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What To Expect For The Mavs With Rajon Rondo

The Rajon Rondo trade came slowly and then all at once, as years of rumors ended in the span of less than a day, with the Dallas Mavericks coming from out of nowhere to grab him. On the surface, they didn’t give up a ton - Brandan Wright, Jae “The Beast” Crowder, Jameer Nelson, a first-round pick in 2015 (likely to be conveyed in 2016) and a future second-rounder - to get a former All-Star still in the prime of his career. However, there is a lot more to this trade than meets the eye.

1. The Mavs gave up a lot of value

Brandan Wright may have only played 20 minutes a night, but those were some valuable 20 minutes. His per-36 minute numbers were positively obscene - 17 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks on 75% shooting. Wright has a PER of 26.1 because the way the Mavs used literally broke the formula. They usually paired Wright with a stretch 4 (Dirk Nowitzki), which allowed him to play in a ton of space in front of the rim. Pretty much every shot he took was a lob or a dunk.

There were a lot of games this season where the starters played the other team evenly and then Wright came in the game and blew it open. He’s one of the best pick-and-roll players in the league and his combination of offensive efficiency and shot-blocking will be hard to replace. Without Wright, the Mavs will need to find a new backup center - whether it’s Greg Smith, Dwight Powell or Jermaine O’Neal - and they will need to re-think a lot of their game-plans for their second unit.

And while you never really knew what you were going to get from Crowder and Nelson on a given night, they were two of the best three-point shooters on this year’s team. The Mavs are going to need Devin Harris and JJ Barea to continue way out-shooting their career percentages from long range, as virtually none of the other perimeter players on the roster are catch-and-shoot guys. Just to give you an idea, this move increases Richard Jefferson’s playing time.

2) Despite how well they were playing, the Mavs needed to make a move

As you would expect from a team that gave two sub 6’0 guards - Jameer Nelson and JJ Barea - most of the minutes at PG, the Mavs perimeter defense was shaky at best, non-existent at worst. While they may have the No. 1 offensive rating in the NBA, they also have the No. 22 defensive rating and anyone that has watched Dirk Nowitzki’s teams in Dallas knew how that was going to end. The Mavs needed more balance and that was only going to come from changing the personnel.

Shaky perimeter defense was the primary reason why they have been struggling with the other elite teams in the West. Against teams the other top-9 teams, Dallas is 2-6, with both their wins coming over the Pellies and losses to the Suns, Rockets, Warriors, Spurs, Blazers and Grizzlies. In the loss to Phoenix, Eric Bledsoe had 19 points and 7 assists while Goran Dragic had 28 points and 13 assists. In their most recent win over New Orleans, Jrue Holiday had 30 points and 10 assists on 22 shots.

It was laughably easy for top PG’s to score on Dallas, which is kind of a problem if you expect to make any noise in a conference that features Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Damian Lillard and Mike Conley.

3) They could have made a much smaller trade

Most people around the team expected them to do something. Dirk isn’t getting any younger and the team is really good - if they are only one or two pieces away, there’s no reason to not at least give it a shot. Given how valuable future first-round picks have become, their 2015 pick could have been flipped into something good, even without including Brandan Wright. Here are a few names that have been bandied about as possible trade targets for the Mavs - George Hill, Iman Shumpert, Gerald Henderson, Wilson Chandler. All good players, all of whom could improve the team with their perimeter defense. None of whom would have disrupted the offensive flow on this team as much as a guy like Rondo.

4) The domino effect is what makes this trade so hard to predict

Rondo is an alpha male, ball dominant PG. Adding him to the mix changes the offensive roles of everyone on the team, particularly on the perimeter.

- Monta Ellis: In his first year and a half in Dallas, Monta has always been the dominant partner in the backcourt. Whether it’s Jose Calderon, Devin Harris or Jameer Nelson, the ball naturally gravitated into Monta’s hands and the Mavs other guard spent most of his time spotting up and playing off of Monta. Rondo has a gravitational pull all his own - watching these two ball-dominant, non-shooting guards attempt to co-exist should be one of the most fascinating sub-plots of the Mavs' season. It seems likely that Carlisle will stagger their playing time so that both get to dominate the ball and run pick-and-pops with Dirk.

