Birthday boy Nerlens Noel just beginning to tap into his massive potential

The Mavericks have been undergoing a youth movement for much of this season, whether it’s out of necessity due to injuries to veterans or surprising performances from young players. That youth movement peaked in February when the Mavericks parted ways with Andrew Bogut and traded Justin Anderson to Philadelphia for Nerlens Noel, a 22-year-old center who instantly became the youngest player on the Mavericks roster.

Noel, celebrating his 23rd birthday today, was drafted by the New Orleans Pelicans in 2013 and was immediately traded to the 76ers. He missed his entire rookie season rehabbing from a knee injury and the following season when he returned to the court, the 76ers won a grand total of 18 games. The ensuing season was even worse as the 76ers finished 10-72.

Noel Lines Up Defender For The Kodak Moment

Nerlens Noel picks up the steal, leads the break and then rises up over the defender for the slam.

The losses he accumulated in Philly were not usual for him. Noel is a player who’s accustomed to success, winning an AAU championship as a youngster and playing collegiately at Kentucky, a program recognized for dominance on the court. He said the adversity he faced during his time there made him tougher.

“It definitely gave me a different look at real-life situations you can be in and showing how strong you can be to get through it,” Noel said. “It built a stronger will in me to get through whatever is thrown at you.”

After spending three and a half season in a losing situation in Philadelphia, Noel is now with a franchise in the Mavs that has established themselves as one of the most consistent winners this century, racking up 11 consecutive 50-win seasons and an NBA championship in 2011. The transition has been a welcome change for Noel.

“It’s a different atmosphere here,” Noel said. “It’s all about winning. It’s expected so you really have to bring your A-game every night. It’s just a different culture here.”

The expectation to win in Dallas has brought a spark to Noel, who was dubbed as a “Tyson Chandler starter kit” by general manager Donnie Nelson the day after the acquisition.

Noel made his name as a shot-blocker, whether it was at Kentucky where he set the school’s single-game record with 12 blocks or becoming just the third rookie ever in Philadelphia to tally 100 blocks in a season. While he takes pride in his rim protection, Noel believes he provides much more than that.

“I’m an all-around game changer,” Noel said. “I impact the game in so many ways. Defense is defense and with offense, I think I have great instincts with passing the ball and doing pick-and-rolls.”

It’s a sentiment that Mavs owner Mark Cuban shares. Cuban said that in addition to shot-blocking, Noel provides a hard roll to the rim and covers a lot of ground. Cuban also thinks Noel has a decent 15-foot jumper, which can be improved and added to his arsenal. Though Noel has shown plenty of promise in his young NBA career, Cuban says that he hasn’t even untapped about 75 percent of his potential. Noel also sees room for improvement within himself.

“I think there are certain aspects I can add to my game to make me so well-rounded,” Noel said. “I think defense takes care of itself. I can get stronger as well, I think that’ll be a big part over this offseason.”

While acknowledging he has room to grow, Noel is confident in his skillset and work ethic.

“I think I’m a threat on both ends of the court, defensively and offensively,” Noel said. “I’m in a great position right now to continue to learn and take in everything I can to get even better.”

Mavs have shown knack for finding diamonds in the rough

For so many kids that grow up dribbling a basketball, hearing their name on the night of the NBA draft is something that only happens when they close their eyes and let their dreams go wild. Blood, sweat and tears go into making that dream a reality, but it only happens for 60 players each year.

It’s something that a significant part of the Mavericks core this season never got to experience.

Wesley Matthews, Seth Curry, J.J. Barea, Dorian Finney-Smith and Yogi Ferrell have all played major roles in the revival of the Mavericks as they chase the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Perhaps more importantly, whether it’s young talent or veteran leadership, they’re a big reason why there is optimism for the Mavericks going forward.

However, when teams had their chances to select these guys on draft night, they passed.

Matthews is the lone member of this list that had established himself in the NBA prior to putting on a Mavericks jersey. After a stint with the Utah Jazz, he showed he belonged in the NBA during his time in Portland, which ultimately landed him a four-year, $70 million contract with the Mavericks in the summer of 2015. Despite all of that, his emotions from draft night in 2009 linger.

“Every negative emotion that you can think of,” Matthews recalled. “Pissed off, angry. Just everything.”

Matthews said that going undrafted may have had some positives as a byproduct, such as the structure of his first contract and an additional chip on his shoulder but his demeanor would’ve stayed the same regardless.

