Spotlighting and Breaking Down Dallas Mavericks' Point Guard Position
The Dallas Mavericks have been one of the league's busiest teams this offseason, with no acquisition bearing more significance than the deal they offered to Jose Calderon, who agreed to the contract that would pay him upwards of $30 million over the next four years.
Calderon is only one of a few point guards who the Mavericks have brought in over the summer. The franchise that missed the postseason for the first time since 2000 made it a point to stock up on floor generals following an underwhelming season where their top assist man was Darren Collison, now with the Los Angeles Clippers, who averaged only 5.1 assists.
Although the Mavericks ranked sixth in the league in assists per game and tied for sixth in assist ratio—the percentage of a team's possessions that end in an assist—they failed to have a single player who could be relied on to facilitate.
By season's end, the Mavericks were relying on 37-year-old Mike James to make plays. Having Mike James as your starting point guard can cause any general manager to be a tad hasty with their dealings over the summer, and that's what may have occurred when Dallas signed and drafted a slew of old and young point guards.
Outside of Calderon, the Mavericks also employ the services of James, Devin Harris and Shane Larkin, as well as Gal Mekel and Mickey McConnell, but there's a likelihood those two may not end up on the final roster once training camp and preseason conclude.
Monta Ellis, who can double as a point guard, was also brought in. With Calderon likely to become the starter, and deservedly so, it's unlikely Ellis, who was absolutely atrocious in his decision-making last year with Milwaukee, gets to facilitate when he's in the same lineup as Jose.
Ellis simply refused to stop taking low-percentage jumpers last year, and the Mavericks had to be aware of that when he was brought in over the summer. The former Golden State Warrior shot below 30 percent on three-pointers, yet he still attempted 328 three-pointers and made only 33 percent of his jumpers.
However, there are positives to Ellis when it comes to facilitating and when he's not taking ill-advised jumpers. He matched a career-high last season with six assists per game and had a near career-high assist percentage of 27.1 percent, although his turnover percentage of 13.7 percent was the worst since his second season in the league.
The key to making this experiment with Ellis work is how well he can complement Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs still feel that Dirk is capable of being the centerpiece on a championship team following an injury-plagued 2012-13 season, and it could explain why the team pursued so many point guards who thrive in the pick-and-roll.
Last season, Nowitzki, who was the pick-and-roll man for 14 percent of his offense, per Synergy, ranked 76th in the league shooting 46 percent from the field on 112 attempts. As a team, the Mavericks ranked fourth in the league in terms of points per possession, per Synergy, shooting 54 percent overall and 38 percent from three.
But they only relied on the pick-and-roll man for less than nine percent of their offense, despite the success. That's what makes these moves all the more intriguing because Dallas was a solid offensive team last year, ranking seventh in the league in PPP, shooting 46 percent overall and 37 percent from deep, per Synergy.
Defensive stoppers in the backcourt should have been the necessity, but we'll get into that later.
The centerpiece of this offseason for Dallas was the deal that was made to Calderon. The Mavericks are in it for the long haul with Calderon, who will be 36 years old by the time his contract runs out. This is going to present quite the problem down the line, especially when the Mavericks are adamant about making more title runs.
For one, has there ever been a point guard as talented and efficient on offense yet so tremendously bad on defense that it cancels everything out as Jose Calderon?
We'll deliver the good news first: Jose is one of the league's most efficient point guards and is going to turn the Dallas Mavericks into a pick-and-roll nightmare. If he's penetrating as well as he did with the likes of Toronto and Detroit, then he and Nowitzki, who will obviously be the one popping out for jumpers, are going to vault Dallas back into the postseason.
Calderon has been in the top five in assist percentage, defined by Basketball-Reference as "an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor," on five occasions since 2008. Even more encouraging is the fact that his career turnover percentage is more than half of his career assist percentage.
The fun doesn't stop there with Calderon. As talented as he is a passer, he's just as impressive a shooter. In 28 games with the Pistons last season, Calderon was the league's No. 1 spot-up shooter, according to Synergy, converting over 60 percent of his spot-up opportunities.
He also led the league in three-point percentage last year, converting 46 percent of his career-high 282 three-pointers. He was in a zone last year, to say the least.
But let's get down to why signing Calderon for the next four years was a death sentence to the Mavericks' chances of winning a title for however long Jose is on their roster. Let's run through the point guards of teams the Mavericks could potentially face in the postseason, shall we?
Should we start off with the Los Angeles Clippers and Chris Paul? No? Well, how about Russell Westbrook? Not scared, yet? Stephen Curry is coming off the best year of his career. Still not worried? Let me introduce you to 2007 NBA Finals MVP Tony Parker then.
Do I need to go on and also mention the fact that Calderon is in the same division as Parker, Jrue Holiday and Mike Conley? I could go on and also mention Damian Lillard, Ricky Rubio and Isaiah Thomas, but we'll stop there.
These are the point guards Jose Calderon, who nearly broke his ankle because of a convincing Mario Chalmers' jab-step, will face on a nightly basis. Nobody is doubting his skills on the offensive end, but the Mavericks are going to be in trouble if they expect Calderon to defend someone like Westbrook or Paul for a seven-game series.
So is there any hope on the defensive end for the Mavericks when it comes to defending point guards?
Their first-round draft pick in Shane Larkin could become a pest because of his quickness, but once again, you have to think how he's going to fare against the ridiculous amount of quality point guards that litter the West.
At only 5'11", 176 pounds, Larkin is going to have his hands full if he has to defend an athletic freak like Russell Westbrook or a relentless ball-handler such as Tony Parker. It's difficult to see Larkin fit in as a defensive stopper at the one for Dallas, which still leaves Calderon on an island as to who the Mavericks throw at opposing point guards.
Devin Harris, a former member of the Mavericks from 2004-07, has seen better days. He hasn't been the same player since he was an All-Star with New Jersey in 2009 and injuries limited him to only 58 games last year with the Atlanta Hawks, his third team in two years.
Per Synergy, Harris allowed opponents to shoot 41 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc, ranking 195th in the league in PPP given up. Although he was solid in defending pick-and-rolls, he was among the league's worst when guarding spot-ups, allowing opponents to shoot 43 percent from the field and from beyond the arc and ranking 342nd in the league.
It's unlikely he starts, though, which still leaves Calderon with the main assignment of guarding the best the West has to offer.
While you can expect the Mavericks to make a return to the playoffs because of their newly acquired point guards, you can also expect the Mavericks to bow out of the playoffs early because of their point guards.
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