- Chandler Parsons: He was just starting to get comfortable with his role in Dallas when the trade went down. Parsons has struggled at times playing off the ball next to Monta and Dirk and he hasn’t been a very consistent outside shooter. As a result, when his shot isn’t falling, he has had a hard time impacting the game. Parsons is probably best when he’s attacking the rim and creating shots for others, but that’s not going to be an easy sell given the number of quality players around him. If anything, Parsons needs to get his catch-and-shoot game going, since Monta and Rondo aren’t going to be the ones doing that. Ironically enough, he’s likely to be shuttled back into the secondary role he was trying to avoid when he left Houston.

- Devin Harris: No one is going to see his minutes impacted more than Harris, who was the Mavs' main option at the PG position, even if he wasn’t starting. He was having a career shooting year and he had developed a great rapport with Wright in the two-man game. It seems like he will serve as the bridge between Rondo and Monta, but with both those guys expecting to play a lot of minutes, there just might not be as much time for Devin as there was before. That goes double for JJ Barea.

When you look at the Mavs' perimeter rotation as a whole, what stands out to you are that they would all rather play with the ball in their hands - Rondo, Monta, Parsons, Harris and Barea. There are not a lot of guys in that group who have made a career out of spotting up off the ball. Dirk makes this more manageable, but the No. 1 thing to watch when it comes to integrating Rondo into the mix is whether other teams are able to shrink the floor against Dallas.

5) Monta vs. Rondo

As I mentioned earlier, the biggest flash point on this roster is whether these two will be able to co-exist. Rondo worked with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, but those guys were excellent three-point shooters. Monta, meanwhile, couldn’t even co-exist with Steph Curry. It’s a concern, even if it’s one that neither will have any interest in addressing over the course of the season. If the Mavs struggle at all over the next few months, expect a lot of focus on their relationship.

What adds fuel to the fire is that both players could potentially be free agents this summer. Rondo is an unrestricted free agent (although presumably he gave Mark Cuban some assurances about re-signing in Dallas before the trade was finalized) while Monta has a player option on a deal that’s only paying him $8 million a season, a little over half of what Parsons makes. Monta has said that money is no longer the primary motivator for him in terms of his career, so maybe he doesn’t opt out and this whole story becomes a non-issue. Money usually talks the loudest, though, so we will see.

If it does come down to Monta vs. Rondo, the biggest argument for keeping Rondo is that it should be easier to build a team around him. I went into this in much more detail earlier in the summer. The holes in Monta’s game - inability to shoot 3’s, run point or play defense - make it almost impossible to find an ideal backcourt partner. If you keep Rondo, you can sign a more conventional 3-and-D SG like Shumpert in the off-season and have a far more balanced line-up than almost any combination involving Monta.

6) The Jason Kidd Model

Seven years ago, Jason Kidd came to Dallas in much the same situation as Rondo. Kidd was an All-Star PG whose star had faded as his team had decayed around him. When he arrived, he didn’t appear to make a ton of sense with either coach or the personnel on hand. Within a year, they had fired Avery Johnson and started shuffling players around Kidd and Dirk. The commonality is the Mavs seeing an undervalued building block, grabbing him at a low price and figuring out the rest later.

The biggest change for Kidd between his time in Dallas and New Jersey is that he became a great three-point shooter. Kidd is the archetypal example of the elite player who finds his outside shot and extends his career another decade. You should never expect a player to add something to his game that late into his career, but if any player can do it, it’s an All-NBA PG with Hall of Fame talent and a great feel for the game. Kidd even credited Dirk with helping him become a better three-point shooter.

Even if Rondo’s outside shot never comes, the idea of adding an elite floor general with the size to control the game had to appeal to Cuban. He saw first-hand the effect the presence of Kidd had not only on the game but on the entire culture of the Mavs organization. Dallas has been looking for a player to replace all the different things that Kidd brought to the table since the day he left. Rondo is about the closest thing you are going to find to that in the modern NBA. Those are two PG’s who could think the game at an extremely high level.

