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The Dallas Mavericks Bench Has Turned From First To Worst

The Dallas Mavericks bench used to be one of the best benches in the league for most of the season. Besides ordinary bench scoring, I use to track stats of so-called "bench units", which are lineups that include more bench players than starters, in other words at least three. The advantage over individual stats is simple: You can see whether a team is still able to outplay its opponent with more bench players on the court than starters, indicating a deep team.

To a certain point, the Mavs rocked these rankings, but slipped down to 14th recently. Over the last ten games the bench units have been outscored nine times with the lone example being the loss against the Lakers on February, 22nd. So this inglorious streak started on February 10th, a win at the Minnesota Timberwolves, where the Mavs were still at full strength, but coach Rick Carlisle changed the rotation: Vince Carter starts at SG since that game, Delonte West came off the bench and Rodrigue Beaubois picked up a few DNPs. Then of course the Mavs lost four important pieces to the bench for two or more games: Odom, Roddy, Jason Terry and West and this whole mix led to a horrible drop-off in bench performance as the following split (before and with/after that Minnesota game) shows:

OffEff DefEff EffDiff PTSiT PTSiP eFG% TRB% AST_TOV BLK%
before 02/10 102.51 94.90 +7.61 17.37 59.90 47.57% 49.67% 1.46 7.49%
02/10 and beyond 90.80 109.27 -18.47 15.90 51.40 44.20% 43.77% 1.33 5.14%

These numbers show some stats of the mentioned bench units. Dallas ranked third in the league in Efficiency Differential before the Minnesota game, 29th in the span of their last 10. That's not quite "first to worst", but what a change, eh? They experienced a drop-off in every category and overall it's a swing of 26.08 Points Per 100 Possessions. The TRB% of 43.77% is the worst in the league during that stretch.

So what let to this significant change? After the jump you'll find a rundown.

  • The Reason: The Terry/Roddy backcourt used to lead the bench units while getting the vast majority of minutes together in these lineups. Then Beaubois picked up DNPs due to heavier opponents, his father died and Terry also missed a couple of games and they got thrown out of sync. Unfortunately, the Terry/West backcourt, which moved into first place in terms of possessions played with Carter now starting, couldn't provide such a stable lead until West went down with his hand injury.
    The Stats: Before 02/10 the Terry/Roddy backcourt posted an EffDiff of +10.86, getting outscored by -22.01 Points Per 100 since, West/Terry: -16.86 as well
  • The Reason: An overlooked fact is that Vince Carter got fewer minutes at the SF spot in bench lineups since he has started at SG. Before 02/10, he played his majority of minutes (70.22%) at the 3. Starting with the Minnesota game it went down to 58.61%, spoiling some extended run of the most successful bench units. That's because he normally has a reliable defender behind him when playing SF in Roddy and/or West. With one or both out, he had to pick up minutes at the guard position, the defense suffered and so did the Mavs bench units.
    The Stats: When Carter plays the SF spot in bench units, the Mavs are a +14.21 on 90.71 DefEff, when he plays the shooting guard "only" a +3.10 on 104.36 DefEff.
  • The Reason: Lamar Odom also played fewer minutes at the small forward. With his atrocious play you would think that this is hardly an issue, but in fact Odom hast played better individually at the 3. Normally that's because Dirk is out there as the power forward then and he can play off him. Odom played 52.75% of his time at the SF before 02/10, 43.95% starting with the Minnesota game.
    The Stats: The forward averages a PER of 13.55, a WS48 of 0.119, a WP48 of 0.124 while shooting 45.45% eFG% at the small forward spot and a PER of 9.44, WS48 of 0.008, WP48 of -0.137 while shooting 36.36% eFG% at the power forward spot.
  • The Reason: Ian Mahinmi's decline has also played its role. The Frenchman was a huge part of the second unit and before 02/10 he was found in 8 of the 10 most used (and successful) bench lineups. Especially Terry and Ian had a nice chemistry going, but nowadays it's hard for Carlisle to put Ian out there with the kind of performance the coach is getting from him. Meanwhile Wright was unable to pick up that slack in bench lineups.
    The Stats: Ian averaged a PER of 17.16, WS48 of 0.233 and WP48 of 0.152 while shooting 59.79% in bench units before 02/10, Wright 14.72, 0.044, -0.005, 48.48% starting with the Minnesota game. The former lottery pick plays much better within other lineups: 21.38, 0.268, 0.304, 64.29%.
  • The Reason: Shawn Marion is not a good complementary player to the bench group. He played only 5.61 minutes per game in bench lineups prior to 02/10 and 7.21 starting with the Minnesota game, averaging subpar advanced metrics and, most importantly, hasn't hit one three-ball in bench lineups all season (0-for-5). That's a complete disaster, because both Roddy and West penetrate and kick it out to the shooter on the weak side, who often ends up wide open. But Marion, although willing to take that shot, is not a pure shooter and so will hesitate, try to get in the post or whatever. So in bench units his effectiveness is limited. He is much better in starting units, where Kidd can post him up or he can cut to the basket and grab a dime from Dirk Nowitzki.

It seems like the bench is completely thrown out of sync recently due to many changes in their lineups and they need to find new chemistry and confidence within their units. The starting unit is untouched by recent injuries so it's really up to the bench to find a new identity and get away from that 29th spot they're holding the last ten games. And the Mavericks have lost four out of their last five and three straight, so it better happens rather sooner than later.