On the Inside: Dirk Nowitzki

2016-17 Exit Interview: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki addresses the media for exit interviews.

Throughout the last several weeks, we have published end-of-season breakdowns for some of the key Mavericks as part of our “On the Inside” series. Imagine never having seen the players before, and this is the scouting report. Read all of them here.

This was an unusual season for Dirk Nowitzki.

He played at least 30 minutes in a game just once in 2016, and that was on opening night. He missed 24 of the team’s first 29 games with lingering Achilles soreness. That’s far from the norm; previously, Nowitzki had missed more than nine games just once through 18 seasons. In his absence, the team struggled. Dallas won just eight of its first 29 games, a hole which ultimately proved too steep to climb out of as the Mavs missed the playoffs for just the second time since 2000. Some might have thought his best days were too far behind him to ever see again, while others brought up the possibility of retirement.

But when he came back, the 38-year-old was productive for a player of any age despite playing out of position at center for much of the season. From his return on Dec. 23, Nowitzki led the Mavericks by scoring 19.7 points per 36 minutes, adding 8.9 boards, 2.1 assists, and a block. During his best stretch of the season — from March 5-21 — the German compiled per-game averages of 18.3 points and 7.6 rebounds on 52.4 percent shooting from the field and 45.0 percent from deep, good for a 59.5 effective field goal percentage.

That period came toward the end of the Mavs’ best stretch of the season; from Jan. 12-March 23, Dallas sported a 20-13 record. But by then, the club had already played 71 games and was essentially out of the playoff race. For Nowitzki, however, that run came right in what would normally be the meat of his season. That nine-game run in which he averaged 18 points and seven rebounds came in his 36th-44th appearances on the year. By the time he finally reached his peak form, the season was already winding down.

That doesn’t mean it was a lost season, statistically speaking. The 7-footer continued to put up numbers most other players will never come close to matching. For example, he shot above 37 percent from beyond the arc for the 13th season in his career, which ties for fourth-most ever. He averaged 19 points per 36 minutes for the 17th consecutive season, which ties Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone for second-most all-time behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was also his 13th season with a usage rate of 25 percent or higher and a turnover percentage of 10 percent or lower, which is a new NBA record. (He moved past some guy named Michael Jordan.)

He also reached the 30,000-point milestone, becoming just the sixth player in NBA history to do so. It might have been the coolest regular-season moment in Mavericks history, another once-in-a-lifetime achievement by a guy an entire generation of Dallas sports fans has grown up with.

Mavericks Celebrate Dirk’s Milestone

Mavericks fans and teammates surround Dirk Nowitzki as they celebrate him reaching 30,000 points for his career.

So even though Nowitzki’s injury basically delayed the start of what could have been a fine season, he still accomplished a fair amount individually. Within the context of the team, the big man once again had a positive impact on his teammates, virtually across the board. Nearly every player was better at everything when Dirk was on the floor, in what was a continuation of one of the most unique traits in NBA history: Nowitzki’s floor-bending effect on the opposing defense. That’s a quality that will never disappear, even if he plays until he’s 50.

Next season will be Dirk’s 20th as a pro, and he’ll tie Kobe Bryant (Lakers) for most seasons played for one franchise, and the Mavericks obviously want to reach the playoffs in what could be the German’s last season. That’s part of what made Nowitzki’s late-season surge so refreshing to see: It reinforced the belief that he can still play big minutes on a good team, so long as the talent around him continues to blossom. The team’s young players will have to take a step forward to push the Mavs over the hump. Regardless, Dallas could enter 2017-18 with a real shot at the playoffs despite only a few known quantities, and Nowitzki is still probably the surest thing of them all, which at his age is truly incredible.

The burning questions

OK, so if he’s still a pretty sure thing, what is there to wonder about?

