By John Carroll, Scouts. Inc.
The Dallas Mavericks are the second seed in the West. The West was a tough, balanced conference this season and it came down to the last night of the season to determine what the matchups were in three of the series. The Mavericks are built for success in the playoffs. They have an all star quality point guard in Jason Kidd, they have a go to guy in Dirk Nowitzki, they have two big bodies at the center position in Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood and they have excellent depth at key positions
The Mavericks made moves at the trading deadline to win a championship. They traded Josh Howard and Drew Gooden for Caron Butler and Haywood. Butler has been sensational offensively since his arrival and will provide the Mavs with a tough hard-nosed perimeter defender for the playoffs. Haywood is a young-defensive minded big man who will help guard, rebound, clog the paint and block shots in the playoffs.
The Mavericks have talent, experience, depth and good direction from their head coach Rick Carlisle. They have all the pieces to make a run at the championship this season. They have the players to knock off the Lakers if they can get to the Western Conference Finals. The problem is they have a very difficult assignment in the first round with the Spurs. If they can get past the Spurs and build momentum look for this talented team to surprise some people and contend for the NBA championship.
The San Antonio Spurs are the seventh seed in the West. This matchup is usually a semi or final in the West. This demonstrates how balanced and difficult the West is this year.
Although the Spurs finished the regular season at 50-32 and do not have home court at any time in the playoffs, they are still a team to be feared. They have been banged up and injured throughout the regular season and with the return of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to the lineup the Spurs are a very dangerous first round opponent.
The Spurs have two things that could help them upset the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. They have talent and experience. Parker, Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess have a wealth of playoff experience under their belts. They have one of the best point guards in the league with Parker, a go-to scorer in Ginobili and a dominant low-post scorer in Duncan.
The wild card for the Spurs may be Jefferson. His acquisition during the offseason has not produced the positive results everyone was hoping for. Jefferson could be a difference maker in the playoffs. He has the talent, athleticism and experience to help the Spurs knock off the Mavs. He needs to step up his game offensively and defensively. With the departure of Bruce Bowen the Spurs will need him to defend players such as Butler and Marion versus the Mavs. If he can elevate his game and become much more aggressive they will have a better chance for the upset.
The Spurs are built for the playoffs. They defend, execute, get great shots and have several go to players in Ginobili and Duncan. In addition Parker can create early or late in the shot clock. The Spurs know how to win and I would not be surprised to see them steal a game in Dallas and make this a very interesting series.
Point guard matchup
Jason Kidd is one of the best point guards to ever play in the NBA. Kidd embodies what every coach wants in a point guard. He is a great team leader. Jason Kidd has a high basketball IQ and he makes everyone around him better. Kidd is so valuable to his team because he can score when needed, distribute the basketball, defend and rebound.
Jason has great size for the position, which allows him to see, among the big boys and make the correct play. He can play fast or slow. He has tremendous ball handling skills and he can push the ball from foul line to foul line better than anyone else in the league when he was in his prime. He is an excellent decision maker and almost always makes the appropriate play. Kidd is truly a pass-first point guard. He can score when necessary but he knows how to run a team, and keep everyone happy. He has great court vision.
Kidd is not a big scorer, he is much more of a leader and set-up guy. He is not a high volume shooter. He will knock down the occasional spot up three-point shot if he is left open. However, Kidd can be a killer down the stretch of a game, because he is supremely confident of his skills and not afraid to knock down a big shot in the fourth quarter.
Kidd has been one of the elite defenders in the NBA for his entire career. He has just started to slow down in the last couple of years. His size, strength, quick hands, determination have allowed him to be a regular on the NBA’s All-Defensive team. Kidd can guard multiple positions in the backcourt. He can’t keep in front of the top point guards (Chris Paul, Deron Williams) like he used to. Has always been a high deflection and steal guy. Kidd is one of the best rebounding guards in the NBA. He loves to rebound and push the ball in transition.
