Curry, Nowitzki finished 2016-17 among league’s most efficient scorers at their position

What do Seth Curry and Steph Curry have in common?

Aside from being brothers, aside from spending a week together in China recently to participate in some Jr. NBA clinics, and aside from being two of the most accurate 3-point shooters in NBA history, the Curry brothers had almost identical perimeter scoring numbers last season, albeit in different roles.

If you think of the most important areas for a scoring guard to excel in, the first thing you might think of is simply the ability to shoot the 3-ball, whether it’s coming off a screen or simply just stand-still shooting. The next things to come to mind would be ability in the pick-and-roll, and then a guard’s capability in isolation, when he’s got to make something out of nothing.

When you put all four of those actions into a chart and spit out the results, the Curry brothers finished 2016-17 right next to each other. Steph scored 1.082 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, a spot-up shooter, coming off screens, and in isolation. Seth scored 1.079 points per possession in those four scenarios. Among qualifying players, they finished fourth and fifth — right at the top of the league. (More on this below.)

I got the idea to do this after reading an article by Ian Levy of Nylon Calculus, who measured the three key areas of scoring for big men to see how Kings first-year player Skal Labissiere stacked up as a rookie. Levy counted post-up scoring, spot-up shooting, and scoring after setting a screen (in the pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop). It turns out Labissiere scored more efficiently in those areas than players like Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, and Kristaps Porzingis. But he didn’t outdo one familiar name.

Levy’s complete list is below, and check out who finished at No. 5.

Fifth on the list was Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 1.02 points per possession combined in the post, when spotting up, and as a screener. And that was during a season in which the German legend battled a nagging Achilles for more than two months before finally finding his groove. Even in a relatively down year, Dirk was still one of the best.

That got me thinking about which play types you’d look up in Synergy’s massive database to evaluate perimeter scoring. There are select actions that some teams use more than others, such as hand-offs. Some perimeter players are very effective in transition or fast breaks, but I didn’t include those because I wanted to focus on halfcourt offense. That’s how I arrived at the four play types: pick-and-roll ball-handler, spot-up shooting, isolation, and coming off screens. The only rule for qualifying was a player had to record at least 50 possessions in each category — I set out to find out who the most well-rounded perimeter scorers are, after all.

Overall, 42 players qualified, including three Mavericks. The top-10, sorted by overall points per possession, is listed below. (Click here to see the full list.)

Player Team 4 Play Possessions 4 Play Points/Poss
1. Kevin Durant Warriors 684 1.110
2. Kyle Lowry Raptors 849 1.106
3. Isaiah Thomas Celtics 1288 1.105
4. Stephen Curry Warriors 1091 1.082
5. Seth Curry Mavericks 642 1.079
6. Mike Conley Grizzlies 944 1.075
7. Kawhi Leonard Spurs 1075 1.052
8. Klay Thompson Warriors 948 1.050
9. Kyrie Irving Cavaliers 1158 1.044
10. Damian Lillard Trail Blazers 1377 1.030

Curry finds himself in some pretty incredible company. The players above and below him on this list are among the best at their positions in the NBA, with a ton of All-Star and All-NBA appearances, and even a few rings between them. Basically, if you were asked to make a list of the best perimeter scorers in the NBA, you’d start with some of these guys.

One thing that’s separating Seth Curry from his brother and some of the other names on this list, however, is volume. Seth used only 642 possessions combined, whereas Steph used 1,091. Further down the list, at No. 16, James Harden used 1,666. (Russell Westbrook, who finished 29th out of 42 in PPP, led with 1,667 possessions used.)

Curry wasn’t the focal point of the Mavs’ offense in 2016-17. Harrison Barnes was in that role for most of the season, and Nowitzki also was to a degree once he came back. Barnes was one of two other Mavericks to qualify for the list, and he finished 24th in PPP among the 42. Wesley Matthews was the other, and he finished 30th, just one spot behind Westbrook. (Deron Williams recorded enough possessions while still with the Mavs to qualify, as well, but he also played with the Cavs.)

Curry’s success last season, however, has to get you thinking about what kind of role he could have within the offense next season. The Mavs figure to run a more wide-open offense next season, with a healthy J.J. Barea and the addition of rookie Dennis Smith Jr. at point guard. Last season, injuries limited the number of lead guards available so the Mavericks relied more on Barnes in isolation and the post. With more downhill driving and ball movement, that could open things up more for perimeter players like Curry to go to work against an off-balance defense.

The balance between usage rate and efficiency is very delicate. In other words: If Curry uses 200 more possessions next season, will his points per possession mark remain the same? Or even close to the same? His blistering 2016-17 campaign put him among the league’s most exclusive company. If he can repeat that performance, only with an expanded role, he could become one of the most effective perimeter players in the NBA.

The foundation is certainly there. Players don’t accidentally put together extremely efficient seasons, especially when taking so many different play types into consideration. Well-rounded scoring is an art form in its own right; that’s what cost players like Jimmy Butler position on the list. He was phenomenal as a spot-up shooter and coming off screens, but he didn’t score at an elite clip in isolation, which knocked him down to 21st on the list. The same could even be said for Barnes, who scored very well in three of the four areas, but his 0.738 PPP mark as a pick-and-roll ball-handler pushed him down to 24th. Earlier this year he said he’s working to improve that area of his game.

Curry must also improve, of course. Stagnation or complacency is never the goal. And there’s much more to basketball than the ability to put the ball in the hoop. Guards have to be able to run offense, see the floor, and make the right decisions, but this list is only focusing on the scoring element. Perhaps the biggest challenge of them all for the emerging scorer is continuing to score at such a high level while also increasing his workload. If Seth Curry can do that, the sky is the limit for his offensive game.

Harrison Barnes looks forward to development of Mavs’ ‘promising’ core in 2017-18

Harrison Barnes 2016-2017 Highlights

Check out some of Harrison Barnes' most memorable highlights from the 2016-17 season!

For years, the Mavs sported one of the oldest rosters in the NBA. Suddenly, though, their well-rounded core is one of the league’s youngest.

There’s Harrison Barnes, who just turned 25. Dallas drafted Dennis Smith Jr. last month, who won’t turn 20 until after Thanksgiving. He’s projected to replace in the starting lineup 24-year-old Yogi Ferrell, who became the first Maverick to make an All-Rookie Team in more than a decade. Seth Curry, 26, more than doubled his career games played total in his first season with the Mavericks, and he’s another half-season away from qualifying as currently the sixth most-accurate 3-point shooter in NBA history (43.2 percent). And restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, whom the Mavs front office said at the end of the season hopes to bring back for the future, just turned 23.

Each of those players started a significant number of games last season, with the exception of the rookie Smith of course. The Mavs’ best starting lineup of the season — Ferrell, Curry, Wesley Matthews, Barnes, and Dirk Nowitzki — went 11-7, and Noel was essentially the “sixth starter” during that time. That young group clearly has potential, and one emerging centerpiece is excited about it.

“It’s very promising,” Barnes said last week at a Mavs Hoop Camp in Plano. “We just have to continue to get better every single day.”

Barnes has stayed out of the public eye this summer, which for him has been a pleasant departure from his regular-season routine, when he talked with the media after every game and most practices. Win or lose, good game or bad, Barnes always did his duty, even on nights when it would take him an hour to finish his post-game routine. He’d often take good-natured jabs at the brave writers who stayed in the locker room long enough to ask him a few questions, asking why we would possibly want to stick around just to talk to him. Nowitzki, Barnes’ locker-room neighbor, often fired back before we could, reminding the young star that it comes with the territory when you want to be the face of a franchise and telling him to get used to it, because the German has done it for 20 years. (Even Nowitzki got some nights off from the media this season, thanks to Barnes.)

So the silent summer has been a welcome one for Barnes, who spent some time in Spain for an NBA event but otherwise has been in the Mavs practice facility oftentimes before the sun rises, working out with Mavs coaches God Shammgod and Jamahl Mosley.

Barnes is similar to Nowitzki in that he takes great pride in the amount of work he puts in. For him it’s about both quality and quantity — the only thing better than a solid workout is an extended solid workout, day after day — and that has sometimes meant doing a late shift at the facility, too. He’s also paid attention to the work his teammates have put in this summer, and one player has stood out to him in that regard: Dennis Smith Jr.

The Mavs might have gotten younger, but they’ve retained their old-school, “show me” approach to leadership. It’s not about talking big, it’s about playing with an edge and working out harder and longer than anyone else. That’s what’s made players like Barnes and Wesley Matthews such good fits alongside Nowitzki: They just get it. And Barnes said Smith, just 19 years old, gets it too.

“He’s trying to do it the right way — by example — as opposed to just coming in and trying to be extremely vocal, but not having the work ethic to back it up,” Barnes said.

No matter how impressive the rookie’s drive is outside of games, though, Smith has still got to literally drive the ball as often as possible on the floor for the Mavs this season. Dallas ranked 21st in drives per game last season, which is one reason why they targeted Smith in the draft. If a guard can get into the lane, the opposing defense is more likely to break down, leading to a good look.

“The sky’s the limit for him,” Barnes said. “He can put it on the floor, great jumping ability, can score. He’s definitely gonna help us a lot next year.”

If Smith can play at anywhere near the level he reached in Summer League — which is, of course, “just” Summer League — the Mavs will have definitely found something. The rookie point guard scored 17.3 points per game in Vegas adding 4.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds. His ability in the pick-and-roll was on full display, and he was constantly getting into the lane and creating shots either for himself or for his teammates.

Dennis Smith Jr. Highlights

Check out some of All-Summer League First Team Dennis Smith Jr.'s best plays from Las Vegas and NC State!

