5 Reasons Dallas Mavericks Cause so Many Problems for Opposing Defenses

Conor Volpe@cvolpe31Correspondent IApril 29, 2014

5 Reasons Dallas Mavericks Cause so Many Problems for Opposing Defenses

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    It's not exactly a secret that the Dallas Mavericks win games thanks to their efficient offense rather than their mediocre defense. With a starting backcourt of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, holding teams to 90 points was never really in the cards.

    Instead the Mavericks swung the other way. Though Calderon and Ellis can barely defend a folding chair, they are both dangerous offensive weapons. The guards were written off as free agents and available to the Mavs largely because of their defensive shortcomings.

    But Dallas embraced their good sides. Together with Dirk Nowitzki and Head Coach Rick Carlisle, Calderon and Ellis have helped form the third most efficient offense in the league according to John Hollinger. Which is no small feat considering just two years ago the Mavericks were tied for 20th in that same category.

    But what makes the Mavs' offense so dangerous?

    Yes, Dirk is a star but he's 35 years old. Monta Ellis made Zach Lowe's All-Chuckers Team in 2012 and Vince Carter, the hero of Game 3, seemed washed up when he averaged 10.1 points per game in 2012.

    Individually, this roster isn't anything special.

    But collectively, the team is an offensive juggernaut. It's weird but true, and there are many reasons Dallas scares opposing defenses. But for now, we'll just focus on five in no particular order.

1. Shooting

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    In case you haven't noticed, the Mavericks are shooting the lights out.

    During the regular season, the Mavs were in the top five in three-point shooting at 38.4 percent, field-goal percentage with a mark of 47.4 percent and free-throw shooting at 79.5 percent. They were even eighth in both threes made per game and points per shot, with 8.8 and 1.25 respectively.

    And with a roster chock full of shooters like Nowitzki, Calderon and Carter it's no surprise that Dallas can hit jumpers with the best of them. Calderon is shooting 44.5 percent from three, while Nowitzki is at 39.8 percent and Carter finished at 39.4 percent.

    In other words, those three are some of the best sharpshooters in the game.

    But it's not just those three. Any perimeter player who sees rotation minutes is a shooting threat. And this gives a stellar coach like Rick Carlisle a lot of options.

    The first option is it gives Dirk more space to operate. The defense has to respect the other guys on the floor, allowing Nowitzki to use his full arsenal of moves. And if a double does come, Nowitzki has been fantastic at hitting an open guy. 

    But shooting helps in other ways too. Having a floor-stretcher like Dirk set picks for a driver like Ellis bends the defense and gives Ellis more attack lanes. The defense is already stretched by the other shooters, and it has to respect Nowitzki's pick-and-pop ability.

    So it's no wonder then why Ellis' shooting habits have improved so much.

    Team shooting also allows a guy like Brandan Wright, who was 13th this season in PER, to do his thing. He doesn't have to worry about pesky guards on his pick-and-roll catches because they're glued to their men. This no doubt has contributed to his ridiculous shooting percentage of 67.7 percent.

    The roster composition allows for a lot of little things to happen. Whether it be rim attacks for Monta Ellis, easy pick-and-roll buckets for Brandan Wright or more room for Dirk.

    Bottom line, it's something that keeps opposing coaches up at night.


2. Passing

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    The Dallas Mavericks are one of the best passing teams in the NBA.

    Not only is the team sixth in the league in assists per game at 23.6, but their 1.79 assist-to-turnover ratio is tied for third and they assist on 52.6 percent of their field goals which is tied for fourth. In every relevant passing category, the Mavs are close to the top of the league.

    An offense as efficient as Dallas' doesn't just happen because they isolate Dirk at the short corner. It happens because though Dirk is the focal point, everyone is a ready and willing passer. Ball movement is essential.

    Outside of the San Antonio Spurs, the Mavericks might be the best team as far as passing out of a good shot for a better one. In other words, the hockey assist is a huge part of this team. Guys don't seem to mind when their pass to an open shot leads to a pass to a more open one. And that's part of what makes this offense so deadly.

    Opposing defenses are pushed to their limits, as the extra passes force teams to make sure their second and third defensive rotations are sound. If not, that shooting we talked about before will come back to bite them.

    Passing so well with so many shooters just puts an incredible amount of pressure on a defense. Guards have to scramble after a rotation, and big men aren't always sure which guy to box out after the ball gets swung. 

    Unselfish might be the best word to describe the offense, but problematic is how other teams might rather put it.

3. Veterans

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    Think what you want, but this is sort of a nice way of saying the Mavericks are old.

    Old can often mean unathletic, slow and injury prone. But people often lose sight of the good things that come with age.

    For instance, in the Mavericks' normal seven-man rotation of Samuel Dalembert, Nowitzki, Marion, Ellis, Calderon, Harris and Carter there is a combined 80 years of NBA experience.

