Mavs sign Quinn Cook to 10-day contract

The Dallas Mavericks announced today that they have signed rookie guard Quinn Cook to a 10-day contract. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Cook (6-2, 180) went undrafted in the 2015 NBA Draft and signed as an rookie free agent with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He played in six preseason games for the Cavaliers before being waived on Oct. 24. He played the 2015-16 season with the Canton Charge of the NBA Development League and averaged 19.6 points, 5.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 33.8 minutes in 43 games (37 starts) on his way to being named a 2016 D-League All-Star, Third Team All NBA D-League and the 2016 D-League Rookie of the Year.  

Cook was recently named Most Valuable Player of the D-League All Star Game last weekend in New Orleans. This season, he is averaging 26.1 points, 6.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 38.9 minutes in 35 games with Canton.

The Washington, D.C., native was a four-year player at Duke University and, as a senior, helped lead the Blue Devils to the 2015 National Championship. He played 143 games (112 starts) while at Duke and had career collegiate averages of 10.9 points, 3.7 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 27.8 minutes per contest.

Cook will wear number 2 for the Mavericks. 

Mavs sign Ben Bentil to 10-day contract

The Dallas Mavericks announced today that they have signed rookie forward Ben Bentil to a 10-day contract. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Bentil (6-9, 235) was drafted by Boston in the second round (51st overall pick) of the 2016 NBA Draft. He signed with the Celtics on July 27, 2016, but was later waived by the club on Oct. 21 after appearing in three preseason games with the team. 

On Oct. 31, Bentil was acquired by the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Development League. After appearing in just one D-League game for the Mad Ants, he left the team in mid-November to play in China for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers. On Jan. 16, Bentil returned to the Mad Ants after appearing in 11 games for Xinjiang.

In 13 D-League games (three starts) for the Mad Ants this season, Bentil averaged 14.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 24.1 minutes per game. 

A native of Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana, Bentil played two seasons at Providence from 2014-16. As a sophomore in 2015-16, he led the Big East in scoring (21.1 ppg), field goals made (246) and free throws made (194) en route to earning First Team All-Big East and Big East Most Improved Player honors. Bentil declared for the NBA Draft following his sophomore season.

Bentil will wear No. 42 for the Mavericks. 

Nerlens Noel’s gravity had Mavs’ offense rolling in his debut

Nerlens Noel only scored nine points in his Mavs debut, a 96-83 win against the New Orleans Pelicans, but he had a pretty major impact on the offense nonetheless, and that’s not going to change any time soon.

Noel has the potential to become a very dangerous big man in the pick-and-roll due to his athleticism and above-the-rim finishing ability. He’s already drawn some comparisons to Tyson Chandler from his head coach, and those who remember Chandler’s playing days in Dallas will remember why: Elite roll men open up so many opportunities for their teammates, especially shooters.

“Today’s game — if you’re going to put four shooters out there — you’ve got to have a guy who’s an impact guy rolling to the rim that’s a threat,” head coach Rick Carlisle. “Tonight’s a difficult night to throw lobs because you’ve got two monsters out there who were eating them up. But there were other situations where he rolled, drew attention, and it opened up other shots. That’s an important weapon to have. We’ve got some guys that roll well, but we don’t have that kind of elevation.”

We hear a lot of talk about Dirk Nowitzki’s gravity, how his presence on certain places around the floor influence the way the entire opposing defense functions. Big men are afraid to leave him open, and point guards are terrified of switching onto him, and that usually creates quite the dilemma.

But good roll men have gravity, too, and Noel’s impact showed strongest on one play toward the end of the third quarter. He set a screen in the middle of the floor for Yogi Ferrell and took off toward the rim, absorbing the weakside defense with him.

It just so happens that the weakside defender was responsible for defending Nowitzki, the best mid-range jump-shooter in NBA history. There aren’t many things that can draw an opponent away from Dirk, but a potential alley-oop is one of them.

“It just opens stuff up on the perimeter. Obviously, we’ve got some good shooters around,” Nowitzki said. “If you have a lob threat, the defense has got to suck in, otherwise it’s a lob and a dunk. It opened up a few shots for me today.”

While the trade for Noel, just 22 years old, is as strong an indication as ever that the Mavericks are planning for life in the post-Dirk era, the Nowitzki-Noel combo is going to be vital for this team until that time comes. The 38-year-old Nowitzki has played center almost exclusively for two months, as the Mavs have relied primarily on small-ball to generate points. But Noel’s presence can push Dirk back to power forward, where he’ll face less pressure to constantly set ball-screens, and he’ll have a sidekick who can collapse the defense and make life easier spotting up.

Despite not knowing a single page of the playbook until this morning, Noel showed surprisingly good instincts in just his first game playing next to Nowitzki. During one play in the first half, he sprang Dirk loose for a jumper by targeting and then screening the German’s defender as Nowitzki caught the ball.