The Mavericks have acknowledged they’ve entered into a transition period. Harrison Barnes is taking over the late-game duties, and Rick Carlisle is running the free throw isolation plays for Barnes now that he once called for the German en route to a championship. By the end of the season, the Mavs were starting multiple rookies on a regular basis. The club’s biggest move of the season came at the trade deadline in a move for Nerlens Noel, who became the Mavs’ youngest player. Heading into next season, it’s likely Noel will be the second-youngest, behind only the team’s No. 9 draft pick, who will likely still be a teenager on opening night.

It’s difficult both to get young and still compete for another playoff run for Nowitzki. The 19-year vet said during his exit interview that he’s willing to help mentor young players as they come, but clearly the Mavs aren’t interested in going full rebuild with a legend still in the locker room. The club is walking a delicate tightrope, which leads to some questions that must be answered by next season.

1. Is Dirk still Dirk?

Evidence cited earlier suggests that, yes, Nowitzki is still Nowitzki. He might never average 20 a game again, but the fact remains that he was still a productive scorer. That question honestly does not need to be asked.

His highlight run of the 2016-17 campaign excluded some of his finest late-game performances, including back-to-back games against Portland and Utah in which he hit last-second shots to bring the Mavs back into the game (Blazers) and tie with a couple seconds left (Jazz). As you can imagine he had quite a few highlights this season, but those two fourth quarters stand out.

Dirk Sends It To OT

Harrison Barnes misses the shot but Dirk Nowitzki is there to retrieve it and lets the jumper fly to send the game into OT.

More importantly as it relates to the youth movement, however, Nowitzki fit well within the team. As the season wore on, Harrison Barnes and Seth Curry emerged as the club’s two strongest clutch performers, as both can create their shot and see the whole floor to make the right passes. Dirk still found himself with the ball in his hands late plenty of times, but one unintended consequence of Nowitzki’s prolonged absence to begin the season was the development of Barnes as Curry as late-game studs; together, they shot 50 of 98 from the field in the clutch this season, per NBA Stats.

Dirk’s willingness to not have to be the guy late in games could be a big factor next season, when he’ll almost certainly be healthier than he was this year and, therefore, play more games. He had a lower usage rate in the clutch this season than Barnes, Deron Williams (while he was with the Mavericks), J.J. Barea, and Yogi Ferrell. At this stage in his career, he’s just as dangerous when he’s off the ball as when he has it in his hands. Defenders are always going to stick with him, no matter what else is happening, even if it means the opposing center steps 25 feet out from the rim to defend him. Nowitzki’s gravity helped lead to Wesley Matthews’ game-winning 3 in Chicago, for example. (There will be more examples of this later.)

One of my favorite Nowitzki plays this season wasn’t even a shot. It was a pass. On March 15, with the Mavs clinging on to a narrow lead in Washington and Nico Brussino playing out of his mind, Nowitzki gave up a fairly good look at a 3-pointer to swing it to the rookie in the corner for a better one and then was the first to dap him after the bucket.

We celebrate Nowitzki more for his baskets than his passes or floor presence, but those qualities might be more valuable on a young team than they’ve ever been. If a player is capable of helping his team win simply by standing still, it’s crucial to keep that guy on the floor when you need a bucket while the young guys figure out how to take over games. That he can still score at a high level is a bonus: Nowitzki scored 1.088 points per possession in the post against his own defender (not even a switched little guy) this season, per Synergy Sports. To put it in context, he scored more efficiently against bigs in the post than the league-leading Golden State Warriors offense did overall, regardless of play type (1.043).

So, yep, he’s still Dirk.

How’d he do as a 5?

The key date to remember about the 2016-17 Mavs season is Jan. 12. That’s when the club made a commitment to 5-out small-ball, and Dallas rode that philosophy to the 20-13 stretch mentioned earlier. Even after the Noel trade, Nowitzki still started at center for quite some time.

You can imagine many things would be true about a team with Nowitzki at center. First, you’d expect the offense to be pretty spectacular because of all the shooting. With the offense running predominantly through Harrison Barnes, that left the German to spot up on the perimeter and pull the center from the rim. As a result, Dallas could get pretty creative on the perimeter. Though Barnes ultimately passes to Dorian Finney-Smith, watch the screen Yogi Ferrell sets to free up Dirk from the corner.