    And total games played? That would be 6,169.

    Basically, the Mavericks have seen everything a coach can throw at them. A zone? Sure, they know how to attack that. Someone's doubling Dirk? No problem, the other guys know how to cut and set up for a kickout.

    They might get stumped for a while or even struggle. But the vets also know not to freak out, since they've been there before.

    This team never loses its head, and a lot of that has to do with not only the collective experience of the roster, but the 12 seasons and 968 regular season games that head coach Rick Carlisle has under his belt.

    Another thing that seems to come with age is selflessness. Unlike the previous year, these guys aren't hell-bent on getting their next contract, which comes with a little me-ball. The current Mavs roster is comprised of players who know their roles, and that are comfortable with their place in the NBA. They just want to win.

    Maybe Dirk, clearly the team's alpha male, summed it up best to ESPN Dallas' Tim McMahon. When asked about how it felt to be used as a decoy at times, Nowitzki didn't complain.

    Hey, we won the game, so I did my job.

    And that kind of an attitude permeates throughout this squad. It could manifest itself through an extra pass, a cool head in an intense moment, or a little thing like sneaking in for an offensive rebound.

    If it's a veteran move, you can guarantee the Mavs have it in their arsenal.


4. Performance in the Clutch

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    Call it being clutch, call it playing smart, call it executing, call it whatever you want. But when the game gets tight, when any possession can be the difference between winning and losing, the Mavericks come to play.

    And play well.

    NBA.com keeps a database of team statistics in the last five minutes when the score is five points or less, and the Mavs' shooting percentages of 44.5 percent from the floor and 39 percent from three rank in the top five in the league.

    Not only that but the team is also top 10 in assists, turnovers and point differential in these close games.

    Put it all together, and at the end of a game Dallas is one of the most dangerous teams in the league.

    They don't turn it over, they pass the ball and they hit their shots. There isn't a more deadly combination when the game is on the line. Not to mention that they also have Dirk Nowitzki, one of the best clutch performers in the league according to differential.

    And some of this comes with age. As previously mentioned, the seven-man rotation has played in over 6,000 games and plenty of clutch minutes. The roster has seen these situations numerous times before, and many carry an attitude similar to Vince Carter.

    He talked about his mindset when closing games with ESPN Dallas' Jean-Jacques Taylor after hitting a buzzer-beating three against the San Antonio Spurs to win Game 3.

    "I don't mind the pressure shots. I don't mind taking the game-winning shots. I don't mind missing them and dealing with it," Carter said. "Having that mentality helps me, maybe not everyone else.

    "I can take the shot with confidence, and I can live with it. Sometimes you miss a big shot -- 2001 -- and you hold on to for a while until you get the opportunity again. I'm just glad it worked out this time years later."

    This team isn't afraid of the big moment and won't beat themselves. Which is a recipe for giving other coaches nightmares.

5. Dirk Nowitzki

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    Oh you know, Dirk Nowitzki. The guy who is currently 10th in NBA history in scoring at 26,786. The guy who in his 15th NBA season tied for 12th in the NBA in scoring at 21.7 points per game and led his team to a 49-win year.

    But his effect is not just felt through statistics. Grantland's Zach Lowe detailed the kind of extra effects Nowitzki has on the offensive end.

    Nowitzki is basically a historical anomaly. Opposing coaches marvel that they have to throw out their core defensive schemes two or three times a year to deal with a 35-year-old stiff who sets picks and shoots like Stephen Curry.

    Ellis got all the early-season press, but Nowitzki remains the engine of Dallas’s offense.

    Nowitzki has done a remarkable job of adapting to his age, while remaining effective.

    Though Nowitzki isn't quite as dynamic as he once was, Dirk has maintained his offensive prowess. Where he used to drive to the rim, he unleashes an array of pump fakes and a twisting jump shot. Instead of splitting a double team, he passes out of it.

    He also flirted with a 50/40/90 shooting line this season, and he managed to add 2.7 assists per game. He has deferred to his teammates more, setting the screens Lowe referred to while facilitating a bit more rather than shooting 20 times in a game.

    He's been so good this year and over his career, that the usually tight-lipped Gregg Popovich almost gushed about Nowitzki to ESPN Dallas' Tim McMahon.

    “Ever since he got here day one, when nobody knew who the heck he was except Nellie [then-Mavs coach Don Nelson], he’s done a lot of great things,” Popovich said. “He started out a bit slow until he got used to the deal here and then became Dirk, a Hall of Fame player and somebody who’s arguably the best pure shooter we’ve ever seen. 

    When Pop talks about someone like that, they've certainly done something right. And if Popovich has praise for Nowitzki, even in his later years, you can be sure he's not the only admirer Dirk has on opposing sidelines. 


    All statistics, unless otherwise noted, are from Basketball-Reference.com.