Smith was so effective in Las Vegas that teams often adjusted mid-game to slow him down. Phoenix, for example, moved their high-profile rookie forward Josh Jackson over to Smith in an attempt to counter his athleticism with length, but it didn’t work; Smith scored 25 points on just 14 shots. The Bulls double-teamed him, and the Kings gave just about everyone on the roster a chance, but to no avail. Whether he was guarded by a shorter player or a taller one, someone quicker or slower, someone older or his age, Smith was for the most part able to get to his spots. That will certainly be huge for the Mavs, who ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency last season as injuries and roster moves limited the number of shot creators available on any given night.

“He’ll definitely help us a lot in those moments when you kind of get into a drought,” Barnes said. “Just having another scorer on the floor will definitely help us.”

Smith is a welcome addition to a Mavs core Barnes describes as “promising,” and the fact that the Mavs already have a core relatively in place is key for two reasons. First, this is the first offseason in recent memory that the Dallas roster has remained basically the same from one year to the next. Yes, there have been some moves, namely the losses of A.J. Hammons and Nicolas Brussino and the addition of Josh McRoberts via trade (and Smith via the draft). But the nucleus of this team has remained intact, and that continuity should help them from opening night.

After beginning last season 4-17 due to a combination of injuries and new players growing accustomed to new roles on a new team, the Mavs almost permanently fell out of playoff contention. There won’t be a long acclimation process this fall, and that should hopefully lead to a much stronger start.

“It’ll be good just because we have a foundation which we’re building on,” Barnes said. “It’s not like everyone’s coming back new, trying to figure out where we are. Everyone has an understanding of their identity, their role, what we need to do, what we didn’t do well last season.”

The Mavericks simply can’t afford another 4-17 start if they hope to return the playoffs, and rest assured that’s their goal this season. It was obviously nice to nab Smith at No. 9 in the draft, but I don’t believe the Mavs want to press their luck in the lottery again. They have their sights set on the postseason, and Barnes might have a greater influence on their ability to reach that goal than anyone else on this team.

Mavericks waive Nicolas Brussino

DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks announced today that they have waived guard-forward Nicolas Brussino.

Brussino (6-8, 195) averaged 2.8 points, 1.7 rebounds and 9.7 minutes in 54 games (two starts) with Dallas as a rookie in 2016-17.

A native of Canada de Gomez, Argentina, Brussino signed with Dallas as a free agent on July 15, 2016.

Seth Curry, Steph Curry, and Jeremy Lin to host Jr. NBA basketball clinics in China

BEIJING, July 18, 2017 – NBA China today announced that two-time NBA Champion Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, his brother Seth Curry of the Dallas Mavericks and Jeremy Lin of the Brooklyn Nets will travel to China this month to host Jr. NBA basketball clinics for students in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen as part of the league’s continued commitment to encouraging basketball participation among Chinese youth.

On July 22, Stephen and Seth will participate in the Jr. NBA All-Star Week, a week-long national training camp in Beijing for 230 boys and girls from across the country to learn basketball and life skills from NBA-selected coaches. On July 25 and July 29, Jr. NBA China Leadership Council member Jeremy Lin will host Jr. NBA basketball clinics in Shenzhen and Shanghai respectively.

“We are delighted to see that Stephen, Seth and Jeremy are willing to spend their time promoting youth basketball in China,” said NBA China CEO David Shoemaker. “Having these great players in China later this month to work directly with Chinese students continues our efforts to teach basketball and the values of the game at the grassroots level and encourage active, healthy lifestyles.”

Additionally, NBA China continues to work with China’s Ministry of Education (MOE) on a basketball curriculum jointly developed by the MOE and the NBA incorporating fitness and basketball development in elementary, middle and high schools throughout China. This year, the program will expand to 2,000 schools across 15 provinces and municipalities by hosting “Train the Trainer” coaching seminars and basketball clinics for P.E. teachers beginning August 7. The P.E. teachers will then teach the curriculum to students through weekly basketball classes beginning in September. During the 2016-17 school year, more than half a million students from 525 schools across 11 provinces and municipalities participated in basketball classes using the curriculum.

The Jr. NBA, the league’s global youth basketball program for boys and girls, teaches the fundamental skills as well as the core values of the game at the grassroots level in an effort to help grow and improve the youth basketball experience for players, coaches and parents. During the 2016-17 season, the NBA reached more than 18 million youth in 53 countries through its youth participation initiatives.

The Jr. NBA China Leadership Council includes NBA Champion Harrison Barnes of the Dallas Mavericks, two-time NBA Sportsmanship Award winner Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies, Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic, two-time NBA Slam Dunk Champion Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls, 2015-16 NBA Most Improved Player CJ McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers, NBA Champion and 10-time NBA All-Star Paul Pierce, Lin and Chinese-Canadian singer and actor Kris Wu.

About NBA China
The NBA’s entity that conducts all of the league’s businesses in Greater China was formed in January 2008 after its first office opened in Hong Kong in 1992. The NBA has interacted with Chinese basketball for decades, including first hosting the Chinese National team in 1985. The NBA currently has relationships with a strong network of television and digital media outlets in China, including a partnership of 30 years with national broadcaster CCTV. The league hosts hundreds of touring basketball events for fans, conducts community enrichment programs, and maintains marketing partnerships with a combination of world-class China-based corporations and U.S.-based multinationals.

