The Fast Break: Mavs at Jazz

Final: Jazz 97, Mavs 90

Box Score | Highlights

Behind the Box Score

Dirk Nowitzki passed Shawn Bradley (1,250) for most blocks by a Maverick in franchise history. Nowitzki is now the franchise’s leader in *deep breath* games, minutes, 2s, 2 attempts, 3s, 3 attempts, free throws, free throw attempts, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, blocks, turnovers, fouls, points, PER, BPM, win shares, and VORP.

J.J. Barea knocked down his 500th 3-pointer as a member of the Mavericks, becoming the eighth player in franchise history to reach that mark for the franchise. Just ahead of him on that list was Wesley Matthews, who reached 500 just before the All-Star break.

Notebook

  • A lot of crazy things happened in this game, not the least of which was a mysterious cut on Dwight Powell’s arm that seemed to start bleeding half a dozen times throughout the night. The story of the game, at least for the Mavericks, was the run the second unit went on in the first half. The group of J.J. Barea, Yogi Ferrell, Doug McDermott, Dirk Nowitzki, and Powell outscored the Jazz 30-10 during an extended stretch spanning the end of the first quarter and a majority of the second. That group of four without McDermott has been a consistent positive virtually all season long, earlier on playing with Devin Harris as a super-small forward. But they haven’t missed a beat since adding McDermott, putting on one of their finest exhibitions of the season during that run. Without that 30-10 stretch, this game wouldn’t have come down to the final seconds the way it did.

  • Powell has now recorded multiple offensive rebounds in 12 of his last 14 games. He’s been a consistent presence on the offensive boards as he’s received more playing time. The Mavs haven’t been a highly ranked team in offensive rebounding for the last few seasons, but Powell’s efforts, along with Salah “The Mej” Mejri’s glass-crashing ways, have given Dallas a boost in that department. Rebounds mean extra possessions, and that’s always a good thing.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (18-42) will play the Indiana Pacers (34-25) on Monday at American Airlines Center at 7:30 p.m. Central.

  • Mavs will wear ‘Mr. C” patch on jerseys for the rest of the season in honor of Don Carter

    The Mavericks will wear a “Mr. C” jersey patch for the rest of the season in honor of the late Don Carter, the original owner of the Mavericks and one of the most influential figures in this organization’s history.

    Carter passed away last week at the age of 84. He owned the Mavericks from their inception ahead of the 1980-81 season until 1996. Affectionately known by players, coaches, and staff as “Mr. C,” he and his wife Linda Jo were both beloved figures in Dallas. Carter’s iconic white Stetson cowboy hat was even part of the Mavs’ original logo.

    “The entire Mavs family is heartbroken by the loss of Mr. Carter,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said after Carter’s passing. “Along with his wife Mrs. Carter, they have been our guiding lights for the organization since its founding in 1980. To say he will be missed does not do justice to just how important Mr. C has been to the Dallas Mavericks and the City of Dallas. Our condolences go out to Mrs. Carter and the entire Carter family.”

    The Mavericks will honor Carter on Feb. 26 against the Indiana Pacers, the club’s first home game since his passing.

    To hear and read more about Carter’s impact on the organization and his legacy, read Dwain Price’s article with thoughts from former players and staffers as well as Norm Sonju, with whom Carter founded the Mavericks in 1980. In addition, Skin Wade shared his own thoughts and stories from the 1980s on our most recent podcast.

    What will Dennis Smith Jr. show us in the final third of his rookie season?

    The Mavericks finally return from the All-Star break tonight when they take on the Lakers in L.A. It was a long but much-needed layoff for the club for many reasons, not the least of which is the players had some extra time to recover from the sheer number of games, 58, on the schedule ahead of this year’s break.

    Through late-January, Dennis Smith Jr. heard a lot of questions about the notorious “rookie wall,” a term used to describe a drop-off first-year players traditionally experience around that time of year. After all, Smith appeared in only 32 games in his lone college season at NC State; the Mavs played their 32nd game on Dec. 20. Surprisingly, Smith didn’t appear to fall victim at all to that dreadful period of time, aside from a five-game mini-slump early in the month. In fact, by and large Smith has actually gotten stronger as the season has worn on, improving his numbers and efficiency virtually across the board while also playing heavier minutes.

    Tonight, the rookie returns to L.A. — where he spent last weekend playing in the Rising Stars Challenge and competing in the dunk contest — to kick off the final third of his rookie campaign. What can we expect from him down the stretch, when he might receive even more playing time?

