The Mavericks have been dealing all year -- despite a dangerously low number of assists

The Dallas Mavericks won 60 games this season, swept their first round playoff opponent and are giving the defending champion Spurs all they can handle in the second round. Thatís why itís so startling to see their low assist totals.

The Mavericks finished ninth in the NBA in scoring, and yet 29th in assists. Last year, Dallas finished third in the league in scoring, but 26th in assists. Soon, an assist by a Maverick will be as rare as an empty seat in the American Airlines Center.

Dallas assists per game:

  • 2004 season: 23.9
  • 2005 season: 19.6
  • 2006 season: 18.0
  • First nine playoff games: 15.0
  • Conf. Semi vs. Spurs: 12.4

    In the first game of the Western Conference Semifinals against San Antonio, the Mavs had only eight assists on their 32 field goals. Only three times in playoff history has a team recorded fewer than seven assists in a game. The Celtics had five assists in a playoff game in 1960. The Pistons had five in a 1974 game. The Bulls had six in a 1968 game. Those games were played in an era where fewer assists were awarded.

    NBA averages:

  • 1965: Assist awarded on 49 percent of all field goals
  • 1975: Assist awarded on 57 percent of all field goals
  • 1985: Assist awarded on 60 percent of all field goals
  • 1995: Assist awarded on 62 percent of all field goals
  • 2006: Assist awarded on 58 percent of all field goals

    In the fourth game against the Spurs, which the Mavericks took in overtime to go up 3-1, Dallas had assists on only two of their 13 field goals after the third quarter. After five games, the Mavericks were averaging only 12.4 assists per game (recording an assist on 62 of their 184 field goals, only a third of the time). In their two losses, they have averaged just 10 assists per game! How low is this five-game total?

    If the series had ended in five games (and the Mavericks came within two points of ending the series on Wednesday), Dallas would have set a new postseason record for fewest assists in a five-game series. The 1999 Knicks had only 64 assists against the Heat. Of course, the Knicks averaged only 83 points in that series. The Mavericks are averaging over 104 points per game against the Spurs.

    The Mavericks attempt to explain their lack of assists by pointing out that they usually have five shooters on the court. Not everyone buys this explanation, though. In the second half of Game 5 against San Antonio, only two Mavericks assisted on field goals. Dirk Nowitzki had second-half passes that led directly to a Josh Howard layup, a Devin Harris layup, and a Harris jumper. Jason Terry -- who is suspended for Game 6 -- had passes that led to a pair of Nowitzki field goals and a Harris jumper. That was it. Have any of the great teams in NBA history had fewer assists than Avery Johnsonís crew?

    I looked at the top 18 teams in NBA history. The only other team that assisted on less than half of their field goals was the 1965 Boston Celtics. That team -- considered by Bill Russell to be the best of his 11 title teams -- had 1,772 assists for their 3,567 field goals.

    Look at all the great teams in the last 40 years. All but three of them had at least 2,000 assists (24.3 per game). And those teams were the 2000 Lakers (1,921 assists, which accounted for 61 percent of their field goals), the 2001 Lakers (1,888 assists, which accounted for 61 percent of their field goals) and the 1999 Spurs (1,101 assists in a 50-game season, which accounted for 63 percent of their field goals).

    Now letís take a look at how the 2006 Mavericks stack up with a few other championship teams. First, the 1986 Boston Celtics. That Celtics squad ranked eighth in the NBA in points and second in assists; this year's Mavs -- as previously pointed out -- rank ninth and 29th, respectively, in points and assists.

    Now, hereís what I find so interesting. Itís not like the 1986 Celtics had a great point guard. They didnít even have a single player in the top 10 in the league in assists. Their point guard didnít even lead them in dimes. Larry Bird, at forward, led the team with 557 assists (6.8 per game). Their frontcourt players (Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Bill Walton) totaled over 1,000 assists that season (12.7 per game). Walton averaged over two per game in less than 20 minutes per night.

    Now look at the Dallas forwards. Nowitzki piled up a less-than-impressive 226 assists (2.8 per game). In the first five games of the San Antonio series, the MVP candidate had exactly 11 assists. The other forward, Josh Howard, had four assists in five games.

    In 1986, the other members of the Celtics jokingly called McHale ďThe Black Hole,Ē because once the ball was thrown into him, it never came back. But McHale was Steve Nash-like next to these Mavericks forwards.

    Moving along, the 1996 Bulls won a record 72 games. The 1997, they won 69 games. In those two seasons combined, forward Dennis Rodman averaged 2.77 assists per game on teams that averaged 104 points per game. Just a decade later, Dirk Nowitzki averaged roughly the same number of assists as Rodman, who touched the ball a fraction of what Rodman used to.

    Even two of the teams without great assist totals, the 2000 Lakers (67-15) and the 2001 Lakers (56-26, 15-1 in postseason), had high assist totals from their big man. Shaquille OíNeal averaged 3.74 and 3.78 assists per game in those two championship seasons.

    Jason Terry led the Mavericks in 2005-06 with 306 assists in his 80 games. Thatís only 3.8 per game -- or a fraction more than Shaq had a few years ago. Terry, in his second season with the Mavericks, had 123 fewer assists than he did a year ago, dropping from 5.4 to 3.8 assists per game.

    The Mavericks never won a championship with point guards like Derek Harper, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash roaming the backcourt. Maybe this will be the first team that can win a championship without needing an assist.