NBA China is headquartered in Beijing and also has offices in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei. NBA licensed products such as apparel and footwear are available through various retail networks and authorized online stores on e-commerce and social media platforms, including Tmall.com, JD.com, WeChat, NBAStore.cn, NBAStore.hk and NBAStore.tw. In 2004, the NBA became the first American professional sports league to play games in China, with two games between the Houston Rockets and the Sacramento Kings in Shanghai and Beijing. Following NBA Global Games China 2017, 14 NBA teams will have played 24 games in Greater China. The NBA is the most-followed sports league in China, with more than 115 million social media followers.

With Summer League behind them, Mavs face ‘tough decisions’ rounding out training camp roster

Dennis Smith Jr. made highlight-reel plays, Ding Yanyuhang made headlines, and the Mavs’ players under contract played well for the most part throughout their six-game run in the Las Vegas Summer League. That much is clear.

But the club now has some decisions to make ahead of training camp, and the “other” players on the Vegas roster didn’t make that process any easier. Sometimes, though, that’s a good problem to have.

The Mavericks can bring up to 20 players to training camp. Currently, the club has 14 players under contract with the big-league team and one player, Johnathan Motley, is signed to a two-way contract. That means he can spend up to 45 days with the NBA team, and will otherwise spend his 2017-18 season in the G League with the Texas Legends.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, each NBA team can sign up to 15 players to the roster, plus two more players to two-way deals, for a total of 17 players. That means perhaps one of the players from the Las Vegas team could earn the Mavs’ other two-way deal, but Dallas isn’t obligated to utilize that slot. The other three spots on the training camp roster are still up for grabs, though, and they could potentially be filled by some of the players from Vegas.

“Each guy has shown their ability to fight, and that’s exactly what we represent with the Mavericks,” Vegas head coach Jamahl Mosley said. “And that’s what they’ve shown. It’s gonna be tough, tough decisions.”

The good news is the Mavericks have plenty of time to make those choices, but not as long as they had last year. Training camp will start slightly earlier this fall than it has in those past, because the NBA has moved up the start of the season by a couple weeks. The complete regular season schedule will be released next month, but it’s already been revealed that the league’s opening night will be Oct. 17, which is now less than three months from today.

It’s pure speculation at this point to try to identify the players that could make the 20-man roster because so much can change between now and then. For example, guard Josh Adams had a solid showing early on in Vegas — so much so that Turkish superpower Anadolu Efes offered him a contract. It’s free agency season for overseas clubs, too, and several players from the Mavs’ Vegas squad (most notably Ding and Corey Webster) have experienced great success playing overseas, so some of those teams can come calling.

Still, it’s worth taking a look at some of the players who represented the Mavs in Vegas to get to know them and their game. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the more notable performers you might not be as familiar with, especially if you didn’t catch many of the games — which are all archived here.

Below are their per-game and per-36 stats, which do a better job of illustrating their impact. Remember that summer league games are only 40 minutes long, so even the starters only played 20-25 minutes most nights, leading to relatively low per-game numbers. (Note: The following shooting splits are FG%/3P%/FT%.)

Brandon Ashley

Per-game: 11.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.0 block, 47.4/29.4/66.7 splits
Per-36 minute: 20.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.8 blocks

Ashley faced perhaps the most challenging job of any Maverick in Las Vegas. A power forward by trade, Ashley was thrust into the starting center spot after Dallas dealt A.J. Hammons to Miami for Josh McRoberts. He responded well, however, stretching the floor on offense while boxing out well enough to open up rebounding opportunities for the rest of his teammates, most notably Dennis Smith Jr. Ashley also grabbed 1.3 offensive rebounds per game.

He was a then-D-League All-Star two seasons ago for the Texas Legends before signing with German club Alba Berlin. At only 23 years old, his best basketball is still ahead of him. It was good to see him hit some 3s, too, which has become a requisite skill for 4s in this era.

Ding Yanyuhang

Per-game: 5.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 41.4/25.0/80.0 splits
Per-36 minute: 16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.4 steals

Ding did much more than just win over the fans in Las Vegas. The reigning CBA MVP impressed the Mavs with his combination of skill and high energy on both ends. His offensive aggression led to a total of 27 free throw attempts in Vegas and Orlando combined, against 61 field goal attempts. That kind of free throw rate is going to raise eyebrows, as it demonstrates his ability to drive around longer, more athletic players and get to the rim. On one memorable play, Ding took No. 4 overall pick Josh Jackson off the bounce and got to the cup. That’s a coveted skill at the wing position.

He connected on just 25 percent of his 3s, but the shooting stroke is there from the mid-range, which suggests he could expand his range in time. (He’s still only 23.) The speed of the NBA game is much faster than in China, and he seemed to adjust better to that as his summer went on. He looks like the kind of player who can one day make the leap from the CBA to the NBA. Could it be this season, or in the future? We will see.

