A Summary of the Dallas Mavericks’ Offseason

The Dallas Mavericks were one of the teams that had very high hopes going into this year’s free agency.  They had chances at getting stars like LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, and others.  They lost out on Aldridge when he signed with the Spurs on July 4, but they cushioned the blow with the signing of DeAndre Jordan the day before.  However, Jordan began having second thoughts soon after, and on July 8, the day before players could start signing contracts, the race was on to sign him:

Jordan eventually re-signed with the Clippers after they stayed at his Houston home until midnight that evening, not letting anyone get in, per Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski:

The sudden loss of Jordan threw the Mavericks into panic mode. They had already signed shooting guard Wesley Matthews from the Trail Blazers, and he is coming off an Achilles injury that forced him to miss the last 22 games of last season.  Matthews’s original contract was supposed to be $57 million over deandrejordan1four years with Jordan also under contract.  However, without Jordan, the Mavericks have decided to push Matthews’ contract to $70 million over four years instead of using the extra money for other acquisitions.

Having already lost last year’s starting center, Tyson Chandler, to the Suns, Dallas did not have any starting centers on the roster and therefore needed to sign one.  They promptly traded a second-round pick to the Bucks for Zaza Pachulia, the 31-year old center who is the only active NBA player to hail from the country of Georgia. While it doesn’t seem like Pachulia is a step up from Chandler, last season’s on/off numbers of both players suggest otherwise.

These tables from Basketball-Reference show Pachulia’s on/off numbers last season, with the first row being “on court”, the second row being “off court”, and the third column being the difference:

Now here are Chandler’s on/off numbers from last year.  The same rules apply:

As you can see, even though Chandler is a slightly better per game rebounder, the Mavericks did better without him on the floor than the Bucks did without Zaza.  There is a direct correlation between their rebound% and their per 36 minutes numbers: Pachulia is better in both.

Turner Sports’ David Aldridge summed up the pick-up in this tweet:

While losing Chandler hurt, and losing Jordan hurt more, Pachulia can at least fill the void left by Chandler.  I actually think he may very well be better.

Next, we will revisit the signing of Wesley Matthews.  Matthews was having what was possibly the best season of his career last season for the Trail Blazers.  While he set a career high for rebounds per game, eFG%, and field goal attempts, his on/off numbers are not as drastic as Pachulia’s:

Obviously, Matthews’ eFG% is higher than the others because of his three-point shooting. However, it is interesting that he only adds 6.8 points per game for his team per 100 possessions, as exemplified by his offensive rating. However, he is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none type of basketball player, a slight positive for his team in all areas of the game. Even though he is coming off a great season with a playoff team, he is also coming off of this.  (Warning: Video/Vine may be extremely disturbing for some.)

Now, we will take a look at Monta Ellis’ on/off statistics from last year; Ellis left Dallas to sign of four-year, $44 million deal with the Pacers this offseason.  Matthews is replacing him, essentially.

As you can see, while Ellis is more of a positive in eFG% and Turnover%, he is a negative or only a slight positive in all of the other areas.  Matthews, theoretically, should be better for the Mavericks than Ellis was.  However, history has not been kind to those with Achilles ruptures.  See: Elton Brand.

Brand had stayed fairly healthy for the majority of his career, from his being drafted #1 overall in 1999 by the Bulls to the 2006-07 season with the Clippers.  However, he ruptured his Achilles tendon in a workout in August 2007, and missed all but eight games in the ’07-’08 season.  His averages dropped across the board for the rest of his career.  Luckily, he is still playing, but he is in a bench role now for the Atlanta Hawks and is well past the prime of his career.

The point?  Brand was 28 on August 3, 2007, when the injury happened.  Matthews’ age at the time of his injury, on March 5, 2015? 27.  He is only a year younger than Brand was, but the history is simply eerie.  The risk of paying him $17.5 million per year, coming off the most dangerous injury a guard could possibly sustain, is enormous.  The best ability is availability, and the Mavericks lost it by letting Ellis go.

But rest assured, I have saved the most interesting signing for last: Deron Williams.

Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post wrote about Williams’ departure today:

He leaves his empty tenure as the franchise face of the Nets as perhaps the single-most forgettable would-be superstar in the history of New York sports.

That isn’t to say he was the least successful, or the most underachieving, or the most disappointing. You can vote him for any of those categories too, if you like, but those are whole separate issues.

Jason Bay was terrible as a Met. But believe me, Bay has not been forgotten, and his tenure in New York still gives Mets fans the bends. Carmelo Anthony might not have delivered on his promise to make the Knicks matter in a way that they mattered in the ’70s and in the ’90s, but you had better believe he is on the tip of every Knicks fan’s tongue, always, and at the forefront of their thoughts.
Williams is different. From the start, it was pretty clear he didn’t want to be here, whether “here” was in New Jersey or Brooklyn. Even when the Nets re-signed him to a $98 million max extension, he came across, instantly, as he if he were doing someone a favor pocketing all that cash.
The Nets moved heaven and earth — actually, worse, they moved an uncountable amount of assets — to surround Williams with the kinds of players he believed were of his status and to his liking, and were rewarded with one playoff series victory and hundreds of nights when Williams’ scowl and his brutal body language hinted he was being held in an unheated hut somewhere near Park Slope against his will.

Williams needs a change of scenery; it’s that simple.  Here’s to hoping that he plays better with the Mavericks.  With Brooklyn, he was *maybe* half the player that he was with the Jazz in his prime.  We don’t need stats to back up this fact: he didn’t care.  Will he in a Mavericks uniform?  It’s difficult to say, but Williams can’t possibly be worse than Rajon Rondo was with the Mavs last year.

