which allowed Westbrook to get open jumper after open jumper. This also was the case in Game 2 but last night Westbrook converted. He hit 4 for 6 with Stevenson defending and turned the ball over once. Against all other defenders he shot 3 for 8, went to the line 4 times and turned it over four times. So he basically scored on 57% of the possessions against Stevenson and only on 36% against everybody else. That's a hack of a difference. Please note that Kidd also wasn't successful against him. He shot 2 for 3 on Kidd, went to the line two times and turned it over once.
This is obviously a problem. With both Stevenson and Kidd out of the equation there's only Marion who could guard Westbrook. Although he did a good job on Russell last night (1 for 3; 1 TO forced) I'm not completely sold on that matchup as well. Maybe Marions size can bother Westbrook a bit and he is also an above-the-average P&R defender. But the truth might be that the Mavericks, with how the current starting lineup is constructed, just have no answer for Westbrook.

Shawn Marion struggles against Kevin Durant
That was already pretty clear after Game 1 and continued last night. Durant shot 3 for 6 with him defending, went to the line twice and turned it over once. Against all other defenders Durant shot only 6 for 15 and turned it over twice. That's a score on 50% of the possessions against Marion and only 35% against everybody else.
Particularly mentionable is the fact that Terry, Kidd and Stevenson held him to 3 for 11 and forced two TOs. That's a continuation of what we've seen during the Memphis series. Durant tends to struggle against smaller defenders. Marion currently is only the fourth best option on Durant and should be treated that way. The easiest thing would be switching Marion and Stevenson. Stevenson and Kidd would share duties on Durant while Marion guards Westbrook. But as stated above: I am not completely sold on Marion guarding Westbrook. If that fails it gets tricky. I think we are clear that Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler have to remain in the lineup. Replacing Marion with Peja isn't an option either. Peja would provide more offense in the starting lineup but who is going to guard Westbrook in that case? At some point I would give Corey Brewer a shot here. P&Rs aren't something he can't handle and the Mavs could choose to either replace Marion or Stevenson depending on whether they want more of a post-presence or three-point shooting. My personal favorite is a lineup consisting of Marion and Brewer. Kidd would have to defend Durant but he did that against Kobe as well starting the game. Also it creates more mismatches on the offensive end. While Stevenson is a strict SpotUp shooter Marion and Brewer could be able to put more pressure on Durant and Westbrook on the offensive end.

James Harden and Eric Maynor outplayed Jose Barea and Jason Terry
The bench backcourt presented another problem: Harden shot 6 for 7 on Barea and Terry and went to the line 7 times. The two misses he had came with Kidd defending. I think Stevenson and Kidd do match up better with Harden, but there's no way Kidd will get an extended run when Harden is on the floor. But Stevenson is an option here. That would mean going really small with the bench lineups but the Thunder aren't a really big team and Carlisle has played Peja at the 4 with some success during the series. You got to give Terry though that Harden received one or two bailout calls in the game which surely boosted his confidence. The shot he made to give the Thunder the 10-point lead with under 4 minutes to go probably also wasn't one he will make on any given night.
In the meantime Maynor figured out that you can actually take advantage of Barea's size on the defensive end. He shot 2 for 3 with him defending, went to the line three times and turned it over once. With someone else defending him he went 0 for 3 and also turned it over once. I think this is most likely an area where you just can't make any adjustments. If Barea can't sell his flops he will be pretty much helpless against any guard in this league. I think you will have to live with that. Main thing here is whether Barea can maintain his offensive production. His only chance to come up for the defensive liabilities is to create offense. He led the bench in scoring yesterday and didn't turn the ball over. So it's hard to complain for now.

Daequan Cook went 3 for 3
On all shots he was defended by Dirk or Peja. The Thunder chose to go really small at times yesterday with Nick Collison playing the 5 and Durant playing the 4. I think you can live with that as well as long as you make sure that you can exploit the mismatches on the offensive end. Although I would be tempted to give Brewer a shot over Peja in these situations.

Is Roddy the answer?
No. His only spot is the starting lineup and he would have to guard Westbrook. In theory I like that matchup. You can some sort of compare Westbrook to Monta Ellis and Roddy did really well against him this season. And he provides, with all his mistakes, more offense than Stevenson does. But it's the playoffs. You can't just go out there and start a tryout. Other than Corey Brewer Roddy hasn't shown that he can be a valueable asset. So I doubt he will see any playing time again. The only case you could make for Roddy is that he should be activated over Brian Cardinal. The frontcourt depth was nice against the Lakers but is really unnecessary in this series.

The Mavericks surely got to do their homework. I am really intrigued how the they will adjust to these mismatches. First and foremost it's pretty obvious that both Stevenson and Marion have a disadvantage in their current assignments.
In case you are desperate for good news: The last time the Mavericks lost this postseason they went on to win 7 straight. If that would happen again? You do the math.