Carrick Felix

Per-game: 6.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 50.0/10.0/76.9 splits
Per-36 minute: 13.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals

Felix’s numbers won’t jump off the page, but he’s the kind of guy that does all the little things that might go unnoticed. The league didn’t track charges drawn in Vegas, but if it did Felix probably would have been at the top of the list. He played both forward spots for the Mavs and defended almost every position, and did it well.

At a sturdily built 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, he’s got the look of a prototypical 3-and-D wing. Last season for the Long Island Nets — where he briefly played with Yogi Ferrell — he scored 9.1 points per game and shot about 25 percent from beyond the arc. Teams will want him to eclipse the 30 percent mark, but the Mavs have a history of working with players to develop their outside shot.

He also produced one of the highlights of the tournament.

🙌🙌🙌 #mavssl17

A post shared by Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) on

Corey Webster

Per-game: 6.2 points, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 40.0/33.3/100.0 splits
Per-36 minute: 11.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.4 steals

One player who’s already got the outside shot down is Corey Webster, whose 3-point percentage took a slight dip in the Mavs’ final game in Vegas as they hoisted a ton of long-range shots trying to come back from a 26-point deficit. Webster, 28, finally got his first taste of American basketball this summer. The New Zealand native is a six-time champion in both his home country and Australia, and is a bona fide superstar in that part of the world.

He was also a very disruptive defender, able to get up into his opponent’s breathing space and force turnovers. The guard has a very modern approach to transition offense, too, streaking down the floor on the wing and spotting up at the 3-point line instead of attacking the basket, which kept the lane open for his teammates to drive and either kick it out to him or finish with a layup themselves. NBA teams always need shooting, and Webster can definitely do that.

Steven Spieth

Per-game: 1.8 points, 1.8 rebounds, 50.0/100.0/100.0 splits
Per-36 minute: 7.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists

Spieth had the most local ties to this team of anyone on the roster, as he’s from Dallas and has been coming to games for years. His older brother, Jordan, is a PGA megastar, but Steven earned his Vegas invite after putting together a very strong senior season at Brown, where he averaged 17 points, six boards, and three assists per game on 41 percent shooting from deep.

The rookie didn’t get a ton of run in Vegas, but was able to make plays when his number was called. In the club’s quarterfinal victory against Boston, Spieth finished with five points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal, and he drew a charge in 18 minutes. He played every position in that game from shooting guard to center. The 22-year-old is committed to earning a pro basketball job, and he’s got the skill to do it.

After knee injury cost him a shot at being drafted, Johnathan Motley is bouncing back with the Mavs

Draft night is meant to be a celebration, and it would have been for Johnathan Motley had he not suffered an unlucky ending to a standout college career.

Motley tore his meniscus in his final collegiate game, a 70-50 loss to South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. Motley, a junior and consensus Second Team All-American, played through the pain, which reveals as much about his toughness as it does his determination.

But those traits will only take you so far in the cutthroat world of the draft, and as NBA teams prepared for full-fledged scouting season, his injured knee kept him off many clubs’ boards. At one time considered a potential first-round pick, the Karl Malone Award winner for the nation’s top power forward shockingly went undrafted on June 22.

But Dallas, just a few hours up the road from Motley’s hometown Houston, quickly came calling after the draft ended, and the two sides eventually agreed to the franchise’s first-ever two-way contract. Motley can spend up to 45 days with the NBA team during the regular season, and will play for the G League’s Texas Legends for the rest of 2017-18.

“It was tough, but you’ve got to take everything for what it is, and just find a way to bounce back,” Motley said of the draft process. “I’m thankful the Mavs signed me. I feel wanted here.”

It’s not hyperbolic to suggest Motley could have been a first-round player. He averaged 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game during his junior campaign at Baylor, and at about 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, he’s built almost perfectly to play center in the modern NBA, where rim-running, length, and rebounding have replaced post-up prowess and superhuman size as the most sought-after traits in big men. Motley possesses finishing ability around the rim and is very active on both ends, particularly on the glass.

Also working in his favor: He’s not jaded by his own level of ability. Motley understands that most players don’t come in as the focal point. He said Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle has stressed to him the importance of doing all the little things first to carve out a spot in this league, and the scoring can come later.

“You’ve got to start off where you get in,” he said. “It’s a league full of scorers. Yeah, I shouldered a lot of the scoring role at Baylor, but sometimes it’s a little different in the NBA. You’ve got to get adjusted to the game. The coaches got to have confidence in you, the staff has to have confidence in you, and that can take years of producing. If I produce over the years, maybe I can become a scorer like I was in college.”

The Mavs used the term “OKG” (“Our Kinda Guy”) to describe first-round draft pick Dennis Smith Jr., but the term also applies to Motley.

His re-acclamation with the game began earlier this month at the Orlando Pro Summer League, where he averaged a modest 7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on just 39 percent shooting. That was his first game action since returning from injury, so he and the Mavericks both remained patient. During the championship game against Detroit, however, Motley received the chance at increased minutes after Jameel Warney, who’d been starting, left the team to head to Las Vegas. Motley went off for 18 points and 10 rebounds, and he hit the tournament-winning shot with less than one second to go in overtime.