Barea, who went undrafted in 2006, played an intricate role in bringing the Mavericks a championship in 2011. When the team was down 2-1 against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, head coach Rick Carlisle inserted Barea into the starting lineup. The Mavericks didn’t lose another game in that series.

“It definitely gives you a little more motivation to prove people wrong,” Barea said.

Curry’s road to stardom has been a long one. He went undrafted in 2013 and though he said he was anxious that night, he knew the circumstances were stacked against him as he came off of surgery. Despite enjoying success this year with the Mavericks in his first extended opportunity, it’s not something he readily reflects on.

“I’m in the moment,” Curry said. “I’m trying to continue to earn my spot, trying to continue to play well. Same work ethic, same mindset. End of the season I’ll think about it and what I’ve accomplished but right now it’s a matter of just staying in the moment and continue to get better.”

Matthews, Barea and Curry have enough tape to shed the stigma of going undrafted. Guys like Finney-Smith and Ferrell are less than a year removed from being draft hopefuls, but both have shown signs they’ll be key cogs for the future of the franchise.

Finney-Smith said being in a locker room with players that share similar backgrounds has definitely helped his development.

“We kind of all brushed on it,” Finney-Smith said. “Guys telling you they’ve been in your shoes and how they overcame it, so all of them helped me. When I first got here, Wes told me playing hard and playing defense was going to get me on the team and I just kept doing it.”

Ferrell, who recently collected his Kia Western Conference Rookie of the Month hardware, said while the undrafted tag will never change, he’s focused on capitalizing on the opportunity he has now.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Ferrell said. “Play well, make the most of our opportunity and that’s just it.”

Head coach Rick Carlisle said there are a couple of factors that play into the success of the undrafted players in the Mavericks locker room. One of the biggest is being around players like Dirk Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes, consummate professionals with an extraordinary work ethic.

The plethora of injuries veteran Mavericks suffered early in the season also presented opportunities for the likes of Curry, Finney-Smith and Ferrell. Their prosperity is not an accident.

“Our people do a really good job of finding guys that not only have a skillset that can be an NBA skillset but also a level of desire and tenacity,” Carlisle said.

For his part, Carlisle puts the players in the best position possible to be successful.

“I think it’s important to be open-minded and to do what you can to enable guys to have success,” Carlisle said.

Despite being deemed unworthy of a pick on draft night, these five players have combined to play over 6,500 minutes for the Mavericks. They’ve proven they belong in this league and give Mavs fans something to be excited about for years to come.

“Once you’re an NBA player, you’re an NBA player,” Curry said. “No matter where you were drafted or not drafted.”

What’s it like working alongside a legend? We asked.

Dirk Nowitzki Tribute

The Big German has reached the 30,000-point milestone. Let's take a trip down memory lane at some of his big moments!

Often times when illustrating a successful NBA career, the staggering numbers far outweigh the value of words. Racking up points, dominating the boards and dishing out assists are the definition of a player’s career.

Not for Dirk Nowitzki.

Yes, the Big German has scored more points than the miles that make up the circumference of this planet. He’s crashed the glass to become a top-30 rebounder in NBA history and has always kept his teammates involved. But to define Nowitzki’s career by just some numbers would be a disservice to the legacy he has created in his nearly two decades in Dallas.

Nowitzki’s impact goes beyond the basketball court. It floods the locker room and permeates the front office. That’s why, in Nowitzki’s case, the words are just as important as the numbers.

Front Office View

Dirk Nowitzki has worked with a fairly consistent braintrust in his career with the Mavericks. General manager Donnie Nelson joined the team just prior to the 1998 NBA draft and helped orchestrate a draft day trade with the Milwaukee Bucks to bring Nowitzki to Dallas.

It was a risk taken by the franchise, especially with a guy like Paul Pierce still on the board, who they considered more of a sure bet. However, they took their chance on the kid from Germany and it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing out of the gate.

Nowitzki struggled his rookie year, which led to some doubts creeping in. But Nowitzki overcame early adversity and had an impact that have left many, including Nelson, speechless.

“You just can’t put into words what Dirk has meant to this city and this franchise,” Nelson said. “He was the one guy that brought a championship here to Dallas. When everybody was doubting the defense, can a foreign guy be really the best player on a championship team, especially after our first round in Miami… I mean you really just can’t find the words.

“This franchise and this city, I personally, am just indebted beyond words.”

Nelson isn’t alone in feeling indebted to Nowitzki. Head coach Rick Carlisle also credits Nowitzki’s presence as part of the reason for his longevity in Dallas.

