Cuban ramps up roster, analytics push

By Jeff Caplan,

VIDEO: Mark Cuban talks about the Mavericks’ busy offseason

DALLAS — This has become an annual tradition here this time of year. The Dallas Mavericks combine their open house at the American Airlines Center for prospective season-ticket buyers and invite them to watch — and even participate in — a press conference introducing Team Turnover’s new batch of players.

Each summer since the 2011 championship, the Mavs have moved ’em out and moved ’em in like no other, searching for the right collection of chemistry and salary. A year ago, nine new players sat across a very long stage. On Tuesday, seven new players held up new Mavs jerseys over their chests for pictures — well six because Vince Carter-replacement Richard Jefferson couldn’t make the affair.

Those fans checking out the sight lines gave a hearty cheer to welcome back center Tyson Chandler, and then something very interesting happened. Mavs owner Mark Cuban has always maintained that his decision following the 2011 championship not to re-sign the 7-foot rim protector and spiritual-leader extraordinaire was dictated by the harsher rules of the newly ratified collective bargaining agreement. And, Cuban has always reiterated, he’s never looked back.

However, when a fan asked Chandler to offer a percentage of his chances of re-signing with Dallas next summer when he will again be a free agent, Cuban quickly stepped in: “Let’s just say I learn from my mistakes.”

File that in the FWIW category for next July…

Seated to Chandler’s right was Chandler Parsons, the dashing small forward Cuban pried from shell-shocked Houston with an aggressively detailed offer sheet. To Chandler’s left was Al-Farouq Aminu, the lottery bust who spent the last three seasons with the Pelicans. Then came the big-bodied Greg Smith, the redemptive Raymond Felton and the consummate Jameer Nelson.

“We’re going to be a better team this year,” said coach Rick Carlisle, who is again welcoming the challenge of shaping a re-shaped roster. “We know that by the analytics.”

Analytics. Interesting that Carlisle should go there. Because as much as this day was about selling season tickets, unveiling professional sports’ first crowdsourced uniform designed by a Mavs fan and waxing optimistic over the new crew, Cuban was just as geeked to talk about his ramped-up analytics effort and an organization that has declared statistical warfare on the rest of the league.

In fact, the one area in which Cuban added more personnel than the Mavs’ 15-man roster was the analytics department, a division that multiplied so swiftly following the first-round loss to the Spurs that Cuban says he’s lost count.

“I don’t even know,” Cuban said. “We have all these interns and remote, virtual people. It could be 20 for all I know.”

It was three when the season ended. Longtime analytics guru Roland Beech was granted a promotion and carte blanche to hire as needed. It’s not as if Cuban is new to analytics. He was crunching outlier numbers when most of the league couldn’t even spell analytics. But as he says, it’s now about trying to stay one step ahead of an increasingly intelligent league.

The revamping of the roster was a scientific process. Some moves seem simple enough such as acquiring Chandler to beef up a loose interior defense. Some moves were more scrutinized, such as Cuban making his first free-agent call to Aminu, a player Cuban believes will aid shortcomings in perimeter defense and rebounding in short, strategic bursts.

“In building the team, we want to know what the skills are for each individual and we want to know how they impact the team, and that’s where analytics comes in,” Cuban said. “Like knowing Chandler Parsons is top five in this, how fast he runs on the court, how much effort he puts out, that type of thing. It doesn’t really get into how you price guys, but it makes a difference in how you play the game.

“This is so much more like the stock market than I ever imagined it would because all the old-school owners are gone. All the old guys that hired old-school coaches and GMs that didn’t get into it, they’re not in the game anymore.”

Cuban credits the champion San Antonio Spurs for being out in front of the intelligence curve. While coach Gregg Popovich might seem like a curmudgeon on the outside, he and the organization are on the cutting edge of analyzing the tendencies of the game, the talent of individual athletes and how best to exploit both.

“The concept that San Antonio would beat the Heat because Danny Green and Patty Mills were sprinting up and taking pull-up 3s; that’s what won the championship for them,” Cuban said. “Like when you look at San Antonio, one of the things that was interesting is their guys sprint faster than any other team on fast break. And then when you look at why, it’s because, ‘Basketball 101’ says you protect the basket when you get back in transition defense. Well, if you’re sprinting two guys down to the corner 3, which is the best shot in basketball, you make the defenders make a choice. And then if you practice sprinting into a corner 3 like Patty Mills and Danny Green did, then all of a sudden you have an open 3. And if the guy can hit 40 percent on an open 3, that’s a good shot.

