Commentary

Kidd's offense looms as playoff threat

Veteran facilitator answers call to shoot more often and bolsters Mavericks' attack

Updated: April 16, 2010, 5:13 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- The All-Star break is the obvious line of demarcation to differentiate this Jason Kidd from the one who played the previous two years for the Dallas Mavericks and went 1-2 in playoff series.

This Kidd scores.

But why, after two years of career-low scoring, has Kidd suddenly emerged as a threat?

"Conscious effort," Mavs owner Mark Cuban said. "I mean, people were in his ear, and he worked at it. He realized that if he scores, life gets easier for everybody else."

So the coaching staff was in his ear?

"Me, mostly," Cuban said, giving an example: "'Shoot the [expletive] ball!' I wasn't the only one, but …"

So coach Cuban urged Kidd to shoot more, and suddenly the 16-year veteran, one of the game's greatest facilitators, is providing the Mavs with a fifth scorer who averages in double figures. Consistent scoring from the point guard position is the one ingredient Kidd had failed to deliver since his arrival.

Until now.

When Kidd begins his third postseason with the Mavs on Sunday, the San Antonio Spurs will be well aware that Kidd can shoot the 3, hit midrange and spot-up jumpers, and even finish a drive or two. He reminded them in Wednesday's regular-season finale with 18 points in 28 minutes.

"He looks like he did five, six, seven years ago, very honestly, no exaggeration," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who made a strong play to acquire Kidd as a free agent after the 2003 season. "I marvel when I watch him. I wouldn't have thought he could continue to do what he's doing now at this stage of his career."

Kidd has delivered court leadership, coolness under fire, defense and rebounding. But in head-to-head matchups against the Western Conference's top point guards -- Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams -- the Mavs were routinely losing 10, even 20 points a game at the position. "He has identified that, yes, he must be able to knock down shots as well as captain the team for us to be operating on all cylinders," Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. "I think that's why you've seen his scoring up."

Not coincidentally, the Mavs' 55-27 record was bolstered by a 23-7 sprint after the All-Star break that included a 13-game winning streak and a season-best eight consecutive double-digit games by Kidd. During the all-around stellar stretch, he averaged nearly 40 minutes a game.

"I think I have to score," Kidd said. "If I'm able to knock down those shots, it just makes the game so much easier for Dirk [Nowitzki], for Caron [Butler], for Shawn [Marion], if I'm able to knock down a 3 or score 10 points or 12 points. Now we're winning by 10 or 12 instead of grinding it out where [Nowitzki] has to score 40 points."

All-Star surge

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James each made public pleas for their clubs to trade for Kidd before the Mavs did. Perhaps on those teams Kidd's scoring wouldn't be as critical as it is with the Mavs, who have relied so heavily on Nowitzki's high point totals, especially before the big trade that swapped the oft-injured Josh Howard for Butler.

[+] EnlargeJason Kidd
AP Photo/Jim MoneSince the All-Star break, Jason Kidd is averaging 12.1 points a game.
With Butler capable of scoring 20 points a night and adding to Marion's 10 to 14 points, Kidd's double-digit scoring is even more disruptive to opposing defenses. His sudden surge has been nothing short of relentless and remarkable. At the All-Star break, he was averaging 9.3 points a game, and it took a January hot streak just to reach 9.0 points a game and match last season's average, his lowest in a dozen years.

Since the All-Star break, Kidd, who at 37 is the oldest point guard starting in the playoffs, has averaged 12.1 points and his shot attempts are up by more than two a game. Team scoring is up from 101.1 points before the break to 103.3 afterward.

"It's been great for us because it adds to the balance the team has, and when he's aggressive getting the ball to the rim and into the paint other good things happen as a by-product," coach Rick Carlisle said. "It's something that's been very positive for us and we encourage him to stay aggressive."

In the first 52 games leading into the All-Star break, in which Kidd played 51, he scored in double figures 23 times and had seven games of 15 points or more. In the final 30 games, in which he played 29, Kidd posted 21 double-figure games and hit for at least 15 points nine times.

Kidd's former boss in New Jersey thinks the trade heightened Kidd's aggression and urgency.

"He smells the chance to win the championship," said Nets president Rod Thorn, who traded Kidd to Dallas for Devin Harris. "I think Jason senses that … and therefore, there's an urgency, you know, let's go get this."

Still, the obvious question remains: Why did it take two years for Kidd to figure out that the team needed him to score more?

"It's not that he had to figure it out," Cuban said. "It was more giving everybody else a chance, and so then as we realized everybody's role and it became a little bit clearer, I think he just stepped up."

Running the show

The most common denominator is a stripped-down offensive playbook since the big trade that also brought in sure-handed center Brendan Haywood and the defensive-minded DeShawn Stevenson.

When Kidd arrived in February 2008, former coach Avery Johnson's penchant for play calling in an isolation-based offense boxed in Kidd. Carlisle fell into a similar trap of too much play calling early last season before loosening the reigns and allowing Kidd to freelance more within the flow of the game.

And since the trade, Carlisle has virtually scrapped the playbook, and Kidd has thrived.

"When he first got here, he wasn't quite comfortable with everything, with the play calls on both ends of the floor and now I think it's more his show, do whatever you want out there," Nowitzki said. "When we suck a little bit, coach is going to call some plays, but it's your team, run it like you always have your whole career, push the ball, share the ball; if you're open shoot it, run some pick-and-roll. So, you know, it's his show out there."

The challenge in the playoffs is for Kidd and the newly meshed Mavs to score consistently when games grind down into halfcourt battles as they will against the Spurs. Possessions and transition opportunities decrease, putting shot-making at a premium. And that's the area Kidd has taken the most pride in this season. By nailing 3-pointers at better than a 42 percent clip, he's made defenses pay for doubling Nowitzki and leaving him alone.

"In the scouting report that came out when I was drafted that said I can't shoot, it still is there, it's still on everybody's scouting reports," Kidd said.

"So If I'm able to knock down those shots, because I'm going to be wide open just because of the reputation of the past, which I kind of like now because I know I'm going to be open, it just makes the game so much easier for everybody else."

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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