Nowitzki to Powell
Dirk Nowitzki hits Dwight Powell with a great touch-pass for the layup in the lane.
Dwight Powell has been earning heavy minutes in the Mavs’ first four games, and his development has been one of the more pleasant surprises so far in this young season.
The second-year big man is averaging 9.8 points and 8.0 rebounds in 21.7 minutes per game in four appearances for the Mavericks. He recorded the first double-double of his career Tuesday against Toronto, when he scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. His minutes played total (87) this season is already more than one-third of the total minutes (227) he played in Dallas all of last season, when he spent more time in Frisco with the Texas Legends than he did with the NBA club.
One of the biggest Powell storylines entering the season was that he spent perhaps more time in the gym this summer than any other Maverick. He already showed some serious flashes last season — particularly during a January game in Denver in which he scored 11 points — but when a player brimming with potential combines talent with hard work, you’ve really got something going.
The 24-year-old has even started studying under Holger Geschwindner, Dirk Nowitzki’s famous shooting coach and mentor. Powell has been seen chatting with Geschwindner on the bench after shootaround, for example, but yesterday at practice Powell spent at least 20 minutes working with the coach and his legendary pupil on his shot, long after every other Maverick left the floor. Powell even worked longer than Nowitzki, long notorious for being the last man out of the gym when his coach is in town. Those familiar with Geschwindner’s methods know they can at times be as complex as they are unorthodox, but Powell said the work to this point has been about simplifying things.
“A big thing for me is slowing it down and stressing your form,” Powell told Mavs.com. “He’s different, the way he teaches it, so just thinking about the ball in a different way, and the rim — kind of treating it a little different.”
Most have probably seen videos of Nowitzki’s workouts with Geschwindner, as a ton of footage made it into “The Perfect Shot,” the Big German’s biopic. The drills include shooting, of course, but also what appear to be drills designed to utilize every part of the body from the fingertips to the toes. Powell hasn’t gotten that far with the German teacher, however. “Not yet,” he said.
Dwight Powell throws down off the feed from Zaza Pachulia.
As with any young player, however, there occasionally come growing pains. Throughout his career, Rick Carlisle is a coach who has leaned more on proven veterans than on unproven, at times unreliable young guys. Players like Powell must prove that they can not only produce at a high level, but also avoid making those small, “rookie” mistakes that might go unnoticed to a nuanced observer but drive coaches mad. One example that stands out is a foul in the backcourt Powell committed against the Lakers Sunday night that put him into foul trouble and forced Carlisle to pull him out of the game.
“He’s got to keep playing aggressively without fouling,” Carlisle said. “He’s got to keep rebounding and knocking down open shots when they’re there. He’s got to be a presence on the boards without fouling. He’s got to run back, and he’s got to do all those things. He’s a very good young player that’s got a chance to get better and better.”
But those types of mistakes are becoming less of an issue for Powell in his second season. After playing four years at Stanford, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the big man not only has solid awareness for a player with his level of experience, but also the drive and motivation to work hard all offseason long. Powell knew that preparing to play in the Summer League, for the Canadian National Team at the FIBA Americas Championship, and then training camp and preseason would require a summer schedule that didn’t leave much room for anything other than basketball.
So now, after a jam-packed offseason, Powell appears to have turned a corner. He has the highest defensive rebound chance percentage of any Mavericks big man, leads the team in rebound rate, and is second on the team in defensive rebounds per game, and that 6.8 DRB/gm mark is third in the NBA among all players who average fewer than 25 minutes per game. He augments his terrific athleticism — he has a 6-foot-11 frame and a 35-inch vertical leap — with a strong motor.
“Rebounding is very important for my position,” Powell said. “But obviously for me, a young guy, who’s gonna probably make a few mistakes out there offensively and defensively, rebounding is one way I can help the team and continue to try and be a positive influence when I’m out there.”
The team has responded during his minutes, as well. Powell has a positive on-floor net rating of 1.6 points per 100 possessions this season and probably made his biggest impact against the Raptors, when Dallas outscored Toronto by 21.3 points per 100 possessions when Powell played. Only one other Maverick had a positive on-floor net rating in the game.
On the offensive side of the ball, Powell is at his best when he uses his athleticism as his biggest strength. Take this play against Phoenix for example. In the possessions immediately preceding this one, the young big man had missed a couple layups in traffic at the rim. This time down the floor, he took the ball and tried stuffing it home, drawing a foul in the process.
He’s quick and explosive, and those qualities put him at a huge advantage when going up against centers. His defender in that play, Alex Len, has very good athleticism for a guy his size, but he stood no chance of recovering in time to slow Powell down even though the big man began his dive to the rim from near the three-point line. It’s unfair for a player that big to cover that much ground so quickly.
“He gives you a different element at 5 with the quickness,” Carlisle said. “He can roll; he can pop and make shots.”
This is another play from that same game that shows identical principles. Off a cut to the basket, Powell collected the ball down low, took a dribble to gather himself, and launched vertically to the basket.
Zaza Pachulia did a tremendous job of drawing both defenders before making a sneaky-good pass to his teammate, and by the time Jon Leuer realized what had happened, Powell was already on his way down. The more time you give an NBA defender to react to a situation, the harder scoring becomes. But, when decisive, Powell has the ability to do things so quickly that most big men won’t have a chance to stop him.
That’s how Powell is going to have to attack opposing big men, especially if he’s playing the center spot. On a lot of nights he might be shorter or lighter than his counterpart, or maybe both, but there aren’t many big men in the NBA quicker or more explosive than him.
The NBA sophomore has spent plenty of time as the backup center so far this season, as JaVale McGee is still working to get back to health. Offensively his advantages are known, but the big man said he’s taking all the advice he can get to get better on the other end.
“I need to still work on my body and get stronger,” he said. “But I’m talking a lot with Zaza about positioning and ways to put myself in positions to be successful, and give up more lower-percentage shots rather than high-percentage shots.
“It’s a work in progress, something I’m focused on and trying to develop and trying to improve on.”
Powell is a young guy with loads of talent who’s eager to learn and willing to put in the work necessary to take his game up a level and reach a point the coaches want him to get to. It’s not very common to find all of those qualities in this league wrapped up into one player. Should he continue working the way he is, he could meet all of his goals and then some.