The Dallas Mavericks have played 46 games this season, with a 47th -- the final Dirk Nowitzki vs. Kobe Bryant showdown -- coming Tuesday evening in Los Angeles. It's about a week past the season's exact midway point, which was the day between an ugly grinder of a win against Chicago and an uglier walloping to San Antonio, but it still feels like we're about halfway through, so here go some mid-season observations anyway.
As a whole, the Mavericks are adequate. Injuries that threatened to rob key players from significant time this season ended up absolving themselves in some rested back-to-backs and, for Chandler Parsons, a couple months of minutes restrictions. Dallas' nightmare January hasn't netted the best results, but they've won all the games they should have won and there's a lot more winnable games on the schedule after the All-Star break, including a six-game homestand.
There's no rhyme or reason to these, other than a couple follow-ups to the last broad-stroked analysis I delivered in November, but some things I've noticed about this team.
1. The 3-point revolution stops for no one
The Mavericks began the year with nine regular season games in franchise history where they had hit 16 or more triples. In the past 26 games alone, they've added four more instances to that list, most recently nailing exactly 16 long balls against the Celtics.
Anywhere you look, the statistics point to the overwhelming growth of 3-pointers. No longer considered a gimmick like 26 years ago, the Mavericks are on pace to attempt 2,304 shots from behind the arc, which will shatter the franchise record of 2,082 set last year. None of this should be terribly surprising; the NBA as a whole will once again break the record for three-pointers made and attempted this season yet again. When Dallas added Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews to replace non-shooters Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis, we all knew this unstoppable revolution would only be accelerated. That's exactly what has happened.
2. The shooting is more reliable, too
We talked at length about how Dallas wasn't making their open looks earlier in the year, a strange anomaly without any clear reasoning. As suspected, several of those players ended up undergoing dramatically regressions (in this case, improvements) to the mean. J.J. Barea, Chandler Parsons and Devin Harris, all with percentages far below their career marks, are all much closer to rational expectations -- Barea with a 18 threes in four games and Parsons nailing 16 shots behind the arc in his last four.
Dallas still isn't among the league leaders, but they're middle of the pack, which is always a good sign.
3. Ouch Charlie, that really hurts
In 457 minutes this season with Charlie Villanueva on the court, the Mavericks have been outscored by 90 points. As a team, they shoot only 26 percent from behind the arc with he steps on the floor. After a useful season last year, Villanueva really doesn't have any place on the floor, unfortunately.
Unfortunately, the other true backup power forward, Dwight Powell, has only been marginally better since mid-November or so. After a hot start, Powell's jumper isn't falling from any distances and his rebounding no longer makes a tangible difference. In 756 minutes with Powell this year, the Mavericks have been outscored by 96 points. It doesn't really make a difference if he's at power forward or center -- Dallas loses ground just about every time Powell steps on the floor. Which leads us to ...
4. Parsons will be playing a lot of small ball four
This is inevitable, barring some trade deadline deal that adds a half-decent backup four to the rotation. It's asking a lot of Parsons to rebound for his position, but offensively, it puts Dallas in a good position -- thanks to mismatches and thanks to the two players not getting minutes above, unfortunately.
5. Dirk, the one true master of a very singular shot
I enjoyed reading this Nylon Calculus article a week back describing the catch-and-hold jump shot -- a term coined to described jump shots taken two or more seconds after catching a pass but without a single dribble. If that description isn't already bringing up a mental image, just picture Dirk Nowitzki in the mid-post, catching a post and surveying the defense before suddenly rising up to knock home an entirely too easy jumper.
As it turns out, Dirk's attempted 33 such jumpers, fourth most in the NBA, with a 56 percent eFG%, second best among players with at least 20 such shots. Most players who attempt that many average under 40 percent, in fact -- Carmelo Anthony is shooting just 28 percent on 25 such attempts. But Dirk, with his 7-foot frame and scrape-the-ceiling release point, turns a shot that would be poor for anyone else into a weapon.
6. JaVale McGee needs the right terroir
Terroir is a French word used to describe the exact temperaments of wine-growing land. To a sommelier, very specific conditions will affect the final product, sometimes drastically!
Putting this knowledge to good use, I'm going to use fine wine to describe JaVale McGee. For the season as a whole, McGee is a massive negative, with only Villanueva boasting a worse net rating. The Mavericks are outscored by 5.9 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor, playing slightly better defense but significantly worse offense.
But something changes rather dramatically in the 97 minutes he's spent with Chandler Parsons and Dirk Nowitzki on the floor. Suddenly, Dallas is scoring 109.1 points per 100 possessions, per NBAwowy.com. With Parsons, Barea and McGee, the Mavericks record 117.4 points per 100 possessions! With the right lineups, McGee's a weapon. Without them, there's a good chance he's hurting the team.
7. Devin Harris is the Mavs' change of pace guard
The Mavericks average nearly 101 possessions per game with Harris on the court, opposed to the average of 97 they get for the entire season. Garbage time only players aside, that's the highest figure for the team, even higher than the shifty Barea (who really only uses his speed in the half court, not transition).
8. A new SportsVU stat idea
They can track all 10 players on the court, so let's also track Rick Carlisle. The further he gets onto the court during a game trying to call a timeout, the higher his anger metric rises.