There aren’t many offenses in the league in which point guards are basically setting pin-down screens to spring the center loose for a 3-pointer. That type of action is very difficult to defend and, if timed perfectly, can give Nowitzki an easy look almost every time.

Defensively, though, you might think a Nowitzki-at-center group would struggle to defend the lane without the presence of a traditional rim protector. Also, given Barnes’ relatively low rebounding numbers for a power forward, you might think the Mavs would struggle to clean the defensive glass. That wasn’t necessarily the case, though.

Below are some of Nowitzki’s on-off splits on both sides of the ball from Jan. 12 through the end of the season, when more than half of his minutes were played at the center position. (All starred “on” numbers represent the highest mark on the team, while all double-starred “off” numbers represent the lowest.)

Nowitzki On Nowitzki Off
Mavs Assist% 62.3% 54.8%**
Mavs D Rebound% 79.4%* 74.5%**
Mavs Turnover % 10.8%* 13.3%**
Opp. Free Throw Rate 0.237* 0.313**

What do those numbers mean? Assist rate measures the percentage of buckets a team makes that came off an assist. With Nowitzki on the floor, Dallas assisted more than three-fifths of its baskets. With him off, that number dropped to below 55 percent, which was the lowest mark without any player on the roster. More surprisingly, the Mavs assisted on just 45.0 percent of its made 2-pointers without Nowitzki on the floor following Jan. 12, which shows just how much the club relied on Barnes to create from the mid-range without the Big German.

The Mavericks rebounded at an elite rate with Nowitzki and struggled in that regard without him — a 79.4 percent defensive rebound rate would have finished third in the NBA this season, while their 74.5 percent clip without him would have ranked 29th in the NBA. Dallas allowed 2.4 fewer second-chance points per 100 possessions with Nowitzki on the floor than without him. The Mavs also rarely fouled shooters with Nowitzki on the floor (free throw rate) — the 0.237 rate would have ranked sixth, while the 0.313 rate would have ranked 28th.

Finally, the Mavericks rarely ever turned it over while Nowitzki played, even when he was at center and primarily just setting ball screens. Dallas gave it away just 10.8 percent of the time with Nowitzki on the floor for the last four months of the season, which would be the lowest team turnover rate in the history of NBA basketball. (The Hornets’ 11.7 percent turnover rate this season is the lowest on record, per NBA Stats.) The Mavs have almost always been a low-turnover team with Nowitzki; the Dirk-Era Mavs have three of the nine lowest turnover rate seasons in NBA history, according to Basketball-Reference. They were historically low again this season — tied for 16th-best in league history — and that’s with no less than eight true point guards logging minutes, plus Nico Brussino manning point for long stretches in several games.

There are certainly trade-offs with Dirk at 5. For example, Dallas shoots less often at the rim and earns trips to the free throw line at a much lower rate with him on than when he’s off. There’s not as much of a rim-protecting presence as there would be if a player like Noel or Salah Mejri is in the game. But those are sacrifices you’ve got to be willing to make when you need a quick scoring burst within the course of a contest.

Is he a good fit between Barnes and Noel?

Nerlens Noel is a restricted free agent this summer, but the Mavericks have publicly stated their desire to retain him, and Noel has gone on record to say he likes playing for and living in Dallas. If the Mavs can strike a deal with the young big man to bring him back, and if nothing else crazy happens, a Barnes-Nowitzki-Noel frontcourt could be starting on opening night 2017.

Barnes and Noel are just 25 and 23 years old, respectively, so the Mavericks have plenty to be excited about in terms of their long-term development. (Read about Barnes’ season here and Noel’s here.) But in the short term, their fit with Nowitzki — and, more vitally, Nowitzki’s fit with them — is essential.