Noel also appears to be a good fit next to Harrison Barnes, who’s been much better at 4 than the 3 in his first year with the Mavericks. Noel brings a shot-blocking and rebounding presence that can help Dallas overcome potential size mismatches Barnes will face — like tonight, for example, when he was up against Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

It also means that now, as Barnes will probably play almost 100 percent of his minutes with either Nowitzki or Noel on the floor, that he’ll be used less as a screen-setter to generate switches and more as a perimeter guy who can attack bigger, off-balance defenders who check down (or up) to help against either Noel or Nowitzki. Any two of those three guys can play together and the Mavs will maintain versatile, effective offensive options at both 4 and 5.

“It’s really interchangeable with Dirk and Harrison being as versatile as they are, and I’m able to switch some things up defensively,” Noel said. “Just being able to open some things up for the guys on the pick-and-roll is something I take pride in.”

As for Barnes, it means he could have more opportunities to drive, or perhaps to even handle the ball. It wouldn’t be out of the question to see somewhere down the line — assuming the Mavericks re-sign Noel this summer, as he’ll be a restricted free agent — Barnes handling the ball in pick-and-rolls of his own, one of the only things that hasn’t been asked of him yet.

“We’ve all gotta learn how to throw lob passes,” Barnes joked. “That’s the biggest thing now.”

In addition to Noel, the Mavericks also still have Salah Mejri and Dwight Powell, each of whom can score efficiently in the spread pick-and-roll. Dallas can now have above-average roll presence on the floor for 48 minutes if it so chooses, and that’s going to make things easier for everyone else on the team. Case in point: Dallas shot 12 of 26 on 3s, and Nowitzki scored 18 points on just 12 shots.

These kinds of nights could begin to happen more often the rest of this season and, most importantly for the suddenly young Mavericks, the years to come.

The Fast Break: Mavs vs. Pelicans

Final: Mavs 96, Pelicans 83

Box Score | Highlights

Behind the Box Score

Dirk Nowitzki finished the night with 18 points, leaving him just 67 points shy of 30,000 for his career. He’ll become only the sixth player ever to reach that milestone.

Dorian Finney-Smith was a team-high +18 for the Mavericks.

Seth Curry finished with 13 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, and three steals. He’s the first Maverick to stuff the box score to that degree since Jason Kidd did so in 2011. It was Curry’s 10th game this season with at least three steals

Notebook

  • Nerlens Noel made his Mavs debut, and for the most part he looked terrific. Noel is already a very good defender, even for a 22-year-old. He can change the game with his quick hands, which he used to strip guys multiple times tonight, both in isolation and after switching on pick-and-rolls. He has rare athleticism for a big man, which allows him to switch to defend guards, or even trap or blitz them, disrupting the offense in the process. The sky’s the limit for him defensively. The Mavs kept it relatively simple tonight for him on the other end of the floor, because he basically had one meeting’s worth of time to review the playbook before the game with Rick Carlisle. As he spends more time around the team in the coming days, he’ll become more familiar with the gameplan, and that could take his productivity up even higher. All in all, Noel had a very solid debut.

  • Even though he was unfamiliar with most of the ins and outs of Carlisle’s complex offense, Noel still had a positive effect on one teammate in particular: Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas ran pick-and-roll through Noel more than Nowitzki when the two shared the floor tonight, which allowed Dirk to spot up on the floor instead of endure the physical demand of setting endless ball screens the way he had been when he was playing most of his minutes at center. Dirk still started at the 5 tonight, but he and Noel played plenty together. He’s going to be able to conserve so much energy playing next to Noel, and that could reflect in his shooting percentages. Tonight, for example, he finished with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

  • This was our first glimpse at the Anthony Davis/DeMarcus Cousins Pelicans. They’ve only played two games together, counting this one, so clearly New Orleans has some initiating of their own to do, much like Dallas does with Noel. Even still, you could see the potential those two have together. They are both very, very good, and they can push the defense to the limit every possession. But those guys both post up a lot, and occasionally the Pels’ offense slowed down a bit and other players weren’t able to get many shots up, aside from Jrue Holiday. The Pelicans will eventually establish a pecking order, no pun intended. These two teams do play each other one more time down the road this season, and by then New Orleans could look like a completely different team.

  • The Mavs admitted Dorian Finney-Smith hit the dreaded rookie wall earlier this month, but the All-Star break appears to have helped him. He had one of his best games in a long time tonight, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and two blocks. He was electric defensively, especially in partnership with the long Noel. Finney-Smith figures to receive more consistent playing time after Justin Anderson was traded to Philadelphia, so he’s got the opportunity to develop a steady rhythm and hopefully capitalize on the opportunity. He could be a key player for this team down the stretch this season, and into the future as well.

    What’s Next

    The Mavs (23-35) will play the Miami Heat (26-32) on Monday at American Airlines Center at 7:30 p.m. Central.

  • With waiving of Deron Williams, Yogi Ferrell now Mavs’ lead point guard

    The Mavs’ deadline-day acquisition of Nerlens Noel via trade with Philadelphia was the big headline-grabber yesterday around here, but another story developed in wake of a separate roster move: Dallas now appears to be handing the point guard reins to rookie Yogi Ferrell.

    Dallas requested waivers on veteran point guard Deron Williams yesterday, leaving 23-year-old Ferrell as the presumed starter for the remainder of the regular season. The rookie compounded one of the best 10-day contract performances in NBA history into a solid first 10 games, and now the Mavs are now betting big that Ferrell can extend his strong run, at least for the next 26 games.