    The Streak

    Smith returns to action tonight in the middle of a 22-game streak of scoring in double-figures. It’s the third-longest stretch by any rookie in franchise history. By scoring at least 10 points tonight, he’ll tie Jamal Mashburn for second place at 23 straight games.

    Scoring is obviously not the only stat that matters, but if you’re going to do one thing very well during your first season, scoring the basketball is a nice place to start. Smith’s streak stretches all the way back to Dec. 29, a road game in New Orleans, when he recorded 21 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds and became the third-youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double. That game was his sixth played since returning from a six-game absence due to injury, and it was only the eighth time in his career he played at least 30 minutes in a game. At the time, it seemed pretty obvious that a guy putting up triple-double numbers should play as much as possible that night, but in retrospect that game represented a possible turning point in his rookie season.

    In the 28 games before Dec. 29, Smith held modest averages of 13.4 points and 4.0 assists per game. Those are far from bad numbers for a player who entered the league as a teenager and has to square off against the likes of Chris Paul, John Wall, and Kyrie Irving every night. But in the last 22 contests beginning with the tilt in New Orleans, Smith’s numbers have surged to 16.7 points and 6.0 assists per game and has seen a rise in other per-game and many efficiency stats as well. Below is a breakdown of his numbers before and after that night.

    Games Minutes/gm Points/gm Assists/gm Rebounds/gm FG% 3P%
    Oct.18-Dec. 27 27.6 13.4 4.0 3.9 38.7 30.4
    Dec. 29-Present 31.6 16.7 6.0 3.8 40.2 33.1
    Games FTA/gm TS% eFG% AST% TOV% USG%
    Oct.18-Dec. 27 2.2 45.8 43.7 25.0 15.5 28.4
    Dec. 29-Present 3.6 49.2 46.2 31.8 15.4 28.9

    (For an explanation of true shooting percentage (TS%) or effective field goal percentage (eFG%), scroll to the bottom of our Advanced Stats Glossary!)

    This last 24-game stretch coming out of the break represents the third and final chunk of the season for Smith. Will we see similar increases this time around? An increase in any stat would push him into fairly rare company — he has a chance to become only the 17th player in NBA history to average at least 15 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds as a rookie. Should he extend his double-digit scoring streak and even push his scoring average closer to 17 points per game or more, he could garner serious consideration for All-Rookie First Team honors and set himself up for a terrific sophomore campaign.

    That’s what the homestretch of this season is about, especially for Smith and his fellow young teammates. They want to finish what’s been a difficult season for the team in the standings on a high note heading into a summer that will surely be crammed with workouts and film sessions. Where has he already shown progress, and where might more come?

    Pick-and-roll passing

    Coming out of NC State, it was clear Smith possessed impressive ability in the pick-and-roll. His combination of aggression when going toward the rim and his handles left little doubt that he’d be able to create for himself, and although he didn’t play with as much NBA-caliber talent as many other college stars did, he showed good enough floor vision to make you feel confident it would translate over to the NBA level.

    That has happened quicker and more convincingly than I thought it would, to be honest. Smith is terrific when finding spot-up shooters and cutters with his passes in the pick-and-roll. Per Synergy Sports, Smith’s 270 passes that have led directly to a shot, foul, or turnover out of the P&R have led to 1.122 points per possession for the Mavericks. That mark ranks 24th among 100 players to have made at least 100 such passes. He’s ahead on that list of names such as James Harden, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, and even Chris Paul.

    Smith’s seemingly telepathic connection with Wesley Matthews fuels his passing efficiency. This season, Matthews is shooting 43.8 percent from beyond the arc following a pass from Smith, per NBA Stats. In particular, Smith’s ability to find Matthews in the corner and on the wing, even through traffic, has generated several open 3-pointers.

    Even the greatest offenses can’t rely on basic high pick-and-roll sets to beat good defenses unless you have superior talent. Smith’s combination of game-breaking athleticism and cat-like quickness — and his increasingly effective use of changing speeds — draws defensive attention like a magnet. Opponents are now collapsing before the screen is even set. Smith has been masterful at finding open players despite all this extra pressure, whether they’re dotting the perimeter or cutting toward the basket.

