Hornets Rival Report: Mavericks and Rockets

Published: September 15, 2009

The rosters for most teams are complete at this point, which finally allows me to do what a whole mess of our readers asked us to do during the survey we had a month ago:  An in-depth evaluation of the teams of the Western Conference.  I’ll start with the Hornet’s own division, the Southwest,  which is probably the player movement capital of the NBA, and today, I’ll hit the Mavericks and Rockets.

Dallas Mavericks

Subtractions: Brandon Bass, Antoine Wright, Jerry Stackhouse, Devean George
Additions: Shawn Marion, Nathan Jawai, Tim Thomas, Quinton Ross, Rodrigue Beaubois(rookie), Drew Gooden
Re-signings: Jason Kidd, James Singleton
Pace: 93.9(16th)
Offensive Efficiency: 108.1(5th) 
Defensive Efficiency: 105.3(17th)

Though there was a lot of movement in Dallas this off-season, the majority of the moves were what I like to call “impact neutral”.  Re-signing Kidd and Singleton won’t improve the team any.  Tim Thomas hasn’t been an impact player in the NBA for 6 years, and Ross and Beaubois will probably see as many minutes as I do.  Really, the Mavericks hope for improvement come from two moves:  losing Antoine Wright and replacing Brandon Bass with Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden. 

In my opinion, losing Wright is by far the most significant of the two changes.  By any measure, Wright was a very unproductive player in the 24 minutes a game he averaged.  The reasoning given for his minutes was that he was a defensive stopper, but the reality is that what little he stopped didn’t make up for what he didn’t do.  As a small forward, he posted a terrible PER of 9.0, and as a shooting guard, he posted a 10.7.  Opposing small forwards generated an 18.0 PER, and shooting guards posted a 16.3.  Even if you want to call that “stopping” someone, it’s still a heavy net loss.  Having anyone get those minutes, whether it’s Terry, Marion, Howard or Tim Thomas, you can’t help but have some improvement.  Unless, of course, Rick Carlisle decides to play Wright-clone Quinton Ross those 24 minutes . . . which he might . . . .

The arrival of Shawn Marion was much more heralded than the loss of Antoine Wright, but I’m not sure it should have been.  Marion has had his production decline every year for three years now, and at 31, I doubt that decline will suddenly halt.  While every advanced statistic still rates him as a productive player, he only barely edges out Brandon Bass, the player he replaced, making it hard to see Marion’s addition as a net plus.  When you also take into account that Brandon Bass gave good minutes backing up the weak center position behind Erick Dampier and that Marion can’t play center, it becomes even more difficult to like the exchange.  The Mavericks, however, recognized that and brought in Drew Gooden to backup Dampier.  Gooden is one great enigma’s of the league, posting solid stats but repeatedly being sent packing by both bottom feeders and winners as soon as possible.  Combined, Marion and Gooden should be an upgrade over Bass, allowing the Mavericks some flexibility and a better backup at the small forward – but I’m having a hard time convincing myself of that.

Now sure, there is some talk about running Nowitzki at center with Marion at power forward, but still I don’t think that is an improvement.  Last year, the Mavericks won by simply out-shooting their opponent, with their most potent lineup being Kidd-Terry-Howard-Nowitzki-Bass.  I’m not sure Marion is a better fit than Bass in that quintet.  Bass was the perfect high-energy garbage man and defender in that lineup.  Marion hasn’t been accused of being high-energy or happy with being a garbage man since 2002-2003.

In the end, I think its also inevitable that one of the Mavericks over 30 players (Nowitzki, Dampier, Marion(my nominee), Kidd, Terry) will decline, so even with replacing Wright with someone productive, I doubt the Mavs will improve by more than a game or two in the standings.

Houston Rockets

Subtractions: Yao Ming(injury), Ron Artest, Von Wafer, Mutombo
Additions: David Andersen, Trevor Ariza, Chase Budinger, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Jermaine Taylor, James White
Re-signings: none
Pace: 92.7(19th)
Offensive Efficiency: 105.4(16th) 
Defensive Efficiency: 101.4(5th)

The Rockets lost Yao Ming to injury in the playoffs – and the resulting surgery will most likely keep him out for the entire upcoming season.  Tracy McGrady, lost early last year to knee surgery, will probably miss a couple months at the start of the season as he rehabs.  Over the off-season, they let Ron Artest walk, completing the loss of their top three scorers from 2008-2009.

As a result, most pundits have dismissed the Rockets.  When I first heard about it, I told people the Rockets would be less explosive than Mentos in Coke.  Of course, this video makes that a lame analogy, but it’s still witty . . . right?

Anyways, while I’m not convinced dumping Artest in favor of Ariza is bad thing, since Artest has the basketball IQ of an iguana, the loss of Yao and Mutombo is going to hurt.  The Rockets were the mirror of the Mavericks last year, posting a 5th ranked defense and a middling offense.  While Yao’s loss will impact the Rockets offense, it may be a wash as the Rockets also replace Von Wafer’s and Artest’s weak shot selection with the efficient offense generated by Luis Scola, Aaron Brooks and Trevor Ariza.

Defensively, however, I think the Rockets will suffer.  While Yao and Mutombo may be lumbering, Scola, Battier and Artest were skilled at playing up on their opponents and forcing them into taking shots over the waiting arms of the two giant Rockets.  Though I expect center David Andersen to arrive from overseas and be surprisingly solid, neither he, nor Pops Mensah-Bonsu, nor anyone else the Rockets play at center will be able to provide the same sort of interior backstop as Yao.  So while no team with Battier and Scola will be a bad defensive team, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rockets defense slip and end up ranked somewhere in the low teens.

In the end, I think the Rockets will continue to be tough and scrappy.  I expect them to be a better than .500 team, finishing around 46 wins or so.  I also expect I’ll be in the minority on this one.

What do you think?

Next up, Memphis and San Antonio.

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