Thursday, March 6, 2008

Jump Shooting Team

In general, folks should not spend too much time worrying about what Dale Hansen says. But this past week he said something on the radio about the Mavericks that I've heard repeatedly for years and I think it needs to be addressed.

Dale said: "The problem is the Mavericks are (still) a jump shooting team."

And then he went on to say that when the shots are falling they are great and we they are not falling they are doomed. This is an argument that became very popular during the Nelson-Nash-Dirk heyday and has been said repeatedly of the Phoenix Suns the last few years as well.

My question is, what team ISN'T a jump shooting team in the end? How would a team qualify as a non-jump shooting team?

I suppose you could come up with a percentage of points scored "in the paint" that transforms a team from "jump shooting" to "non-jump shooting". But what percentage is that?

Suppose you come up with a number like that and identify a certain (low) percentage of NBA teams that qualify. What happens to these teams when they run into a team that is smart enough to clog the lane and take away the "points in the paint?"

Trust me, if your bread-and-butter scoring play involves scoring in the paint, NBA teams are going to adjust to shut you down. How? One word. Zone.

Then what? For that game, that quarter or even those few minutes in a quarter, a team needs to be able to score from the outside. They need to be able to adjust. They need to bring out their jump shooters, set off-the-ball screens, space the floor and get some open shots wherever they can.

Dale Hansen said that the Mavs reliance on the jump shot is why they lost the Finals two years ago to Miami. Dale is, as he often is, wrong.

If you can stomach the experience, go back and watch the tape from the 2006 playoffs. You will see that the Mavs made it to the finals because they learned to score consistently inside the paint. Devin Harris broke down Parker and Nash and scored consistently in the paint, Stackhouse drove the lane, Howard drove the lane and Dirk dominated at the free throw line and drove to the lane in key situations. And then came Miami.

The Hansen's of the world would like to argue that the Mavs went away from what was working in the finals. That the Mavs slipped back to the jump shooting ways and thus doomed themselves.

But if you watch the game, you will see that Miami took the inside away. They put Alonzo, Shaq and Haslem in the lane and in Dirk's face. Dirk tried to go inside and he got swatted away and knocked down to the ground repeatedly. Miami looked at the Mavs gameplan and realized that they had to take the Mavs bread-and-butter away. They commited their defense to shutting down the inside.

With the middle clogged up, the Mavs had to and should have adjusted. In football, if the defense loads up to stop the run, even the most run heavy offense has to open up the playbook and prove they can pass the ball to open up some room for the run. NBA teams face the same delima when the paint is clogged up with "seven foot shot blockers." In this situation, you must find away to score from the outside.

The Mavs failed because their offense wasn't flexible enough to score from the outside consistently. Their shooters wilted under pressure and failed to open up the lanes. Jason Terry, Devin Harris, Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse all failed to become threats from the outside. And the Mavericks were doomed on offense.

What Dale needs to realize is that the Mavericks problem isn't that they are a jumpshooting team. Their problem is that they can't be a jumpshooting team when the need arises. Jason Terry is their only real outside shooter other than Dirk.

On the other hand, the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs have proven time and time again that they can play any style. They have enough clutch shooters to break you down if you try to focus your defense on Duncan. If you try to take out their other playmakers, Duncan will slowly destroy you in the paint.

I think Dale can be pretty funny sometimes and has a knack for breaking down social issues in sports like few other in the media. But his actual X's and O's analysis comes up a bit short. Just like too many of the Mavericks shots these days.

No comments: