Monday, May 30, 2011

Heat-Mavs Preview Thoughts: Dallas Zone, Deploying/Defending Dirk, Synergy Numbers

• Also today: Effective Age Snapshot: Dallas Would Be Second-Oldest NBA Champs Ever

Not a ton of stock can be placed in the two regular-season matchups betweem Dallas and Miami (both won by Dallas - 106-95 in Dallas on Nov. 27, and 98-96 in Miami on Dec. 20). The Mavs had the services of Caron Butler in the regular season meetings, and have added sharpshooting ace Peja Stojakovic since these teams last met. The Heat had Arroyo starting at PG, now they have Bibby (not sure if that's better). Udonis Haslem was not available for either game and Mike Miller missed the Nov. 27th game.

Still, we went back to the film to glean what we could about two X-and-O factors: how did Dallas' zone affect Miami, and what was the strategy around Dirk Nowitzki on both sides of the ball. Here's what we found:

Will be interesting to see what the Mavs have up their sleeve when they're on the defensive end. Dallas might have the most effective zone alignments in the league and Miami is a team you want tossing up as many perimeter jumpers as possible. Wall off the painted area, make Bron & Wade jumpshooters and keep them off the FT line. Miami struggled when faced with Dallas' zone in both regular season meetings.

In the two reg. season games, Miami managed a total of only 44 pts on 56 possessions vs. Dallas' zone. Those 56 possessions resulted in seven TOs, seven drawn shooting fouls, two drawn fouls and 14-for-40 (35%) shooting.

In general, Dallas likes to implement its zone late 1st Q and will go with a heavy diet of zone in the 2nd Q. And they did this vs. Miami--in both games, played zone for most of the 2nd Q. Basically no zone in the 3rd Q and mixed in some zone in 4th Q in each game. Like to go zone on out-of-bounds plays.

Expect to see plenty of zone looks from Dallas in the Finals. They sometimes go with a more traditional 2x3 set with some matchup principles. Then sometimes they will go with a matchup zone in which they will move out of their respective areas to follow an offensive player. Tough to decipher Dallas' defense sometimes because they will pass off offensive players even when in a man-2-man set. Chandler and Haywood are effective backstops in the zone and when Anthony is on the floor, their ability to help becomes easier.

Overall, the Dallas defense (zone or man) was effective vs. the Heat--Miami shot roughly 41% overall in both games. LeBron had two uneven games vs. the Mavs, in which he shot the ball poorly and coughed up the ball too many times.

On Nov. 27th, Bron recorded 23 pts, 8 rbs, 4 asts & 15 FTAs. But he shot 5-for-19 and had 5 TOs. On Dec. 20th, Bron had 19 pts on 6-of-17, 10 rbs, 7 asts, 7 FTAs & 5 TOs. Wade and Bosh fared better in the regular season--both shot near 50% in both games.

Overall, Dirk only shot a combined 40% vs. the Heat. Dirk had 22 pts on 9-for-23 shooting and only got to the line three times on Nov. 27th. He had 26 pts on 8-for-21 on Dec. 20 and got to the FT line 10 times. Compare that to his overall reg. season numbers vs. the Thunder: 47 pts on 13-of-21 shooting, including 19 trips to the FT line.

Wanted to focus on how Miami chose to defend Dirk but have little info to work with from the reg. season games. Found it curious that the Mavs rarely chose to post/iso Dirk vs. Miami. In a total of 73 minutes for Dirk, counted only 13 total post/iso calls in the two reg. season matchups. By contrast, counted 21 post-up plays over Dirk's two reg. season games vs. OKC in 50 minutes of total floor time.

Dirk set up shop mostly on the perimeter. It seemed Dallas was using him more as a floor-spreader and screener than as a playmaker in their two games vs. the Heat. Actually chose to run Dirk off screens and allowed him to cut or cut off screens into the paint a little more than usual.

Bosh was the primary defender on Dirk and Miami let him handle the German without help. Joel Anthony got some cracks at Dirk and also went solo on him.

Dirk really did not punish the Heat on posts/isos like he did vs. the Thunder in the reg. season. On isos, Dirk shot 4-for-12 and drew only one foul. On post-ups plays, Dirk managed to produce 22 pts for himself on 5-of-9 shooting, six drawn shooting fouls (12 FTs), 3 TOs and three kick-outs.

