Monday, August 10, 2009

How the Matchups Fall: Dallas Mavericks

So, now we're in the true offseason mode, which means that, aside from the odd free agent signings and all, there's not much going on in the league save for odd news clips here and there. Biggest news in the NBA recently (if you haven't heard already) is Rashard Lewis testing positive for steroids, or at least high levels of testosterone. From my perspective, Lewis made a careless mistake, and now he and his team are paying the penalty by having Lewis sidelined with a 10-game suspension. I'm inclined to believe Lewis when he said he simply didn't read the label, and while some might be inclined to disagree with conspiracy theories, both Shaq and LeBron (can't find the link, sorry) agree that Lewis wasn't really in it to gain any sort of unfair advantage.

Anyways, as the offseason is under swing, I figure I'd keep things going here by looking at the current roster as is and how it would match up to the competition, namely, potential playoff opponents and contenders, and how they match up against our dearly beloved Spurs. First let me start off by saying that this is possibly not a completed team, as we don't know what sort of moves RC Buford will potentially make during the season before the trade deadline. With a combination of Matt Bonner, Roger Mason, and Michael Finley; plus any one of the younger/new guys as a package (Ian Mahinmi, Marcus Haislip, Malik Hairston, Marcus Williams, Theo Ratliff, etc...) the Spurs have upwards of $10 million plus in expiring contracts and young guys available. That being said, as a caveat, as far as I can remember, no team making a major move just prior to the trade deadline has ever won a championship, at least as far as I can recall. Remember that Lakers lost to the Celtics in the Finals after the Gasol trade midseason, however, there might not be a correlation between the two, so let's not jump to any conclusions if the team does decide to swap for Marcus Camby or something.

With that, let's jump in to the current standing roster of the San Antonio Spurs:

PG - Tony Parker, George Hill
SG - Roger Mason, Manu Ginobili, Malik Hairston
SF - Richard Jefferson, Marcus Williams, Michael Finley
PF - Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair, Marcus Haislip, Matt Bonner
C - Tim Duncan, Ian Mahinmi, Theo Ratliff

Those are the 15 players, in my projected depth chart, for the upcoming NBA season. Now, let's look at the opposition. The natural place to start would be the first round victors from the previous season's playoffs, the team that beat San Antonio and knocked them out in a rather embarrassing 4-1 rout, the Dallas Mavericks. Being a fellow Texas team, there's a natural bit of rivalry between the two, now even more so after last season's first round matchup. Dallas looks to be an improved team, and with the volatile Western Conference rankings (that being that any team seeded between 2 and 9 can switch at the change of a game) it's entirely possible that these teams will match up again. Let's consider the Dallas lineup come tipoff time:

PG - Jason Kidd, JJ Barea, Rodrigue Beaubois
SG - Josh Howard, Jason Terry, Matt Carroll, Greg Buckner
SF - Shawn Marion, Quinton Ross, Shelden Williams
PF - Dirk Nowitzki, Drew Gooden, Tim Thomas, Kris Humphries, Nathan Jawai
C - Erick Dampier

Unorthodox is probably one of the first words that would come out of my mouth when asked to describe the Dallas Mavericks' roster. It's a strange combination of talent that emphasizes an outside-in sort of offensive game. While Marion is an improvement over Jerry Stackhouse or Devean George in the roster, the glaring lack of a shot blocker and post defender really hinders the Mavericks in this sort of a matchup.

While Jason Kidd can still produce, he's no where near as fast as he used to be, and with that, he gets burned more frequently than not on the defensive end. Tack on to that the fact that the Mavs have no shot blocking presence to cover for Kidd if someone blows by him, and add onto that the fact that Tony Parker is probably one of the fastest point guards in the league, and you've got a major matchup issue in favor to the Spurs. This has sort of been the story ever since Cuban and friends traded away Devin Harris for Jason Kidd, the Mavericks no longer have anyone that can remotely come close to stopping Tony Parker. As Parker continues to improve, and add that nice mid-range jumper into his arsenal and as Kidd continues to age, the disparity between the two guards becomes bigger and bigger. At the reserves we'll probably see JJ Barea, who, while playing well, is pretty undersized, and I think will be easily outmatched by the length and versatility of George Hill, who will probably smother him, and whoever he's guarding on the defensive end.

