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Friday, March 12, 2010
Where It's At: Calculators don't watch

By Jeff "Skin" Wade

"Calculators v. Eyeballs" has been a pretty big theme on the "Ben & Skin Show" this past week, and John Hollinger's perceived slight of the Mavericks has certainly been one of the topics in the crosshairs of that ongoing riff. I had a chance to listen to Hollinger's appearance on "Galloway and Company" and it didn't change the way I felt about what he does or my level of respect for him. I think very highly of Hollinger and enjoy reading a lot of his stuff. His power rankings are based on a formula and those numbers are punched in and -- Boom -- there it is.

The problem for this conversation is that evaluating the team today requires you to step away from the machine for a moment. Logic will tell you that you can't just lump together data from before and after a trade that impacted 40 percent of the team's starting lineup. The calculator doesn't account for zero practice time, or not having a center for several games, or Jason Terry's injury, or the fact that before the trade the locker room was like being at a wake. The mood in the room today? Feels like graduation day.

Caron Butler
Those who have been watching would tell you that Caron Butler has brought more to the table than being just a "statistical wash" for Josh Howard.
A calculator will tell you that Josh Howard and Caron Butler are a statistical wash the last several seasons. A modestly perceptive human who has seen this thing up close thinks the notion that those guys are a wash is beyond hilarious. But that's where we are in looking at this team in the big picture. There's not a big enough sample size to really compare these Mavericks to the rest of the league, so you have to go off old-fashioned basketball analysis like the scouts do. I got the feeling from his appearance on Galloway that Hollinger hasn't watched this current version of the Mavs play very much, so how could he really know?

He specifically mentioned the Hawks game, when Dallas beat a higher-ranked team at Atlanta when Butler didn't play. He also mentioned Wednesday's game vs. New Jersey that the Mavs won by nine despite Dirk Nowitzki going 3-16 from the field.

So this is where Hollinger is biased and his foundation becomes shaky. He now is in the position to defend his calculator when it's obvious that the data going into it is flawed. It is personal but not against Dallas, per se. It's his calculator that he has to defend, and it just so happens that Dallas is the team with flawed data. Here are a few examples of that defense. In his PER Diem column, he said he'd take Milwaukee and OKC over the Mavs in seven-game series. He writes:
Dallas won both meetings versus Milwaukee but by the smallest of margins (one in overtime, the other by a single point). Because both contests happened before the Bucks' recent rejuvenation, I'd lean toward Milwaukee in a neutral-site series.


But what of the Mavericks rejuvenation? The Bucks added John Salmons -- a solid, reasonably-priced player, but he'll never sniff an All-Star game. The Mavericks added a two-time All-Star at the same position and also one of the best defensive centers in basketball. But that doesn't factor into his evaluation the way it does for Milwaukee. That's a bad look for him.

About OKC, Hollinger says:
The Thunder also have a lot of length to throw at Dirk Nowitzki defensively and are a tough cover for Dallas' wings with Durant. My theory will be tested on April 3, when the Mavs and Thunder meet again in Dallas.


He fails to note that Kevin Durant's lowest career scoring average is against Dallas and that Durant is averaging 22 against them this year. (His low against any team for this season is 20 ppg against Orlando). Dirk has averaged 30 a night against the Thunder this season. I'd say his theory has already been tested several times, and Dirk fairs better than average against the Thunder while the opposite is true for Durant.

We all have our biases, I'm clearly a huge Mavericks fan and have never made any apologies about it. I don't think the Hollinger dislikes the Mavericks. I just don't think he's seen them play that much. And the poor guy has a city of irate fans throwing rocks at his calculator. He's a proud papa and he's bowing up. I respect that. He's true to his system. But these current Mavericks are existing outside the logical parameters of his system.

And that's Where It's At.