The sample size with a Nowitzki-Noel partnership was pretty small considering he was such a late acquisition and Nowitzki sat out some games down the stretch, but nevertheless there were some good results. The Mavs were +6.0 points per 100 possessions when the two shared the floor, including sporting an impressive 100.1 defensive rating and 2.04 assist-to-turnover ratio. That 6.0 net rating would have ranked third in the NBA this season, and the 100.1 D rating would have led the NBA. Though this isn’t to suggest the Mavs will win 60 games if Nowitzki and Noel play 48 minutes a game — in fact, the Mavs were only 9-11 when they played, but several losses came when the two would be shut down mid-game — it does tell you something about the pair’s potential. (It’s no surprise that Nowitzki’s best individual stretch — March 5-21 — coincided with Noel’s arrival. Together they torched opposing second units.)

Noel’s rolling ability combined with Nowitzki’s spot-up shooting can create some devastating offense for the Mavs.

Noel isn’t the only Maverick who benefited from playing next to Nowitzki, and vice versa. The 7-footer has a unique symbiotic effect on nearly all of his teammates. When the Mavericks have surrounded Dirk with players who complement his strengths and can fully take advantage of the extra space he provides, it’s almost always led to offensive fireworks.

The graphic below shows some of the top Mavs guards and wings’ individual shooting numbers when Nowitzki was on the floor this season vs. when he was off.

Player 2P% Dirk On 2P% Dirk Off Difference 3P% Dirk On 3P% Dirk Off Difference
Harrison Barnes 52.4% 48.1% +4.22% 35.5% 35.0% +0.48%
Seth Curry 60.3% 47.8% +12.44% 42.7% 42.4% +0.30%
Wesley Matthews 42.9% 43.4% -0.52% 37.5% 35.9% +1.57%
Yogi Ferrell 42.3% 39.7% +2.55% 41.1% 39.0% +2.13%
Dorian Finney-Smith 51.4% 46.7% +4.70% 32.7% 27.9% +4.79%
J.J. Barea 51.3% 41.9% +9.40% 36.8% 34.7% +2.12%

That chart does more to show the positive impact Nowitzki has on his teammates more than any words I or anyone else could write. Every single player shot the 3-ball better — some significantly — with him on the floor than when he was off, and every player also saw massive 2-point improvement (with the exception of Wesley Matthews, whose numbers only decreased marginally).

Now, Nowitzki’s presence wasn’t always the only thing that had an influence on production — numerous point guard injuries to begin the season coinciding with Nowitzki’s absence presented the offense with unique challenges for some of those players, as well — and there are many reasons why those numbers could look the way they do. But there’s only one constant, and that’s Dirk.

The mark of any great athlete in a team sport is his ability to make those around him better. That holds especially true in the NBA, when just five teammates are on the floor at the same time and the league’s hierarchy is typically determined by only a handful of players.

Nowitzki might not be in the popular discussion for top-five, or even top-20, active players anymore, but I would bet you’d be hard-pressed to find another player in the league right now whose presence would provide a similar universal boost to his most common teammates. An easy guess would be LeBron James, who’s now considered possibly one of the three or four best players ever and is still at the height of his powers.

That Nowitzki still made an impact of that magnitude — in an injury-plagued season on a lottery team, no less! — is truly stunning. He is a walking offensive cheat code. In an era when we have more tools than ever to determine what makes a good basketball player, Dirk is still underappreciated, or at least he’s not been properly quantified. I suspect that 15 years from now new stats will have been created that can more accurately determine his one-of-a-kind effectiveness. The above chart could be a good place to start.

At this point in his career, Nowitzki might not be able to go out and get you 25 points every night, or even 20. He might not be able to play 35 minutes a night, and he probably shouldn’t even play 28 anymore. The days of “give it to Dirk at the elbow and get out of the way” might be behind us forever. But even now, in an NBA in which otherworldly athleticism is required and ball-handling big men are the most sought-after asset in the game, there’s still a place for Nowitzki, the soon-to-be 39-year-old who’d rather jog than sprint and has dunked just 11 times in his last three seasons combined.