Tony Parker is one of the NBA’s premier point guards. During his tenure with the Spurs they have had tremendous success and won several NBA championships.
Parker is a do-it-all guard, with blazing speed, who is one of the most difficult matchups in the NBA. Parker is a tremendous offensive player who can score in transition and in the half court. Parker gets wherever he wants with the basketball. He is tremendous on the fast break, running pick and rolls, or in one-on-one situations. Tony is a tough to guard when he has the ball on the break because he is so fast and hard to keep out of the paint. He is fearless and will attack the rim at will. He has a great handle and changes direction so well. In the paint Parker is so effective because he has all the shots and is extremely accurate. Parker can stop on a dime and get into his short jumper, or he will utilize his patented floater.
Parker has the ball in his hands a larger portion of the time in the Spurs offense. He has it early and late in the shot clock. Most of his shots are off the dribble, and he can score equally well going left or right. He has one of the best first steps in the league. The Spurs put Parker in numerous pick-and-roll situations. He is tremendous coming off the pick and creating offense for himself or his teammates. Parker’s ability to turn the corner creates a ton of scoring opportunities for his Spurs’ teammates.
Tony is much more of a mid-range shooter. He does not really stroke the three-point shot. However, when he is inside the line he has tremendous accuracy. Has shot almost 50 percent during most of his career, which is unheard of for a perimeter player.
He is an excellent defensive point guard. He is quick and determined, works hard to keep his opponents bottled up and out of the paint. His foot speed is his biggest asset. Parker is not very physical and some teams try to post him up.
Tony has good hands, and will get big slap downs and steals on defense.
Shooting guard matchup
The Dallas Mavericks picked up Caron Butler at the trading deadline and he has produced for them since his arrival. Butler is a tough, hard-nosed perimeter player that brings athleticism, defense, and a very improved offensive skill set to the Mavs roster.
Caron came into the league with the ability to take the ball to the rack in transition and an excellent mid-range game. Butler is very good at taking his opponent off the dribble and can shoot the mid-range jumper. He has never been known as a big-time ball handler, passer or deep shooter, but since his arrival in the NBA he has worked hard to develop his perimeter skills. During the past few years he has developed more range on his jump shot, and is becoming a much better three-point shooter. Caron can take weaker opponents into the low post and score.
Butler is an excellent defensive perimeter player. He has the height, strength, athleticism and toughness to guard any wing player on a nightly basis. He always has played for tough hard-nosed coaches in high school and college and was well prepared for the NBA. He is able to keep the best wing players from getting anything easy, by utilizing his foot speed and length to contest their shots. He is strong enough to keep them out of easy post up situations.
Manu Ginobili has been on fire for the last month of the season. He has been unstoppable during the latter part of March and beginning of April. Hopefully he can carry that into the playoffs when they start the first round versus Dallas. He has been the go-to guy for much of his career with the San Antonio Spurs. He has been their best perimeter scorer during their championship years. He is an assertive offensive player who can fill up a stat sheet. He still plays with reckless abandon and can be a high risk high reward player at times. He has become the go-to guy down the stretch of big playoff games for the Spurs because he can create his own shot, and get to the free throw line. Ginobili is a crowd favorite in San Antonio because he lays it all on the line. He plays the game with tremendous energy, passion and with absolute fearlessness.
Ginobili is athletic, has a great first step, and is extremely agile. Manu is extremely crafty around the basket. If he gets into the paint and near the bucket he will find some way to score. Whether he has been a starter or he has come off the bench, Manu is instant offense. He has a terrific offensive skill set and a great feel for offensive basketball. Ginobili can shoot with excellent range to the three-point line and also put it on the deck and get into his pull up jumper. Ginobli is a terrific ball handler for a scoring guard. He scores a lot of points off the dribble. He is very good running the pick-and-roll, he makes very good reads and decisions. He can pull the shot, or turn the corner and get into the paint. The best part of his offensive game may be the creativity he displays with shots and angles when he gets into scoring areas. He has supreme body control and agility and he utilizes this when he gets into the lane. He always finds a way to create a quality scoring opportunity.