    “I think that he’s got a really bright future, and he’s gonna be given a terrific opportunity here,” GM Donnie Nelson said.

    Who exactly surrounds Ferrell as he plays out that opportunity is for head coach Rick Carlisle to decide. The Mavs have found success over the last month starting Dirk Nowitzki at center and Harrison Barnes at power forward with Seth Curry playing off-guard. The addition of Noel obviously complicates that picture, with Nelson all but confirming that the 22-year-old center will start almost immediately. That means Curry could come off the bench, or perhaps the Mavs will adjust their starting lineup based on nightly matchups. It’s unclear at this point.

    Nelson doesn’t believe that Ferrell’s slight frame, which the rookie himself said on The Post Up Podcast might have been the reason he went undrafted last summer (listen below for the full interview), would be a big issue should he become a full-time starter at this level.

    “There’s not a lot of post-ups that take place with point guards, and that’s why I think you see things going in the backcourt maybe a little smaller,” Nelson said. “Boston has certainly (with Isaiah Thomas) — that success pretty much speaks for itself.”

    Ferrell makes up for any size disadvantage with what owner Mark Cuban describes as superior pick-dodging ability. We often think of defending the pick-and-roll as more of a big man’s job, but the smaller defender can certainly make life difficult on opposing players, as well. In combination with Noel, an elite athlete at center, Ferrell could make up one-half of the better defensive pick-and-roll tandems in the NBA.

    “We love his energy, his enthusiasm for the game,” Carlisle said of the point guard. “He goes hard. He’s proven that he can defend some of the really good, quick point guards well. You don’t stop those guys, but you can make it hard on them. And he’s obviously had some good stretches of scoring the ball. So, for him, I want him to stay in the process of being a threat to score on offense and, off of that, being able to make plays, get other people set up. And defensively, just keep playing at a high energy level, play without fouling, be in a hit-first mode.”

    Ferrell gives the Mavs their best defensive presence at point guard in the starting lineup in years, and Noel is already one of the best defensive centers in the NBA. That dynamic is going to be interesting to watch in the coming seasons, assuming both are Mavericks long-term. Ferrell is under contract through next season, and while Noel could become a restricted free agent this summer — meaning the Mavs have the right to match any competing offer — Nelson said he believes Noel will be here beyond this season, as long as everything works out.

    Offensively, the duo can combine for some serious fireworks as well. Ferrell has exceptional quickness, part of the reason he fit in so easily in the first place. He’s spent most of his minutes playing with Dirk Nowitzki, the best friend a point guard can have in this league. If Ferrell plays with both at the same time, he’ll be able to choose between running pick-and-pop with the best jump-shooting big man ever or pick-and-roll with one of the most athletic centers in the league. It’s an intriguing proposition to be sure, especially considering Ferrell is also capable of scoring outbursts; he’s averaged 14.2 points and 4.7 assists through 10 games with the Mavericks.

    At just 23 years old, Ferrell is one of the youngest players on the team. Noel, 22, is the youngest. Harrison Barnes, meanwhile, is still just 24 years old, Dwight Powell is 25, and Seth Curry is only 26. Nico Brussino (23) and A.J. Hammons (24) continue to develop at both the NBA and D-League level, as well, and we might see more of them down the stretch of this season, depending on what happens in the playoff race.

    The move to push Ferrell into the starting lineup — and waiving Williams to do so — is perhaps the strongest indication of any move Dallas has made this season that the franchise is committed to establishing and developing the emerging young core it’s built in less than one year. Powell is the only player on the roster younger than 30 years old who was on the team last season. Now, more than half of the roster is younger than 27, and the starting point guard is the Mavs’ youngest since Devin Harris ran point in his first stint with the team.

    Not only is Yogimania here to stay, but it’s being pushed to the very forefront. He may or may not be the future, but Ferrell is, for now, firmly the present.

    Mavericks acquire Nerlens Noel from 76ers

    The Dallas Mavericks announced today that they have acquired forward-center Nerlens Noel from the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for guard Justin Anderson, center Andrew Bogut and a 2017 protected first-round pick.

    Noel (6-11, 220) holds career averages of 10.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.6 blocks and 28.3 minutes per game in 171 games (140 starts) with Philadelphia.

    The third-year man out of Kentucky is averaging 8.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.9 blocks and 19.4 minutes per game in 29 games (seven starts) this season. He is shooting 61.1 percent (107-of-175) from the field this year.

    A native of Malden, Mass., Noel was originally selected by the New Orleans Pelicans with the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. His rights were later traded to Philadelphia along with a future first-round pick in exchange for Jrue Holiday and Pierre Jackson. 

    In his lone season at Kentucky (2012-13), Noel averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.1 steals, 4.4 blocks and 31.9 minutes per game en route to earning First Team All-SEC, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and SEC Rookie of the Year honors. On Jan. 29, 2013, Noel set the UK single-game record with 12 blocked shots in a victory over No. 16 Ole Miss.

    Noel suffered a torn ACL in a game against the Florida Gators on Feb. 12, 2013, ending his 2012-13 season. Despite the injury, Noel declared for the 2013 NBA Draft following his freshman year. He missed the entire 2013-14 NBA season recovering from knee surgery.