He can play with the young guys on his own team and continues to make them better. He can play power forward or start at center. He can spot up in the corner or keep running the pick-and-pop. He can post up, he can get you some rebounds, and he can still draw a double-team. He is today what the Mavericks can only hope Harrison Barnes will one day become, and who at least 20 other teams hope their best player can one day evolve to be.

Yes, even now, after 19 long seasons and coming off perhaps the longest one yet, Dirk is still Dirk.

A Night Fit for a Princess

A Night Fit for a Princess

Make-A-Wish and the Mavs teamed up to give brain tumor survivor Anna Blackwell a night she wouldn't forget.

DALLAS –It was a night fit for a princess. And in this case, the princess was Anna Blackwell.

Back on Feb. 25, Anna was treated to a very special night, thanks to the Dallas Mavericks and to the folks at Make-A-Wish North Texas. On that night, Anna and her family were picked up at their home in Carrollton by a limo driver and driven to American Airlines Center, where they dined at the VIP Patron Lounge.

Thanks to a generous donor, the Blackwells also were seated courtside near the Mavs’ bench for that night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Before the game, Anna went through some warm-up drills with the Mavs for approximately 10 minutes. And after the game her wish of meeting Mavs superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki and playing a game of HORSE with the NBA’s No. 6 all-time leading scorer was realized.

What made the night so surreal for Anna is that all of this magic happened on the one-year anniversary of her undergoing surgery to repair a left temporal brain tumor.

“It was a year after my surgery, so it was my one-year surgery date,” Anna said. “Having the floor seats and being able to watch the game and be really up close and personal was pretty cool.

“They were the best seats in the house. And just to come after the game and spend quite a long time with Dirk meant a lot to me.”

Anna played two games of HORSE with Nowitzki, who — to somewhat level the playing field — played in his bare feet.

“I almost beat him the second time,” Anna said. “I got up to the ‘S’ and I knew I wanted to make a free throw at the end just to beat him with a free throw, but he hit a three before I could hit a free throw.

“He hit some pretty hard trick shots, and he hit a lot of threes. I actually made one of the threes that he shot.”

Anna’s parents and her 11-year old brother, Patrick, were there for the memorable occasion.

“It was the one night where it was just about her, and she didn’t have to worry about anything,” Anna’s mom, Stephanie Blackwell, said. “It was just all about Anna, it was so nice.”

“I saw a true smile and true joy on her face – you can look back on the pictures and just see it, and it was genuine. It was a night we could all get away together and not worry about anything.”

Jared Mullins, the vice-president of major gifts for Make-A-Wish North Texas, acknowledged that it was his employers’ heartfelt desire to make Anna’s wish come true.

“Her wish was to play HORSE with Dirk,” Mullins said. “It wasn’t just to go to a game, it wasn’t just to attend the game.

“She wanted to play HORSE with Dirk and we wanted to find a way to allow that to be granted. She’s a spectacular little girl.”

Mullins noted that Make-A-Wish has partnerships with organizations, athletes, celebrities and VIPs across the globe who are more than happy to put a smile on the face of someone like Anna.

“We’ve had incredible partnership with the Mavericks,” Mullins said. “There’s a huge significance for who they are in the Metroplex, and there’s a huge significance for who we are, so when we can come together in partnership and be able to impact a kid’s life, it’s an incredible opportunity that we’re so thankful to be able to share in with the Mavericks.

“We know that Dirk has an incredible affinity for Dallas as a whole, but we also know that Dirk has an incredible heart in all that he does for the community. He’s one-of-a-kind, and so to be able to have an opportunity to play HORSE with a one-of-a-kind is a very, very difficult process and one that takes careful consideration, but one that is absolutely achievable for the child that makes that wish such as Anna.”

The Blackwells had endured many sleepless nights wondering and worrying about Anna, who turns 14 on May 29. There were numerous occasions when Anna’s medical situation were compounded by the fact that the Blackwells experienced difficulties just trying to get the correct diagnosis.

“She had a ruptured appendix and then she had anaphylactic, and then just lingering pain,” Stephanie said. “We had been searching for awhile on her headaches, but we were searching for awhile on what was going on and not getting a clear understanding.