Ginobili is fearless attacking the rim. He is not intimidated by anyone. He is not afraid of contact, or getting knocked down. He will surprise some with his hops and ability to get up and throw it down on big men. Ginobili has developed a respect among officials in the league. He gets calls from officials and gets to the free throw line. Manu is a big-shot player. He is not afraid to have ball in his hands with the pressure on him and the clock and game winding down. He usually comes up big for the Spurs.
Ginobili is a pesky and annoying defender. He plays just as aggressive on the defensive end of the floor and really utilizes his athleticism and quick feet to guard on the perimeter. He always is involved in controversy because he is not afraid of physical contact. He flops and tries to draw charges. He is a big-time deflection, and steal guy, especially late in games. In addition he is an excellent rebounder for his position.
Small forward matchup
Shawn Marion has had a terrific career utilizing his length, athleticism, and ability in the open court to score. His biggest strength may be his versatility. Marion can do almost everything on the court. He can run, score, finish, shoot, defend, and rebound. Although not a go-to guy, Marion is a big-time player who can help your team win. He can play both the small forward and power forward position. Puts a lot of pressure on opponents playing the power forward position because of his ability to run, and stretch the defense with his perimeter shot.
Marion is a high flyer, who can really explode at the rim. He is a big time finisher around the hoop. Marion loves to run the floor. Shawn has an ugly looking stroke, but he puts the ball in the basket when he is in a spot-up situation. He does not have the ability to put the ball on the floor and shoot. He is not a creative one-on-one player, but is much better playing off of great guard play where he can receive lobs at the rim, catch and finish, and spot up for three-point shots. Playing alongside Jason Kidd again has been wonderful for him. Marion is a big-time offensive rebounder, he must be checked out because he will utilize his tremendous leaping ability and attack the offensive glass.
Marion has the perfect body, size, and athleticism to defend forwards. He is a very good defender and can guard multiple positions when needed. He has good speed, lateral quickness. He is a big deflection and steal guy due to the fact that he is very active. Marion is a much better one-on-one defender and steal guy than a fundamental team player. He takes chances, gambles and does not concentrate enough to be a solid team defensive player, however, he is a very good defensive rebounder.
The Spurs picked up Richard Jefferson last summer and he has been a bit of a disappointment for them this season. Jefferson is a big time athlete who can run, score, and defend. He is has been one of the top small forwards in the NBA for the past few seasons.
Richard Jefferson has developed into a versatile and reliable wing scorer. He can score both in transition and in half court sets. Jefferson is tremendous in the open court. He can run the floor, fill the lanes and finish hard at the rim. He is so smooth that he appears to glide down the court. Jefferson loves to finish on the break with a thunderous dunk. In the half court Jefferson has good ball handling and shooting skills. He can take his man one-on-one, drive and get to the rim, finish, and get fouled. Jefferson has been an aggressive offensive player during his career. Jefferson also has the ability to pull up off the bounce and rise up on his defender. He can shoot the three ball and keep defenders honest but it is not his biggest strength.
Jefferson made a name for himself early in his career as an athletic, tough, defender. He has always had all the tools to be successful on defense. He has good height, length, and athleticism to defend the best perimeter players in the NBA. He has an excellent wingspan and good hands. Not only can he guard one-on-one but he understands team defense and knows how to be a good team defender
Power forward matchup
Dirk Nowitzki is one of the most talented big men to ever play in the NBA. He has a very diversified offensive skill package. His versatility is demonstrated by his ability to run, handle, pass, and shoot.
Rick Carlisle has utilized Nowitzki in every conceivable way to score. In their half court offense they have put him in post ups, pick-and-rolls, iso situations especially at, or near the top of, the key. When Dirk catches the ball in the post or in iso’s and can get into his shot he is deadly. No one in the league can really contest his shot because of his height and where his release point is on his jumper. He brings the ball up above his head and it is impossible to challenge and contest his shots.