    As a rookie in 2014-15, Noel averaged 9.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.9 blocks and 30.8 minutes per game in 75 games (71 starts) while garnering NBA All-Rookie First Team honors.   
     
    The 22-year-old Noel was the top-rated player by both ESPNU recruiting and Scout.com coming out of high school and was rated the second-best prospect by Rivals.com. He will wear No. 3 with the Mavericks.

    Anderson (6-6, 228) was drafted by Dallas with the 21st overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. In 106 games (11 starts) with the Mavericks, he averaged 5.1 points and 2.7 rebounds in 12.8 minutes per game.

    Bogut (7-0, 260) was acquired by Dallas along with a future second-round pick from the Golden State Warriors on July 7, 2016 in exchange for a future conditional second-round pick. He averaged 3.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 block and 22.4 minutes per game in 26 games (21 starts) with the Mavericks this season. 

    Mavs’ trade for center Nerlens Noel can help them now and later

    The Mavericks wanted any potential move they made at the trade deadline to meet three criteria. First, the acquired player must help the team continue its push for the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference. Second, he must also be young enough to become part of the young, emerging nucleus the team is building. Finally, Dallas did not want to surrender its first-round pick this season, which gains more and more value with each passing day, in what could be a deep class toward the top of the first round.

    Dallas accomplished all three things with one of its most significant deadline-day deals in franchise history. The club acquired center Nerlens Noel from the Philadelphia 76ers. Just 22 years old, Noel has tremendous defensive potential and could fit rather seamlessly into the Mavs’ spread pick-and-roll offense. In return, the Mavs sent second-year wing and 2015 first-round pick Justin Anderson, center Andrew Bogut, and a heavily protected 2017 first-rounder, which will almost certainly remain with Dallas. In that case, the Mavs would send this year’s and next year’s second-rounders.

    As it relates to meeting the criteria, check, check, and check.

    Noel has long been considered a possible future defensive juggernaut who possesses a rare combination of height, length, quickness, and verticality. He’s the only player in NBA history with per-36 minute averages of 13+ points, 9+ rebounds, 2+ blocks, and 2+ steals. Offensively, he’s a potential terror in the pick-and-roll, capable of soaring through the air as a lob target. This season he’s shooting a career-high 61.1 percent from the field, including 71.8 percent within the restricted area and a career-best 47.6 percent on shots from between 16 feet and the 3-point line, though on only 21 attempts.

    His addition to the big man rotation immediately addresses the Mavs’ most critical need heading into the season’s home stretch: He is an exceptional interior defender and should do wonders helping on the defensive glass. With Dirk Nowitzki at center and Harrison Barnes at power forward, Dallas had been scoring better than 1.13 points per possession, per nbawowy.com, but allowing 1.14 PPP. For his career, opponents have shot worse than 50 percent at the rim against Noel, per SportVU. During his rookie campaign in Philadelphia — the only season in his career that he’s started and exclusively played center — he finished top-10 in the NBA in both block percentage and steal percentage.

    The 76ers’ logjam at the center position necessitated a move on their end, as Noel becomes a restricted free agent this summer, which explains his availability and sporadic playing time this season. But with rookie Joel Embiid out to injury lately, Noel’s playing time increased. In his final four games as a Sixer, he averaged 14.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals, and 1.3 blocks in 28.8 minutes per game on 73.5 percent shooting from the field.

    Noel is an excellent lob threat

    Standing just under 7 feet tall with a wingspan measured as long as 7-foot-4 and an impressive vertical leap, Noel naturally seems like a good fit in the Mavs’ pick-and-roll offense. He is one of the most effortlessly explosive leapers at the center position in the NBA. Watch how much air he gets.

    He is capable of jaw-dropping aerial acrobatics.

    That explosiveness also comes in handy in the open floor, when he can set an early screen and roll to the bucket before the defense has a chance to set itself.

    Considering all the space Noel will be playing in — assuming, of course, he spends most of his time playing with either Nowitzki or Barnes at power forward — he can use these early slip-screens to take advantage of dozing opposing centers. It evokes memories of watching Tyson Chandler and Brandan Wright during the 2014-15 season, when the Mavs ran pick-and-roll better than any team in basketball.

    His vertical also comes in handy when a play breaks down or even when the defensive coverage works. You can count on him to climb the ladder and pull down super-high lob passes and still finish.

    Between Noel and Dwight Powell, the Mavericks have two of the best alley-oop targets in the NBA in the pick-and-roll game. Salah Mejri has proven his worth as a roll man, as well, which means Dallas can have an above-average roll threat on the floor for 48 minutes a game, if it so chooses.

    Nowitzki has enjoyed extreme success at the center position, especially when partnered with Yogi Ferrell. But a return to the 4 could make things easier for Dirk, as Dallas doesn’t want to run him ragged on a nightly basis as the only screener on the floor. Nowitzki is just as effective when spotting up, where his gravity can open things up for others. But he’s not the only player whose presence creates space: Defenses struggle to slow down strong roll men while also limiting kick-out options. Ersan Ilyasova, Noel’s former teammate in Philly, capitalized off the extra breathing room many times.