“So we realized part of her vision was gone, which prompted a new pediatrician and an optometrist who confirmed the vision was gone, and then the MRI confirmed the diagnosis. When you hear that diagnosis, time just stops.”

A two-week period elapsed from the time Anna received her diagnosis and underwent surgery. Stephanie said her daughter had a “super slow growing” brain tumor.

“Which means it was probably there for quite some time,” Stephanie said. “It was about a golf ball size.”

“It was a horribly, horribly scary time.”

Fast forward to over a year later, and these days Anna is now in remission and getting around just like any teenager.

“I had a brain tumor,” Anna said. “It was just a small cranioscopy.”

No radiation or chemo-therapy treatments were required.

“Hers was not malignant, so she was not needing immediate radiation or chemo,” Stephanie said. “What they do with these types is they watch and wait, and if there’s growth, then there will be radiation and possibly chemo, but there’s no reason to do it now.”

“They want you to be a little older, if you can. There’s just a little left, and so she’ll be six months of MRI and then one year, and then she’ll just continue those throughout her lifetime.”

As far as her wish — compliments of the Mavs and Make-A-Wish North Texas — coming to fruition, Anna toyed with a few ideas before deciding she wanted to meet and play a game of HORSE with Nowitzki. Anna just completed her second season as a Ball Kid for the Mavs, so she already had previously been in close proximity to Nowitzki.

But her special wish being granted was something totally different.

“I thought about maybe going to the (NBA) All-Star game or designing shoes,” Anna said. “But because I’m a Ball Kid with the Mavericks, I knew I wanted to do something basketball-related, but I didn’t know how to make the Mavericks’ thing unique, so I just started thinking.

“Dirk has been my idol for the last few years. And it just kind of came to me that why don’t I play HORSE with Dirk and kind of beat him one-on-one.”

Before the game against the Pelicans – which the Mavs won, 96-83, behind 18 points and nine rebounds from Nowitzki – Anna was in awe of becoming the recipient of something akin to the red carpet treatment.

“After that the game started, I was sitting right in front of the coaches,” Anna said. “So it was pretty cool because it was like I was a coach.”

The entire events of Feb. 25 has forever changed Anna and her perspective on life in general and on people in particular. She’s currently making and selling eye glass cases to help raise awareness and help support the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

“She’s making changes in the community left and right, she’s doing support for children’s brain tumor research, she’s unstoppable,” Mullins said. “She’s the absolute kind of employee the Mavericks want to have, the absolute type of ambassador we’re so fortunate to have for our organization, and her smile was infectious that day knowing that we were able to give her her one true wish.

“Another thing that Anna did was act as an ambassador at our walk. We had a Walk For Wishes (on Apr. 1 at Reverchon Park in Dallas) and Anna was one of our ambassadors and was able to share her experience to hopefully motivate others who are in the current wish process to remain excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.”

For Stephanie, the sheer joy on her daughter’s face during her festive night at American Airlines Center was priceless.

“The Mavs have been absolutely wonderful and very supportive throughout everything,” Stephanie said. “Anna has loved Dirk forever, and he was so good.”

Now, about that first game of HORSE with Nowitzki, Anna said: “He whipped me pretty bad.” And although she came close in the second game against Nowitzki, she’s hopeful of a rematch.

“When I was five I knew I’d probably want to play HORSE with Dirk,” Anna said. “And when I’m 30 I know I’ll probably want to play HORSE with Dirk.”

By the time Anna turns 30, Nowitzki will be 54. With that timetable firmly in mind, Anna confidently said: “Then I’ll be able to beat him.”

Mavs one of record 24 teams to compete in NBA Summer League 2017

The Mavs will head west once again to Las Vegas for the NBA Summer League. This time, they’ll be joined by an NBA-record 23 other teams.

The Mavericks have competed in Vegas each year since 2005, with the exception of 2011 when there was no Summer League. Dallas is 28-30 all-time in Summer League play.