    The one place Smith stands to improve the most is when finding roll men. Per Synergy, his passes to roll men out of P&R actions have produced 1.018 points per possession, which ranks in the 40th percentile league-wide among all players. Much of that simply has to do with the fact that Smith sends a lot of passes to Dirk Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes, who both often spot up in the mid-range far more often than the rim-running big men most guards hook up with in the P&R. (Breaking news: Dunks are easier than 18-foot jumpers.) But with Nerlens Noel’s return looming potentially as early as tonight, plus a recent uptick in role and minutes for Dwight Powell, Smith figures to have more rim-rolling targets the rest of the way. Lately he’s beginning to find more success hunting for lob passes to Powell and Maxi Kleber, too, which is promising.

    If Smith is going to continue to draw such a huge amount of attention (in that Rockets play, for example, the entire defense is watching him at the 3-point line and almost ignoring Powell) it means players like Powell, Kleber, Noel, and Salah Mejri can continue to slip by unnoticed and put themselves in position for dunks. Those guys can all get up, too, which means a game could turn into a highlight reel of dunks at any moment.

    3-point shooting

    The 3-point shot is like social media: Everyone is doing it, so you’re a weirdo if you choose not to. If you’re a point guard, you simply have to be able to knock shots down from long-range, otherwise defenders can constantly sink under screens or sag off you when you’re away from the ball. That’s what makes Smith’s progress so good to see. Of course you don’t want 33.1 percent to be the best mark of his career when some of the best point guard shooters are up near or above 38-39 percent, but he’s not toast by any means if he can’t get above 35 or 36 percent. John Wall, for example, is shooting a career-high 35.8 percent from deep this season, and he’s 27 years old. Russell Westbrook has never shot above 34.3 percent. You can be a great player in this league without a great 3-point shot, but if you can develop a great 3-point shot, you’re gonna be even better.

    It usually takes even the best players a while to develop that shot, anyway — way longer than the length of a rookie season. Some of the very best point guards in the NBA were 20 years old during their rookie campaigns; the 3-point shooting numbers of Mike Conley (33.0 percent), John Wall (29.6), Chris Paul (28.2), and Russell Westbrook (27.1) don’t look terrific in retrospect, but today Conley and Paul are two of the best shooters at that position in the league, while Wall is an All-Star mainstay and Westbrook is polishing off his MVP trophy.

    From a statistical standpoint, Smith is actually a pretty strong spot-up shooter. He’s connected on 38.2 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this season, per NBA Stats, a better mark than Damian Lillard’s (33.1) this season and nearly as good as All-Star Kyle Lowry’s (40.2). That number indicates that when Smith has the chance to get his feet set, he can knock down 3s at a really high level. Shooting off the dribble, however, is another thing entirely. Smith has shot 27.7 percent on the much more difficult pull-up 3s this season. Concepts like shot selection and understanding the balance between scoring and passing as a point guard have certainly contributed to that mark, and those are qualities that can take a long time for even superstars to nail down. But Smith’s high catch-and-shoot accuracy gives you reason to believe that with another couple years of work, he can develop a much more consistent, reliable outside shot off the bounce.

    It’s important to understand that developing a point guard takes a long time, usually years. For the first few months, Smith was learning things ranging from how to pack a bag for a road trip to where Dirk Nowtizki likes to catch the ball at the right elbow after a screen when the defense sags and the corner is empty. You have to start small and grow bigger from there by feeding him concepts at a steady rate. Smith has shown he’s a fast learner, and that’s hopefully going to help him out in this formative years. And depending on who you talk to, smoothing out a jump shot isn’t super high on the priority list. That’s something that will come in time — perhaps this summer, perhaps next summer, or heck, maybe never. You never know with any of this. But for now, Smith is learning the NBA game, learning his teammates’ and his opponents’ tendencies, and learning how to run an offense. The jumper has already shown itself a bit, but it might not make its grand appearance this season.

    Finishing at the rim

    Leaving this point for last is kind of burying the lead, though, as we all know Smith’s game is predicated first and foremost on his ability to break defenses down off the dribble, get into the paint, and look to finish at the rim. He’s got unheard-of vertical explosiveness and some pretty extreme self-confidence, a combination that would have produced some internet-breaking highlights had he been able to finish the dunks in traffic. But as Smith has become more seasoned, he’s begun to understand that while the big guys in this league might not be as athletic as he is, they’re still world-class — and with an extra foot on their wingspan to work with, a 7-footer is a staunch opponent for a point guard to routinely challenge above the rim.

