But first, we investigate the depth of the Mavericks.
Plumbing the Depth: When asked if his Mavericks can defeat the two-time defending NBA champion L.A. Lakers, franchise owner Mark Cuban argued that the team's depth will allow Dallas to reign supreme. The actual quote, from a Q&A with SportsDayDFW, is a bit more rah-rah: "Hell yes. We've got the size now. We've got the depth. We've got a lot more depth than the Lakers. It's not even close there."
Cuban is apparently arguing that having a better ninth or 10th man is a major factor in winning major games. To the contrary, research has repeatedly shown that a team's top three or so players account for much of the success or failure of a team. Sports economist David Berri, with whom I frequently disagree, has applied the Pareto Principle to the NBA, which has shown that using his (controversial) production metric, a team's top three players generally produce 80 percent of a team's wins. And while in basketball circles Berri is a divisive figure, this point is actually widely accepted. It makes intuitive sense -- your top players play more minutes, thus having a larger potential footprint (for better or worse) on a game. And the math seems to back it up.
So what about the Mavericks' depth?
What depth do they have, exactly? The team added Tyson Chandler via trade, losing the un-guaranteed contract of Erick Dampier. Chandler and Dampier, conveniently enough, aren't too different. They are rebounding post defenders with offensive skill-sets sitting on the border of troubling and non-existent. The Mavericks had Dampier and Brendan Haywood up front for the stretch run last season; this year, it will be Chandler and Haywood. On the edges, the team replaced Tim Thomas and Eduardo Najera with Alexis Ajinca and Ian Mahinmi, the latter of whom actually matters but won't see much playing time, in all likelihood, barring injury of course.
In the backcourt, the team added Dominique Jones. That is all.
If the clusterflock at the wing positions -- that'd be Shawn Marion, Caron Butler, Rodrigue Beaubois and Jason Terry, all of whom likely require a great deal of minutes and only one of whom (Marion) can realistically play another position (power forward) for extending minutes, a position which happens to be held by an All-World monster (Dirk Nowitzki) who plays tons of minutes and rarely misses game -- is depth, call me Georgia and hand me that fiddle. Sure, that's depth, better depth than the Lakers have on the wings. But does it matter?
And this ignores the possibly most important position on the floor: point guard. The Mavericks have Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea. In four playoff series with Dallas, Kidd has averaged 9.7 points and 6.4 assists in more than 38 minutes a game. The Mavericks are 1-3 in those series. Barea, who is fast, is not terribly good. Kidd will turn 38 before the '10-11 playoffs, and as noted has been largely terrible in the playoffs the last three seasons.
Where's the depth there?
The problem with the Mavericks isn't that they can't beat the Lakers in the second quarter. Great wing depth and a solid (or better) big man rotation will help there. But how important is that if the first unit falls behind by a dozen points, or if the Lakers have no problem defending 4/5ths of the Mavericks' line-up in crunch time? To me, any argument on depth comes down to the graphic at right: the Lakers' fifth best player is as good or better than the Mavericks' second best player. That's a problem! After all these post-Nash years, Dirk still doesn't have help. Butler's nice, Marion solid, Haywood adorable. But none of those sidekicks comes close to comparing to someone like Pau Gasol, or Duncan's Ginobili (or Parker, for that matter), or Garnett's Pierce (or Pierce's Garnett, or Pierce's Rondo, or Garnett's Rondo). And we'll just ignore the Heat for a second, because I'm already laughing hysterically at the thought.
The Mavericks are not lacking for depth. They never have!, lest we forget the halcyon days of Antawn Jamison, Sixth Man. It's top-line talent Dallas needs, as well as serious aid at point guard. No wonder those Chris Paul rumors never die.
(That said, if coach Rick Carlisle realizes what he has with Beaubois, we can rewrite this whole narrative. I'm just not convinced Carlisle will give Roddy minutes owed to the veterans like Butler and Terry, never mind Kidd.) (TZ)
A Modest Proposal: Like a government agency or a celebrity publicist, I find Friday is the best day to introduce bad news or crazy ideas to the world.
I have no bad news, but I do have a crazy idea. Stick with me as I present a suggestion that would change one of the oldest rules in the book. It's a rule change that may only have a miniscule effect on the game, but could be considered radical because we think of the rules as a part of the game's DNA. Only that it isn't.
