Where It's At? Trippin' on J Kidd's Minutes?

I’ve carried on ad nauseum in this space about Dallas’ improved defense, versatility and perseverance in the face of injury issues. Sometimes I’ve even felt like I was on an island in thinking the Mavs are as good as their record says. But here’s a nice little nugget from yesterday’s True Hoop blog indicating others outside of our little Mavsphere are taking note as well.

The path I’d like to meander down for this particular WIA ties back to Kevin Arnovitz’s note in that entry on what many critics perceive as Dallas’ biggest obstacle – their age:

Is it possible that a squad with so many thirtysomethings breaks down physically over the course of an 82-game season? Perhaps.

The thirtysomething I’m most concerned with is the great J Kidd. His importance to this team’s success is second only to The Big German and the MVP-caliber campaign he’s on this season. Especially when you consider that JJ Barea, Jason Terry and Roddy Beaubois are all point guards in size only. All three of those guys have their greatest success when they’re paired with Kidd, not spelling him.

The Mavericks offense can quickly become a convoluted mess when Kidd isn’t out there directing traffic. And I’m convinced having Kidd and Dirk on the bench at the same time is bad for Carlisle’s long-term health and general well-being. But I’m starting to worry that too much early season burn for Kidd is not good for the overall health and well-being of this team come playoff time.

Ben and I read an e-mail on the air this week questioning our apparent love-is-blind obsession with how Rick Carlisle is coaching this team and the crux of the argument was taking issue with his rotations and distribution of minutes.

I haven’t had much success in determining Carlisle’s patterns when it comes to who plays and when, but it’s not something that I’ve been particularly worked up over because more often than not he’s getting the production he needs when he does call on the guys whose minutes fluctuate wildly. I feel like he’s got a great feel for whom to use and when.

And despite the fans clamoring for more Roddy, I understand a coach’s apprehension in giving a French youngster substantial point guard minutes on a veteran team. Seriously, NOBODY thought Roddy would get any meaningful playing time back in October. Let’s put that picture back in the frame, OK?

But I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that the Kidd minute situation is something I’m a touch uneasy with. There are plenty of guys whom I hold in the highest regard who think that the minute thing is a myth. Just last week I flipped on a game in time to hear Jeff Van Gundy (who I believe to be absolute basketball greatness) say he thinks that shaving off a couple of minutes a game from a dude’s regular season minute average accomplishes absolutely nothing.

And when the discussion of Kidd’s minutes came up on the air with Mavs radio voice Chuck Cooperstein –- an extremely knowledgeable hoopshead -- he was quick to point out that Kidd has shown zero signs of breaking down at the age of 36 (37 in March). His example was John Stockton who played productive basketball until he was 40. Kidd and Stockton –- two guys who use brains as much as they do their bodies. Fair enough. Or is it?

As the aforementioned e-mailer pointed out in his rant, Pops and the folks in San Antone have clearly put the clamps down on Tim Duncan’s minutes, as he’s playing 3 less a game at 33 than he was when he was 29. But Duncan also has knee issues that J Kidd doesn’t and with their championship history the Spurs can afford to treat the first half of the season differently than most teams.

But when I dig into Kidd’s minutes, I can’t dismiss the notion of wear-and-tear as easily as Coop or JVG. Let’s compare Stockton and Kidd for a moment.

At the age of 35 last year, Kidd averaged 35.6 minutes in 81 games –- an average that ranked him 42nd in the league. Only two other guys in the top 50 were even 33 years-old –- Ray Allen and Allen Iverson. When Stockton was 35 he averaged 29 minutes in a season in which he only played 64 games, or roughly 1000 minutes less than Kidd at the same age.

This year Kidd’s minutes are slightly up at 35.8 –- good for 36th in the league. At this age Stockton averaged 28 minutes in the strike-shortened 50 game-season. At his current pace Kidd will surpass Stockton’s minute total for that entire season by the time the Mavs play the Celtics three weeks from now.

Those are a bunch of numbers that may or may not mean anything. What I do know is that Kidd’s minutes are hard minutes. You don’t check Brandon Roy and Stephen Jackson in the fourth quarter of tight games and bust your hump the way Kidd does getting run through screens and burning every ounce of energy you have denying those guys the ball and come out feeling bulletproof.

This is where all those close games the Mavericks have been winning comes back to haunt them a little. Gentlemen, can we not mix in a blowout from time to time so Dirk and Kidd can enjoy a 30-minute night? That grind will take its toll if you don’t start managing it now. Ask the 67-win Mavs of 2007 how it works out when you’ve been ground down to nothing by late March.

Carlisle is in a tough spot. He’s trying to get these guys to execute team defensive concepts that will pay off come April and May. He’s had to juggle line-ups as he works multiple new faces into the mix all while fending off an early-season injury crisis. He has had no choice but to give Kidd all these minutes, the alternative was to sacrifice victories –- I absolutely believe that to be the case.

I also think this Maverick team has had to win and win a lot to get their swagger back. This team has been mired in doubt since mid-June of 2006. This early-season 22-9 start has been essential from a bigger picture standpoint. But the real big picture is what happens come spring, and if Kidd’s legs aren’t there, then the Mavs chance for success ain’t there either.

Kidd may be the timeless anomaly. But I have no desire to find that out. Put me in the camp of those who think big minutes and heavy workload for a guy who will be 37 here in three short months is a bad thing.

And that’s where it’s at….