“You don’t end up in a place for nine years straight in this league and then a contract extension for five more years without having that kind of a player,” Carlisle said of Nowitzki. “History will show he’s one of the really truly generational special players in the history of the game.”

While acknowledging that Nowitzki reaching the 30,000-point plateau is “rare air,” Carlisle also said he provides a very positive model in the locker room for the young players to look up to.

As far as just Nowitzki crossing 30,000 points, Carlisle joined Dennis and Cowlishaw on 103.3 FM ESPN and dubbed it the “the most amazing accomplishment I’ve ever witnessed in 33 years in this league.”

Nowitzki’s dominance on the court has certainly helped his lengthy stay in Dallas but he also has the ability to mesh with different personalities, including his outspoken owner, Mark Cuban.

“Dirk gets along with everybody,” Cuban said.

Cuban bought the team in 2000 when Nowitzki still hadn’t peaked. Since then, Nowitzki has had a number of epic playoff series, an MVP season, a championship, became the sixth leading scorer in NBA history and now the sixth player in history to score 30,000 points.

Cuban does have one regret.

“Every day I say I wish I would’ve appreciated more, watching him and really understood just what I had when we had it,” Cuban said. “Because I think he’s just so special, he’s so unassuming, you sometimes take it for granted and that was my mistake.”

In the midst of one of the toughest seasons of Nowitzki’s career, personally and as a team, Cuban points to the culture he established over his 19-year career as to why the team isn’t dysfunctional. As to what Nowitzki means to the franchise, and the city, Cuban made it pretty simple.

“Dirk is the Mavericks, the Mavericks are Dirk,” Cuban said. “There’s no other way to put it. He’s everything.”

In The Locker Room

When you take a peek inside the Mavericks locker room, Dirk Nowitzki truly is in a class of his own. He’s the only player that has had a locker there for nearly two decades and the only guy that has scored 30,000 points in his career.

He’s the only guy above the age of 35 on a roster that has undergone a youth movement and now features 10 players 26-years-old or younger. The youngest of the bunch is Nerlens Noel, who was recently acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers. After his first game in a Mavericks uniform alongside Nowitzki, he gained a memory that will last a lifetime.

“It’s something I’ll never forget,” Noel said. “He’s a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest to ever do it. Having him right next to me [in the locker room] is something special as well, being able to learn his habits and as it goes along, we’ll definitely be getting some work in together. It’s just something special.”

Despite the age gap, Nowitzki still has a knack to connect with his younger teammates. Center Salah Mejri was in awe when he first met Nowitzki.

“I remember one day I was sitting here in this locker room and he just walked in,” Mejri said. “It was only me and him in the locker room and I was like ”Oh my God, what am I going to say,” you know? I’d never met him before and he’s a big star. I’ve never been starstruck before, but I was with him.

“And he started talking to me and he asked me about Afrobasket. I didn’t even know he knew about Afrobasket so it was funny.”

The admiration for Nowitzki runs through every player in the locker room. Wesley Matthews, one of the team’s most vocal leaders, says there are many things he appreciates about the Big German but one thing stands out the most.

“His love for the game, his work ethic,” Matthews said. “You don’t see too many people like that with that same passion and drive.”

One of the veterans who’s had a front-row seat for Dirk’s career evolution is guard Devin Harris.

“He’s worked hard to get to where he is,” Harris said. “He’s grown over the years, became a better leader, understanding how to play with different types of guys. He leads by example. He’s who you want to have in a franchise guy.”

The other longtime cohort, J.J. Barea, is the last remaining piece in the locker room from the legendary 2011 championship run.

“To see him go through what he went through and then we were able to win it together, and to help him get it accomplished, it’s amazing,” Barea said. “It’s something that I will never forget and he will never forget.”

In Barea’s absence, one of the guys who has burst on the scene for the Mavericks of late has been guard Seth Curry. He said observing Nowitzki has definitely played a part in his success.

“He’s steady, works on his game,” Curry said. “He goes out there and puts what he practices into the game so it’s a good thing to witness and take some things from his game, the way he works at his, and apply it to mine.”

Nowitzki’s competitiveness is infectious throughout the locker room. He has the ability to bring out the best from his teammates, and isn’t scared to voice his opinion.

“I appreciate Dirk for his competitiveness,” guard Yogi Ferrell said. “In [a past] game we had, he was yelling at me a lot for not making great plays and I like that. He’s getting on me because he’s a competitor, I’m a competitor so he’s just trying to bring the most out of his teammates. One thing I love about him is his competitive edge.”