7) Gambling on Rondo

Two and a half years ago, Rondo had 44 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists in an ECF game against LeBron and Wade. In the time since, he has seen two of his mentors traded away for draft picks 5+ years into the future, torn his ACL, become part of a rebuilding projecting which includes a college coach and seen his name involved in an endless number of trade rumors. It would be understandable if he was not playing the best basketball of his life in that stretch. He’s still only 28, so the hope is that the old version of Rondo is still there.

Rondo seems like a textbook case of a guy who could use a change of scenery. The first time you get traded in the NBA is a scales falling from the eyes experience, no matter how much it makes sense on an intellectual level. After getting really comfortable in Boston, Rondo is going to be pushed out of his comfort zone and thrown into the fire of a playoff race. If anything can rejuvenate him, this experience should be it. If not, they didn’t acquire all that much for him and they can part ways in the off-season.

If you think of a PG like a race-car driver, Rondo is a guy who walked into the sport and was given a superior engine from Day 1. He didn’t have to struggle with inferior cars in the early part of his career - he was playing next to three future Hall of Famers. It was only in the last few years that he got to experience what life is like for the other half of the NBA, the one that you don’t see on national TV all that often. Now he’s right back in the drivers seat of an elite team and he’s playing for a chance to make max money in the off-season.

Rondo has been sitting on the sidelines for two seasons and the Mavs are giving him the keys to a brand new Cadillac. Whatever happens, it should be really fun to watch.

Antawn Jamison & The Floater Game

With training camp over and a new season underway, the odds are not good for any unsigned free agent trying to get back into the NBA. That goes double for a 37-year-old like Antawn Jamison, who played in only 22 games for the Los Angeles Clippers last season, posting career-low numbers across the board and looking like a player on his last legs after his minutes went from 33.1 per game in 11-12 with the Cleveland Cavaliers to 12-13 in 21.5 with the Los Angeles Lakers. Let’s not reduce his career to whether or not he was a Hall of Famer - either way, the guy was a monster.

For all Jamison has done in the NBA, he might be remembered best for his time at North Carolina, where he and Vince Carter combined to form one of the most explosive duos in college history. In an era where guys didn’t go pro as soon as they possibly could, Carter and Jamison led the Tar Heels to consecutive Final Fours before declaring for the 1998 draft. They wound up being taken at No. 4 and No. 5 overall, with their rights exchanged on draft night.

Jamison was the bigger star in college, winning the Wooden and Naismith Awards as a junior, but Vince was the one seemingly destined for NBA stardom. At 6’6 210 with a 40’ vertical, he was cut out of central casting for a star SG. Jamison, on the other hand, was a bit of a tweener - at 6’9 235, people wondered if he would be a SF or a PF in the NBA, while his reliance on flip shots and one-handed runners earned him an unflattering rep as a finesse player.

When projecting college players to the next level, scouts look for comparable NBA players, established guys with roughly similar games and skill-sets. With Jamison, there was really no one to compare him too - he wasn’t a post scorer, he wasn’t a three-point shooter, he wasn’t a slasher who played above the rim. He was the master of the in-between game, a guy who could get a shot off from any release point and score without dominating the ball.

After an up-and-down rookie season cut in half by the lockout, Jamison came into his own in his second season with the Golden State Warriors, averaging 19 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists a game on 47% shooting. What really put him on the map was a pair of 50-point games in back-to-back nights in December of that season, something only four other players in NBA history have done since 1964 - Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Bernard King and Allen Iverson.

By his third season, Jamison had established himself as one of the best scorers in the league, averaging 25 points per game on 45% shooting. Unfortunately, there was never much talent around him in Golden State, as they were perennially one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, yet they continued to spend lottery picks on more perimeter scorers. Jamison’s five years with the Warriors came in the middle of a 12-year playoff drought for the Warriors.

