“Discomfort” Key To Mavericks’ Repeat
One of the first things that people who are new to Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle learns is that he is anything but traditional. His analysis of an NBA player don’t begin where it does with many coaches – the player’s height – instead, he envisions possibilities far beyond the obvious.
Just ask Shawn Marion, who played three positions for the Mavs at different times last season. Small forward was his natural position after spending ten years on the wing. He was known as a threat on the fast break, and also knocked down his share of threes. When he got to Dallas, where the half court set accounts for 86.2% of the offense, Carlisle asked Marion to think outside the box . . .well, actually, inside it.
Most specifically, Carlisle asked Marion to look for more of his offense in the low post, playing power forward in addition to his other roles. At times he would have Marion at the four and Dirk Nowitzki at the five, putting more offensive weapons on the court than in other more traditional lineups. Marion was reluctant to make the change initially, but he gave it a shot after Carlisle and his staff showed him a load of statistical projections and gave him some plays to run. Immediate success spawned buy-in from Marion, who wound up scoring 16.9% of his points out of post-ups last season. He also ranked in the 78th percentile league-wide, earning him a “very good” rating overall.
This, in essence, is the key to understanding Rick Carlisle’s coaching method, and it’s why a team that no one picked to win the championship last season is now defending a title.
“The conversation about whether guys are comfortable this or comfortable that . . .we won a championship last year because we were uncomfortable the whole time,” says Carlisle. “Part of my job is to make sure that we have a healthy discomfort every day, knowing that there are things that we are going to have to do extremely well, even better than last year, in order to put ourselves in a position to defend. We have a lot of new pieces and a lot of challenges here, so those are the most important things.”
This season one of the big challenges will be replacing the production that came from Tyson Chandler last season, for which much of the responsibility will fall on newcomer Lamar Odom. Carlisle believes his system is similar enough to the Los Angeles Lakers’ triangle that Odom will have a small learning curve in making the transition to Dallas.
“There are a lot of similarities because both teams are very flow-oriented. Our concepts are different than the triangle concepts, but not that different. I really believe there are a lot of similarities. He’s like Shawn Marion; he’s going to have one of the toughest jobs on our team because he’s going to have to know the perimeter spots, the big positions and he’s also going to need to know the point guard spot because he has the ability to handle the ball. This is more responsibility than I’ve ever had to put on a player’s shoulders, but he’s very capable of doing it and his versatility is going to be one of the real pluses for our team.”
Ultimately, every player on the Mavericks’ roster is going to be asked to play multiple roles, sometimes starting, sometimes coming off the bench, possibly playing every position from point guard to center. Just about the time the fans and media start to think they understand Carlisle’s rotation he will switch it up, throwing another player into a seemingly unfamiliar role. That’s all part of the plan.
“There won’t be any doubt about what people’s roles are,” says Carlisle. “Role definition has been a real positive with our group. It’s not just the definition of roles; it’s the acceptance of roles. You can define roles all you want, but if you have guys that are hesitant or unwilling to accept them then you’re going to have problems. Another defining part of our team last year was how well guys accepted their roles. Shawn Marion, from the beginning of the season, was more than willing to come off the bench and do what he had to do to help the team win. That set an unbelievably great, positive tone for our team. Haywood was the same way. He expected to be the starter and ended up being the back-up and he made the best of it and that became a real strength for us. This year all of those things are the same. We’re going to have some differences with our because of the pieces we’ve added, they’re not the same as the pieces that didn’t come back. We’re going to be learning things on the fly, and that’s one of the things I love about this.”
How well the Mavericks learn on the fly – especially newcomers Odom, Brandan Wright, Delonte West and Vince Carter – will absolutely determine the likelihood that they can repeat as NBA champions. If they can be as comfortable in discomforting positions as last year’s players, Dallas could shock the world again.