    Sometimes, players can develop in such an obvious linear fashion that it doesn’t make much sense for a dummy with a keyboard like me to try impressing you with my prose. Instead, it’s easier to just show what I’m talking about. Smith’s field goal percentage on shots from within five feet of the rim improved on a monthly basis from October through January, a very impressive feat considering his age.

    Month FG% < 5 feet
    October 46.7
    November 50.0
    December 55.8
    January 56.0
    February 53.6
    SEASON 52.8

    His accuracy has seen a bit of a decrease from January to February, but he still has four games left this month to see if he can boost it back up closer to (or higher than) 56 percent. For reference, Russell Westbrook shot 45.7 percent from within five feet as a rookie, per NBA Stats, and he’s shooting 57.8 percent from that range this season. John Wall, meanwhile, is converting on 58.4 percent of those shots this season, up from 54.3 percent as a rookie. (Why do I keep coming back to this players for comparison? Smith is similar in size and explosiveness to Westbrook, and in my opinion in playing style to Wall, although the Wizards guard has a height advantage.)

    One big storyline following Smith’s game this season is his relative inability to draw consistent whistles when driving to the basket. Whether that’s a skill or simply a case of a rookie needing to earn respect, the fact of the matter is Smith draws fouls when driving to the rim less often than just about any other player who drives at an above-average rate. Heading into the All-Star break, 61 players drove the ball at least seven times per game. Smith ranked 12th among them in drives and 16th in field goal attempts on drives, but just 53rd in free throw rate, attempting one free throw for every five shots he takes. The leaders, including Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden, shoot one free throw for every two field goal attempts.

    As the season has worn on, however, Smith has begun shooting more free throws. Since that pivotal Dec. 29 date, he’s earning nearly one free throw for every four field goal attempts (up from one for every six before Dec. 29), indicating that he’s becoming more effective at drawing fouls.

    No one in the world goes to an NBA game in hopes of watching a free throw shooting contest, but the truth is the best players take a ton of shots from the charity stripe. As Smith continues to establish himself and work on ways to use his body to create contact, he’s going to be able to turn missed shots into free throws, which will not only improve his scoring average and put big men in foul trouble, but it will also improve his efficiency.

    Smith has received a nearly unprecedented level of responsibility for a rookie in this organization. He inherited the starting point guard role at just 19 years old and has played major minutes on a team with older, more experienced players at his position and others, too. Rick Carlisle has brought Smith along quickly but carefully, and Junior has responded to his coaching very well; Carlisle said he’s watched more film with Smith than any other rookie he’s ever coached. That’s steep praise from such a meticulous coach.

    Now that his rookie season has entered the homestretch, it’s going to be important to see him continue his development and show more signs of improvement. He’s already come a long way this season and has certainly met expectations, exceeding them in many areas. But even though it’s now kind of late in the season, his work is not yet finished. On the contrary, it’s really only getting started.

    Statement on passing of original Mavericks owner Don Carter

    DALLAS – The Dallas Mavericks issue the following statement on the passing of its original owner and co-founder Don Carter. Carter was the majority owner from the team’s inception in 1980 through 1996. He currently maintains a minority stake in the team.

    “The entire Mavs family is heartbroken by the loss of Mr. Carter,” said current Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban. “Along with his wife Mrs. Carter, they have been our guiding lights for the organization since its founding in 1980.

    “To say he will be missed does not do justice to just how important Mr. C has been to the Dallas Mavericks and the City of Dallas. Our condolences go out to Mrs. Carter and the entire Carter family.”

    The Mavericks will honor Carter with a moment of silence during the February 26 game vs. the Indiana Pacers and special tribute at the second time-out of the first quarter.

    The Fast Break: Mavs at Lakers

    Final: Lakers 124, Mavs 102

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    Dennis Smith Jr. extended his streak of consecutive games scoring in double-figures to 23 games, which ties Jamal Mashburn for second place on the list of longest such runs by a rookie in franchise history. Jay Vincent has a comfortable lead in first place at 65 straight games, meaning it’s impossible for Smith to catch him. However, should he score 10+ points tomorrow night at Utah, Smith will be all alone in second place.

    In the first half, Dirk Nowitzki passed former Mavs great Jason Kidd (50,110) for fourth place on the all-time regular season minutes played list. By season’s end, he has a good chance to pass Kevin Garnett for third place on that list. It’s been amazing watching him continue to climb on so many lists.

