10.21.2017 – Dallas Mavericks at Houston Rockets

1st Quarter

  • Each game this season has, at least on the Dallas broadcast, opened with some kind of look at Dirk’s legacy, either with career highlights or interviews with opposing players. I know there’s a team option on his contract for next season, but it sure seems like a farewell tour.
  • This is the third different starting 5 in three games this season.
  • The Rockets are a better basketball team than the Mavs. They’ll kill you from three, and if you sell out to prevent those shots you’ll have to stop them from scoring right at the rim. It takes a couple of possessions to see that Houston is totally cool with having to beat Dirk at the basket.
  • Barnes gives up a backdoor cut to Harden due to his overzealous defending on an inbounds play. This isn’t going to be a good game for Barnes (still waiting for one of those).
  • Dallas finds some success getting Capella switched onto their guards, but that only lasts while they have five shooters on the floor.
  • I’m getting more and more perturbed by the decision to bring Noel off the bench. His rim protection would have been felt right from the tip (phrasing!)
  • Successive offensive possessions without a single pass. These guys don’t play well from behind.

2nd Quarter

  • JJ gets to come out and run the show. Once you get over the fact that it won’t result in wins, it is fun to at least watch him put in work. One amusing play: on a Dirk pick and pop he tried to copy Harden’s behind the back pass that he uses with Anderson all the time, it didn’t work out though.
  • Dallas spends a few defensive possessions in a zone. Takes me back to the 2011 title run when Carlisle kept the zone in his back pocket in case of emergencies. It doesn’t have quite the same panache now; one possession has Tucker left alone in the corner without a defender on his half of the court, but gets turned over because Tucker doesn’t remember than in Houston you don’t cut to the basket, even if you have a tarmac for a driving lane.
  • With Dirk struggling from outside Carlisle calls for Dirk to get it in the low post. We haven’t really seen Dirk in the post much this season so I was excited, but Anderson blows up the play with great ball denial.
  • Clavell gets a steal in an impressive individual defensive play, and Followill makes an interesting point about how Clavell’s appearances in these first few games don’t count against the 45 NBA game cap because the G League season hasn’t started yet. Even when the season does I’d like to see more of him, because any minutes not spent looking for future assets feel like wasted minutes at this point.
  • By the end of the quarter Houston is up by 20, Harden looks to be in MVP form without even really trying, and Dallas is just jacking up shots. I found myself wishing that CP3 was playing; even with another Hall of Fame-level player, you have to imagine the sailing wouldn’t have been quite so smooth for the Rockets.

3rd Quarter

So let’s talk about Dirk. After missing a couple of shots, he eventually returns to the bench having finished the game 1-8. Now it is only the third game of the season, so I don’t want to overreact, but I feel that some kind of reaction is due.

Entering the year, I don’t think anybody in the organization would have denied that starting Dirk at center (or at all) would come with understood weaknesses. Being 7″ tall provides a modicum of value as a rim protector slash rebounder, but basically everybody he’s going against is going to be faster and stronger than he is (and the team’s rebounding issues so far have confirmed that). He can still get up and down the floor as well as you could expect from a seven foot 39 year old man, but the agility to switch/rotate/hedge just isn’t there.

The hope was that at least some of those losses are mitigated on the other end of the floor. Dirk, even in the twilight of his career, has been a monster in the pick and roll. The reliability of his jump shot has been the Maverick’s swaddling blanket for two decades now. With an exciting 19 year old rookie point guard spearheading the next era of Dallas basketball, it would seem an ideal situation for him to spend his first year working with Dirk to carve up open space on the floor and learn the nuances of the system.

Yet after three games Dirk’s on-court gravity seems to be gone. His misses aren’t just a little off and rimming out, they’re dying on the rim. His shot used to look pristine regardless of his distance from the rim, but now you can see a hitch as he pushes the ball once he’s out to the three point line (he even began to move up to 18-20 feet in the Kings game). If he still has the strength and dexterity to post up we aren’t seeing it; that aspect of his game seems to be gone by design.

Now again, it’s been three games. I’d love nothing more than to see Dirk back to getting good cardio and draining open daggers in a couple of weeks, and that should still be possible. His role as a player/coach is still invaluable to the team (just watch the bad habits flare up like an outbreak whenever he sits). But I think it is fair to ask what his role should be looking specifically at the “player” half of that equation. Bringing him off the bench or starting him at PF both seem like viable options (and both solve the “why isn’t Noel starting?” issue). No back to backs? Only start home games? The team is 0-3 and whatever convoluted reasoning you could make for this being a playoff team are gone, let’s see what we have moving forward.

The rest of my notes from the third quarter are about Barnes playing horribly and talking about Dirk has already depressed me enough, so let’s just leave it at Barnes played horribly.

4th Quarter

  • Junk time! We finally get to see the debut of Maxi Klebur (why shorten it to Maxi when Maximilian is already a badass name?). He can shoot, drive, and pound down low. He went 2-3 and was +18 in 12 minutes, so I’m just going to assume that he’s the next Dallas Mavericks’ Hall of Fame German Big Man, and you can’t convince me otherwise.
  • The Withey-Klebur-Powell frontcourt is somehow both too big and too small.
  • The number of undrafted players on the Mavs gets mentioned as if it is some credit to the scouting prowess of the team, and then you see how far that talent will get you. That said, I’ve been impressed with Yogi so far and it was cool seeing him given the keys for the 4th quarter (even though every play should have been called for Klebur).

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