Andrew Mills, Contributing Writer (@AndrewMillsTRS)
It has been a common sight in Dallas: Devin Harris would enter the game with Rajon Rondo still on the floor, or perhaps it was Harris and Jose Calderon. Who can forget J.J. Barea starting next to Jason Kidd in the NBA Finals? Rick Carlisle has been using two point guard lineups since he started with Dallas in 2008. Do they work?
Teams throughout the NBA have been uses two point guards intermittently, instead of the traditional point guard, shooting guard. The movement was brought on by teams becoming more athletic at defense and realizing how much another ball handler and creator would help them score. Having two athletes that are able to threaten opponents with their speed, ball handling and vision gives them an added advantage, which was not often used in the past.
To be fair, the trend of a two point guard system can be traced all the way back to Chuck Daly in Detroit, when he used Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars on the court at the same time. Today, some of the most potent offenses in recent history use this model. Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, Chris Paul and Darren Collison, to name in recent years.
As teams develop to become more efficient, players try and do the same. The term combo guard has become more prevalent, as individuals reflect attributes of both a point guard and a shooting guard. Shooting guards that are able to facilitate an offense like a point guard, bring a unique skill set to a lineup. Some of the top players in the league currently, are able to do so, including James Harden, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler.
Last year, Monte Ellis fit the combo role, while the Mavericks turned to point guards Barea and Harris off the bench together. Doing so tends to give up any height advantage over competition and can come with a defensive liability as well.
Analyzing the effectiveness of the two point guard lineup begins with dissecting the relationship between the two players. It was well known that Ellis required the majority of the ball handing when on the court. As the offense was flowing, and he was performing, there seemed to be no issues within the organization. As soon as the struggles began, his moodiness became a factor. The Rondo addition never panned out, as he could not adapt to the Rick Carlisle system. These are two examples of what can make the two PG lineups or combo guards not function within an offense.
The Mavericks offensive efficiency took a nosedive over the course of 2015. Net rating looks at the offensive performance of points scored per 100 possessions and subtracts the points allowed per 100 possessions. From October to April, the Mavericks' net rating decreased accordingly; 11.1, 10.9, 4.5, 5.3, 0.0, -4.4 and -0.4. With only two games in October, analyzing what went so well in November, gives insight to why the Mavericks were so successful to begin the season.
With a minimum of 100 minutes together, the highest performing individuals paired in November were Barea and Harris. These two also posted the highest assist to turnover ratio at 3.68 and effective shooting percentage (eFG%) at 60.2 percent. Surprisingly, the rebounding percentage was also almost two points greater compared to the team average -- perhaps indicating Carlisle made sure to put rebounders on the floor when he used that duo. A defensive rating of 103.4 with the duo was less surprising, though -- that's 1.6 more than the team average for the month.
Increasing the minimum to at least 200 minutes, reveals Ellis and Jameer Nelson. Again this pair posted some of the highest rebounding percentages and effective shooting. The one difference with this duo however, was the decrease in defensive rating, allowing almost four points less than the team average. Shortly after the team's' most productive month, Rajon Rondo was added to the team, while Nelson, Brandan Wright and Jae Crowder were shipped to Boston. The Mavericks had a Net Rating of 8.4 before the trade and 1.2 after.
Looking to previous years, in which Dallas utilized the two point guard system, can give greater insight into the success for the Mavs. The previous year, their best month was in February. At 100 minute minimum, the second-highest net rating was Jose Calderon and Vince Carter. (Carter and Dirk Nowitzki were first.) Doing so for the best month of the title year in 2011, it was Barea and Jason Terry also in February. The two posted the second-highest assist to turnover ratio behind JJ and Dirk. During the playoff run, it was Kidd and Terry operating at the highest efficiency.
There's no doubt the Mavericks will continue to use Barea and Harris together, working in newcomers Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews. At times, Barea and Matthews will be on the court together, as well as Williams and Harris. Both pairs present a weakness in size and defense against most teams with each allowing around 110 points per 100 possessions. Historically, Williams and Matthews have been good rebounders at their position, so perhaps they can survive a two point guard or three guard lineup if they pull their weight like Kidd in 2011. Williams and Matthews are both more likely to be prolific three-point shooters, followed relatively closely by Harris. It's always going to be a mix-and-match for Rick Carlisle.
The Mavericks have thrived with the dual-point guard system in the past. Chemistry is key: Kidd and Terry had it, Harris and Barea have it. One pair was a great threat in the starting lineup, while the other succeeds off the bench. With Deron Williams taking over as the main facilitator, Dallas will have to build the relationship between each of the point guards to continue their success. In his career, Deron has posted better offensive ratings but worse defensive ratings then Kidd, Rondo and Nelson. Dallas will look to him to develop to a team already full of offensive potential. If he is able to do so, the Mavericks' offense should dominate no matter which pairing is in the backcourt.