The Fundamentals: Why Dirk Nowitzki still means everything for evolving Mavs
• A clean 50-percent shooting mark from the field has long been the informal standard for big men, but Mavs center Brandan Wright lives in a different world. For the season, Wright has completed 66.3 percent of his shots from the field, highest among all players with at least 50 attempts. Pair Wright with Nowitzki, though (as has been the case in more than half of Wright’s minutes this season), and things get downright batty. With Dallas’ central creator on the floor to draw the attention of opposing defenders, Wright is shooting a surreal 73.7 percent from the field. That makes performances like last night, in which Wright went 1-for-5 from the field, border on singularity. The game tape could well be a collector’s item on grounds of rarity alone.
• In an impressively consistent display on the other end of the spectrum, Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo has rattled off a string of four consecutive games in which he went exactly 0-for-1 from the field in varying minutes. As a fan of general order, I admire Biyombo’s efforts toward uniformity. For the record: Biyombo leads the league this season in 0-for-1 outings with 10, though Boston’s Phil Pressey (9) and Golden State’s Kent Bazemore (8) are gunning for his spot.
• Your periodic update: Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson, who before the season made the unprecedented mid-career shift from shooting with his left hand to his right, has upped his free throw percentage to 67.5 percent. Thompson made just 60.8 percent of his free throws while shooting with his left hand last season, and 55.2 percent the season prior.
NOTES FROM AROUND THE ASSOCIATION
1. Paul Pierce slides over
Brooklyn has posted five wins in its last six games without Brook Lopez and at times without Deron Williams, a dramatic improvement for a team that had won just 10 of its 31 games prior. There are a handful of reasons for the turnaround, but one among them: Paul Pierce has been logging big minutes of late as a small ball power forward. The Nets’ four most-used lineups in those six games have all leaned on Pierce to guard and work against opposing bigs, and thus far most every combination tried has been a resounding success. Shaun Livingston’s ability to guard a wide variety of wing players has opened up Brooklyn’s matchup options of late, though it should be interesting to see to what lengths the Nets are willing to stick with a smaller look as their default lineup.
2. The lovers, the dreamers, and Jordan Crawford
His makes are getting increasingly infrequent these days, but amid his slump Celtics guard Jordan Crawford managed to find the rainbow connection with this rafter-scraping attempt:
An amazing shot, truly.
3. Tricks of a salesman
Kevin Martin may not be anywhere near his career marks in terms of drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line, but his 5.1 free throw attempts per game still represents an uptick from a few down seasons. There’s no question that the change in officiating regarding the rip-through move has kept Martin off the line a bit, though it hasn’t much deterred him from driving into contact in the hopes of drawing a foul.
What impresses me most about Martin, though, is how capable he is of redeeming a foul draw gone wrong. There are plenty of scorers around the league who noticeably play for contact on certain possessions, Martin among them. But whereas some of those other players might leap into a defender or wildly flail while losing possession of the ball, Martin keeps possession until the whistle sounds — thereby giving him some chance at a bail out pass if the call never comes. It’s on these grounds that players like James Harden surrender so many turnovers simply by throwing the ball out of bounds, and yet Martin gives the ball up on just nine percent of his possessions while actively trying to create contact. It’s an odd, impressive quirk, and a useful one for a player with Martin’s skill set.
4. Injuries trim the thicket in New Orleans
As a secondary goal to building a winning basketball team, I can’t help but wonder if the Pelicans are making a concerted effort to construct a wingspan jungle. When healthy, the lineup of Anthony Davis, Alexis Ajinca, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jrue Holiday, and Tyreke Evans is just oppressive. Between them they possess more than 36 feet of total wingspan, per Draft Express’ database — an average of about 7’4” per player. That every player among them is a notable NBA athlete only makes their combination that much more binding.
Unfortunately, the injury-induced absences of Holiday and Evans keep things a bit more trim in the passing lanes for the Pelicans. That’s a damn shame, but one can only hope that the eventual, healthy returns of Holiday and Evans will bring back the league’s rangiest natural lineup.
5. Grizzlies find a catalyst on a budget
Memphis’ curious season continues, this time through the emergence of James Johnson — a minimum-salary add who just might be one of the Grizzlies’ most important players. The extended absence of Marc Gasol left Memphis without many things, but chiefly without flexibility. Gone was the option to work through Gasol in the high post as a means to set up cutters, play off of Zach Randolph, or make life easier for Mike Conley. Absent was the help that the Grizzlies had grown accustomed to, as that level of defense was very clearly beyond the compensatory talents of Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer, and Ed Davis.
Everything changed for an already struggling Grizz team when Gasol went down, and the closest they’ve come to recapturing that balance since has come in relying on Johnson. The do-it-all forward has a penchant for bits of dynamism, and in this particular situation has managed to fill the gaps brilliantly. With Johnson on the floor, things happen for Memphis — the ball moves and the defense works. That doesn’t guarantee the Grizzlies a winning margin or productive play, but there’s a lot to like about the gear Memphis locks into with Johnson — and now Courtney Lee, who has been terrific through three games — on the floor.
Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com.