DALLAS — Boosted by a veteran-laden roster, the Dallas Mavericks made a strong push to close the regular season while returning the franchise back to the playoffs.
Leaning on their experience, the Mavericks finished strong while ending the 82-game campaign with a 49-33 record. The Mavs’ veteran core then pushed the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to the brink of elimination before falling in seven games of their first-round series. However, with veteran leaders Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter all set to enter free agency on July 1, the Mavericks may go into next season needing more from their younger contributors.
“Our younger guys we’re excited about,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle simply said while turning the page on the 2013-14 season.
Led by second-year standout Jae Crowder, 23, the Mavs got a glimpse into what the future may hold for the team’s 26-and-under supporting cast. Despite seeing his scoring production take a slight dip from Year 1 to Year 2, Crowder began to show that he’s capable of developing into a mold of Marion as a two-way player.
Often giving Marion a breather and defending the other team’s best perimeter player, Crowder also upped his shooting percentage from 38.4 percent as a rookie to 43.9 percent this season. The 34th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft also improved his free-throw shooting from 64.4 percent to 75.4 percent, in addition to starting eight of his 78 outings. But it may have been his back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder early in the season that may have given the Mavs’ front office a reason to be encouraged, after Crowder followed up a career-high 18-point outing on Nov. 5 with 17 points the following night.
Meanwhile, Crowder’s development may have kept newcomer Wayne Ellington off the court for stretches this season.
Joining fellow new addition DeJuan Blair and big man Brandan Wright as the team’s young veterans on the verge of hitting their prime, Ellington came to the Mavs after splitting his time with Memphis and Cleveland last season. He then hoped to pick up where he left off at when he finished the final 38 games of the ’12-13 season with the Cavaliers, starting 17 outings while averaging 10.4 points on 43.9 percent shooting from the field and 37.1 percent from 3-point range.
But Ellington would quickly find himself in a crowded rotation in Dallas, despite connecting on a career-best 42.4 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Still, even after playing a career-low 45 games this season, the fifth-year sharpshooter left a good impression on Carlisle.
The same could be said for rookie first-rounder Shane Larkin.
After fracturing his right ankle in the last practice before the Mavs’ summer-league squad headed to Las Vegas, Larkin would be sidelined while rehabbing during training camp. The cat-quick guard then made up for lost time in his long-awaited season debut during the Mavericks’ 97-94 win over Philadelphia on Nov. 18, filling up the stat sheet with three points, three assists and three steals in his nine minutes of work off the bench.
The 21-year-old Larkin then showcased just how much he figures to help the Mavs in future seasons when he scored a season-high 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting and dished out five assists in 27 minutes of action during Dallas’ 110-107 win at Phoenix on Jan. 17. But he, like Ellington, would soon be shoved to the end of the bench as the Mavs made their playoff push, giving Carlisle encouragement as the former Miami standout gets set to lead this year’s summer squad.
“You know, I think Crowder is going to keep getting better,” Carlisle said while praising his young contributors. “I really like Ellington, even though he didn’t get a chance to play much this year. And Larkin showed that he’s a guy that can be a factor in this league as a point guard. So, you know, we’ll look at everything and keep working with these guys. … You’ve got to have a system where younger guys are getting better.”