So, here goes. It's time to get rid of this rule:
Rule No. 10 -- VIOLATIONS AND PENALTIESYes, it's time to get rid of the (in playground parlance) over-and-back rule.
Section IX-Ball in Backcourt
a. A player shall not be the first to touch a ball which he or a teammate caused to go from frontcourt to backcourt while his team was in control of the ball.
EXCEPTION: Rule 8-Section III-e (EXCEPTION).
b. During a jump ball, a try for a goal, or a situation in which a player taps the ball away from a congested area, as during rebounding, in an attempt to get the ball out where player control may be secured, the ball is not in control of either team. Hence, the restriction on first touching does not apply.
PENALTY: Loss of ball. The ball is awarded to the opposing team at the midcourt line.
Why? It is an anachronism stuck in an age B.S.C -- Before the Shot Clock.
When James Naismith delivered his 13 original rules on a cold, winter's day in Dec. of 1891, there is no mention of backcourt violations. And for the first 42 years, that's how the game was played -- all over the court.
But that posed a problem. Without a timing mechanism, teams could stall anywhere they wished. This obviously made the game unbearable to watch and sadly foreshadowed any Heat-Knicks playoff game from the '90s.
So, in 1933, those who ruled basketball determined that a team had 10-seconds to get the ball over the center line and presumably* keep it in the front court so as to keep the action in front of the offense's hoop.
(*I say presumably because it has been hell trying to find a history of basketball rules changes. In this Inter-nothing-but-the-bottom-of-the-net age, you would think the answer would be easy to find. Not so. All of which leads us to another lament in that there isn't a OED-type version of basketball rules. Most of us who have played the game or watched it, know the rules, but we have no etymology for them, no historical timeline, no explanation as to how the game has evolved as it has through its rules. Of course, you can see the seismic changes -- elimination of the center jump in 1938, the introduction of the shot clock, which weighs heavy in this essay -- in 1954, twice widening the lane, first in 1951 from six feet to 12 for George Mikan and again in 1964 for Wilt Chamberlain -- but the nuances escape even the World Wide Web.)
It was a great idea, and still is. The NBA should continue to force the action into the frontcourt with the eight-second rule for the simple reason if they didn't Don Nelson would try to devise an offense that spent 20 seconds in the backcourt before launching 45-foot three pointers.
Yet why, with a shot clock, should a team be punished for the simple mistake of throwing the ball into the backcourt? Yes, such violations are rare, and are so because of generations of conditioning. Everyone knows throwing a ball into the backcourt results in the loss of possession. Still, I've often found the idea of losing the ball because a player accidentally sailed a pass into the backcourt to be too punitive.
Shouldn't a team be able to go after the ball, get it and shoot it before the shot clock expires? After all, the intent of the backcourt violation is to keep the action going forward by punishing any excessive backward motion of the ball. The shot clock, however, eliminates that need.
You may have noted above the exception in Rule 10, Section IX. Here it is:
EXCEPTION: During the last two minutes of the fourth period and/or any overtime period, the ball may be passed anywhere (frontcourt or backcourt) on the court.This exception was most famously applied in Game 5 of the 2006 Finals when Dwyane Wade left his feet in the frontcourt, caught the ball and landed in the backcourt, much to the chagrin of the Mavs and owner Mark Cuban.
The Mavs screamed violation, the refs and the NBA said '"look at the rules, Cubes."
Does this suggestion have any hope of coming to fruition? Probably no way in hell the NBA changes the rules on backcourt violations. As we noted before, the rule has been around for generations. But it would be cool to see the NBA take a step forward by not punishing anything that goes backward. (R.P.)
National Cuckolding League: In a TV ad promoting the new season of Australia's National Basketball League, there is one black player shown. You can't miss him. He's the one leaping into a married couple's bed and schnozzing with the (white) woman. (Hat tip to @hoopshype.)
That isn't to say the makers of the ad are racist. They were just thoughtless in making this ad. Intent matters, and I doubt there was intent to call black men interlopers. But you can't ignore perception when you create an ad for a million eyes to see. And the perception is that the NBL's black players -- not the myriad white ones who dot the commercial, the fewer black ones -- are after your wife, Mr. White Man.
It seems like a stupid way to promote your basketball league, is all. And if it upsets two black Australian basketball legends, that ought to count for something a bit more than being termed "crazy crazy." (TZ)
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be available this October.