Any doubts in his confidence level were instantly erased.

“You’ve just got to keep going,” he said. “Your opportunity’s gonna come, and you’ve just got to be able to produce when that time does come.”

The Houston native has picked up his level of play on both ends in Las Vegas, averaging 8 points on 63.6 percent shooting from the field. He ranks near the top in points per possession, and he’s averaging one rebound every four minutes, which is a solid rate for a center. His box-outs have opened up chances for Dennis Smith Jr. to pull down many of his rebounds, as well.

“He’s been really good. He’s another guy that does exactly what you ask him to do,” Mavs’ Vegas head coach Jamahl Mosley said of Motley’s overall summer performance. “He’s physical, he’s aggressive. His energy level is really good. He’s gotten better each and every single game. There’s been games he hasn’t played and there’s been games when he’s played short minutes, but he’s been fantastic in every role we’ve asked him to play.”

Much like in Orlando, Motley’s finest performance in Vegas has been his latest. In Thursday’s win against Sacramento, he scored 15 points and grabbed three rebounds in 17 minutes, as the Mavs won 83-76. He threw down a couple dunks and beat the buzzer with a halfcourt heave to end the first quarter, which in a night full of highlight-reel plays led to the loudest cheer from his No. 1 fan in the crowd: his mom. “She’s always out there supporting me, since I was little,” he said. “Every game. She came to every Baylor game. She’s a great supporter and she brings a lot of energy.”

The Mavericks certainly hope Motley can continue playing at this level heading into camp. His two-way contract — an agreement that’s new to the NBA this season — will make him the team’s “16th man.” No other team can sign him to an NBA contract, but if the Mavericks choose, they can sign him outright this season or wait until the summer to offer him a big-league deal. The young center views his upcoming time with the Texas Legends as an opportunity to improve, as he’ll be getting much more playing time in Frisco than he would in Dallas. “The more I can play, I think the better it will be for me,” he said.

Motley has the right approach to the game and his career, and he has the support of his organization. He said he’s “bought in” to everything the coaches and training staff have him doing, and that he’s feeling better physically every day, every game.

You wouldn’t know from watching him that Motley was robbed of one of the most special moments of his career: hearing his name called on draft night. On the contrary, when you watch him you see a player both comfortable and confident, who’s excited to be where he is. He might not have been drafted, but Motley plays with the joy and energy of a player who’s already realized his dream.

NBA announces Africa Game rosters

The NBA and NBPA have announced the rosters for NBA Africa Game 2017, a game to be played on Aug. 5 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and two Mavericks made the cut.

You already know Dirk Nowitzki is in the game, as he was named captain of Team World earlier this summer. The German legend will square off against a current teammate of his, too, as center Salah Mejri will represent Team Africa. Mejri is the first Tunisian-born player in NBA history.

Nowitzki will co-captain his side with the Charlotte Hornets’ Kemba Walker. They will be joined by Leandro Barbosa (most recently with the Phoenix Suns; Brazil), Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics; US), Wilson Chandler (Nuggets; US), DeMarcus Cousins (New Orleans Pelicans; US), Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons; US), Courtney Lee (New York Knicks; US), Kyle Lowry (Raptors; US), CJ McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers; US) and Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks; Latvia).

Mejri’s squad will be captained by the Lakers’ Luol Deng and Thabo Sefolosha. Joining the 7-foot-2 center will be Bismack Biyombo (Orlando Magic; Democratic Republic of Congo), Clint Capela (Houston Rockets; Switzerland; parents from Angola and Congo), Gorgui Dieng (Minnesota Timberwolves; Senegal), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers; Cameroon), Serge Ibaka (Toronto Raptors; Congo), Luc Mbah a Moute (most recently with the LA Clippers; Cameroon), Emmanuel Mudiay (Denver Nuggets; DRC), Victor Oladipo (Indiana Pacers; US.; Nigerian parent) and Dennis Schroder (Atlanta Hawks; Germany; Gambian parent).

Mavs assistant coach Jamahl Mosley, also the Las Vegas summer league team’s head boss, will coach one of the teams.

“Basketball is witnessing explosive growth in Africa,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver. “Our return to Johannesburg this summer is part of the League’s continued commitment to bring the authentic NBA experience to fans around the world.”

The game will be played in support of UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and SOS Children’s Villages South Africa. It’s the second such event in Africa, with the first coming in 2015.

Undefeated, third-seeded Mavs prepare for tournament run in Vegas

Tuesday’s 78-73 win against the Miami Heat completed the Mavs’ undefeated run through the preliminary round of the Las Vegas Summer League tournament, and with that Dallas has earned not only the No. 3 seed, but also a first-round bye.

The Mavericks will have Wednesday off before playing the winner of tonight’s Kings/Bucks matchup at 7:30 p.m. CT on Thursday night. The game will be broadcast on ESPN 2. Should Sacramento win, there’s a chance we’ll see rookie point guards Dennis Smith Jr. and De’Aaron Fox face off. See the full bracket below. (The Mavs are in the bottom half.)