    Just as Nowitzki has horizontal gravity, dictating that defenses pay attention to him, Noel can create “vertical gravity,” which will force opposing big men to always keep his aerial game in mind. As they back-pedal against Ferrell, Seth Curry, or whoever else is handling the ball, they’ll know in the back of their mind that if they commit too early to the ball-handler, they’ll be taking the ball out of bounds after Noel stuffs home a dunk.

    That same athleticism carries over to the defensive end

    Noel can do the same things on defense as he does on offense when it comes to slowing down the lob game.

    He occasionally takes risks defensively against the pick-and-roll; he’ll step out and stick his hand out in an effort to create a steal. He’s been very good at it — he’s almost better in that regard than Dirk, who’s one of the best swipers in NBA history — and it leads to plenty of turnovers near mid-court.

    He’s been caught a few times trying that move, though. Point guards are very quick these days, so if he steps out too far and doesn’t connect with the ball, he risks giving up an easier drive to the basket. Dallas has generally played a very conservative pick-and-roll defense for most of this season, especially when either Dirk or Bogut manned the middle. However, Rick Carlisle has ramped up the aggression in recent games when the Mavs have fallen behind by inserting Powell at center and having him blitz every screen. That played a huge part in Dallas’ comebacks against Portland and Utah right before the break.

    He could certainly do the same thing with Noel, but playing with that level of aggression for 30 minutes a game would be extremely demanding physically and mentally. Still, it’s a nice trick to be able to pull from up Carlisle’s sleeve if the game isn’t going the way he wants it.

    Centers in the modern NBA have to be able to do much more than just defend against the pick-and-roll. The future of the league is finding bigs who can switch on to guards and stay in front of them, avoiding disaster. It’s no easy task, to be sure, but Noel has very good foot speed for a player his size. How many centers on the planet can do this?

    First, Noel steps out against Kemba Walker. Then he sniffs out a pin-down for Nic Batum and runs him off the line and is still able to recover to his man, Frank Kaminsky, without giving up an open shot. Then he immediately defends another pick-and-roll, this time against Marco Belinelli, and he forces him all the way out to five feet behind the 3-point line, giving his teammate time to recover and contest the shot. And even after covering all that ground, he still gets a body on Kaminsky under the basket, which frees up his teammate to grab the defensive rebound. You don’t want him to play all-out like that every time down the floor, because he’s got an entire game to play here, but man. Just an incredible display of athleticism.

    Noel is one of just five starters who have a defensive box/plus minus rating of +3 or higher each of the last three seasons, joined only by Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan, and Bogut. (DBPM estimates the points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to an average team.) That’s a collection of perhaps the best defenders in the entire NBA, and Noel is part of it. And he’s only 22 years old.

    It’s going to be very interesting to see where Noel fits in the rest of this season. Carlisle will have some time to tinker with lineups here and there, but there’s only so many games left. He handicapped the odds of Nowitzki and Barnes moving back to 4 and 3, respectively, at “less than 50 percent,” so that makes me wonder if Noel will come off the bench, or if maybe he’s just throwing a smokescreen.

    Moving forward, meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how the Barnes/Noel frontcourt develops. Dallas has clearly made this move with life post-Dirk in mind, even if that moment doesn’t come until after one or two more seasons. While Nowitzki is still here, the Mavs will have an embarrassment of frontcourt riches, able to mix and match against so many different opponents. Nowitzki has said in the past that he’s willing to come off the bench if it helps the team win. I’m not suggesting that time has come (or will come at all), but could you imagine what bringing either of those guys off the bench would do to the second unit?

    Dallas has made a move for the present that also could pay massive dividends in the future. Noel fits right in with the team’s youth movement, now becoming the youngest player on the team, which is hard to believe. He joins Barnes, Powell, Yogi Ferrell, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Seth Curry as key contributors under 27 years old, and Curry is the only one in the group older than 24. Only Powell began last season on the team. Dallas has built a promising young core in less than a year.

    And Noel has just become the center of that nucleus.

    Inside the numbers: Yogi Ferrell’s first 10 games as a Maverick

    Yogi Ferrell set the bar high during his first 10 games as a Maverick. Impossibly high.

    Why “impossibly?” Well, let’s just say if Ferrell’s career goes the same way as the other names on the list he finds himself on right now, he and the Mavs would likely be the happiest people in sports.

    Through his first 10 games in Dallas, Ferrell is averaging 15.5 points and 5.1 assists per 36 minutes on 45.0 percent shooting from the field, with a 59.6 true shooting percentage, a stat which takes into account 2- and 3-point shots and free throws.

    A player’s per-36 numbers are a more accurate representation of his production. For example, there’s a difference between scoring 10 points in 10 minutes and 10 in 40, just like pulling down five rebounds in five minutes is more impressive than bringing in five in 20. Looking at per-36 levels the playing field between bench players and starters when it comes to comparing levels of production and forecasting what a player could potentially do with an expanded opportunity, and seeing as most rookies come off the bench (like Ferrell has the last three games) it’s fair to consider those numbers instead of his per-game averages.

    Taking them into consideration might actually be more unfair to him, though, at least as it relates to expectations.