That competitiveness is visible in his preparation and while Nowitzki hones his craft, guys like Dorian Finney-Smith, an undrafted impact rookie for the Mavericks, take note and use it to hold themselves to the same standard.

“Still at the age he’s at, he’s always in the gym,” Finney-Smith said. “He’s lifting, getting up shots—even on days off. If he can put in the extra work, knowing who he is and what he’s accomplished so far in the NBA, just makes me feel like I have that much work to do.”

With Nowitzki still setting the standard in the twilight of his career, the Mavericks are holding on to every precious moment, but still have an eye to the future. Nothing quite signifies that like Harrison Barnes, a 24-year-old player they signed to a max contract this past summer.

With Nowitzki facing injury issues early in the season, Barnes was thrust into the power forward position where he added many of the plays designed for Nowitzki to his repertoire. The two even had a playful exchange earlier in the season when Nowitzki jokingly told Barnes to stop stealing his plays.

“They’re under new management,” Barnes replied with a smile.

With his locker next to Nowitzki’s and the torch of the franchise slowly being passed, Barnes is appreciating the opportunity to learn from him, on and off the court.

“For me, it’s just being around him so much, not only learning from and having him in my ear, but just working out with him as well,” Barnes said.

What’s the biggest lesson he’s learned from the Big German?

“To quote him in so few words, 30K didn’t happen by accident,” Barnes said. “I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Tall Baller from the G

The evolution from a lanky German kid with bleach blonde hair to the sixth player in NBA history to score 30,000 points has been both a blur and a lengthy process for Dirk Nowitzki.

Nowitzki entered the NBA in 1998 and his early struggles led him to doubt if he belonged in the league. Nineteen years later, the story of the NBA can’t be written without Nowitzki, who revolutionized the power forward position.

“It’s been a long, amazing ride,” Nowitzki said. “I’ve been fortunate health-wise, been fortunate with the franchise here, the fans, with coaches with teammates that supported me the right way.

“It’s been a great, great ride and hopefully I can play solid a couple more years.”

Through the long ride, Nowitzki’s leadership has evolved along with his game on the court. As the oldest player in the locker room, it’s sometimes hard to believe where the time went the past 19 years.

“It just goes so quick,” Nowitzki said. “You’re in your twenties, it’s fun; you’re the young guy. Next thing you know, you hit 30 [years old] and you’re in the middle of the pack all of a sudden. Next thing you know, Vince [Carter] leaves and you’re the oldest.

“It’s been crazy how fast this ride went. I’m enjoying it.”

There has been plenty to enjoy for Nowitzki through the years, whether it was winning 67 games in a season or the MVP award in 2007, and of course the championship in 2011. Now in the twilight of his career, he’s hitting a lot of milestones, including the exclusive 30,000 points club.

What does being in that fraternity mean to him?

“It’s a nice milestone, obviously,” Nowitzki said. “If you would’ve told me that 20 years ago, I would’ve said you’re out of your mind.”

As he sunk the shot to put him over the 30,000 points mark, the past two decades flashed in front of Nowitzki’s eyes.

“Thinking about all the work I put in, all the teammates I had, all the support I had over the years,” Nowitzki said. “It’s been fun.”

And for Mavs fans, and basketball fans in general, it’s been fun to Nowitzness.

Harrison Barnes subtly leads the Mavs by example

Harrison Barnes Spotlight

Harrison Barnes is bringing his championship chops to Dallas and has been the Mavericks' go-to guy this season.

When Harrison Barnes inked a four-year, $94 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks this past summer, he was greeted with skepticism from fans and basketball aficionados across the country. It was perhaps the most doubt cast upon a player who carried the titles of first-round pick, NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist on his resume.

The last image of Barnes before he signed the big contract was his Golden State Warriors losing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Barnes shot under 15 percent in the final three games. Of course, in Golden State, Barnes was buried under a heap of talent that included Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

However, to say Barnes has lived up to expectations this season would be an understatement. It’s hard to imagine too many folks had him posting back-to-back 30-point performances, like he did in early November. Or see him hitting an off-balance game-winner, as he did on Dec. 23 in a road win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Or see him dominating an overtime game as he did just last week against the Utah Jazz.

Harrison Barnes has silenced the critics, and ironically, he’s done so in his own tasteful style.

Barnes came into a situation with the Mavericks where there was an established franchise leader in Dirk Nowitzki and a vocal leadership presence in Wesley Matthews. Instead of trying to become somebody he’s not, Barnes went to work his way.

“He’s more of a leader by example,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He just does things the way he does it and he’s just a really hard worker. He does everything with a lot of conviction, so that carries weight.”