    Notebook

  • Wesley Matthews was blistering to begin the third quarter, hitting four 3-pointers in the first two minutes to cut into the Lakers’ sizable 22-point halftime lead. Dallas hit 19 treys as a team, which ties for the second-most the team has ever made in a game. The franchise record is 22, set earlier this season in New Orleans. Despite their hot shooting, however, the Mavs weren’t able to generate enough stops on defense to get back into the game and recover from the Lakers’ big first quarter. L.A. led by 15 after the opening frame, and that proved to be too steep a hill for the Mavericks to climb, though they did make things pretty interesting in the third quarter and beginning of the fourth. Hopefully the shooting and second-half energy will carry over to tomorrow night’s jam session with the Jazz.

  • Dennis Smith Jr. scored a modest 13 points in this game, but he made this superhuman play look pretty easy.

    Smith added five points and four rebounds. His outside shot wasn’t falling tonight, which is going to happen from time to time for every young player. The Lakers in particular have done a good job all season of switching longer players onto him who then use their length to try keeping Smith out of the paint. Not many teams have as many switchable wings as the young Lakers do, so that’s been an interesting strategy to see play itself out in these last three meetings. They play again in L.A. on March 28, so we’ll see how Smith manages the next time around. Still, he was able to create some good opportunities for himself and his teammates. As he continues to see new looks from his opponents, it’s going to be fun to watch him grow and adjust to the league as the league continues to do the same for him.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (18-40) will play the Utah Jazz (30-39) on Saturday at Vivint Smart Home Arena at 8 p.m. Central.

  • Dwight Powell is proving himself as a starter

    By almost every metric imaginable, Dwight Powell is playing the best basketball of his career right now.

    Dwight Powell’s shot chart since Nov. 18 is really good. (Click for full-size image.)
    Four of his seven highest-scoring games as a pro have come in his last five appearances. He’s coming off an 18-point, 12-rebound performance against Clint Capela and the Houston Rockets, has pulled down at least 10 rebounds three times in the last two weeks, and has become the most efficient roll man in the NBA. Of the 61 NBA players with at least 75 possessions as the latter half of the pick-and-roll, Powell leads the pack in scoring efficiency at an absurd 1.358 points per possession. The only other player in the league above even 1.300 is Capela, who has the luxury of catching passes from James Harden and Chris Paul, two of the most feared ball-handlers of this generation.

    “I’m just trying to be in the right place at the right time, and guys are making plays for me,” Powell said. “They’re putting me in high-percentage situations, and I’m catching the ball and finishing.”

    That might make you think this season has been smooth sailing, that Powell’s progression is another case of a young player developing in a natural, linear way. Then again, all of Powell’s five starts this season (and half his career starts) have come in the last two weeks. He’s adjusted his playing style — or the coaches have changed up his role — a couple different times this season, sliding from stretch-4 to rim-running 5. He’s averaging a career-high 19.6 minutes per game, but he only recently surpassed the 3,500-minute milestone for his career. (By comparison, Harrison Barnes has already played more than 4,700 since joining the Mavericks last season.) This might make you wonder why Powell, currently in his fourth season as a pro, either is nearing his ceiling or must be flawed in some way for it to have taken so long to find his niche. He’s only 26, but in this day and age when teenage phenoms burst on the scene every fall, is 26 even young anymore?

    It’s possible that all of those worries are true, although it’s unlikely. Zooming out, Powell is on an outstanding five-game run, is having a strong season, and has progressed each season since coming to the NBA. He’s barely even played two seasons’ worth of minutes, despite his age — and I can assure you that 26 is still young. You’d be hard-pressed to find many non-All-Stars who can establish an elite skill so early in their career, even though Powell is older than many fourth-year guys due to sticking around at Stanford through his senior year. (There are many worse places to spend four years than at that institution.) He’s statistically a gifted rim-runner. You want to earn more minutes? Show you can do something better than anyone else. Below is a chart comparing Powell’s pick-and-roll efficiency with some of the biggest names in the top-10 in the league. The entire list is here.

    Player Roll Man Possessions Roll Man Points/Poss
    Dwight Powell 106 1.358
    Clint Capela 214 1.332
    Blake Griffin 104 1.250
    DeAndre Jordan 94 1.234
    Steven Adams 168 1.214

    Powell’s recent workload has of course been tied heavily to the Mavericks’ performance in the standings. Rick Carlisle said over the weekend that he’s going to begin rolling back minutes for the more established veterans, particularly late in games, with Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki chief among them. That leaves a huge number of minutes available, and many thus far have gone to Powell. This is his chance to prove his value not only as a player but as a financial investment; he has two more years remaining on his deal following the 2017-18 season, and at 26 years old you can’t blame the Mavericks for wanting to see just what their young big man could be capable of when given more responsibility in terms of role and workload. In particular, to Carlisle, that means seeing him start games and play huge minutes as opposed to his typical 16-20 minutes at the office.