“Whereas you never would have thought Pop would have even considered that in the past. You’ll see us do some things that people will shake their head over, and that’s a good thing because we want to change the game. But I’m not going to tell you until we see if we can do it.”

All summer Cuban has been referencing that the Mavs seek to be a high-IQ, unselfish, movement-oriented basketball team. He said he doesn’t want a single player to average 20 points, and that at times they might be guilty of over-passing. He even suggested that the 7-foot Chandler will be pushed out to the 3-point line.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of things where old-school basketball guys just shake their heads and say, ‘what the hell are we doing?'” Cuban said.

Whatever strategies Carlisle begins to implement when training camp opens Tuesday, each will be heavily backed by analytics.

“The game is changing,” Cuban said. “If you’re going to look for things, look for little nuanced changes into how the game is played this season … To me, that’s going to be the most interesting thing about the NBA: who copies San Antonio with their sprint-up 3s and some of the other nuances to their game.”

VIDEO: Mavericks’ top 10 plays from 2013-14 season


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  2. Kirby Record says:

    Ir wasn’t 3s that beat the Heat; it was Spurs depth and consistency in the middle and solid defense. But Mavs took Spurs to the limit and are better now. EVeryone talks as if the Spurs are already in the Finals but getting there is even tougher than winning it. And there are at least three more teams contending in the West—Mavs, Clips and OKC.

  3. Hunter says:

    Im saving my tip money to buy some finals tickets when the Mavs get in. By that point I will have enough, if they don’t make it then I would have saved a good amount, win win situation. This team can go very far, they are potentially much more talented than the 2011 team. Matrix and Carter being gone has been replaced with young blood. As much as I hate to lose those two it kinda makes sense since there is a possibility that age will finally show for them this year. Having Tyson back is so great and its gonna change the team for the better. GO MAVS FINALS 2015!

  4. en. says:

    Overrated team…dirk is the man in the team….other than dat that’s it….

  5. Defdun says:

    SAS won the c’ship because of pull-up 3s?! I don’t think so Mark!
    TEG said it below: Mavs will again be fighting for the 7th/8th seed this year and with NOP and maybe DEN it will be an even tougher battle… In the West the standings are not essential, as top 5-6 teams are very close and anyone can beat the opponent.

  6. timmied says:

    But u gotta b careful bout the muddy waters cuban!!!!! Dirty Creek that flows through San antonio! Fact is pop trusts the guys that he puts on the floor!!! Didn’t work out 4 us the previous year when the heat had the miracle. ….. but none the least they earned it!!! They prospered. …….trust…….. build ur team cuban….. stop flipping. …. make players believe…. act believe…. that’s championship caliber right there…… pop trains…

  7. lee says:

    The mavs would be good if the had rondo at pg

  8. harriethehawk says:

    The Mavericks and New Orleans are going to bump the Rockets out of the playoffs. Yes, I said it. And you heard it here first. lol

  9. TheKush says:

    I know people praise the Spurs for their management but I have a lot of respect for Mark Cuban and what he’s done with the Mavs. I thought him ripping apart the 2011 Championship team wasn’t a good idea however he’s kept the Mavs competitive and continues to do so and the Mavs could be a sleeper this season.

    • aaa says:

      How wasnt it a good idea? that team would never repeat the nesxt season, their vets wasnt as good either, JT and Kid declined heavily, Tyson were seeking big money and cuban didnt want to lock him up, It was just good buisness not resigning all of those guys.

  10. Tremill says:

    Yeah the mavs have a solid group. Parsons needs to come up big this year. They could land 4/5 if u have okc san and clips top 3. Portland will prob be top 5 in west as well. As usual west is loaded.

    • TEG says:

      not buying Dallas at all. wouldn’t surprise me if they missed the playoffs. they will be fighting like they did last season but again I think they will not be lucky this time. Denver, Phoenix, and New Orleans will be in that mix. Denver seems to be a real underdog, but if they don’t get the injury bug like last season, I would think they might make it back to playoffs.

  11. Max says:

    Cuban knows how to tweak the Media! saying BUT NOT saying what the Mavs have up their sleeve for this next season. Really? More 3 pointers? Using Spurs as an example? Spurs change each game according to what their opposing team offers them.