NBA Media Day 2007-2008 is upon us and in Dallas that means the spin begins on yet another long regular season. Last season around media day, Avery Johnson unveiled the internal slogan "Finish" to signify the team's focus on finishing what they started the previous year. Given how the following season ended, that mantra has been an oft-quoted gag line for radio hosts and online writers looking to poke some fun at the Mavericks troubles.
As the media day recaps start appearing and as the first week of training camp gets under way, we should soon learn if there is a new slogan in place for the Mavericks in 2007-2008 to trump the failed "Finish" campaign. Fans could choose to joke about alternatives like "Really Finish" or we could do something that may surprise a lot of Dallas Mavericks fans: listen to ESPN's John Hollinger.
John Hollinger you say? Why?
Basketball junkies may recall that in the 2006-2007 season, Hollinger unveiled a controversial statistical power ranking formula to compete with his ESPN cohort Mark Stein's opinion based power ranking system. A key source of the controversy was that Hollinger's system ranked the Spurs ahead of both Dallas and Phoenix despite considerably better records by both teams. Hollinger was derided by many fans and consistently provoked Internet chatter which certainly overjoyed the suits at ESPN.
But the crux of Hollinger's defense was consistent throughout the year. His system placed more value on the margin of victory than on the number of victories or the current winning streak. This attribute pushed the Spurs to the top and the Suns above the Mavericks despite their records being in the inverse order. Dallas fans, in particular, took umbrage to a ranking system that appeared biased against the Mavericks style of play.
But alas, in the end Hollinger was right and the Spurs won the championship. A strong argument could be made that he was not right because of his statistical reasoning, but the 2007 championship is a moot point now. So what about the 2008 championship?
The word from Avery Johnson and Donnie Nelson during the summer has been a little tough to consume. Perhaps the Mavericks need to ease off a little bit during the regular season. But "Coast" and "Cruise Control" don't seem like slogans Johnson will embrace or voice. "Championship" would have a nice ring to it (no pun intended). Avery could get behind that slogan and it would be a stronger version of the previous season's mantra. But then, isn't that just re-hashing last season's failed promise?
"Finish" wasn't good enough. "Championship" or some similar derivative would just sound hollow. Winning regular season games wasn't enough but you can't build a season around "Wait Until the Playoffs".
And yet, during a recent interview Avery Johnson suggested that he expected certain players to be twenty percent better this season than last. Which lead pundits to scoff that a 67-win team can't be 20% better during the regular season.
However, what if there is something to John Hollinger's power ranking logic? Margin of Victory.
Don't just win 67 games, or 60 games or 70 games or 56 games. Don't just finish a game. Don't just find a way to grind out a victory at the end.
Dominate the offensive side of the ball. Dominate the defensive side of the ball. Dominate the score. Dominate the boards. Dominate the free-throws. Walk onto the court knowing you are the best team and that by half-time this game is going to be over and your opponent will have given up before the third quarter even starts. Dominate.
And then let Hollinger and all of the Mavericks critics chew on that.
Dallas Mavericks 2007-2008: "Dominate"
Do that, the everyone will respect the Mavericks. Because, right now, even their best fans are lacking faith.