    “There are times when you play guys off the bench, and there can be an assumption that at a certain point it’s gonna be diminishing returns,” Carlisle said. “But with guys like Dwight, you’ve got to find out what the starting role is gonna yield.”

    For Powell, starting games means going up against better competition and also playing with some not-as-familiar faces. Since coming to Dallas in the 2014-15 season, Powell has not known a second unit without Devin Harris; he’s caught a heck of a lot of lobs from J.J. Barea, too. But in the last couple weeks, he’s been playing more with Dennis Smith Jr. and Yogi Ferrell, and although Ferrell is a restricted free agent this summer, it seems likely that both of those guys could be around here for a while. One common thread connecting the starting lineup and the bench throughout this period of change is Dirk Nowitzki, who splits his time almost evenly between the first and second units. Powell is a menacing lob threat when playing in a wide-open floor, and the Mavericks’ pristine floor spacing always places Powell in as much space as possible. Dallas added Doug McDermott into the fold at the trade deadline, and his 3-point shooting figures to unlock even more room inside the arc.

    The final third of this season is going to be a bit experimental, to say the least. Powell’s presence in the starting lineup — and the Mavs fielding a young, nine-man rotation on Sunday night in Houston, for example — tells you as much. But the tinkering doesn’t just end with the starting lineup. Carlisle said he wants to see McDermott play some power forward down the stretch, which will involve soaking up some minutes from Nowitzki and his old Ames High teammate Barnes. But McBuckets won’t be the only Maverick playing more 4. Powell will, too.

    “That’s something that’s gotta be looked at in some way, shape, or form at some point,” Carlisle said.

    That might come as a bit of an eyebrow-raising revelation to some, given Powell’s inarguable success as a roll man this season. He’s shooting better than 77 percent in the restricted area since Nov. 18, which was the day that not so coincidentally involved a change in the starting lineup and Powell’s return to playing center exclusively. His development as a lob target has certainly been a triumph for Mike Procopio and the Mavs’ player development staff. But someone’s got to play power forward minutes, and with Nerlens Noel’s return looming and two-way rookie Johnathan Motley figuring to receive more looks at center, too, Powell will have a chance to show what he’s got.

    “I’ve been preparing for that situation for a long time, and I’m going to continue to prepare for it,” he said. “When the time comes, I’m gonna try to execute it to the best of my ability and help us win.”

    Powell has attempted only 16 above-the-break 3s in nearly three months, but at some point between now and the end of the season he’s going to assume the role of power forward once again, when he’ll presumably have more chances to shoot the long-ball. I would assert to those who would find this curious that he’s going to shoot more from deep, but he’s not going to magically lose his ability to catch lob passes. By now, the Mavericks have seen enough evidence to know that Powell is fully capable in that department. The rest of this season is about continuing to help him blossom in other areas. If he can develop a consistent 3-pointer, it would make him one of the few players in this league who can excel as both a floor-spacing and lob-catching big

    His on-floor workload has resembled that of a rim-running 5, but he’s still been putting in work in the gym to develop that outside game all along. We’ve seen the fruits of his labor on a small scale — he’s 11 of 17 on mid-range jumpers and 4 of 8 on corner 3s since Nov. 18, hinting that he’s getting more comfortable from range, albeit on a small sample size — which has got to make him feel pretty good. The work hasn’t stopped because he always knew this day was going to come.

    “Twenty to 30 percent of the things I work on every single day, I don’t necessarily do in the game that follows the workout,” Powell told us earlier this season on the Numbers on the Boards podcast. At the time, Skin and I didn’t know that our conversation with him was coming at a moment when his game was making a shift. At the time, he’d only recently returned to his rim-running ways. We thought it might be a phase; we didn’t know he was going to shoot almost 67 percent for the next 40 games.

    Powell is not only a realist, but he buys in to coaching. His IQ and willingness to embrace learning have helped him understand that he’s got to remain flexible as the Mavericks go through this phase of rebuilding with youth. He’s shown he can fill one role at a very high level, but he’d be an exponentially more valuable player if he can prove he can fill others, too. He doesn’t view constantly moving back and forth between 5 and 4, then back to 5, as being jerked around or over-coached. He accepts it as a necessary step in his development. And he’s put in enough work behind the scenes to feel confident that he’ll be ready when the chance comes to show that ability.