    According to Basketball-Reference, the last three rookies to average at least 15 points and five assists per 36 minutes with a true shooting percentage of 55.0 or higher were Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, and Stephen Curry. (Players also had to play at least 400 minutes to qualify.) Other names on the list — there are only 10 total — include Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, and, gulp, Michael Jordan.

    Those names are going to invoke a certain reaction, and they ought to. How many times does a player have the chance to be on a list with His Airness?!

    But Khalid Reeves and Billy McKinney are also on the list, and while both enjoyed multi-year careers — Reeves averaged 8.2 points for Dallas in 1997-98 at age 25 — inclusion in this particular group of players does not guarantee a spot in the Hall of Fame. Also, Gilbert Arenas played the fewest games of the players on the list as a rookie, at 47. Ferrell has played only 10 in Dallas. He’s got plenty of work to do to maintain this pace over an extended period of time.

    The fact that there’s even a discussion about this kind of thing, though, speaks volumes of the level at which Ferrell has played during his very short time as a Maverick. He out-dueled Irving 19-18 in his second game with the Mavericks as Dallas stunned the Cavs, and his 32-point outburst in Portland stood out as one of the best single-game performances of any rookie in the NBA this season. On Feb. 13 against the Celtics, he scored 20 points and dished out five assists off the bench.

    Highlights: Yogi Ferrell ties an NBA rookie record

    Yogi tied the NBA rookie record with nine three-pointers against the Trail Blazers Friday night.

    That Boston game was interesting for several reasons. Ferrell matched up against Isaiah Thomas, who’s averaging nearly 30 points per game this season. Those two players are clearly on different levels at this point in their careers, but they’re similarly sized, so it’s natural to want to compare them. Thomas didn’t come into the NBA as a big-time scorer — as a 22-year-old rookie in 2011-12, he averaged a modest 11.5 points in 25.5 minutes per game, which translates to 16.3 points per 36 minutes — but as he got an expanded opportunity and improved as a player, he was able to rev up his scoring ability.

    Rick Carlisle has made it no secret that he values scoring point guards, even if it means they’re under-sized in traditional terms. J.J. Barea was a key piece of the 2010-11 title team despite recording fewer than 10 points and four assists per game. But per 36 minutes, he scored 16.6 points and dished out 6.8 assists. He might not have played a huge amount of minutes, but he made them count. (Since rejoining the Mavericks in 2014-15, Barea averages 16.7 points and 6.8 assists per 36. Nothing’s changed.)

    At this point, Ferrell resembles Barea more than he does Thomas, but no one knows what the future holds for him. Heck, I’m sure the Mavs would be thrilled if he became the kind of player Barea is, one of the premier backup guards in the NBA capable of huge scoring outbursts who’s been productive for a decade. They would also certainly be overjoyed if Ferrell became Thomas, an MVP candidate and a scoring title contender.

    The thing about the future is it’s uncertain. No one thought Steph Curry would become STEPH CURRY when he was scoring 17.4 points per 36 minutes as a rookie at age 21, but he improved a whole lot over time. (Connections abound: Curry, Thomas, and Ferrell are three of only four players in the NBA to have hit at least nine 3s in a game this season.) I’m not sure anyone thought Thomas would ever average nearly 30 a game, either, otherwise he certainly wouldn’t have been the 60th pick in the 2011 Draft and he wouldn’t have played on three teams in his first four seasons. Ferrell himself went undrafted in 2016 and is already playing for his second team.

    It’s definitely OK to be excited about Ferrell, but while his first 10 games in Dallas might turn out to be better than any other 10-game stretch he’ll have the rest of this season, he’s still shown he has the potential to be a quality player in this league. Will he average 30 a game like Curry or Thomas? Will he ever even average 20? Or double-digits? Will he be a game-changing backup like Barea? Will he be something else?

    Who knows? Just enjoy the good times. That’s part of the development process.

    And celebrate the weird, incredible lists he pops up on as they come.

    Revisiting five Mavs stats to keep an eye on in 2016-17

    Mavs Midseason Moments

    This video makes us feel all types of ways. Check out which plays made our midseason moments as we get ready for the second half of the season!

    The morning of opening night, I wrote about five key stats to keep an eye on this season. They were five numbers I thought could determine the Mavs’ level of success in 2016-17, but also would tell the story of the season overall.

    I understand Oct. 26 was a long time ago. That was before Yogimania, before Dirk Nowitzki missed almost two months, before the presidential election, and before the Cubs won the World Series. In case you don’t remember any of them, here’s the link to the full article.

    This isn’t exactly the midway point of the season (we’re already two-thirds of the way through, if you can believe it) but it’s a good time to stop and reflect on what we have witnessed so far. Dallas has essentially played two seasons so far — one without Dirk and one with Dirk — and not surprisingly the Mavericks experienced two unique levels of success in those circumstances, beginning 4-17 before rebounding with an 18-17 showing through the next 35 games. Since Nowitzki’s return on Dec. 23, Dallas is 14-13.

    He hasn’t been the only Maverick injured, of course, but he’s the only player in the NBA who’s about to score his 30,000th point, so he’s still a pretty significant figure in this thing. Considering the other injuries as well, there have been so many moving pieces this season that it’s been tough to gauge just exactly who or what these Mavericks are. I think the last month-plus has been a good indication — since moving Seth Curry into the starting lineup and committing full-time to Nowitzki at center, the Mavericks look much more Mavericks-y on offense.