Nowitzki is deadly in spot up and pick-and-pop situations. It is nearly impossible to leave him to help on drives or picks because if you do and can not get back to him quickly he will burn opponents with his deadly perimeter game. He is a tremendous jump shooter. He has great form, and technique.
Unlike most shooters Nowitzki has the entire shooting package: he can shoot the ball in close, mid range, off 1-2 dribbles or deep at the three-point line. You must be able to get into his body and be overly physical with him to even have a chance. In addition he has the ability to shoot leaners, floaters and off balance fall away shots when needed. Dirk is a very smart offensive player. Not an explosive athlete but he uses his jumper to set up the rest of his game. If the defenders over commit or rush out at him he can put it on the floor, and get to the rim or deep in the paint where he utilizes either hand to finish. He gets fouled at a high clip and will hurt opponents at the line with his proficiency.
Nowitzki is an excellent big-man passer. For a scorer he is very unselfish and will make the correct pass. The only criticism of Dirk? Is he willing to put a team on his shoulders and win a championship? Does he have the killer instinct?
Nowitzki has never been a very good defender but under Avery Johnson and Rick Carlisle he has attempted to get better. Nowitzki has length and decent athleticism to be able to defend. His problems are lack of strength and overall toughness. He really struggles with strong low-post matchups. He does a much better job with perimeter bigs who like to step away from the hoop. Dirk can challenge and block shots because of his length. He has always been a very good rebounder.
Antonio McDyess has been a very good pickup for the San Antonio Spurs. He has started 50 of the 77 games he has played in this season. McDyess averaged 21 minutes and scored 5.8 points and grabbed 5.9 rebounds. He came into the NBA as a freak athlete but due to a knee injury he has had to reinvent himself. He has never had the same explosion and leaping ability since the injury. McDyess is a nice complimentary frontcourt player with Tim Duncan. He provides them with a veteran who can score, defend and rebound.
He has worked at his game and had to rely more on skill than athleticism. He has always been an efficient scorer whose bread and butter is the mid-range game and the turnaround jumper. McDyess can catch the ball in the low post or just off the block and can score with his back to the basket or with face-up moves. He has always been a very good shooter facing the basket. He can catch-and-shoot to about 19 feet or he can score off pick-and-pop action with Parker and Ginobili. McDyess has always been a very good offensive rebounder.
He can guard the low post one-on-one without help because he has good size and length. Antonio is a good rebounder and is not afraid to mix it up inside and go get balls out of his area.
Erick Dampier has been a productive center in the NBA for a number of years, but he is still considered by many as an underachiever. Whether it has been with the Pacers, Warriors or now with Dallas, Dampier has never developed into a go-to guy in the low post. He has never played hard or tough enough, and has never produced big or consistent enough numbers to be considered a star.
Dampier is a nice complimentary piece of the puzzle for the Mavs. He has great size and length and should be able to guard and score against the best players in the league. He moves well although he is not terribly explosive. He has been a guy who sets screens, picks and attacks the glass for offensive stick backs. When he gets the ball inside he finishes at a very high rate. His biggest problem is when he gets fouled he is a poor free throw shooter.
He has good strength and length and can guard the better low-post centers. Damp is an excellent shot blocker. The closer he is to the paint the more effective he is as a defender. When he has to come out to guard big men who can stretch the defense, he gets exposed a bit. Dampier is an excellent defensive rebounder. He has very good hands and has put up big numbers throughout his career. He is not afraid to hard foul and keep perimeters on notice around the rim.
The reason that the San Antonio Spurs are the model franchise for the NBA is because of Tim Duncan. Duncan is the consummate professional and the quiet leader and face of this franchise. Duncan has won four NBA Championships, been an All Star numerous times, and won two MVP awards during his career. Duncan plays with a quiet, confidence. He has a poker face, never gets rattled and plays within himself. Duncan has a high basketball IQ. Duncan has the entire skill package both at the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. He quietly and effortlessly dominates games.