    “As time goes on and things change, or we’re playing against different matchup or different opponents, or rotations change, those things that may need to be done in a different way, or the skillset that I need to bring to the game, it’s been a part of the routine since Day One,” Powell told us way back then. “So it’s not as if I’m changing anything. It’s just those things are constantly being worked on, but they may just be on the shelf for now.”

    In retrospect that entire quote seems like an eerie bit of foreshadowing. It’s almost like they knew this was going to happen the whole time. Maybe they did, or maybe Powell is just a flexible dude. After seeing the level he’s played at these last couple weeks, it’s going to be very interesting to see what he’s going to be able to do with more playing time down the stretch. The opportunity will certainly be there, and Powell is going to be ready to take advantage, no matter which role he’s asked to fill.

    The Fast Break: Mavs at Rockets

    Final: Rockets 104, Mavs 97

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    Dennis Smith Jr. extended his streak of consecutive games scoring in double-figures to 21 games, and he’s now all alone in third place on the list of longest such runs by a rookie in franchise history. Next up is Jamal Mashburn at 23 games.

    Yogi Ferrell put up some gaudy numbers in this opportunity at expanded minutes and a spot in the starting lineup, a common trend tonight. He finished with 20 points — his third-most in a game all season — and a season-high three steals. Ferrell knocked down a game-high-tying four 3-pointers in eight attempts. When you hit the most 3s in a game against the Rockets, you know you had it going.

    Notebook

  • Dennis Smith Jr. handed out a career-high 11 assists in this game. Smith played a very sharp floor game tonight, which isn’t always easy to do against a roster well-stocked on the wing like the one Houston has. The Rockets can switch everything to put length on point guards and long, active arms in passing lanes, but Smith was able to make a lot happen regardless. Three of his 11 dimes came via lob passes, which seems to be a new trick he’s showing off more of lately.

    Smith has now handed out at least five assists in 12 of his last 13 games, after having done so in just 15 of his first 36 games as a pro. Assists aren’t the be-all, end-all stat when measuring a point guard’s ability to run an offense, but it’s still good to see the rookie establish some consistency in that regard. His all-around passing game is improving, but he’s getting much better at providing the finishing touch to a possession.

  • With no Dirk Nowitzki, Wesley Matthews, J.J. Barea, or Salah Mejri due to injury, the Mavs were down to just nine active players tonight. The starting lineup included the familiar faces of Smith, Yogi Ferrell, and Harrison Barnes, but also some less-experienced starters in Dwight Powell and Doug McDermott, who were starting for just the 10th and 11th time in their careers, respectively. That left Kyle Collinsworth, Jalen Jones, Maxi Kleber, and Johnathan Motley available off the bench on the second night of a back-to-back against the team with the second-best record in the NBA. Those guys put in a heck of an effort to keep this game as close as it was throughout. It was nice to see so many players take advantage of the opportunity. Among them were Dwight Powell, who finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds (and has scored 17+ points in four of his last five games now) and Ferrell, who we mentioned earlier. But Jalen Jones scored eight points and pulled down 10 rebounds in 22 minutes, and Kyle Collinsworth stuffed the stat sheet with six points, eight boards, five assists, two blocks, and a steal in 31 minutes. Rick Carlisle said on Saturday night that the younger players are going to get more opportunities to play throughout the rest of the season, and tonight was an example of several of those guys putting this time to good use and proving they can play at a high level against a team that has a good shot at making a deep playoff run.

  • Collinsworth also did this, which was awesome.


    What’s Next

    The Mavs (18-39) will play the Sacramento Kings (17-37) on Tuesday at American Airlines Center at 7:30 p.m. Central.

  • The Fast Break: Mavs vs. Lakers

    Final: Mavs 130, Lakers 123

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    Dennis Smith Jr. extended his streak of double-digit scoring games to 20 tonight, which ties Mavs great Mark Aguirre for the third-longest run by a rookie in franchise history. Next up on the list is Jamal Mashburn, who did so in 23 straight games during the 1993-94 campaign.

    Dirk Nowitzki scored a season-high 22 points tonight, including his first dunk of the season. (!!!!)

    Dwight Powell has now scored at least 17 points in three of his last four games.