    That said, numbers from three months ago don’t necessarily mean as much as numbers from three weeks ago, but those numbers aren’t going anywhere, so we’ve got to consider them, too. So here are opening night’s “five stats to keep an eye on” revisited, plus a bonus stat.

    Harrison Barnes’ usage rate

    After posting a 15.9 percent usage rate in his last year as a Warrior, meaning he “used” about one-sixth of his team’s possessions while he was on the floor, Barnes has seen his involvement increase all the way to a whopping 26.2 percent, nearly unprecedented in the Dirk Nowitzki era. The last Mavs forward to have a usage at least that high while also playing 30+ minutes a game was Josh Howard in 2008-09. Monta Ellis was the only other Mavericks player to even qualify, but he was essentially a point guard.

    Barnes has thrived as a go-to scorer in Dallas, flashing consistently the ability to score in isolation, post-up, face-up, and dribble-drive situations, particularly against bigger, slower power forwards or against overpowered point guards in switch-off situations. His move to power forward has unquestionably fueled his career-high 20.1 points per game outburst this season; it’s difficult to imagine the Mavericks running the same sets they do now for Barnes if he played small forward. The floor geometry simply wouldn’t be the same, and he wouldn’t have athletic advantages nearly every night.

    Watching him now, it’s hard to believe that he’s doing things on a nightly basis that he never did in four years at Golden State. He was primarily a spot-up shooter last season, but this year just 37.0 percent of his field goal attempts have come off a catch-and-shoot.

    He’s scoring efficiently in general, but where he’s been particularly impressive is after taking 3-6 dribbles. On 4.1 shot attempts per game in that range, he’s shooting 45.3 percent from the field, better than Russell Westbrook (41.4 percent) and Stephen Curry (40.7), and comparable to James Harden (45.6).

    Barnes is receiving an unexpected workload at an unexpected position, and he’s produced at a level that no one could ever have predicted. You could ask this of several players, but where would the Mavs be this season without Barnes?

    Team assist percentage

    Perhaps directly related to Barnes’ sky-high usage rate is the Mavs’ relatively low assist percentage. After assisting on 59.2 percent of team buckets last season, good for 13th in the league, Dallas has done so on just 55.8 percent this season, which ranks 20th.

    The Mavericks played an iso-heavy brand of basketball without Nowitzki through most of December, but since his return on Dec. 23, the number has climbed to 57.3 percent. There’s little to no correlation between assist rate and winning games; rather, it’s simply a reflection of how effectively the ball flies around: Is a team creating ball movement that consistently generates makeable shots?

    Not surprisingly, Deron Williams benefited greatly from Nowitzki’s return to action. For a time, he was the most efficient pick-and-roll player in the NBA, creating 1.177 points per possession deriving from the P&R. His injury suffered shortly after Nowitzki’s return necessitated the signing of Yogi Ferrell, who has fit in pretty seamlessly, but it did create an efficient playmaking void; since his injury on Jan. 26 (and following his return) the team’s assist rate is back down to 54.5 percent, which ranks 21st.

    So, if you’re keeping score at home, the assist rate was down at the beginning of the year, and then it was high, and then it was low again. If overall team health can finally swing toward the Mavs’ favor, that number will probably climb quite high again.

    Dirk Nowitzki’s minutes per game

    Highlights: Dirk drops 24 vs. Pistons

    Watch all of Dirk's 24 points against the Pistons Wednesday night.

    Nowitzki’s absence is what prompted the Mavs to move Harrison Barnes to power forward, which truly has him looking like a star. But since the lineup change on Jan. 12, which will prove to be a very significant date should the team end up making the playoffs, Dallas has needed him on the floor.

    In the 18 total games the Mavericks have played since Jan. 12, Dallas has scored a whopping 113.2 points per 100 possessions in 466 minutes with Nowitzki on the floor, which is the best on the team of any rotation player’s on/off splits. In 408 minutes without him, Dallas has scored 105.6 points per 100 possessions — a league-average-level rate, but also the lowest on the team.

    Reading that statistical research will bring you to the same conclusion you could have deduced simply by watching Mavs basketball for the last two decades: Dallas is good when Dirk plays. However, at 38 years old, he can’t play 38 minutes a night anymore, or even 33, like he did in 2013-14.

    This season he’s down to 26.0 minutes per game, though that number is so low in part because of early-season minutes restrictions. In his last 10 games, he’s played 28.1 minutes per game. That seems like a nice, round number for him to play the rest of the way, leaving potential room for him to play 32 or more on a night when the Mavs might need it most. (For example, he played 37:08 in the Feb. 9 overtime win against Utah.)

    Deron Williams’ clutch field goal percentage

    In 2015-16, Williams was the most-efficient of the high-usage clutch scorers in the NBA, the only player with at least 100 clutch points who shot at least 50 percent from the field, and also the only one to shoot better than 50 percent on 3-pointers. His offensive heroics helped Dallas to a +16.0 net rating in the clutch (last five minutes of the game, score within five points either way), second-best in the NBA behind only the Warriors.