Teams will compete in three preliminary games beginning July 7 before being seeded in a tournament that leads to the Championship Game on July 17. Each team will play at least five games. Last summer, the Mavs lost in the second round of the tournament to the Chicago Bulls, who would go on to win the championship a few days later.

Summer League is a great opportunity for younger players to prove themselves and potentially even earn their first NBA contract. For example, Jonathan Gibson took Vegas by storm last summer, eventually clinching a partially guaranteed contract and training camp invite.

It also gives more established players an opportunity to work on different aspects of their game. Dwight Powell spent time in Vegas a couple years ago working on elements of his outside game, and last season Justin Anderson played some minutes to work on his ball-handling and creating.

This summer, more so than others in recent memory, the Mavs will have the chance to take plenty of young players already under contract with them to the tournament. Nothing is official, of course, and plenty can change between now and then, but the Mavericks have hinted that virtually all first-year players from this past season’s team could play in Las Vegas. That list could even include guys like Yogi Ferrell and Dorian Finney-Smith, who were among the club’s most-used players for large chunks of 2016-17.

The full roster will be revealed some time after the June 22 NBA Draft. The Mavericks will also almost certainly send the player they select to Las Vegas to make his debut in blue.

Last year’s event set records for total attendance, single-day attendance, combined viewership across ESPN and NBA TV, and NBA social media. Tickets for NBA Summer League will go on sale Monday May 22 at 10 a.m. PT. Fans can purchase tickets by visiting NBATickets.com. ESPN and NBA TV will also bring fans all the action from NBA Summer League 2017 in July. A complete broadcast and game schedule will be released at a later date.

Other teams competing include Houston, San Antonio, Golden State, Chicago, Phoenix, Brooklyn, Toronto, Washington, Boston, Denver, Memphis, Miami, Utah, Cleveland, Portland, Sacramento, Atlanta, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and both L.A. clubs.

Pair of stretch big men could fall to Mavs at No. 9 in NBA Draft

DALLAS — It has become a calling card for the Dallas Mavericks during 19 seasons while 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki established himself as the best shooting big man in NBA history. Now, finding a stretch power forward in the mold of Nowitzki may be a priority for the Mavericks in June’s NBA Draft.

This season, the Mavericks shot 35.5 percent from three-point range as a team, ranking 16th in the league in that department. The Mavs also ranked 30th in the league by producing just 97.9 points an outing and 23rd with an offensive rating of 103.7. That said, the Mavericks may target an offensively-gifted big man in the draft to help relieve the scoring burden on Nowitzki’s and versatile forward Harrison Barnes’ broad shoulders next season. But according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, finding a young big man with the right skillset may be easier said than done.

“There aren’t a lot of high-quality stretch fours in the draft, and so this is an opportunity for us to take a close look,” Carlisle said when grading the position earlier this season.

DraftExpress.com has the Mavericks going in that direction in next month’s draft, targeting Dallas as a potential landing spot for Arizona freshman standout Lauri Markkanen.

The 7-foot Markkanen showed his versatility and all-around skillset during his lone colligate season, averaging 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds in 37 games. The 20-year-old Finland native also showcased his ability to stretch the floor beyond the three-point arc, connecting on 42.3 percent from long range. And after earning All-Pac 12 First Team honors while leading Arizona to the Sweet 16, Markkanen could find himself headed to Dallas with the Mavericks’ top-10 pick.

However, while Markkanen may be an intriguing prospect, HoopsHype.com, NBADraft.net and TheUndefeated.com all have the Mavericks targeting Gonzaga freshman big man Zach Collins instead.

The 7-foot, 230-pound Collins averaged 10.0 points and 5.9 rebounds an outing as Gonzaga sprinted to the national title game and a runner-up finish. He also shot a staggering 47.6 percent from three-point range, demonstrating that he could be a knockdown shooter at the next level. The sites agree that Collins could now benefit from learning from the No. 6 scorer in NBA history, Nowitzki, as he tries to patent his game in a similar fashion. But after spending most of his time on the court as a backup behind Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski, the 19-year-old Collins will likely face a steep learning curve in Year 1.