Smith dazzled in the first two games, and his hot run in the desert continued into the fourth quarter in the third game against Miami, when the 19-year-old hit a late dagger 3-pointer to help seal the win. Through three games, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 Draft has averaged 18.3 points, 5.0 assists, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.3 steals on solid 47.2 percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from deep. He’s also averaging 7.3 free throw attempts per game, an encouraging mark for a rookie.

Second-year point guard Yogi Ferrell caught fire against the Heat, exploding for 23 points to lead the team and increase his per-game averages in Las Vegas to 15.0 points, 2.7 assists, and 3.0 steals on 46.7 percent shooting from the field. Finally, big man Brandon Ashley — a power forward who’s been playing center here for Dallas — has continued to raise eyebrows, scoring 14.0 points per game on 51.6 percent shooting from the field and 41.7 percent from 3.

The Mavericks might head into the single-elimination tournament slightly shorthanded, however. Guard Josh Adams, who showed flashes in the team’s first two games, announced via Instagram on Wednesday that he’d signed a contract with Turkish club Anadolu Efes. He didn’t play against Miami, and it’s unclear at this time if he’ll be available for the club’s remaining games in Las Vegas. That means more minutes available, however, for reserve guards such as New Zealander Corey Webster, who’s connected on 40 percent of his 3-pointers so far in Las Vegas. Prior to that, Webster had primarily played small forward.

Any additional roster shuffling could open up more playing time for Ding Yanyuhang, who’s already become a fan-favorite in Vegas. The MVP of China’s domestic league, Ding has displayed a combination of skill and grit that’s made it easy for him to win over the fans. From pump-faking defenders out of their shoes to driving the lane against Josh Jackson, he’s showcased a dynamic offensive game. Defensively, he’s already fouling much less often in Vegas (just two fouls through three games) than he did in Orlando (2.4 fouls per game), but he’s remained aggressive and tenacious on that side of the ball. He has the opportunity to remain on the Mavs’ radar and — who knows? — might even play himself into a training camp invite. That decision ultimately would likely not be made for some time, however.

Some other notes and observations:

– Rookie and Baylor product Johnathan Motley has been much more efficient in Vegas, shooting 61.5 percent from the field after connecting on only 39 percent of his shots in Orlando. Motley did drain the game-winning jump shot in the Orlando league title game, so perhaps that gave him some added confidence before heading westward. The Orlando games also represented his reintroduction to basketball after not playing for several months after undergoing MCL surgery in April, so he was shaking off the rust on the East Coast. He’s shown more positive signs as the Vegas tournament has progressed.

– Dorian Finney-Smith hasn’t been shooting the ball well to this point, connecting on just 3 of 24 from the field and 0 of 12 from 3. To be fair, a few of those shots have been of the in-and-out variety. Finney-Smith said before the tournament began that the Mavs have tinkered with his shot this summer to eliminate a hitch in his jumper, so this is the first time we’re seeing that process play out in a game situation. Those kinds of things take time, and he’ll improve there. What’s stood out more to me about his performance out here, though, is how vocal he’s been on the defensive end. He’s talking and communicating more than any other Maverick in Vegas on that side of the ball, which is something he said before flying out here that he felt the need to do as a second-year player. He’s calling coverages and directing traffic like a center, only he’s playing forward. He makes his money on the defensive end, so it’s good to see him developing into a leader there.

Dennis Smith Jr. can absolutely throw it down. But the rest of the team can, too. Their pregame layup lines in Vegas have been awfully impressive. Between Smith, Adams, Torian Graham, and Carrick Felix, the Mavs have a pretty deep roster of forceful finishers. They’ve been fun to watch.

– The list of Mavs I’ve seen who have taken a trip out here since the tournament began (in no order): Seth Curry, Harrison Barnes, Devin Harris, Dwight Powell, and J.J. Barea. Restricted free agent Nerlens Noel also came to the game on Wednesday night, and had a funny on-camera moment with head coach Rick Carlisle.

‘Super confident’ Smith Jr. is off to brilliant start in Las Vegas

Let’s get all the qualifiers out of the way at the top.

It’s only Summer League. It’s only been two games. Some of his opponents won’t be in the NBA next season.

But.

Wouldn’t you rather your most significant rookie in nearly 20 years be playing well than struggling?

Dennis Smith Jr. hasn’t been perfect in Las Vegas, but he’s been pretty darn good so far. The rookie is averaging 19.5 points in 26 minutes per game, adding 7.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.0 steals, and shooting 50 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from beyond the arc. Dallas is +12 through two games when he’s on the floor, and the Mavericks are 2-0.

The stat line is impressive, and the wins certainly matter, but what’s stood out most about Smith through his debut weekend with Dallas is the confidence and poise with which he’s played, and how he’s asserted himself in advantageous situations. With the exception of a few unforced errors in the third quarter of Sunday’s 88-77 win against Phoenix, Smith appears to have played with the type of basketball IQ you’d expect from a veteran, not a 19-year-old rookie.