Have to imagine we'll see many more post-ups for Dirk in the Finals. Dirk has been punishing all comers with his post game or extended posts/iso game in the playoffs. Expect Bosh to be the primary defender with Anthony, Haslem and even LeBron getting some reps on Dirk. Going to assume they will try to single-team Dirk as much as possible.

Haslem did a terrific job on Dirk in '06--bodied up Dirk very well, especially on the perimeter. Don't think it's fair to expect Udonis to repeat his '06 Finals defensive performance since he's still working his way back into form. On top of that, Dirk's game is less high-post oriented than it was in '06 and Haslem might have trouble dealing with him down low.

The data from detailed play-by-play breakdowns from Synergy Sports Technology also suggests that Dirk's post-up game could be pivotal.

This Finals offers a matchup of no. 1 offense (Dallas) and no. 2 defense (Miami) in terms of points per possession on Synergy. Here are some key play types for this matchup, comparing numbers in the playoffs and regular season:

Spot Up 23.1% 1.19 1 | 0.97 9
Pick/Roll 20.6% 0.92 3 | 0.69 2
Post Ups 10.6% 1.01 2 | 0.99 16

Spot Up 22.8% 1.04 8 | 0.92 3
Pick/Roll 17.9% 0.90 10 | 0.84 6
Post Ups 9.8% 1.01 1 | 0.81 2

Dallas has been one of the most efficient post-up teams in the league all season, no surprise with Dirk running the show. Miami's defense was one of the best at stopping the post game in the regular season, but they rank as the worst team in the playoffs in points per possession (PPP) in defending that play type. Small sample size likely explains some of that, as they certainyl didn't see much post-up action vs. Chicago.

The exceptional success Dallas has had in the Spot Up and Pick/Roll areas in the playoffs illustrates two other areas where Nowitzki's mere presence has helped his team. Miami needs to be able to single-cover Nowitzki to help limit the spot-up shooting game, and they need to find a way to shut down the pick-and-roll game in which Dirk often serves as a dangerous roll man. J.J. Barea, in particular, has obviously been hard to contain in the pick-and-roll in these playoffs.

Beyond Nowitzki, Barea and Jason Terry have had the biggest jumps in production in the postseason. Terry's PER has jumped from 15.9 in the regular season to 19.7 in the playoffs, while Barea's has increased from 14.8 to 19.1. Whether Terry can keep knocking down shots and Barea can continue his devastating play in the pick-and-roll could be decisive factors in the series.

On the other side of the ball, a key area to watch is Miami's pick-and-roll game, which has been particularly strong in the playoffs, ranking first in the league with 0.97 PPP (accounting for 22.3 of its offense). That's up from 0.93 PPP in the regular season, which ranked fifth.

On D, Dallas has allowed 0.86 PPP on pick-and-rolls in the playoffs (ranked 7th), an improvement over the regular season, where the Mavs ranked just 23rd, allowing 0.91 PPP per PnR.

In terms of matchups related to the "Four Factors" statistics which correlate most directly with winning, the big one to watch is effective field-goal percentage between Dallas' O and Miami's D.

Dallas ranked 3rd (52.5%) on offense and Miami ranked 3rd (47.5%) on defense in this category over the course of the season, and both teams have continued to excel in this department in the playoffs.

The Mavs have easily led the league at 52.2%, even though league eFG% has dropped sharply from 49.8 to 47.6 in the playoffs. The Heat's 46.2% eFG defense in the playoffs ranks just 5th, but it's just a shade below the top mark of 46.0% allowed (OKC).

The other key Four Factor to watch is Miami's free-throw rate, which has been strong in both the regular season and the playoffs, against Dallas, which was among the league leaders in fewest FTA allowed in the regular season.

Finally, last and least, a random note to finish this off: two of the three qualified players with the lowest PERs in the playoffs are both starting in this series, Mike Bibby and DeShawn Stevenson, both with the robust production of a 2.2 PER. Only Landry Fields, with an 0.3 PER in his four-game run, has been worse on a box-score stat basis.

• Also today: Effective Age Snapshot: Dallas Would Be Second-Oldest NBA Champs Ever


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