To be sure, he wasn’t helping out too much on the defensive end of the floor, a criticism that followed him throughout his NBA career. That’s where being a “tweener” really hurt him, as he was neither quick enough to stay in front of the best SF’s or big enough to match up with the best PF’s in the post. To get the most out of his talents, Jamison needed to be surrounded by defensive-minded players, which never really happened in Golden State.

He was traded to the Dallas Mavericks at the age of 27, where he became part of one of the more bizarre teams in recent NBA memory. Those Mavs featured five different players who could get 20 on a given night - Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Antoine Walker and Jamison - none of whom could play much defense. Jamison became the odd man out, forced to go the bench and play as a sixth man, almost never having plays called for him in Dallas.

With so many other guys dominating the ball, Jamison had to change his game, scoring on off-ball cuts, put-backs and run-outs. It didn’t matter, as he was the definition of a guy who could roll out of bed and get buckets - he averaged 15 points on 54% shooting and won Sixth Man of the Year. If he got the ball, it was going up. He could score in the blink of an eye, appearing out of nowhere and throwing up a shot before the defense even noticed.

The five 20-point scorer experiment in Dallas only lasted one season, as Don Nelson began to take a smaller role in the organization and the team decided to become more balanced. Jamison was traded to the Washington Wizards, where he became a two-time All-Star and had his best years in the NBA. Along with Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, he was part of a Big Three that made four straight playoff appearances in the latter half of the 2000’s.

While they only made the second round once, it was still quite an accomplishment considering the recent history of the franchise. In the previous 16 seasons, the Wizards had made the playoffs one time. That, in many ways, was the story of Jamison’s career - apart from his one season in Dallas, he was always on underachieving franchises and being asked to carry teams that didn’t play a lick of defense, which wasn’t the best use of his skill-set.

Jamison was instant offense, the rare player who could be effective in almost any context regardless of his usage rating or his teammates. His per-100 possession numbers over the course of his career were remarkably similar - it didn’t matter whether he was a primary option on a bad team (Golden State), a 6th man on a great one (Dallas) or a secondary option on a good one (Washington). He was a pure scorer and those guys are usually not 6’9. 

Instead of being surrounded by other score-first players, Jamison would have been better off on a team full of defensive-minded guys, particularly upfront. He could have carried the load for two or three guys on offense - it would have been interesting to see what he could do as the primary option on a team like Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers. Better yet, he would have been an ideal complement to Iverson, since he could score without needing the ball.

Jamison only got to spend half a season on a contender, when he was picked up by the Cleveland Cavaliers at the deadline in 2010. He put up 16 points a game on 49% shooting for a team that would win 61 games, but they collapsed in the second round against the Boston Celtics. When LeBron James left town that summer, it was over. By the time he got the chance to hook up with another good team, Jamison was a 36-year-old near the end of his rope.

Maybe the most remarkable part of his career was his durability - he hardly ever got hurt despite playing huge minutes every season and putting up 20 points a game for well over a decade. He is one of the top 50 scorers in NBA history, averaging 18.5 points a game on 45% shooting for 17 seasons, which comes out to 20,042 career points, 43rd all-time. Guys like Jamison don’t come around very often and you almost never see college players with his game.

Fittingly enough, just as he is leaving the NBA, the closest guy to him in the last 17 years is entering the league. At 6’8 230, TJ Warren doesn’t shoot 3’s, post up or play above the rim. All he does is get buckets - he averaged 12 points a game on 62% shooting as a freshman at NC State and 25 points a game on 53% shooting as a sophomore. However, despite his prodigious numbers, his unorthodox game caused him to fall to the Phoenix Suns at No. 14.

Like Jamison, Warren is a master of the running floater. There’s no way to guard a 6’8 guy who only needs a sliver of space to get a shot off within 15 feet of the basket. Either you play off him and he scores or you crowd him, he blows past you and he scores. Help-side doesn’t do much good either, as he gets the shot off so quickly that he freezes the shot-blocker. The question is whether Warren can make those shots at the same rate as Jamison in the NBA.

