10.25.2017 – Memphis Grizzlies at Dallas Mavericks

My day job and a fantastic Dave Chappelle show prevented this from being posted earlier, but there was a lot to like in the Mavs’ first win of the season.

1st Quarter

  • Noel finally starts in order to match Memphis’ “size” (i.e. Marc Gasol). By the end of the game the Mavs will be defending Gasol with Barnes, even though Noel is still on the floor. More on that in a bit.
  • The DSJ/Wes/Barnes/Dirk/Noel lineup feels like an actual NBA team when you watch them. Players fell into their natural roles instead of just a bunch of wing players waiting for their chance to get the ball. Barnes’ game makes more sense when he’s matched up on a SF.
  • My favorite play of the quarter was DSJ finding Barnes on a backdoor cut from the corner, who dished to Noel under the basket for the flush after pulling in defenders. I don’t see it often where Barnes is already looking for the next pass as he receives the ball.
  • Dirk gets an offensive rebound and pulls an old man spin move for the easy basket.
  • DSJ needs one dribble to get from the perimeter to a dunk. Can’t wait to see what his game looks like in a couple of years.
  • Dallas pulls out the classic zone defense. The 2017 zone seems to be structured around making sure Dirk can just stay near the basket regardless of the opposing offense’s actions. It’s year 20 and Dirk is still warping defenses.
  • A few possessions found Noel with the ball basically at the free throw line and Gasol still playing way off, basically just defending the rim. That would seem a perfect time to just drive straight at him, but Noel passes out on one possession and misses a jumper on another.
  • That said, it seems fairly inarguable to me that starting Noel is good for the team. There may be matchup issues that the coaches would point to, but he ended up playing most of the 1st and his presence was felt. I imagine opposing players get excited to start the game with Dirk defending the rim, which means we probably shouldn’t comply.
  • Harris (glad to see him back) gets a sexy trailing block under the rim. It gets incorrectly recorded as a foul.
  • Powell subs in, and Gasol puts him in the torture chamber. You have to wonder if deploying Mejri for this specific matchup might be the right move, but Gasol spent most of the game on the outside, and Powell is more suited to defend the pick and pop.
  • Other than an early one point deficit Dallas leads the game wire to wire. You can see why from the jump, as forcing the issue inside seems to be a point of emphasis. The DSJ/Wes/Barnes backcourt should always be attacking.

2nd Quarter

  • Dallas’ aggression is also seen on the defensive end. Lots of on ball pressure, making sure there aren’t many easy shots or passes.
  • Hoody Wes sighting returning from the first break.
  • Cool play: Dirk gets the ball on the right block, and when he draws help he releases to JJ around the left wing, where Powell is already in position to set a ball screen, which opens up JJ for a quick pull up three. Dallas runs some cool sets when they have two bigs underneath, whereas the four-out offense is mostly just a pick and roll train.
  • Barnes is super aggressive this quarter and is rewarded for it. Two and-1’s and a few more free throws for his trouble, I’m loving it.
  • Dallas and Memphis trade threes for a while. We’ve always known JJ could shoot threes, it was just a matter of if he should. He looks more confident and consistent this year, he’s adapted his game to the modern NBA and definitely should keep at it.
  • Dirk has a great pass to the weak side corner for a three, he definitely looks like he’s back in rhythm.
  • Yogi plays Conley well after coming off a solid defensive performance against Curry, even taking away a few options that probably should have been exploited. I had Yogi pegged as a guy who was good enough at executing all the elements of a PnR (shoot/pass/drive) that he was a cheap way to eat up guard minutes, but now it feels like he could be used to slow down certain opposing PG’s, if necessary. Pretty crazy for a guy picked up off the scrap heap.