    This season the Mavs are -9.3 per 100 possessions in the clutch, which ranks 24th in the NBA. Since Nowitzki’s return on Dec. 23, though, they’re +5.8, which is 11th. Dallas lost a ton of close games early in the season as the younger players went through the learning process late in games. That experience seems to have paid off lately for guys like Barnes and Seth Curry, who have come up with some huge late buckets in 2017. (In case you were wondering, the Mavericks are +11.6 in the clutch since that fateful Jan. 12 date.)

    Williams has appeared in only 14 games that met clutch criteria this season, and he’s shooting 40.9 percent from the field on only 22 attempts, and 2 of 10 from deep. Barnes has been the most-involved clutch player this season, shooting 28 of 53 from the field and 4 of 8 from 3.

    I suppose as long as a team has one reliable clutch guy, that team will be in good shape. Last season it was Williams, and this season it’s Barnes. (And you’ve always got Dirk to worry about, and he’s hit a few huge clutch shots lately, too.)

    Wesley Matthews’ 2-point percentage

    Matthews Hits The Floater

    Wesley Matthews attacks the paint and makes the tough basket plus the foul.

    In 2015-16, Wesley Matthews shot a career-low 43.2 percent on 2-pointers as he battled through the recovery process following a ruptured Achilles the year before. Leading up to that injury, he had been shooting a career-best 53.4 percent on 2s, and in the two years before that he’d been above 47 percent. Somewhere in there seems to be a reasonable landing point for him this season, now more than one year removed from suffering one of the most devastating injuries an athlete can suffer.

    This season his 2-point mark is up to just 44.0 percent, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest it’s on the upswing. For example, since Christmas Day Matthews is shooting 46.7 percent on 2s, and since Jan. 12 it’s 54.1 percent.

    Somewhere along the way this season Matthews appears to have gained a step. Personally, I think it coincides with his almost full-time move to small forward, as opposed to the off-guard spot he manned before. He’s always been big for a shooting guard, but he’s smaller than many 3s in this league, so he can use that quickness advantage to attack off-balance defenders. Also, he’s shooting 2.1 percentage points better from 3 this season, so teams are starting to respect his jumper even more, which can lead to zany close-outs.

    And there’s the whole Dirk-at-center thing, too, which throws off defenses to the point that Matthews faces little to no resistance at the rim these days so long as he can get there.

    His recovery from that injury has truly been remarkable. He said earlier this season that he wants to be better than he was before the injury, and statistically he has been, at least lately. Since Jan. 12 he’s averaging 16.1 points, 4.8 boards, and 3.3 assists on 46.9 percent shooting from the field and 40.6 percent from deep. All of those numbers would be the best or second-best in their respective categories of his career.

    Bonus: The Mavs have been a pretty good defensive rebounding team, despite what it looks like

    On a per-game basis, the Mavs are the worst rebounding team in the league, pulling down just 38.3 boards a night, nearly three fewer than any other club.

    But, with context as my aide, I am here to tell you it isn’t that bad.

    First off, the Mavs play the second-slowest pace in the league, at just 93.64 possessions per 48 minutes, meaning there are fewer available rebounds to be had. Second, Dallas hardly ever pursues offensive rebounds, ranking dead-last at just 7.9 per game. But that’s a conscious decision on a team-wide level because the Mavericks value eliminating transition opportunities for their opponents over the possibility of gaining a second chance by swarming their own rim with rebounders. Besides, the Mavs play small and 5-out, usually, so it’s not like guys are in position to get them, anyway.

    The best way to determine which teams are good and not good at rebounding is to go by volume. How often does a team get a rebound when one is available? In that regard, the Mavs shine. They rank eighth in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage (the rate at which an available defensive rebound becomes a defensive rebound) at 77.4 percent. That means that they have been good for the most part at ending a possession after a single opponent’s miss.

    Dallas has fallen a bit since the team’s full-time commitment to small-ball on Jan. 12, however, tied with Golden State for 20th in DREB% at 75.9 percent. Opponents have gathered at least 10 offensive boards in six of their last seven games, with Dallas going 3-4 in that time. The toughest showing was an 18-board game by the Blazers, creating a massive second-chance points disparity that proved ultimately too huge for the Mavericks to overcome.

    That game is more of an outlier than anything, though. The Mavs did a great job of keeping teams like the Spurs, Cavs, and Thunder off the offensive glass late in January. And if you can believe it, Dallas has actually been better when opponents have gathered 10+ boards (10-11 record) than when they haven’t (12-23), because the Mavs’ small-ball style has made up the points difference with 3s on the other end.

    Looking ahead, therein lies the challenge of walking the line like the Mavs. They’re playing small around Dirk to produce points, but defensive rebounding is one obstacle they must overcome in order to do so. It takes commitments from the guards and wings to hold down their end of the bargain — like Matthews getting six or seven boards a game, as he’s said Rick Carlisle has asked him to do. Or Barnes getting seven or eight. Or the guards combining to get 10.

    Regardless, despite what the per-game rebounding numbers look like, the glass gap isn’t as wide or strong as you might think. Sometimes numbers tell the whole story, and sometimes they don’t.