That’s What’s Up: Episode 16

Don’t know what’s up? NBA champion Shawn Marion’s got you covered. Feast your ears on episode 16 of his new podcast, as “The Matrix” chops it up with Danny Bollinger on hoops, life and everything in between.

The Post Up: Episode 13

Post up with Matt Mosley and Bobby “The BK Brawler” Karalla as they dry humor and stat nerd you to oblivion with all the Mavs news you never knew you needed!

Episode 13 features ESPN college basketball analyst and international hoops junkie Fran Fraschilla! Listen in as Matt and Fran break down the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery as the Mavs are locked in with the ninth pick.

Could Mavs address needs at point guard with No. 9 pick in NBA Draft?

DALLAS — There was a revolving door for the Dallas Mavericks at point guard this season after injuries and roster turnover left the team depleted in the backcourt. Now, the Mavericks might choose to address their need for consistency at that position with the No. 9 pick in June’s NBA Draft.

Overcoming a 4-17 start to the season to finish with a 33-49 record, the Mavericks saw an emergence of their young guards by the end of the grueling 82-game schedule. Waiving three-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams on Feb. 23, the Mavs handed the primary ball-handling duties to first-year floor general Yogi Ferrell and combo guard Seth Curry to close the season. The Mavs also overcame injuries during the season to veteran guards J.J. Barea and Devin Harris. But after finishing the season ranked 30th by producing 97.9 points an outing and 27th while dishing 20.8 assists a game as a team, the Mavericks may look at upgrading at the point guard position with their top-10 draft pick.

“Well, we’ve got to get better at point (guard). There’s no question,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban matter-of-factly said near the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. “You know, if we can’t do it in the draft, we’ll look at free agency and see what we can do. … We’ve got to get that one pass-first point guard. That’s what we don’t have. And just playing time and consistency will help, too.”

After ranking 23rd with an offensive rating of 103.7, the Mavericks could certainly benefit from an offseason addition to the backcourt. Five point guards are expected to be taken in the top 10 picks of the upcoming draft. Along those lines, several mock drafts around the internet have the Mavs adding a player capable of sliding into the rotation in the backcourt and contributing right away.

According to BleacherReport.com, the Mavericks could add North Carolina State freshman standout Dennis Smith Jr. if he falls their way in the draft. The site adds that the Mavs will immediately benefit from Smith’s explosive athleticism and ability to fill up the stat sheet.

The 6-foot-3 Smith averaged 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists during his freshman campaign, clocking 34.8 minutes an outing. He also connected on 45.5 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from three-point range while operating predominantly with the ball in his hands. That said, Smith could see the same effectiveness in coach Rick Carlisle’s system alongside the likes of 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, leading scorer Harrison Barnes and outside shooters like Curry and Wesley Matthews.

However, with Smith already off the board, SBNation.com, SI.com and CBSSports.com all have the Mavericks looking another direction to fill their point guard needs in Frenchman Frank Ntilikina.

The 18-year-old Ntilikina is just beginning to scratch the surface of his talent, showcasing his potential while averaging 5.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 18.2 minutes an outing in 32 games this season for Strasbourg in the LNB Pro A. The Brussels, Belgium native also connected on 43.1 percent from three-point range, showcasing an ability to stretch the floor. He’s seen as a blossoming two-way player as well, possessing a 6-foot-5 frame, 7-foot wingspan, lateral quickness and versatility on defense. But with his ball-handling skills still developing, Ntilikina could fall to the Mavericks at the No. 9 pick to help fill a need at the point. And although Ntilikina is viewed as a project, the Mavericks could thrive for seasons to come with him in the fold.

“I mean, it’s not quite as much stress,” Cuban said while speaking of what the Mavs might do in next month’s draft. “We can maybe go a little bit more for a project, but we’ll see. Every year they say it’s a great draft, and it never turns out to be as great a draft as they say.”