As the Dallas Mavericks compete for one of the most competitive No. 8 seeds in NBA history, they’ve relied heavily on Vince Carter to provide veteran leadership and production to the team’s second lineup.
While he is the team’s sixth man by assignment, coach Rick Carlisle still considers him one of Dallas’ most important players. This is evident by Carter’s defined role in the final minutes of close games.
Carter is averaging nearly seven fourth-quarter minutes per game in 2013-2014, nearly two more minutes than he receives in any other quarter.
While his per game stats of 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists indicate that Carter’s a shell of the All-Star he used to be, it’s misleading to think that Carter is fading. When extended out to 36 minutes, Carter’s 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists show he’s still a versatile contributor.
Moreover, Carter’s playing like he embraces efficiency more than ever:
Over his last 20 games, Carter’s offensive rating has exceeded 110 points per 100 possessions.
This has done wonders for Dallas’ second unit. Reunited with former Nets teammate Devin Harris, the Mavericks’ bench has transformed from a weakness in recent years to a relative strength.
“As a whole, the five-man second unit of Devin Harris, Jae Crowder, Nowitzki, (Brandan) Wright, and Carter is scoring 117.4 points and allowing just 87.8 per 100 possessions this season, both elite marks. The unit’s 29.6 net rating — the difference between points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions — is 5th-best in the NBA since Jan. 18 among lineups with at least 50 minutes played. (Jan. 18 was Harris’s season debut.)” - Per Bobby Karalla of Mavs.com
As you can see, Carter has found his comfort zones on the court. When Carlisle puts Carter alongside Dirk Nowitzki and Jose Calderon in the rotation, Dallas’ perimeter threats open up driving lanes for Monta Ellis.
On to the rankings.
DROPOUTS: Jamal Crawford (5).
FIVE TO WATCH: Alec Burks, G, Utah; Patty Mills, G, San Antonio; J.R. Smith, G, New York; D.J. Augustin, G, Chicago; Nick Young, G, LA Lakers.
Jacob Eisenberg is a student at Emory University, spending the spring semester abroad in Brazil, and covers the NBA for SheridanHoops.com. Check out his website and click here to follow him on Twitter.
After several years of franchise turmoil in Sacramento, Evans’ morale was at an all time low. The former Rookie of the Year had regressed from a prolific star in the making to a streaky enigma on one of the league’s worst teams. Committing near-max money to Evans looked like a gross miscalculation by a New Orleans organization that felt an irrational urgency to become contenders by 2014.
The initial plan was to utilize Evans’ skill sets in much the same way San Antonio uses Manu Ginobili. Evans is well-sized, positionally dynamic and clever with the basketball in his hands. With as many skilled offensive players as the Pelicans have, Evans figured to fill a bunch of tiny holes.
A natural shooting guard out of high school, Evans was talented enough as a freshman at Memphis to learn point guard responsibilities on the fly under John Calipari’s tutelage and lead his team to a second seed in the NCAA Tournament. His court vision is better than his reputation as an inefficient scoring guard would allow you to assume. When he tries to facilitate, he usually does so effectively.
Regardless, the experiment of using Evans as the team’s sixth man was unsuccessful.
Evans, Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon – otherwise known as the most disappointing backcourt trio in the league – logged a staggeringly low 256 minutes together for the entire season before Holiday went down to injury.
The Pelicans’ most star studded lineup – those three guards alongside Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis – actually outscored opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions in the scant 90 minutes they shared the court together this season. Injuries kept the Pelicans from reaching absolute cohesion at full strength.
While injuries were the obvious problem, much of the team’s lack of success became Evans’ burden. The 24-year-old struggled to adapt to a reduced and inconsistent bench role and eventually grew restless.
Evans disclosed to us in early February that he had had virtually no communication with his coach. Sure enough, the rumor mill swirled that week suggesting the Pelicans were ready to give up on the Evans experiment. Whichever team was willing to take on Evans’ contract would have been able to nab him. They found no takers.
Soon afterward, Holiday was ruled out for the season following surgery on his right tibia. Guards Brian Roberts and Eric Gordon then sat a few games apiece to recover from a knee scares.
Coach Monty Williams was left with no choice; he took Evans out of his sixth man role and placed him in the starting lineup. Ever since, the Pelicans have become unrecognizably dominant.
