Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Clearer Picture of the Mavs

This recent, short, two-game road trip crystallized a couple of things for me about this Mavs team. In particular, two players actions spoke volumes about how much post-season playing time they should get. I will be forwarding this blog post to Rick Carlisle, in the hopes that he heeds my sage advice.

Thursday night in Portland, one moment stood out. It told us all we need to know about Erick Dampier. First quarter, Blazers guard Andre Miller has the ball. Miller drives the lane. Dampier is standing in between Miller and the rim. Miller decides to take the ball right at Dampier. What does Big Damp do? HE TRIES TO TAKE A CHARGE!! That's right, the biggest man on the court planted his 7'0, 265 pound body down low and tried to draw a charge from a 6'2, 200 pound point guard. Amazing. Oh, and by the way, Miller made the layup while Damp was called for a block. And-one for Miller. Nice.

First of all, I can't recall ever seeing a center try to take a charge from a point guard. You rarely see a center try to take a charge from anyone. Centers, when attacked, are supposed to do one of three things: 1) try to block the shot 2) stand tall with your arms straight up to form a wall (not with your arms at your side like Dampier played it) 3) try to murder the guy. Attempting to draw a charge is a tactic usually reserved for smaller players who have no hope of stopping the incoming attack, and is certainly never an option for a center when trying to stop someone half his size.

It's no coincidence that Rick Carlisle took Erica out of the game after that play. Erica has not seen the court since. She got 8 minutes against Portland, and a DNP-coach's decision against Golden State. I hope that, at that moment, Carlisle realized he's got a wuss in Dampier. And nobody wants to go into the playoffs with a wuss getting quality minutes. As Jerry, a good P1 with a good basketball brain said to me, "It was the worst thing I've ever seen on a basketball court, and Damp should be buried on the end of the bench for it!"

The Portland game looked like any game from the Denver playoff series last year. The game was too fast and too athletic for Dampier. He doesn't know how to impose what little will he has in a battle like that. Give me lots of Haywood (or hell, even Najera, who at least cares) over any glimpse of Dampier.

Saturday night in Oakland, the Mavs took apart the Warriors. Roddy Beaubois went off, scoring 40 points on 15-22 shooting and 9-11 from behind the arc. It must be noted that Golden State is the worst defensive team in the NBA--Don Nelson is their coach, so of course they are. But, 40 points is 40 points. Beaubois is the Mavs' most electrifying player. He's the best on the team at getting to the rim. He is the player on the roster that, outside of Dirk, strikes more offensive fear in the hearts of opponents than anyone else.

Beaubois has convinced me--he deserves playoff minutes. He should get 20-25 minutes every night from here on out during the regular season, no matter how he looks. He should then get JJ Barea's postseason minutes. If I'm Carlisle, I'm going to win or lose with my best players. Barea is not one of his best players. Beaubois might be. You're not going to beat the Lakers or (fill in whichever team you want: Portland, Utah, Denver) with Barea getting significant minutes. Barea on the floor causes other teams to salivate over the possibilities of mismatches. Beaubois on the floor makes other teams nervous. Give me the latter.

I realize Roddy is a rookie. He looks lost at times--on both ends of the floor. But he's got loads of ability. He's 6'1-ish, but plays taller. Barea is 4'11, and plays shorter. Coaches don't usually don't like to play rookies in the playoffs, but what do the Mavs have to lose? They are not the West favoites, so why not?

There are some other issues with this team that will greatly impact what kind of a playoff run they are able to make. Dirk, Jet and Kidd still have obvious defensive weaknesses that may be hard to hide. Haywood's recent decline in production makes you wonder. Butler has been good one game, bad the next. The adrenaline shot from the trade with the Wiz has worn off. Many problems to solve, but they're not the only good team with problems. I'll blog more about those issues closer to the playoffs.

But we can start here: more minutes for Roddy B, fewer minutes for JJ, and zero minutes for Erica. Coach Carlisle, you've been advised.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The NCAA's Missing Ingredient

The NCAA Basketball Tournament is still a wonderful sporting event. Lots of drama and lots of fun. But there is something missing, and eventually it's going to hurt this great event. That missing ingredient? Names. Big names. Legends.

This event was built on legends. Russell, Chamberlain, Baylor, Lucas and Alcindor all won NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player trophies. They, along with other legends like Oscar, West, and Wooden, laid the tournament's foundation back in the 50's and 60's. Legends like Bill Walton and David Thompson took us through the 70's. Then, in 1979, Magic met Larry in the title game, and the rest was history. The NCAA Tournament was on the map, with a bullet. Popularity soared--because of the big names "Bird" and "Johnson".