    This was the fourth regulation game this season when both the Mavs and their opponent scored 120+ points. The last time that even happened three times in a season for Dallas was 1989-90. The Mavs’ 130 points were the most they’ve scored in a regulation game since April 1, 2015, at Oklahoma City.

    Notebook

  • Dennis Smith Jr. kept his double-digit scoring streak alive, but tonight he took on much more of a facilitating role than we’re used to seeing. Lately he’s really worked to create shots for himself, but in this game he made it a point to move the ball. It resulted in a couple nice finds, including a rare lob.

    Soon after that, Smith passed to his German teammate with a little more pizzazz.

    It’s always difficult for a point guard to find the balance between hunting for shots and seeking out teammates, Smith is eventually going to find that balance. Some nights he’s going to do both at a high level. Some nights he might do one more than the other. It’s all part of the growing process for the 20-year-old rookie.

  • Harrison Barnes went through a long stretch in January when he wasn’t getting to the free throw line as often as he would’ve liked — during that 12-game span, he averaged only 2.2 free throw attempts per game. But tonight he got to the line seven times, tying for his most attempts in a game since all the way back on Nov. 29. Barnes got off to a strong start from deep and in the mid-range, and from then on was in attack mode, seeking out driving lanes whenever possible against overzealous closeouts.

  • Doug McDermott made his Mavs debut in this game, and he made some really nice plays considering this was his first time on the floor with his new teammates. His first points, for example, came on a fast break dunk. Later on, he attacked a hard closeout and threw down a dunk.

    Once the Lakers saw that, it was clear that they wouldn’t give him the red-carpet treatment the next time he wanted to get to the rim. So, when that happened, McDermott looked for the pass and found Dwight Powell for an alley-oop.

    McDermott finished with eight points, three rebounds, three assists, and a steal in his first game in Dallas.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (18-38) will play the Houston Rockets (41-13) on Sunday at the Toyota Center at 6 p.m. Central.

  • The Fast Break: Mavs at Warriors

    Final: Warriors 121, Mavs 103

    Box Score | Highlights

    Behind the Box Score

    Dennis Smith Jr. scored 22 points tonight, securing his 19th consecutive game scoring in double-figures. It was also his 10th game this season with at least 20 points, which moves him past Jim Jackson and Jason Kidd and into sixth place all-time for most games with 20+ points by a Mavs rookie.

    Dirk Nowitzki notched his fourth double-double of the season, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. He also recorded five steals, which ties for the third-most in a game in his career. It’s the most he’s swiped since stealing nine in a game against the Rockets on March 7, 2004, per Basketball-Reference.

    Notebook

  • Dennis Smith Jr. is fearless. Sometimes that means he’ll try something ambitious.

    Sometimes it’s too ambitious. But hey, we know by now that Smith is extremely confident in his own abilities. Once his experience and hoops savvy catch up to his extraordinary athleticism, he’s got the chance to be a ridiculously good (and equally entertaining) player. Keep dunking.

  • Dirk Nowitzki is 39 years old, but he’s still out here making youngsters look silly.

    https://twitter.com/dallasmavs/status/961828773522849798

    That’s no schmuck that he’s faking out twice. That’s Draymond Green, who might be the best defender in the NBA. Dirk forever.

  • With Harrison Barnes out tonight, J.J. Barea got the start. The veteran still managed to have the second-best plus-minus on the team (behind only Nowitzki) despite playing with the starting group and spending less time with the bench unit than normal. Yogi Ferrell and the newly signed Kyle Collinsworth were the only guards available off the bench in the wake of the club trading Devin Harris to Denver. As long as Barnes is ready to go on Saturday, Barea will likely return to his role off the bench in relief of Smith. Tonight he was pulling strings with the starters, though, handing out a team-high eight assists in 28 minutes.

  • Forward Doug McDermott came to Dallas in exchange for Harris. The small forward is a terrific spot-up 3-point shooter and is improving in other areas offensively, including making plays off the dribble. McDermott dominated the Iowa high school basketball scene with his new teammate Harrison Barnes; the pair of wings won back-to-back state titles at Ames High School before parting ways in college. Now they’re reunited in the big leagues after all these years. (Somewhere out there, there’s got to be a crazy highlight reel of those two dominating. Maybe it’ll pop up one day. For now, though, we have this picture.)


    What’s Next

    The Mavs (17-38) will play the Los Angeles Lakers (22-31) on Saturday at American Airlines Center at 7:30 p.m. Central.