3rd Quarter

  • DSJ comes out hot. I’m so excited to watch this kid, he is only 19 and seems to have a solid grip on how to run the point. Light touch around the rim, hits threes, and always looking for his teammates. I don’t know if anybody else on the roster should be a clear wingman in the upcoming DSJ era. Noel could eventually be a very natural pairing, the ricotta to DSJ’s riesling, but he has some steps to take before he can fill the Tyson Chandler role; having to leave the game four minutes into the third with foul trouble doesn’t help.
  • Overall both teams are finding good looks and hitting them. Like I mentioned earlier Dirk looks to be in good form, which is great to see.
  • Gasol is absolutely feasting from outside. I’m sure there is a debate in Memphis regarding the degree to which Gasol should be extended away from the rim, but this game is a prime example of the benefits. Dallas is going over his screens, and since Gasol is such a threat from outside his defender is trying to stay home, which gives Conley a couple of absolutely free trips to the rim. Defending the Conley/Gasol screen looks to be impossible with just two defenders, who can’t defend all three of the Conley three, Conley drive and Gasol three…
  • Barnes gets great separation from his defender on an elevator action, but just like in the first game of the season, instead of attacking the wide open lane he pulls up for a three that he (hopefully) immediately regrets.
  • Powell has a very strong finish to the quarter. Rebounding and defending well, even on switches, and helping run the offense as well. One great sequence has him finding Harris on a cut from the high post, and then on the following defensive possession draws a charge on Gasol. When he’s playing well, Powell seems like a remarkably high-value two way player.

4th Quarter

  • A tear comes to my eye as the quarter begins with Dirk and DSJ running the classic Dirk/Monta handoff play. Bringing the ball up, DSJ throws the rock to Dirk on the right wing, and then sprints and gets ball back on a handoff, forcing Dirk’s defender to either switch onto a point guard going full speed, or rely on weak side help. Said weak side help causes just enough of a contest to prevent a basket, but I would be happy to see this at least a few times a game.
  • DSJ gets a corner three to drop on a broken play. Good instincts, good clutch shooting.
  • Both teams have made necessary defensive adjustments. Memphis is switching more, keeping their man in front of them and preventing penetration, and Dallas is sending help on the Conley/Gasol PnR.
  • More specifically, Dallas uses a pretty wild set of defensive assignments in order to deal with Gasol. Dallas elects to defend Gasol with Barnes, while the big (Noel, then Powell), guards Ennis, whose job is to just stand around the perimeter despite not being a real threat from outside. The rationale behind this is, I believe, using the big as a “free safety” of sorts. Dallas knows they are going to have to rotate a help defender over, so they plan ahead and make that help defender their primary interior defender. It works at slowing down the Conley/Gasol action, but Ennis does make a few good plays taking his oversized defender off the dribble. I’m surprised that Memphis didn’t respond by just having Gasol post up Barnes; it may have fallen to the same help defense, but would have been a clear cut way to force the issue and open up shooters.
  • Seeing Mario Chalmers take a right corner three gives me 2011 Finals PTSD.
  • Wes draws a sneaky charge on a player just trying to get to his spot. Crafty vet move in order to seal the win.
  • Dallas closes the game with a crunch-time lineup of DSJ/Yogi/Wes/Barnes/Powell. Probably the best two-way lineup that can be constructed with the current roster (though I’d still take Noel over Powell, it’s a thin margin). These five guys (great, now I have to go grab a burger) should always be able to find good looks on offense, especially with Powell’s off ball screening, and the defensive versatility is actually really impressive. Yogi also continues his impressive defense on Conley. I’m excited to see how this develops as the Mavs play in a few more close games.
  • No Clavell sighting tonight now that the G League season has started, which basically confirms that Dallas is already in tank mode to start the season.
  • The difference in this game and the preceding losses is rebounding, which was roughly even instead of Dallas getting smoked on the boards. That’s another part of the cost/benefit analysis of moving Gasol away from the basket for Memphis.

Glad to see the Mavericks get their first win of the season. The team should be competitive if we can see the same level of effort and shot making. It looks like those didn’t totally carry over the next night in Memphis, and I’ll have more on that once I can watch the game on League Pass, and I’m attending the Philly game this evening so my breakdown may be different for that one.

One thing I kept thinking about when watching the Grizzlies was that Conley and Gasol look like the new version of Stockton and Malone. Both tenacious defenders, and a pick and roll between them is essentially unguardable unless you start intentionally allocating more resources to stop them, which then opens up opportunities for the supporting cast. It is going to be a bloodbath in the West between teams fighting for one of the final four playoff spots (assuming GS/Hou/OKC/SAS are all locks), but Memphis’ demise looks greatly exaggerated right now. I’ll be shocked if they find themselves in the lottery when the season ends.

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