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2005 NBA Playoffs Scores Schedule Teams Stats History

Mutually beneficial (cont.)

Posted: Friday May 13, 2005 3:19PM; Updated: Friday May 13, 2005 3:54PM

By Dan T. Rosenbaum, 82games.com, Special to SI.com

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Dallas' defensive improvement is primarily attributable to the addition of a true center in Erick Dampier, who was 3.9 points per 40 minutes more effective than the average NBA player (as measured by adjusted plus/minus ratings, which calculate how a team performs when given player is on the floor accounting for who is sharing the floor with him). Dampier's addition looks even better when you consider he replaced Antoine Walker, who was a dreadful -6.3 points per 40 minutes less effective than the average NBA player in '03-04.

Similarly, Terry has been slightly more effective for Dallas this season than Nash was the previous season.

Mavericks' Adjusted Plus/Minus Ratings
Pos. 2003-04 2004-05
PG S. Nash (+1.6) J. Terry (+4.2)
SG M. Finley (+0.8) M. Finley (+0.0)
SF J. Howard (+2.5) J. Howard (+3.2)
PF D. Nowitzki (+5.3) D. Nowitzki (+4.9)
C A. Walker (-6.3) E. Dampier (+3.9)
Bench A. Jamison (+1.0) J. Stackhouse (+1.5)
Bench M. Daniels (-4.3) M. Daniels (-2.0)
Adjusted plus/minus ratings are given in parentheses. Adjusted plus/minus ratings measure how many points per 40 minutes a given player is better (or worse) than the average NBA player.

This shouldn't detract from what Nash has done for the Suns this season, but Phoenix's 61-win campaign was equally fueled by Marion's ability to play power forward, and play it effectively. In a recent interview with another sports Web site, Suns coach Mike D'Antoni pointed out that "Marion plays so much bigger than his size (6-foot-7) that he allows [Stoudemire] to operate as a center, which creates space for all the shooters, which allows Nash to have the whole floor to himself."

Good shooters at the power forward or center positions are undervalued. They open up the floor for their teammates and make it difficult for opposing teams to double team or play effective help defense. Playing Marion at power forward has made it much more difficult for Suns opponents to double team Stoudemire than when Stoudemire was sharing the floor with a non-shooting center such as Jake Voskuhl. In essence, the addition of Nash along with Marion at power forward has turned a turnover-prone, susceptible-to-the-double-team Stoudemire into an almost unguardable Shaq-like presence.

According to GM Bryan Colangelo, "Nash is clearly the MVP of the league and our team, but [it is] correct to point out the invaluable yet quiet contribution that [Marion] has made. He is selfless and incredibly productive and the only one of his kind in the game."

What is most telling about the contributions of Nash and Marion is that it has allowed Phoenix to utilize a system that best suits their players' talents.

Suns' Adjusted Plus/Minus Ratings
Pos. 2003-04 2004-05
PG L. Barbosa (-4.0) S. Nash (+7.6)
SG J. Johnson (-0.8) J. Johnson (+2.6)
SF S. Marion (+4.7) Q. Richardson (+4.1)
PF A. Stoudemire (-2.1) S. Marion (+8.5)
C J. Voskuhl (-1.0) A. Stoudemire (+1.9)
Bench C. Jacobsen (-2.2) J. Jackson (-1.4)
Bench H. Eisley (-7.3) S. Hunter (-2.8)
Adjusted plus/minus ratings are given in parentheses. Adjusted plus/minus ratings measure how many points per 40 minutes a given player is better (or worse) than the average NBA player.

The Suns' transformation also tells us a lot about what teams need to do to beat them. Marion and Stoudemire are so important to their success that it is critical for Dallas to relentlessly attack the basket like they did in game 2, forcing Marion and Stoudemire to foul or give up easy baskets.

The loss of Joe Johnson to a broken bone near his left eye hurts Phoenix in two ways. Not only is Johnson missing, but it will increase the minutes Barbosa plays. And when Barbosa is on the floor, Dallas can effectively double team.

The Mavs are unlikely to get 46 points on 80 percent shooting from Finley and Dampier (as they did in Game 2) on a regular basis, so they will have to spread the wealth. But with every player in their top seven able to attack the basket, they can pressure the Suns' big guys.

One final point to consider while watching the Suns' running show. Colangelo did not sign Nash and Richardson with the idea that Richardson necessarily would start. But, according to Colangelo, "after watching several weeks of informal workouts, [D'Antoni] decided that he would try an unconventional lineup and put the best athletes/basketball players on the floor. Bottom line is that we put out five players that all run and attack at all times."

So rather than fit the players into the standard one-size-fits-all puzzle, the Suns found the puzzle that fit their players. Such "out of the box" thinking has propelled the Suns into championship contention.

Ironically, last summer my own statistics on the Suns were begging me to peek outside the box, but I arrogantly told Colangelo that "I [was] pretty skeptical that the deals [he] just signed with Nash and Richardson [were] a good idea."

I was pretty badly wrong, and I suppose that is why Colangelo and D'Antoni are paid the big bucks, and I am not.

Dan T. Rosenbaum is an assistant professor of economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is widely cited for his expertise on NBA statistics, as well as NBA luxury tax and collective bargaining agreement issues.