After Barnes’ big game against the Jazz last week, Carlisle said Barnes has been great this season and then went on to elevate him into some elite company.

“His work ethic is second-to-none of any player I’ve ever been around, as a player or a coach,” Carlisle said.

Carlisle, by the way, played alongside Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Bill Walton and has coached the likes of Nowitzki and Jason Kidd.

It wasn’t just the coach that Barnes left a strong impression on. Matthews, an established leader on the team coming into the season, said it was Barnes’ play and demeanor that got his attention.

“He carries himself way more mature than any 24-year-old I’ve ever seen,” Matthews said. “He works his ass off every single day and he’s just one of those good guys.”

Barnes credits his maturity to two consecutive trips to the NBA Finals with the Warriors the past two seasons. The maturation process was expedited once Nowitzki went through some injury problems early in the season, vaulting Barnes into a primary scoring threat for the team. He said he turned that adversity into an opportunity to learn on the fly and be aggressive.

Success on the court aside, Barnes said it was important to him to gain the respect of his teammates and coaches.

“That’s huge,” Barnes said. “That makes all of this work. To be able to get as many touches as I do, to be able to get the ball in late-game, end-of-quarter—whenever we need a basket—all of that stuff factors in.

When you have teammates, a coaching staff and organization that has that kind of confidence in you, it’s great. It gives you a confidence boost and allows you to just relax and go out there and play.”

So what was the key in his mind to earn that confidence?

“For me, it’s work ethic,” Barnes said. “Coming into the gym every single day, guys seeing you work … I think regardless of how much you say or all that type of stuff, your work ethic speaks volumes, so when you do say something, guys can respect you because they see you in the gym every day working on your craft. They see you coming in on the off days, taking care of your body, and I think that builds equity.”

Owner Mark Cuban, who likened Barnes’ demeanor somewhat to that of Nowitzki’s, said it’s that mentality of Barnes that stood out to him the most.

“He wants to work,” Cuban said. “[He’s] in the gym first, out of the gym—either he or Dirk or Wes turn out the lights. That’s the kind of guy you want.”

Despite all the success Barnes has had, in the locker room and on the court, Cuban says there is even more to come.

“We knew he could be special; we just didn’t know how soon,” Cuban said. “We haven’t seen even the beginning of Harrison Barnes yet.”

Just make sure you’re paying attention as Barnes continues to impress in his own way.

Undrafted to the NBA: How Tom Crean left his mark on Yogi Ferrell and Wesley Matthews

Welcome to the Mavs, Yogi!

He's smarter than your average bear!

Rick Carlisle stood on the practice court at American Airlines Center late in January after his team suffered another injury to its backcourt. The Mavericks were forced to turn to the D-League for reinforcement and found Yogi Ferrell, an undersized point guard nicknamed after the cartoon character.

Though he was a standout collegiately at Indiana, Ferrell went undrafted and spent the majority of his time in the D-League. Because of the injuries, Ferrell was set to be thrust in a starting role against Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs less than 48 hours after getting the call from Dallas. Carlisle, raving about Ferrell’s basketball IQ, was confident that he’d be ready to go.

“He’s demonstrated that he’s as quick a study as we’ve ever seen,” Carlisle said.

Ferrell attributed that to his experience prior to the NBA.

“I come from a program where basketball IQ is everything,” Ferrell said about his time at Indiana. “With the years I had back in college, it’s really helping me and preparing me for this level.”

That experience in college was under the direction of head coach Tom Crean, who held back tears when talking about him on Indiana’s Senior Night in 2016.

“He is one of the great competitors that I’ve ever been around,” a choked up Crean said. “He’s as headstrong as anyone I’ve been around, but he’s also one of the absolute smartest basketball players that I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching.”

Ferrell isn’t the only Maverick Crean coached in college. Prior to arriving in Indiana in 2008, Crean was at Marquette where he coached Wesley Matthews, one of the undisputed leaders in the Mavericks locker room. After great college careers, both Ferrell and Matthews went undrafted, something Crean said was personal for him.

“When they didn’t get drafted it hurt me personally for them,” Crean said. “But then the next step comes. They both had paths that were very hard for them. NBA success comes down to mental toughness, consistent improvement, being teachable, being a great teammate and handling success. I never doubted they could do these things.”

Carlisle, who now coaches Matthews and Ferrell, says he sees a lot of similar qualities in the Tom Crean products.

“They’re both hard-nosed,” Carlisle said. “They’re great workers. They both have great toughness. They’re both highly self-motivated. They got a lot of the same qualities.”

