Bedgear Training Camp Practice Report: Justin Anderson

Mavs F Justin Anderson weighs in on tomorrow's preseason opener against New Orleans.

Justin Anderson played at a heavier weight last season than his teammate Dwight Powell. That fact might seem a little strange at face value, given Anderson played shooting guard and small forward for the Mavs, while Powell spent most of his time at power forward.

But that is no more.

Anderson, entering his second NBA season, has trimmed his weight about 10 pounds, down to 228, while the third-year man Powell has put on 15 pounds to get up to 245.

It’s an effort by both to be prepared for whatever Rick Carlisle has in mind for them this season, and that’s about as specific a plan as they have right now. Mavs training camp, presented by bedgear, only began on Tuesday and they’ve yet to play a preseason game, so while the coach might have an initial rotation in mind, as we’ve learned from watching the Mavericks over the years, everything is subject to change once the games begin.

“Coach is a guru at what he does,” Anderson said, “so he’ll figure out the best way to fit the pieces to the puzzle.”

The key to trimming and gaining weight, of course, is doing so while not compromising a player’s greatest strengths. Anderson’s physicality around the rim was one of the stronger elements of his game during his rookie season, and that’s an asset the Mavs won’t want him to lose, no matter which position he’s playing. A more slender Powell, meanwhile, was quite quick for a player his size in his first two seasons in Dallas. But both players have said they like where they’re at physically despite the changes, with Powell describing the weight he’s gained as “useful” (i.e. muscle, not fat).

“Versatility” has been a big buzzword around this team so far. Anderson, Powell, and prized free agent acquisition Harrison Barnes are all capable of defending two or even three positions, while Wesley Matthews showed similar capabilities in his first campaign with the Mavericks. Deron Williams can defend either guard position, as can Devin Harris.

This is a team built to switch on defense and force matchup issues on offense. In combination with walking mismatch and No. 6 all-time scorer Dirk Nowitzki, a bevy of combo players at Carlisle’s disposal could create new options offensively that Dallas hasn’t been able to explore in the past.

The small-ball revolution has completely taken over the NBA, which leads many to believe that Barnes will spend much of his playing time at power forward, particularly when Nowitzki is off the floor. That leaves room for the slimmed-down Anderson to slide in the rotation next to Barnes and Matthews, giving the Mavericks a trio of long, tenacious defenders on the outside, each capable of defending multiple positions.

“We’re all perimeter defenders, but we can all guard 4s, and even 5s in some cases as well,” Anderson said. “We’re pretty versatile. As far as guarding, it’ll help us with switching. It’ll help us with the communication level, because you know how passionate Wes is, how loud I am, and how smart HB is. We have so many different elements that are gonna come together.”

While Anderson and Matthews didn’t spend a huge amount of time playing together last season (just 214 minutes, according to NBA Stats, and most of those came out of necessity once Chandler Parsons went down due to injury) the belief is Anderson has progressed his game enough to earn a consistent rotation spot this season. That’s even more true if the Mavericks commit to the slow-down, grind-it-out style they used in the final nine games of last season. Anderson was very valuable during that stretch, acting as a shooter on offense and a supporting rim protector defensively.

Sliding Barnes to power forward creates all sorts of lineup possibilities for the Mavericks. Andrew Bogut, Salah Mejri, Powell, or even Dirk Nowitzki could play center next to Barnes, each big man providing different options on offense. And, depending on which point guard plays, each unit could do totally different things. We could see lightning-quick pace, slow-down basketball, and everything else in between.

Bedgear Training Camp Practice Report: Dwight Powell

Mavs F Dwight Powell weighs in on tomorrow's preseason game against the Pelicans.

But the more Barnes plays power forward, the fewer minutes remain to be had at that position for Powell, Quincy Acy, and others on the roster. That means Powell could potentially slide up to the center spot against some opponents, especially those who play small, hence the weight gain.

Should Powell see much time at center — just 29 percent of his minutes came at that spot last season, per Basketball-Reference.com — he’d conceivably be a dangerous lob threat in the spread pick-and-roll game the Mavs’ second unit has run for several years. While he might lack the size of many NBA centers, his plan is to make up for it with athleticism and explosiveness, which could cause defenses serious problems.

“The speed of the game will obviously pick up, so I get a chance to run and get out and get ahead of the defense,” Powell said. “I can use my speed to set on-catch, quicker ball screens, and in those situations I’ll be rolling. It’s fun to get lobs and be that guy down the middle.”

His role, however, hasn’t been completely defined yet, and it’s safe to suspect it will remain a fluid situation as the season wears on. Carlisle is never one to stick with a plan for the plan’s sake, and that flexibility has led to some zany-seeming lineups over the years which have actually worked well for the Mavericks. Perhaps Powell will be a full-time center, or maybe he’ll regularly slide in between both the 4 and 5 to play next to Nowitzki, Bogut, Mejri, or someone else.

The message, basically, is for every player to be up for whatever. Wesley Matthews joked at Media Day that the addition of Barnes allows him to finally defend his position, shooting guard, after he guarded all up and down the lineup last season. That’s been a common theme in Dallas throughout Carlisle’s tenure. Players are expected to prepare for any and every role imaginable, because you never quite know what’s going to be expected in a game.

Anderson shed some weight to be ready for his role, while Powell gained some. That’s a start for both. The Mavs have two preseason games in the next three days, so after those we should have a better idea of just how useful that weight will be for them this season.

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