With the NBA Finals in full swing, the Mavericks are watching two familiar foes -- the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat -- battle it out for the chance to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Both teams have key components that established them as championship contenders. Let's point out those components and how the Mavericks can learn from them.
There is an advanced statistic know as the “offensive rating” that measures a team's points scored per 100 possessions. Both Miami and San Antonio ranked in the top 10 during the regular season. Miami ranked first with an offensive rating of 110.3, while San Antonio ranked seventh at 105.9.
It makes sense that the two teams are proficient on the offensive end of the floor, but what exactly are they doing to be so effective?
The three biggest ways Miami and San Antonio capitalize on offense: Spacing, ball movement and masking. All three require a high level of basketball IQ.
Both Miami and San Antonio ensure they have at least one or two guys on the floor who change the geometry of the floor with their ability to hit a 3-point shot. The threat of that forces opposing defenses to stretch themselves. That space creates an easy decision for the player driving to the lane, forcing the defense to collapse on them, and gives the ability to kick out to an open man.
Neither Miami nor San Antonio has one player on their roster that would be considered a ball stopper -- someone who gets the ball and doesn’t immediately do something with it, whether it’s dribbling, passing or shooting. The ball will always move faster than a player, so proper ball movement can eventually break an opposing defense down. Both of the teams in the Finals do a tremendous job of sharing the basketball and trusting everyone who is on the floor to do the right thing with the basketball.
Masking is a form of deception and misdirection. Deception is necessary now as advanced scouting allows teams to know specifics sets that will be operated against them. The masking forces the opposing defenses to believe a designed set is coming, only to reveal a hidden layer within the set. By the time the defense realizes the actual play, it’s too late. The deception is usually triggered by a player driving to the rim and having someone set a screen for a shooter on the weak side of the floor. As the driver gets to the rim, sucking in the defense, he dishes out the ball to the open man on the other side.
In regards to spacing, the Mavericks acquired Peja Stojakovic during the championship run after he was released from the Toronto Raptors because of his reputation for being one of the premiere perimeter shooters to ever play the game. At the time, Dallas was desperate to find a weak-side shooter to keep opposing teams honest and space the floor when Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry were on the floor together.
The Mavs’ ball movement during the 2011 title run was second to none. Nowitzki set the table for the ball movement with his unselfish plays either in the low, mid or high post. Since Rick Carlisle has been the head coach, the team has prided itself on crisp ball movement. The championship run was no different.
Finally, the Mavericks' deception was transparent, but still extremely effective. They clearly wanted to get the ball to Nowitzki. By making Nowitzki the screener, they were able to create space for him. Whether it was Jason Terry, Jason Kidd or J.J. Barea, they all waited to see how the defense would react to Nowitzki’s pick and pop motion. To keep defenses honest, the misdirection would come when Nowitzki would set screens for someone other than the ball handler. With the defense so focused on him, another teammate on the weak side would set a secondary screen for the last remaining player on the floor to where they could finish at the rim or along the baseline.
The spacing, ball movement and masking all work together. It’s worked to this point for the Heat and the Spurs. It certainly worked for the Mavs in 2011. With cap space, Dallas will need to reload with those three facets in mind.
Bryan Gutierrez currently covers the Dallas Mavericks for The Two Man Game, an ESPN affiliate blog on the TrueHoop Network. Gutierrez, who has covered the Mavs since 2010, studied journalism and psychology at Texas Tech University.