In Ferrell’s first two games with the Mavericks, he helped the team beat the Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Seeing his success against All-Star point guards like Parker and Kyrie Irving caught many off guard, but not Matthews.

“He’s a product of Tom Crean,” Matthews said following a win over the Cavaliers. “Partially being a product of Tom Crean myself, I know he’s been battle tested. I know Crean’s going through a lot of head games and a lot of wild [stuff] down there in Indiana. He’s not going to be scared.”

Ferrell said Crean was a smart coach that demanded a lot of his players and brought energy every day. After sharing experiences with Matthews about Crean, the two came to a consensus.

“One thing that me and him agree on is that being coached by Tom Crean definitely gets you ready for the NBA,” Ferrell said.

Crean said that despite not being with Matthews for his final year in college, he worked relentlessly to get NBA teams to believe in him. At the end of the day, Matthews was denied a draft pick but gained a chip on his shoulder he carries to this day.

Ferrell carries a similar burden, just recently scoring a two-year deal with the Mavericks. As the guy who saw the two players grow, Crean said the similar traits between the two are what made their NBA success a possibility.

“The both have a strong inner fire,” Crean said. “They both are highly, highly competitive and are always looking for ways to win.”

Mentality aside, their work ethic to hone their skill set on the court is also something the two have in common.

“They never get tired of being in the gym, at all hours of the day or night,” Crean said. “If Yogi can learn to improve as much as Wes has throughout his time in the NBA he will have a tremendous career.”

Ferrell will now have that opportunity in Dallas, with a locker just a few feet away from Matthews’ and working with him to try to get the Mavs into the playoffs. With the odds stacked against a team that has dealt with injuries all season long, they will now look to a couple of Tom Crean products to take them home.

Crean has no doubt they can be successful.

“I watched these guys fight through so much in college that them fighting to make it is not a surprise at all,” Crean said. “They work too hard to be denied or to stay down for long.”

Seth brings his own brand of Curry to Dallas

Highlights: Seth Curry sets career highs in points and rebounds

Watch Seth's career night against San Antonio!

His own man

“And now… starting at guard, No. 30…”

No, not two-time NBA MVP, Steph Curry. Not Dell Curry, a man with an accomplished 16-year NBA career.

Seth Curry. A player who has burst out of a monumental shadow and onto the scene in the NBA.

Unlike his older brother, Steph, and father, Dell, Seth wasn’t a first-round draft pick. Actually, coming out of college in 2013, he wasn’t drafted at all. Since then, Seth has been on almost as many teams as he’s had birthdays.

As Seth bounced around the NBA and D-League, he watched his brother win an NBA championship and back-to-back MVP awards. Heck, he even saw his niece, Riley Curry, make her rise to fame as she hijacked Steph at the podium throughout his magical run in 2015. Through it all, he remained patient, craving an opportunity.

This isn’t something that just started in 2013. Seth grew up around the game while his father played for the Charlotte Hornets.

“It was fun,” Seth said. “I got to be around NBA arenas, NBA players and practices and follow him to work. He always brought us around as much as he could. It also came with some pressure and some eyes growing up in Charlotte, where he played, but all in all, it was a great benefit to me in the long run.”

Seth and Steph were practically raised in the gym, but they weren’t too much different than the other kids. Seth admits he was a bit of a late bloomer, but he also had the benefit of having someone to look up to.

“Steph is the bigger brother so I always tried to follow him around as much as I could.”

During Seth’s final two years of high school in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, Steph was starring collegiately at Davidson. He could feel the buzz build around him as big bro broke records. He handled the pressure like you would expect from someone who’s been around basketball their whole life.

He put a bow on a stellar high school career, averaging just over 22 points, five rebounds and five assists per game in his senior year. That time at Charlotte Christian was beneficial in more ways than one.

“Going to the same high school with Steph, I think it’s kind of prepared him for what he’s dealing with in the NBA with his brother having so much success and him trying to find a niche,” Dell Curry said. “It’s really helped him to focus in and not worry about playing under that shadow but being the player that he is, the best he can and get ready to have a good career.”

Seth finally got the extended opportunity he was searching for in Dallas. A place where he’s looked at as Seth Curry, no strings attached.

“Any time I get questions about it, my answer is always hey, let’s let this guy be his own man,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “There are similarities to Seth and Steph but they’re not the same player. Seth does things a little bit differently and in his own way, he’s original.”