Jamison’s career was built around making terrible shots every night for 15 years. There are not many guys out there who can consistently make running 12-footers over two defenders. He was an athletic 6’9 guy with a high basketball IQ who knows how to put the ball in the basket - a guy like that can be a really good player for a really long time. Jamison made $142 million dollars in 17 seasons in the NBA. He must have been pretty good at basketball.

Mavericks Regained Contender Status With Nostalgic Summer

The Dallas Mavericks enter the new season with a revamped roster and high expectations. Out went key veterans Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, and Jose Calderon along with several other prominent role players. The Mavericks were able to bring back the heart and soul of their 2011 NBA Championship in Tyson Chandler. Budding all-star Chandler Parsons and Al-Farouq Aminu were bought in to bolster the void left by Marion and Carter, and several serviceable starting point guards in Ray Felton and Jameer Nelson have come in to form an interesting trio with Devin Harris. The newcomers to Dallas adds another dimensional similar to what the Spurs have done in San Antonio – depth from top to bottom of the roster.

Ranked 22nd last season at 105.9 in defensive efficiency, the acquisition of Chandler will surely help improve that side of the floor for the Mavericks.

In his lone season with Dallas in 2011, Chandler helped the Mavericks to a 103.9 defensive rating when he was on the court, and a 107.7 defensive rating when he was on the bench.

Chandler’s three-year exodus with the New York Knicks did net Chandler a Defensive Player award, but he was only able to play in 74 percent of the games due to injury. The decision to let Chandler leave in free agency was as much about the Mavericks’ confidence in him staying healthy as it was in pursuing upcoming superstar free agents such as Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

As he was in 2011, Chandler will be playing for his next contract, and the teams’ success will heavily depend on how healthy he can stay through the course of the season.

Having finished second in offensive efficiency in the NBA at 109.0, some have questioned the move to sign Parsons to an above market contract of $46 million for three years to bolster an already effective offense. Parsons shot 41 percent on catch and shoot threes last season, which will help mitigate the trade of Calderon.

Parsons will also see minutes as a stretch four and bolsters the three and four positions left by Marion with a true shooting percentage of 57.4. Moreover, over the course of his career, Parsons improved his percentages when he goes to the rim. Within 3-10 feet, Parsons has progressively improved his percentage of 32.9 in his rookie year to 42 last season. In mid-ranged shots from 10-16 feet, Parsons came into the league shooting at 21.7 percent, but improved to a 42.9 clip last season.

This is important since Rick Carlisle’s offense calls for more mid-range shots, compared with Kevin McHale’s system of layups or threes.

The most underrated move this summer by the Mavericks is the signing of Al-Farouq Aminu, who was the eighth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Outside of his offensive deficiencies, Aminu brings a scrappy defensive presence on the perimeter that they desperately lacked in previous years. His defensive impact should lessen the burden on Parsons and the other swingmen on the perimeter.

The trio of Felton, Nelson and Harris will give Rick Carlisle the opportunity to mix and match throughout the long and grueling season. All three former starting point guards are similar in this aspect: they are most effective when they stay within the 20-25 minute range. All three guards have a checkered injury past, so it will be key to see how Carlisle maximizes the potential efficiency at the point guard position.

From his days in Orlando with Dwight Howard, Nelson has experience in running the pick and roll – Dallas most used and effective play in their offense. Over his time in Orlando, Nelson has learned to change his game from an applicable floor spacer to an effective passing guard – career high assist rate of 35.1 last season. Pairing with Monta Ellis, Nelson figures to start and finish games this season for Dallas, while Felton and Harris should provide an instant spark off the bench when healthy.

After a forgettable two-year stretch subsequently following their unexpected 2011 title run, Dallas finished last season at 49-33. With Nowitzki’s generous paycut – $25 million for three years – that allows for roster flexibility, Dallas should see a rise in wins (about 55) and a deep run in the playoffs. Combined with the dilemma of keeping everyone happy in their potent offense and the daunting task to keep the roster as healthy as possible come April, the potential of the Mavericks is at its highest since they were champions.

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