So this has been the Mavericks’ offseason.  They went from being a back-end/fringe playoff team last year to, well… a fringe playoff team this year.  I think this because it is my best guess: I actually have no clue how they’ll do this year. Matthews will play well when he’s healthy, but history is not on his side with his injury.  Pachulia was a great addition and, in my view, a clear upgrade over Tyson Chandler. And Deron Williams is… Deron Williams.  I have no idea how he will play or how he will be used, but it will be fun to see how the experiment plays out.

There is a wide, wide range of possibilities for the Mavericks this season.  If all goes well and healthy, they could be a four or five seed. But that is so unlikely to happen, and, crazy as it sounds, Pachulia is the surest thing they got this offseason.  If I were to guess, I would leave Dallas out of the Playoffs next year.

Why?  Just ask Mark Cuban, and substitute “basketball” for “music” in the video.

Time to End Hack-a-Jordan

Last night saw the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers play in game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.  It also saw one of the worst-played, aggravating, least watchable games the NBA has seen in a long, long time.  Most, if not all of the game’s awfulness was due to the Rockets using the strategy that has come to be known as “Hack-A-Jordan”, the fouling of the Clippers’ worst free throw shooter DeAndre Jordan (40%) incessantly, so much so that he shot 28 free throws in the first half, an NBA playoff record.  The league rules state that once a team fouls the other five times, each defensive foul leads to two automatic free throws.  Every time the Clippers got into the bonus penalty situation, Houston and coach Kevin McHale would have one of its players (non-rotation bodies such as Clint Capela and Kostas Papanikolaou) foul Jordan, obviously, blatantly.

The history of fouling opposing players with poor free-throw percentages seemingly dates back to the late-1990s to the early-2000s, when coaches would foul Shaquille O’Neal (career 53% free-throw shooter) in hopes of stopping him and the Lakers’ offense.  In the video below, the Portland Trail Blazers, in the 2000 Western Conference Finals, try to come back by fouling Shaq over and over again in the fourth quarter, to mixed results.  While the Blazers were trailing Los Angeles by thirteen points going into the fourth quarter, they did get Shaq to shoot just 12-for-25 from the line in the quarter.  However, the Lakers outscored Portland by two in that quarter, and the Big Aristotle’s free throws accounted for half of their points in the fourth.

However, the strategy actually dates back to the days of Wilt Chamberlain, who only shot 51% in his career from the charity stripe.  Despite his pedestrian (at best) free-throw shooting, Chamberlain was possibly the most dominant basketball player of his generation, and it could be assured he would be on the floor in late-game situations.  This led to teams wishing to put Wilt on the line to try to mount a comeback in the late going.  As you can imagine, the game of attempting to foul Chamberlain turned into sheer ridiculousness and distracted from the game itself.  Reacting to this, the NBA decided that, in the last two minutes, a foul away from the ball (otherwise known as an intentional foul), would result in two free throws and possession of the ball for the team fouled.  With the perpetual fouling of Shaq and DeAndre, it is done before there is two minutes left in the game.  Often, between five and two minutes left in the game, teams ramp up the hacking, trying to get it all in before the two-minute mark.

So how should the rule be changed?  It’s simple: if a team fouls Jordan (or anyone else, for that matter), away from the ball, without the fouled player attempting to get to the ball, it should be deemed an intentional foul.  The fouled team should consequently get two free throws and the ball.  Want to really discourage “Hack-a…”?  Let the oppressed team choose which player it wants to shoot the free throws, just like technical fouls.  Personally, I am in favor of doing this as well.  Think about if Chris Paul (86% from the line) or J.J. Redick (89%) would have shot the free throws as a result of the Jordan fouls.  The game would have been over in the third quarter, which would not have made any difference in terms of the game’s watch-ability.  If anything, making the game a 50 or 60 point game due to the fouling would have saved us all from watching any more of that game than we would have had to.

Here’s my point: does watching a team foul the other’s worst free throw shooter time and time again make the game more enjoyable for the fan?  Sure, there are more strategic possibilities upon performing Hack-A-Jordan, but there is absolutely zero flow and rhythm to the game.  We often complained about the length, but more importantly, the pace of baseball games before this season saw the addition of clocks between innings to cut out dead time. The pace of games during the Rockets’ Jordan-hacking has been as bad, if not worse, than baseball was.  In a game that is growing exponentially and around the world, how can anyone on Earth stand to watch these “theatrics?”  And, especially considering that the Clippers play on the west coast and the Rockets play an hour behind in Houston, how can children who are just beginning to grasp the game of basketball bear to see this?  They actually should be thankful that they aren’t allowed to stay up late and watch the games, because they would be bored out of their minds and never watch basketball again.

As a final warning to the reader: don’t blame opposing teams for fouling Jordan.  It’s a smart strategy, especially if you are behind, as the Rockets were for most of the game last night.  Kevin McHale and Gregg Popovich are simply trying to create more possessions and interrupt the Clippers’ offensive rhythm.  It’s not their fault; it’s a strategy that dates back decades.  While Jordan isn’t the dominant player Wilt or Shaq was in their day, he wreaks havoc on the glass and is an enormous presence on defense.  However, he has not been discouraged by his results from the line, and it hasn’t affected other areas of his play.

If the Clippers win an NBA title this year on the legs of DeAndre Jordan’s free throws, then look for the rule to be changed.  If they lose out on a title due to DeAndre Jordan’s free throws, then look for the rule to be changed. History has shown that NBA commissioner Adam Silver is open to change (i.e. lengthening of the all-star break, talks of a mid-season tournament in Las Vegas) and will look at all options in regard to this story.  The rule will likely be changed, and it’s about time.

It’s time to put an end to repercussion-less Hack-A-Jordan.