It’s a sentiment that was echoed by Harrison Barnes, a guy who the Mavs signed to a max contract this past offseason and someone who spent his first four years in the NBA alongside Steph in Golden State.

“Seth is his own person,” Barnes said. “He’s playing extremely well for us and we need him to continue to get better. With the extended minutes and extended touches, he’s taken complete advantage of it.”

His success isn’t surprising to Dell, who said he “absolutely” knew his son was capable of making noise in the NBA.

“Being his dad, I know what kind of guy he is and how hungry he was to get to the league so it doesn’t surprise me at all,” Dell said. “He just needed a consistent opportunity. He’s got that in Dallas and I think he’s got his feet wet and knows how to play the game. He can only get better.”

Seth also has a quiet confidence about him. When brought to his attention that he has a better shooting percentage than his brother, Seth gave a little smirk and said, “It’s not the first time.”

When asked who would win in a 3-point contest between him and his brother, who holds the record for most 3-pointers in a season, he didn’t hesitate.

“Me,” Seth said with a grin on his face. “I always got confidence in me.”

Making his mark

Seth Curry’s success on the court in Dallas has been a long time coming. This is, after all, what he expected of himself. He just finally got the chance to show it.

Curry started the season as a significant contributor off the bench, occasionally cracking the starting lineup due to injuries. Curry was inserted in the starting lineup again on Jan. 12 against the Phoenix Suns and since then, the Mavs have gone 6-3, including a road win against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday in which Curry had a season-high in minutes (37), career-high in points (24) and career-high in rebounds (10).

Postgame: Seth Curry

MavsPG Seth Curry speaks to the media after his double-double career-high 24 points and 10 rebounds against the San Antonio Spurs.

Curry attributes his emergence to a combination of getting better and increased opportunity, though one a little more than the other.

“I think it’s a little bit of both but honestly I think it’s just more opportunity,” Curry said. “I feel like I’ve played well at any level that I’ve been at.”

While Curry hasn’t surprised himself with the production, he certainly has surpassed the expectations of a few people in the organization, including Dirk Nowitzki.

“I said it in training camp; he’s a lot better than I thought,” Nowitzki admitted. “He showed that. It feels like every shot he’s taking is going in. That’s how much confidence he has right now. I actually think he was a great find.”

In addition to opportunity, Curry’s made strides to improve his game as the season progresses. The numbers tell the story. Curry’s field goal percentage in November was 41.7 percent. It improved to 46.6 percent in December and 51.9 percent in January. Similarly, he started the season off struggling from the 3-point line, shooting 30.9 percent in November. That number jumped to 49 percent in December and then 53.1 percent in January. In fact, Curry’s season average from beyond the arc of 42.2 percent is slightly better than his brother Steph, who is shooting 41 percent from 3-point range.

Lost in all the numbers however, is an underrated part of Curry’s game.

“I believe he’s getting better on both ends,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “His defensive numbers have been sneaky good. He’s a guy that has the reputation of being an offensive player because he shoots the ball so well and everybody knows his brother and his dad were great shooters but he’s taken on some pretty big defensive challenges in recent games and done some very good things.”

The personal strides this season still don’t satisfy Curry, who believe he has ways to go before hitting his ceiling.

“There’s always room to improve,” Curry said. “I’m focused on that in every single game, being better and better.”

Wesley Matthews: Three degrees of a leader

Wesley Matthews – 24K Magic

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Immediate Impact

Ups and downs have been the story of Wesley Matthews’ basketball career, but there has been one constant at every stop: Leadership.

Whether it was starring at James Madison Memorial High School, four stellar years at Marquette or his stops in the NBA, Matthews’ leadership has been perpetual.

“I don’t know whether it’s because of my preparation or my demeanor, it just seems like teams just naturally gravitate towards me as far as a leadership role,” Matthews said. “It’s one that I embrace and one that I enjoy.”

Matthews’ journey up the NBA ranks has been swift, yet hard earned. He came into the league undrafted, overlooked by every team in the NBA. After earning his shot with the Utah Jazz, Matthews made his mark in Portland, establishing a foundation of success alongside Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge.

The rising star suffered a setback on March 5, 2015 when he tore his Achilles in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Matthews’ journey following the catastrophic injury was what stuck out to head coach Rick Carlisle. It helped establish him as a leader in the Mavs’ locker room early on.

“He was a leader-type personality coming in,” Carlisle said. “He had a lot of respect when he came in here simply because of his career and what he stood for up to that point. But then when he ended up playing opening night last year and had the kind of year that he had—I believe he led our team in minutes played—it just builds up equity in the locker room. It facilitates even more respect.”

