October 22, 2010
SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines
Dallas Mavericks
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Mavericks

The backcourt got exposed in the playoffs by San Antonio. During the regular season, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry were making a lot of threes, but then the San Antonio did a good job of keeping close to those guys while also stepping up defensively on Dirk Nowitzki. That's how they were able to take away one of Dallas' strengths, its three-point shooting. It's really something how Kidd has become such a good shooter from out there while playing off the ball.

The other thing the Spurs did was to force Kidd to make plays for himself at the basket. With him, you almost don't want to bring over the defensive help too soon because then he's able to take advantage and find the open man. Instead of stopping him early, you want to stop him late. He was getting to the basket but he wasn't able to make plays inside against the Spurs, and you could see when he got closer to the basket that he wasn't getting up and powering over defenders to finish at the basket.

You also notice Kidd's age defensively, especially when he's by himself at the top against one of the quicker point guards. Luckily, he has the size to play some of the bigger guards, so he doesn't have to cover the more explosive point guards all of the time.

I do think during the regular season he's still going to be a genius in terms of running the fast break and the early offense. Rick Carlisle lets them flow into the game, and you see lot of early offense and random play through Kidd. It's smart because Kidd makes plays so easily for others, and over the course of the long season you'll see him making those plays night after night. But the intensity picks up in the playoffs, and I don't know if he can pick up his game anymore for the playoffs in order to lift Dallas to a championship level. He's a Hall of Famer so obviously he has a lot going for him, but I just think it's asking too much of him.

The Spurs used the same kind of strategy against Terry in the playoffs. You could tell they were focused on lowering the scoring of the guys around Dirk, who is going to get his points no matter what. But keep close to the guys you can actually rein in. So they stayed close to Terry, and they located him in transition to cut down his open threes on the break and the early offense. That's harder to do in the regular season, but you can do it in the playoffs when you lock in on the same team night after night.

Rodrigue Beaubois is an excellent prospect. We'll see how he does this year after the league catches up to him. He's not a point guard, but Kidd's size makes it possible for them to play Beaubois as an undersized 2. He's an explosive guy who gives them energy in the backcourt.

They've found a really good backup point guard in J.J. Barea. He's a good passer and shooter, and he has put on some muscle so that he's strong enough now to bang through defenders and screeners. They run more pick-and-roll with him handling than they do with Kidd because Barea gets into areas -- he can shoot it and he's crafty.

Caron Butler could never quite get into the flow with them after coming over in a midseason trade. He's one of those guys you have to keep feeding in order to get him going in his sweet spots on the floor. I didn't see a whole lot of him getting by his defender creating. It was usually a jab step and shot or a jab-step dribble and pull-up jumper. He wasn't that Caron Butler we saw two or three years ago who was attacking his defender and getting through the seams to the basket.

Shawn Marion is best as a small 4 who beats the bigger guys down the floor. He plays that role when they go small with Dirk essentially becoming the center. He's OK defensively, but in the half-court he doesn't have enough game in the post or anywhere else to take advantage of the smaller 3-men. They're probably at their best when they play Dirk and Marion as the bigs with Butler as the 3 and Terry or Beaubois in the backcourt with Kidd.

Their big pickup, Tyson Chandler, is important to them because teams anticipate being able to penetrate from the top against Kidd, Terry and Barea, who all have a hard time keep anybody in front of them. So now the Mavericks should be able to bring over a big guy to meet the penetration, whether it's Chandler or Brendan Haywood. The fundamental problem remains on the perimeter, but at least now they have some long and mobile big guys who are capable of changing shots.

Haywood doesn't excite anyone too much, but he's serviceable as a long guy you have to shoot over. I hear people saying he's soft, but I think that's a bad rap. He's effective and he has a nice right hook. Most of the time he'll be able to turn to that shoulder and get off the shot whenever he wants.

I would still rank Nowitzki as a max [contract] player. There aren't many like him who will guarantee you 20-to-25 points a game. He's come a very long way in his ability to take a hit while driving. I would say he creates the contact now, whereas he used to try to avoid it. When we have discussions about Dallas, it always comes down to Dirk: What are we going to do with him? Put a small guy on him and try to crowd him, or stick him with a big guy and hope the big guy doesn't sag off like every big guy does and leave him open? He remains a highly unusual matchup player.

How many years does Dirk have left? He's big enough that he's going to be able to get that shot off for as long as he's playing. He probably will last longer than people think he will. Later in his career, he'll be able to let other people be playmakers while he spots up and makes the open shots. Remember how long Cliff Robinson was able to play in the league? Well, Dirk is way better than him.

DeShawn Stevenson is basically an enforcer-type of player. He's known mainly for his defense, but he hasn't progressed a lot and there's not a whole lot of basketball sense to him.

I view Carlisle as a very good coach who has his team well-prepared. He stays on top of the details, they execute and he has a good staff. You hear differing opinions of whether he is too detailed, too controlling, but I view it as his taking his job seriously and doing what he thinks he can do to help his team win. I'd say he is probably less controlling than Avery Johnson was and also more composed on the sideline. Does that mean he's any less passionate? I don't think that's the case. I heard all of the talk after they lost to San Antonio that he was outcoached by Gregg Popovich, but if you're going to be consistent with that argument, you've got to say in the next round the Spurs lost because Popovich was outcoached by Alvin Gentry. It's hard to please everybody.


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