Tim Duncan is one of the most fundamental big men to ever play the game. His offensive repertoire is amazing. He can catch the ball in the low post and beat you with a wide array of jump hooks, up-and-under moves or a turn around jump shot. He has a very soft touch around the rim and is extremely effective finishing with either hand. Duncan can step off the lane or up to the elbow and face his man up and score or drive it to the rim. When he catches off the lane at 12 to 15 feet, especially on the left side of the court, Duncan loves to utilize the bank shot. He knocks down this shot so well it has become a trademark of his game. He is very effective playing pick-and-roll basketball with Parker and Ginobili both in middle and side picks. Tim has excellent hands and will catch and finish on rolls to the bucket. One of Tim’s greatest assets is his tremendous footwork. He has a very good feel for the game. He knows how to handle the double teams and pass out of the post. Duncan is an extremely unselfish player for his stature as a player, he is more interested in wins than stats. Duncan is an excellent offensive rebounder. His Achilles heel during his career has been his free throw shooting. He gets to the line but has never shot a very high percentage.
The reason that the Spurs have been such a good defensive team for so many years is that Duncan is the best post defensive player in the NBA. With his length and strength he defends his man and contests every shot. In addition he keeps opponents out of the paint with his shot-blocking. Duncan dominates the glass and wraps up possessions for his defensive-minded team. He has had double figure rebounds his entire career.
Jason Terry is a talented guard. Without a doubt he is much more of a scoring point guard than a pass-first point guard. In fact many feel he is a two-guard trapped in a point guard’s body. Terry possesses tremendous speed with the ball and can get anywhere he wants with it. He is a very tough cover in transition as he motors down the court. He has an aggressive scoring mentality and he puts extreme pressure on the defense because he can pull up from the three-point line and knock down the jumper or get into the lane and finish at the rim.
Terry is a perfect player to bring off the bench because he is instant offense. When he gets it going in a game he can be unstoppable. He has a great stroke, has supreme confidence in his shot and can shoot from almost anywhere on the court. He can shoot off the dribble, and off the catch. You can’t leave him to help or double or it is automatic with him. Jason has a very tight handle and can cross his opponents over at will. Defenders must play him extremely tight because of his jumper. This sets up the rest of his game. With his speed and quickness he blows by opponents and can go either right or left. He is not afraid to get into mid-range game or utilize floater versus big men in the lane. Although he is much more of a scorer than passer he is unselfish and has good vision. Terry does not get to the free throw line that much but when he does he is murder.
Defensively Terry is a big-steal guy. He is quick as a cat, with his feet and hands. This allows him to get his hands on a lot of balls. His athleticism allows him to guard most point guards in the league and he can keep them in front of him and not let them get into the paint or turn the corner on him. He is able to move and stop their one-on-one drives.
George Hill is the most improved player on the San Antonio Spurs roster. Last year he was not ready to play for the Spurs in the playoffs but he worked hard in the offseason to refine and develop his skillset. In doing so he has developed the confidence and trust of coach Gregg Popovich.
The biggest improvement in the off season has been Hill’s shooting. He came into the league as a scorer but not a shooter. He can now make open shots on a consistent basis and he must be able to do this playing alongside Parker, Ginobili and Duncan. Hill can not only drain the deep jump shot from three-point range, but he can also shoot off screens, pick-and-rolls, floaters and bury the pull-up jumper. Hill has made one of the biggest jumps in scoring of any player in the NBA this past season. This little known guard from IUPUI went from scoring 5.7 points per game to 12.4 this season. He is currently shooting .479 from the field and .399 from the three-point line. Look for Popovich to utilize Hill as a combo guard playing point guard to rest Parker and alongside Parker to rest Ginobili.
Hill is one of the Spurs most versatile defensive players. He has long arms, and good athleticism. He is tough and understands not only how to guard one-on-one, but play sound team defense. He will be tested in the playoffs versus Dallas having to defend Kidd.
Prediction: Mavs in seven