If Parker is going off, I can see Pop playing Hill next to him (Parker) as a major defensive stopper on Jason Terry. All in all, while the Mavericks have improved defensively, with the addition Marion, the lack of an interior defender that can body up against Tim Duncan and challenge Tony Parker in the paint still remains a major disadvantage to them. While Dallas has done much to bolster its bench, adding Drew Gooden and Tim Thomas, as well as picking up Kris Humphries and Nathan Jawai from Toronto, none of them are really defenders of any sort. They have more firepower, but saying that Drew Gooden or Kris Humphries is probably the most legitimate post player on the team is a pretty sad statement really. If and when this matchup does occur, I suspect that DeJuan Blair will be showing Dallas how much they miss Brandon Bass.

The biggest problem that Dallas will have in this lineup will be the fact that they will be forced to play extraordinarily small, having both Nowitzki and Gooden probably see extended minutes at center and Shawn Marion seeing a lot of time at power forward. This is a short team. While Nowitzki is a legitimate 7-footer, he plays like he's 6-5, seriously. When it comes crunch time, the best 5 that Rick Carlisle can put on the floor for Dallas will see Dirk at center, Terry and Kidd in the backcourt, and Howard and Marion at the forward slots. Meanwhile, Pop will probably be showing a lineup of Parker, Ginobili, Jefferson, McDyess, Duncan. Where does the matchup issue come in? Well simply put, it's height. Kidd and Terry are 6-4 and 6-2 respectively, fine, but Kidd doesn't really have any offensive game to speak of, and while Marion can score, you can't really say he has much of an offensive game either. Tack on to the fact that now we're playing a 6-5 small forward (Howard) and a 6-7 power forward (Marion) with a soft 7 footer (Nowitzki) and you can start to get an inkling of how things might be major matchup issues for Dallas. While Parker is only 6-2, he doesn't really need to do much except bother Kidd and get a hand in his face on defense, Ginobili is 6-6, Jefferson is 6-7, McDyess is 6-9, and Duncan is 6-11. Unfortunately for Dallas, their best post and perimeter defender is found in the 6-7 Shawn Marion, but the roster doesn't allow for switchups because of how potent the Spurs closing 5 has become. I'm fairly confident that Nowitzki cannot defend Tim Duncan on the block, and to switch Marion onto him so you try to hide Nowitzki on the less potent McDyess, just leaves Duncan to shoot over Marion at will, just ask Jeff Van Gundy about those moments he was forced to put the 6-6 Larry Johnson on Duncan in the 1999 Finals. The second major issue would be who Jason Terry guards. Logic would say put the bigger Kidd on Manu and then let Terry try to keep in front of Parker. Okay, that kind of makes sense, but it's still not an optimal situation. The only matchup that ends up working for Dallas is Howard would be expected to guard Jefferson, that's fine, but the problem is that now you can't really hide Terry on anybody. While they do manage to get blocks, Marion and Nowitzki aren't exactly what I would call shot blocking presences, in fact, they're less of one than Erick Dampier, who's not exactly stalwart defensively. What does that mean? If Parker gets in the lane (and Dallas hasn't had anyone fast enough to keep up with him since Devin Harris got traded) it's over, since there isn't really anyone to contest the shot.

I'm sure Pop knows all of this already, and I'm sure Rick Carlisle is trying to come up with a feasible plan to deal with it beyond trying to outscore the other team.

Key Matchups:

Pic via zimbio

Pic via UPI

Pic via DayLife

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