Second Round Preview: When The Mavericks Have The Ball

Phillip Barnett —  May 1, 2011

Yesterday, Darius kicked off our second round preview with a segment on the Lakers offense against the Mavericks defense. Today, I’ll get into what the Lakers need to do against this Mavericks offense.

When speaking about the Mavericks’ offense, you almost have to begin and end with Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk is one of those rare players who has a unique scoring style, one that we haven’t seen before and one we may never see again. He’s a 7-footer with shooting touch like an off guard; he’s often used in the way Ray Allen is, moving around and catching passes off screens; he can score in the post; and he has one of the most unguardable shots in NBA history, that off-balanced, turnaround fadeaway. It’s Jordanesque in footwork, but the added 6 to 7 inches in height makes it nearly impossible to defend. You can only hope he misses — but when he’s on, hope can become lost during his hot streaks.

Defending Dirk isn’t easy, but the Lakers did a fairly decent job on him this season, holding him below his season totals in scoring, field goal percentage and free throw attempts. To do this, the Lakers sent a lot of defenders at Dirk, and did their best to keep him off of the spot on the floor he’s most comfortable operating on. As I mentioned earlier, the Mavericks like to move Dirk around a lot, using him in a lot of pick and roll situations, or running him off a  lot of off-ball screens. Darius explains this further:

Watching a lot of Dirk’s possessions in the half court, it’s obvious that the Mavs love to take advantage of his excellent movement off the ball by using him in countless screen actions. On nearly every play, Dirk is either delivering or receiving multiple picks to free himself up from his man and generate the space he needs to make the catch and then get his shot off. It’s not that the Mavs are extremely creative in these actions – most are just simple down screens for Dirk or plays where he’ll set a back screen on the wing or a screen on the ball handler – but they’re highly effective because of the way that Dirk moves off the ball and where he’s going after he makes the catch. He may not have the quickness of a wing player, but he moves like one as he’s often popping out to the wing or flaring off a screen into open space. Most big men that guard him just aren’t used to navigating these types of screens or moving to the positions that Dirk forces them to and that’s one of the main reasons he gets so open.

So there isn’t a question that he can operate anywhere on the floor, but Dirk’s sweet spot seems to be on the left wing, where he can go into isolation and post-up situations and knock down that turnaround fadeaway from short to mid-range distances. I went into Synergy and logged all of his field goal attempts against the Lakers during the regular season. By far, his most efficient spot on the floor was on the left wing taking shots from 3-15 feet away from the basket (even more efficient than the field goal attempts around the rim). The following chart shows his field goal percentage from each distance on the floor on the left, straight away, and right sides of the floor, respectively. (Note: There was only one field goal attempt from the two locations where his fg% is 100).


After Dirk, the Lakers have to find guys in transition or in secondary transition. With Jason Kidd running the show, the Mavericks aren’t going to be the fastest team in the league, but they’re still able to get a lot of shots up early in transition. Guys like Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler benefit the most from Kidd handling the ball, with his ability to get the ball near the rim for them to go up and get. However, Jason Terry is notorious for his pull-up jumpers in transition and Dirk is always a threat trailing the offense and spotting up for open jumpers. More from Darius:

The Mavs may not play at a fast pace that generates a lot of possessions (they were 18th in the league in pace), but they do enjoy a lot of success in early offense situations by pushing the ball up court and looking for shots before the defense is set. According to, in the regular season, 34% of the Mavs field goal attempts came in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. On those shots they had an effective field goal percentage of 57.8. The Mavs love to push the ball up court, force the defense to recover to the paint, and then shoot jumpers against late closeouts by those retreating defenders. Jason Kidd is a master at picking out his shooters in these situations, especially Dirk and Terry who love to run to the three point line in transition and then either fire away from deep or use the threat of that shot to dribble by closing out defenders in order to shoot their mid-range jumpers. Besides Kidd’s ability to push the ball and find his teammates, a key to the success of this style is Tyson Chandler’s great ability to rebound and then run the floor. Chandler is excellent running post lane sprints, running directly to the front of the rim and collapsing the defense into the paint in the process.

I do believe that the Lakers have the right personnel to force the Mavericks into tough shots, and they won’t have to exert so much energy into defending one player who can both score and create for everyone else on the floor. However, Dallas can create some favorable matchups, and that can lead to offensive rebounding. The Maverick bigs aren’t known for their offensive prowess, but Dirk’s ability to draw double teams and Jason Kidd’s ability to find open guys can cause unfavorable rotations that can leave the back side glass wide open. Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood won’t have any problem attacking the offensive glass, and a lot of their individual offense will come that way. Honing down on Dirk, contesting the Mavericks early offense and ending defensive possessions with rebounds will be the key issues for the Lakers defense this series. If they do those things, Dallas is going to have a tough time maintaining their 107.6 offensive efficiency and the Lakers can end up having a very successful series.

Phillip Barnett