MontaBall: 1, Everyone Else: 0
Wednesday against the Hawks, the Mavericks made beautiful offensive music, scoring 118 points in a win. Most of the poetic beauty came from the fingertips of Monta Ellis
, who was (fairly, probably) the subject of all sorts of speculation from Mavericks people and the general basketball world at large. Will he and Dirk Nowitzki find chemistry? Will he become more efficient?
Well, who needs sample size? And who needs stats? Ellis turned it over 7 times, sure, but he finished with 8 assists, too. After just one game in a Mavs uniform, the answer is clear: MontaBall is king.
Seriously, though, Dallas did some clever stuff out of the two-man game. Much was made of Dirk’s motivation level heading into this season, and he looked as ready as ever, so much so that he was being used sort of like a decoy for large chunks of the game.
Before we get to that, let’s take a look at some of the two-man sets Dallas ran with Dirk and Ellis.
This is a pretty standard set anyone who’s been watching Mavs basketball during the last decade would recognize. During their heyday, Dirk and Jason Terry would isolate the right side of the floor and would run screen after screen until one of them found a good look. Terry was especially lethal going off the dribble to his right. Ellis, meanwhile, will shoot anywhere — he’s down for whatever — so the defense has to pay attention to him coming off the Dirk screen/pass. Nowitzki’s aaaaaall by himself once Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap collapse onto Ellis, and Dirk gets an easy look.
Of course, that simple set won’t be effective every time down, but Dallas has wrinkles. Less than a minute later, Dallas ran the identical set, only Ellis faked like he’d take the screen from Dirk, and instead cut away from Nowitzki to the free throw line. Teague abandoned Ellis in an attempt to either jump the passing lane or pressure Dirk, which ended up not working out for Atlanta.
Earlier in the game, Dallas ran a set that, as a defense, would be a nightmare to defend. In this clip, Dirk acts as the ball-handler and Ellis the screener.
My initial thoughts are: “Jeff Teague, what are you doing?!?!?!” Nowitzki isn’t really a threat to drive the ball, and Millsap seemed to be on Dirk’s hip well enough to thwart any type of pull-up jumper off the dribble. Teague was found in no man’s land, and Ellis found an open jumper.
Dirk, himself an underrated passer, finished with 5 assists on the night. One of them came here, off a pick-and-pop action with Jose Calderon.
The defenders trapped Calderon in the corner, which is exactly what Atlanta wanted. But that defense isn’t always as effective against a popping big man as it is against a rolling man, so Calderon is able to find Nowitzki at the 3-point line, who then pump fakes Millsap and rises for a shot, only to pass to Sam Dalembert in mid-air for a dunk. In this action, Al Horford is to blame. He left Dalembert to contest a possible Dirk drive, leaving Dalembert alone under the basket against a sealed-off DeMarre Carroll.
After more than three quarters, Atlanta finally made defending the Dirk jumper its top priority, and that didn’t work out either.
After Vince Carter takes Millsap to the rim in a favorable matchup off the dribble (Kyle Korver had committed to guarding Dirk, remember), Carter finds Shawn Marion alone in the corner. Teague then leaves Calderon alone at the 3-point line to contest a Marion 3 (definitely the wrong decision, as Calderon led the league in 3-point shooting last season). Once Marion swings to Calderon, though, that’s when the Dirk Effect comes into play. It’s Korver’s responsibility to close out on Calderon, but because Dirk was money all night on open jumpers, Korver instead chooses to play the passing lane while Carroll rotates over to Dirk. Basically, the Hawks are giving Calderon an open look in favor of letting Dirk even get his hands on the ball. The savvy Calderon immediately ball fakes Korver to give himself more room before taking the shot. To that point, Calderon had not made a field goal. One could argue Atlanta made the right decision in preferring he shoot rather than Dirk, but those are the types of choices teams will be forced to make against Dallas this season.
The Mavericks’ pick-and-roll stuff with Dirk has never been especially complex, but unlike last year Dallas finally has the pieces that work in the system. Not every shot Ellis put up last night was wise (this jumper with 7 seconds left on the shot clock comes to mind) but for the most part Dallas was able to produce clean looks in favorable locations for its best players. The starting lineup, for example, shot 15-of-21 while on the floor together and was a +20 for the game.
When Dallas signed Ellis to pair up with Dirk, the offensive intent was clear: two-man, two-man, two-man, with a little Calderon and Carter sprinkled in. And after one glorious night, MontaBall is off to a scorching debut.