The next decade saw names like Isiah Thomas, James Worthy, Ralph Sampson, David Robinson, Danny Manning--and literally hundreds of other recognizable faces--help vault the tourney to just-behind-the-Super-Bowl-in-popularity status. It seemed like each year we were treated to big names doing something huge: Michael Jordan's title-winning jump shot to beat Georgetown, Darrell Griffith dunking all over UCLA, Larry Johnson dunking all over everyone, Goliaths like Ewing and Olajuwon going head-to-head, phenoms like Lee and Tisdale going head-to-head. Webber, Laettner, Brand, Camby, Bibby, Hill--names that thrilled us in college and went on to (in most cases) thrill us in the pros.

Now, look at some of the players who made All-Tournament teams from the 00's--guys who were among the five best players in the tourney that year:

Dane Fife
Kyle Hornsby
Lonny Baxter
Chris Wilcox
Loren Woods
Keith Langford
Gerry McNamara
Will Bynum
Luther Head
Luke Schenscher
Goran Suton
Kalin Lucas
Wayne Ellington

Yes, we did have Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Al Horford and Joakim Noah also make All-Tournament squads in the 00's. That would be the All-DECADE team, which couldn't hold a candle to the 1982 All-Tournament team:

Sleepy Floyd

Even more shocking: the players who played college basketball that year who did NOT make the All-Tournament team:

Clyde Drexler
Dominique Wilkins
Terry Cummings
Ralph Sampson
Paul Pressey
Dale Ellis
Keith Lee

In one year (82), we had more big names play in the NCAA Tournament than we did in one decade (00's). That's a problem.

Note: Even though he is my all-time basketball kryptonite, I must acknowledge the sour-faced Tyler Hansbrough. He, at the very least, stayed in school for four years, gave fans someone to love or hate (mostly hate), and put up great numbers and won a title. He was a throwback to the good 'ole days of college basketball. So, as much as it hurts to say, here's to you, Tyler. Don't sweat it that you're averaging a whopping 8 points and 4 boards a game for the crappy Pacers.

And, because we had giants back then, we also had the opportunity for great upsets. We won't see anything like NC State knocking off the Phi Slamma Jamma Cougars or little Villanova beating Ewing's Hoyas ever again. Why? Because today Olajuwon and Ewing wouldn't stick around long enough for a good team or a good story line to be built around them.

Think about it: we never got to see LeBron lead Ohio St to the Final Four. We were cheated out of that sports memory. How great would that have been? Is there any doubt he would have had a Magic-like effect on his college team of choice, and thus given us a Magic-like college memory? Not just LeBron--we never got to see Kobe, or KG, or Howard--basically today's NBA All Star team--put on a college uniform (a big thank you to Melo for going to Syracuse and supplying us with one of our few big name moments from the last ten years).

The one-year rule helps a little, but not much. Great players like Kevin Durant bolt for the NBA so quickly after their freshman year that it's hard to imagine that they found their way into a classroom. So what's the point? It's a silly rule that I think may do more harm than good to the schools. It's a rule that I'm sure will soon be challenged and probably won't be around much longer--especially if more players bolt to Europe for the year.

So, we're stuck. Stuck with getting our college basketball thrills from the likes of Ali Farokhmanesh. Something tells me that, as I look at my basketball spice rack, "Farokhmanesh" won't make as tasty of a tournament stew as "Jordan" would have.

John Wall, you're our only hope.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Best Mavs Team Ever?

I've always been hard on the Mavericks. What people don't realize is, I've always been hard on every NBA team. It's my sport. It's my league. It's my passion. I'm harder on my favorite team, the Spurs, than I am on any team. It's hard for me to watch (Benny) Hill and (Jackie) Mason fire up bricks at crunch time for this once-proud organization. If I did a talk show in San Antonio, people would think I was a Spurs hater--"You grew up in Dallas, go back home you Mavs lover!" is what I would hear. Truth is, I'm not a Spurs hater, or a Mavs hater, or a Lakers hater. I'm a guy who has followed the NBA all of my life. I love everything about the sport and the league. I think I know what makes a good coach, player, and team. It's not my job to be a cheerleader. It's my job to critique teams--to let you know which players and moves I think help lead a team to a title, and which will lead a team down the path to destruction. I consider my thoughts and opinions to be tough NBA love.

So, it may come as some surprise when I say that I love this current Mavs team. Finally, I see a Dallas team that looks like a real basketball team. A real point guard, a real off guard, a real center. No more stupid Nellie ball, or small ball, or teams that more resembled Fat Albert's gang than an NBA contender. This post-trade deadline Mavericks squad is the real deal. Not perfect, but much more of a joy to watch than any recent vintage Mavs squad.

Could they be the best Mavs team ever? Only the next two or three months will tell us the truth. But I think they're in the running. So much so, that I would like to compare this current squad to the two other teams from Mavs' history that I consider to be the best: the 1988 team that lost to the Lakers in the West Finals, and the 2006 team that blew it against Miami in the NBA Finals. This 2010 version of the Mavs has a long way to go before they equal what those other two teams did, but I think they've got a good shot to do so.