New Orleans is 5-1 with Evans in the lineup. Several of the wins have come over quality opponents such as the Clippers, Heat and Nets. Yes, Anthony Davis is playing at a superstar level. But that has obscured Evans, who is averaging 20.7 points on 54 percent shooting with 5.8 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game over the streak.
To put it simply, Evans has changed his mental approach and it’s making him (and his team) significantly more efficient.
This season, Evans is shooting less than 22 percent from the arc but had taken more than 10 percent of his shots from deep. Since moving into the starting lineup, however, only 5 percent of his shots have come from deep (per NBA.com). In other words, he has cut his bad shots in half despite having more opportunities.
More telling of his better offensive approach, Evans has spiked his season average of 9.1 points in the paint all the way up to 15.0. His fast break points have nearly doubled from 3.2 for the season to 5.8 as well.
With more of a defined role in the offense, Evans has the freedom to control the ball and make decisions previously unavailable to him. He’s driving liberally and starting to resemble the future perennial All-Star he looked set to become in 2010.
While the success Evans has experienced as a primary ballhandler has helped him find a rapport with Anthony Davis (averaging 28.8 points and 14.0 rebounds during the streak), their pairing is still analytically average.
Evans’ insertion to the starting lineup has actually had a much stronger effect on 3-point specialist Anthony Morrow. The two have outscored opponents by 14.9 points per 100 possessions in 72 minutes over the last six games.
Maybe when all of New Orleans’ guards return healthy next season, the less versatile (and more trigger happy) Gordon would be a better fit for the team’s sixth man role.
Evans brings more versatility to the team’s defensively challenged lineup anyway. Switching Gordon for Evans in the lineup seems like a no-brainer going forward. After all, with Evans still only being 24, it’s very possible that he’ll have earned his contract by the time it’s finished.
On to the rankings.
The Knicks have won five straight games and now sit just 3.5 games from the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The fans of Gotham are finally excited about the Knicks for the first time this season. The Bucks come to New York on Saturday, and if the Knicks can pull out an expected victory, they’ll close the gap between them and the Hawks even further.
Right now, ESPN.com has the Knicks’ playoff odds at 15%. With the Knicks having five very winnable games over their next six, I’d spot their chances at about 33% today.
Moreover, on a larger level, with Phil Jackson reportedly close to signing on with the team this week, there’s a sense of relief among the fans that the team may finally have a realistic plan in place to build a roster for the future.
Unfortunately for Knicks fans, the temporary excitement in the Knicks’ hot streak is slightly misguided. As analytic-guru and writer Dean Oliver calculated in his book Basketball on Paper, winning streaks of five or six games are actually quite common in the NBA — even for underachieving teams.
The Knicks are currently 26-40, good for a winning percentage of .394.
As Oliver discovered after extensive research of historical NBA seasons, teams with winning percentages of .400 or better have a 55% chance of winning five games in a row over an 82 game schedule.
Even if the Knicks defeat Milwaukee on Saturday (not a given, considering they dropped their last matchup to Milwaukee in February), a six-game win streak for a mediocre team is still quite common in today’s NBA. According to Oliver, a .400 team has a 27% chance of winning six games in a row over the course of a season. Just last month, the Cavaliers won six games in a row and proceeded to lose seven of their next nine. Winning a string of games is not indicative of a team turning their season around.
Furthermore, out of the teams New York has beaten recently on this little streak, only the Timberwolves own a winning record (32-31). This win streak is more a reflection of the poor competition the Knicks have faced rather than the Knicks having magically figured things out. Head coach Mike Woodson still doesn’t seem to grasp who can (and can’t) play well together:
Really thought Woodson might keep bringing Shumpert off the bench, based on how much he’s played better as a reserve lately.
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) March 10, 2014
Shumpert has shot 47.1% & avg’d 13 pts per 48 minutes w Felton on bench in past 5 gms. Shooting just 16.7% & avg’d 6.3 pts w Felton playing,
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) March 10, 2014
On a more positive note for Knicks fans, one thing they can be happy about is J.R. Smith’s sudden positive turnaround. Over the Knicks’ five game streak, Smith has averaged 16.6 points, 3.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds. As his production’s increased, his efficiency has improved as well. He’s shooting 43% from deep over the streak and hasn’t committed a turnover in four of the team’s five wins.
Considering he has been averaging just 13.3 points and shooting under 40% from the entire field for the season, the Knicks must be relieved to see their longterm investment starting to look adequate again.
On to the rankings…