Carlisle acknowledged that Matthews’ leadership has evolved during his tenure with the team, especially being one of the few constants the team has had through a turbulent season.

“He’s been huge for us,” Carlisle said. “During this year when it’s been difficult, he’s kept guys engaged in the struggle, slugging it out, continuing to compete hard. He’s a special guy.”

As special as Matthews has been, it’s hardly a surprise to the Mavs. Actually, it was his leadership that was one of the reasons the team took a chance on a guy coming off an injury that few have successfully been able to recover from.

“He’s at a Dirk Nowitzki-like level in terms of his leadership,” said Donnie Nelson, the president of basketball operations for the Mavs, prior to Matthews playing a single minute in a Mavs jersey.

It didn’t take long for Matthews to prove that.

Two weeks after Matthews made his season debut, he texted Nowitzki, the face of the Mavericks, following a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans that both of them needed to step up as leaders. The result was a 10-point victory the very next night over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Accountability First

Matthews’ role as a leader has a lasting impact in the locker room, but he’ll tell you it starts in the mirror.

“You can’t lead if you’re not doing it,” Matthews said. “If you’re not holding yourself accountable, you can’t expect to hold anybody else [accountable] or anybody else to look at you.”

Matthews has never been shy about doing that. Nine months after suffering what many consider a career-ending injury, Matthews shot 1-of-9 from the floor in a 100-96 loss to the Houston Rockets. Afterwards, he was in no mood to sugarcoat his rough outing.

“I suck right now,” Matthews said at the time. “Point blank, period.

With all of his teammates coming to his defense, Matthews decided to walk the walk. In his next game, he exploded for 36 points, knocking in 10 3-pointers.

For Matthews, that’s just part of ride. He’s quick to remind everybody through rough shooting stretches to not worry; shots will fall. That’s part of his brilliance as a leader. Whether he’s up or down on the court, his teammates are always ready to go war with him.

“He’s tough-minded and he’s tough physically,” center Dwight Powell said. “He’s done a great job of kind of being that guy that’s at the top of your list as far as guys you want to go to battle with.“

His work ethic is second to none as well. Owner Mark Cuban has come late at night to the American Airlines Center to attend a concert, only to find Matthews working on his game in the practice court.

Aside from his leadership on the court, Matthews also makes his voice heard in the locker room.

“As far as vocal, he’s all about winning,” Powell said. “So when you have a guy in your locker room that does the right things, says the right things and is about the right things, it really raises the culture and makes you want to be better.”

Respected By All

Leading a group of men when everything falls into place is one thing, but leading a team when players are in and out of lineups due to injury and losses start piling up can be a challenge.

For Matthews’ teammates though, it’s not hard to get behind him.

“He always does the right thing,” said rookie Dorian Finney-Smith. “It’s pure, as in he loves it. A lot of guys, it’s not pure. I see that in him. He really cares about winning.”

One thing that has gone right for the Mavs this season has been the rise of Harrison Barnes, the former Golden State Warrior who assumed a much larger role in his move to Dallas. As Barnes continues to get acclimated in Dallas, he said Matthews’ impact as a leader has been huge for himself, as well as the team.

“He’s done a great job of not only leading by example but with his voice,” Barnes said. “He’s one of our most vocal guys in terms of rallying the troops and being consistent all year.”

Consistency has been the trademark for Matthews throughout his career. Aside from missing the last two months of the 2015 season due to the torn Achilles, Mathews rarely is unavailable. That has been even more valuable this season as nearly every Maverick has missed some time due to injury, including newcomer Seth Curry.

Curry pointed to Matthews’ durability as one of the reasons why he’s easy to get behind.

“He suits up every night, Curry said. “He brings all the energy.”

“He’s all about winning. You always want to line up with a guy like that. It helps you to get going every single night because you know you want to be able to have his back.”

Though Finney-Smith, Curry and Barnes are new faces in Dallas, J.J. Barea and Devin Harris are the longest tenured Mavs not named Dirk Nowtizki.

Barea says he has seen how Matthews has grown in his role since the start of last season.

“He was great as soon as he got here but he kept getting better and better,” Barea said. “He’s a leader. He’s a competitor. He wants to win. Team first, no matter what. Personally, I love having him as a teammate.”

It’s a sentiment shared throughout the Mavs locker room and throughout the organization.

“He leads by example,” Cuban said. “He’s just a guy that’s Mr. 110 percent and you can’t ask for anything more than that. I’m proud of him. Excited for him and excited for us.”