Keep in mind, the '88 Mavs won 53 games in a super-competitive era in the NBA--Magic's Lakers, Bird's Celts, the Bad Boy Pistons, Jordan and the Bulls coming into their own, Hakeem's Rockets, Barkley's Sixers, Wilkins' Hawks, Malone's Jazz. Winning 53 and making the conference finals in '88 was hard work.

Meanwhile, the '06 Mavs played in a less-competitive time. LeBron wasn't LeBron yet, Kobe's Lakers were way down, The Pistons stumbled, the Suns played zero defense--there just weren't that many good teams.

Let's take this position by position:


'10: Jason Kidd, '06: Devin Harris, '88: Derek Harper

Kidd is one of the five best point guards ever, and playing at a very high level right now. He is certainly the straw that stirs this Mavs drink. Harris had a good postseason in '06, but was very young and too often made the wrong decision. Harper was terrific--17 ppg and 8 apg, plus solid defense. But the nod goes to the Hall of Famer. ADVANTAGE: 2010


'10: Caron Butler, '06: Jason Terry, '88: Ro Blackman

Butler has been a great addition--he can create his own shot, attacks the rim, and has a smooth jumper. And he's tough-minded. Terry was very good offensively in '06, but a huge defensive liability, and seems better suited to coming off the bench. Blackman was a stud--wonderful mid-range jumper, quick, smart, and clutch. Nobody was bigger in the 4th quarter on that '88 team than Ro. ADVANTAGE: 1988


'10: Shawn Marion, '06: Josh Howard, '88: Mark Aguirre

Marion is not The Matrix anymore, but he's been really good for this squad. He's a very good defender, and has been a good teammate. Everyone knows how I feel about Howard. It's no coincidence that the Mavs started playing great ball the moment Howard left town. He was good in '06--not great, but good. However, he gagged late in games in the Miami series--missing free throws and making stupid plays. No team will ever win anything with Josh Howard getting a lot of minutes. Aguirre was controversial, but there is no denying that he was a game-changer. He averaged 25 ppg in '88, and was one of the most dominant scorers of his era. ADVANTAGE: 1988


'10: Dirk Nowitzki, '06: Dirk Nowitzki, '88: Sam Perkins

'10 Dirk is better than '06 Dirk. I think in the last four years Dirk has improved more than most realize. He's better than he was in '06, and even '07 when he won the MVP. He's more of a post player now. He's a better passer now. He's a better clutch shooter now. He takes fewer wild 3's now. He's better. And he's much better than Perkins, who was a nice player, but no Hall of Famer. ADVANTAGE: 2010


'10: Brendan Haywood, '06: Erick Dampier, '88: James Donaldson

Tough call here. Haywood has been solid--10 & 10 every night, with a lot of energy and solid defense. In other words: a presence. Dampier is the classic NBA underachiever. Donaldson was a giant--a true space eater. He gave you 8 ppg and 10 rpg and some toughness against guys like Kareem. Haywood gets it easy night in and night out compared to the guys Donaldson had to play against (in addition to Kareem, he had to deal with Hakeem, Laimbeer, Parrish, Ewing, and Moses, to name a few). Because of the competition faced, slight edge to Big James. ADVANTAGE: 1988


'10: Jason Terry, Erick Dampier, JJ Barea
'06: Jerry Stackhouse, Gana Diop, Marquis Daniels
'88: Roy Tarpley, Detlef Schrempf, Brad Davis

Wow. Not even close here. Tarpley averaged 13 ppg and 12 rpg OFF THE BENCH! Schrempf was a lethal shooter, and Davis has his number retired! 1988 wins this battle with ease, while 2010 comes up short to 2006 because of Barea. But it's close. ADVANTAGE: 1988


'10: Rick Carlisle, '06: Avery Johnson, '88: John Macleod

Carlisle is good. Really good. But he's never taken a team to the NBA Finals, which both Johnson and Macleod ('76 Suns) did. Avery, though, was in way over his head against Riley in the '06 Finals. Avery has a good basketball brain, but was green then--plus I don't know about his people skills. Macleod did a good job, but I can't say he was a better coach than Carlisle. Can't decide. ADVANTAGE: None.

Add it up. The 1988 team was the best in Mavericks history. They win 4 of the 7 positions. Their depth was tremendous, and they won big in a wildly competitive NBA era.

Next best? Well, they may not make it as far as the '06 team, but I believe that the 2010 Mavs would beat the 2006 Mavs in a seven game series. Notice: the '06 team did not win any of the position battles, and I would take the '10 Mavs starters over the '06 Mavs starters at EVERY position. This year's post-trade Mavs are simply a more complete team than the '06 version. They are a smarter team. Their star player is better, they have a better floor general, and a better big man. Now it's up to them to go out and prove how good they are. A long win streak in March means nothing if you are sitting at home in May.