The numbers are impressive. He’s scored a point per possession as the pick-and-roll ball-handler and is 6 of 9 from the field in isolation. He’s attempted a higher volume of free throw attempts than other talented scorers in Vegas like 2016 lottery pick Buddy Hield and 2017 No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum. Smith has shown he can get downhill whenever he wants, and he looks confident attacking anyone at the rim, even against guys who are nearly a foot taller than him.

“Super confident. Super confident,” he said. “I work hard on my athleticism, explosiveness, attacking. I went through that a lot, that exact scenario. I’m very confident coming off the screen and going at a big.”

Doing so often leads to contact and punishment, but Smith embraced it Sunday against Phoenix, taking nine trips to the free throw line. For reference, all the Mavs’ point guards last season combined for just one game with nine or more attempts from the charity stripe, per Basketball-Reference. The ability to consistently get into the paint is what’s made players like Monta Ellis, Raymond Felton, and J.J. Barea so valuable to the Mavericks during the past few seasons. It appears Smith could be the next guy to take on that role.

In order to do that, you’ve got to be aggressive, smart, and quick. Smith has shown he’s all of those things, but he’s also got tremendous explosiveness, which can lead to plays like this.

That near-dunk faced challenges from Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, two recent lottery picks and legitimate NBA players. Smith almost brought down the house on that play, but had to settle for two free throws (and a mention in this article).

There’s more to that play than a wow factor, though. Smith didn’t get the chance to show this as much against Chicago as he did Sunday against Phoenix because of the way the Bulls defended the pick-and-roll, but against the Suns the rookie point guard was able to size up switched big men and take them off the dribble over and over again. In the clip above, Smith gets by Bender in one or two dribbles. He did the same thing here, where you can see the entire play develop.

“Switch-everything” defenses are en vogue right now across the league, meaning opponents will switch practically every screen, everywhere, even if it’s an off-ball screen to get a player open. Smith is probably going to be switched against big men a majority of the time this season, which could mean good things for him. Not to pick on Bender, who could develop into a very good player in this league, but Smith got around him too easily for Phoenix to continue to defending him like that. Eventually they moved 2017 No. 4 pick Josh Jackson to defend Smith, but the Mavericks still used screens to put Smith into open space, where he continued to force contact against Chriss.

Simply put, Smith didn’t see this kind of coverage against the Bulls, who most of the time blitzed and double-teamed Mavs pick-and-rolls to apply extra pressure to Smith. That played a huge role in limiting him to 14 points, as it forced him to give up the ball and rely on his teammates. Clearly it was OK with Dallas, though, as the Mavs scored 91 points in 40 minutes.

He did face a switch on one memorable play, where he got to show off his ability to seemingly glide through the air. As Smith gets downhill against one Bulls big, he sees the other coming, but he arrives too late and Smith jumps too high to be bothered by the extra help.

And when big men begin to back off further out of fear, that’s when Smith can patiently dribble into a good look from 3.

None of this stuff is rocket science, but that’s the point. He’s just making the right decision, and in this case the right decision also happens to be the easy one.

NBA teams typically don’t play as aggressively as Chicago did very often in the NBA, so Smith is much more likely to see repeated switches in the regular season. “I just take whatever’s there,” Smith said. “It was there today. It wasn’t there (against Chicago).” The problem the Mavs have been posing to the league for years, though, is that switching is a huge risk. The 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki isn’t going to be bothered by most point guards, and in his first season with the Mavs Harrison Barnes did a good job of taking advantage of those size mismatches, particularly in the high post and on the block.

But until Yogi Ferrell arrived to the scene, last season the Mavs didn’t have a younger point guard who could use his speed and quickness to get around switched big men. J.J. Barea and Devin Harris can still beat 4s and 5s off the dribble, but what Smith was able to do in the above plays is simply unfair. Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle has said himself he’s never coached a guard as athletic as Smith during his time in Dallas, and that could unlock even more potential for the offense.

Teams haven’t been able to afford switching smalls onto the Mavs’ best bigs, and now they won’t be able to switch bigs onto the Mavs’ point guards, either. That’s a good answer to switch-everything defenses, or at least to the ones without super-athletic big men like Draymond Green who have shown they can stay with smaller players.

There’s much more to playing point guard in the NBA than just dribbling around bigger, slower players. You’ve got to understand where and when your teammates want the ball, and you’ve got to make important decisions in less than one second. You have to be able to fool players 10 years older than you, and you’ve got to do it at a time when there’s arguably more talent at the point guard position than ever before.

But this has been a good start for Smith, even though it’s only in an exhibition tournament. (It should be noted, though, that the Bulls and Suns have more NBA players on their roster than many other teams in Las Vegas.) Smith’s numbers are impressive, but in this case the what isn’t as important as the how. He’s performing well by doing things that he’s going to have to do at the next level: taking advantage of switches, and by reading the defense and responding accordingly. It’s not as simple as that, but it also kind of is. The entry-level, requisite question for today’s point guards is: “Can you play pick-and-roll?” Smith clearly can, and that’s good news because he’s going to be doing a LOT of that in Dallas.