Rajon Rondo wasn’t the only player acquired in the Dec. 9 trade that shifted the foundation of the franchise.
The Mavericks also acquired a young big man named Dwight Powell. Unheralded and relatively unknown at the time, it didn’t take Powell long to make an impact and seize the backup big role on a team in dire need of quality play off the bench to replace the centerpiece of Boston’s return in the deal, center Brandan Wright. The rookie has made just 14 appearances for the Mavs this season, but in his last eight games he’s scored 5.3 points, grabbed 3.5 rebounds, and has already shown that he’s got the type of potential that scouts and coaches league-wide salivate over.
Powell is doing all of this while playing for a coach in Rick Carlisle who traditionally prefers proven veterans over raw youngsters, and it’s a strategy that’s certainly paid off over the years. But Carlisle has adapted his preferences this season to match his roster. Both Powell and fellow reserve Greg Smith are both very young, unpolished players who, in time, can develop into solid rotation players at the NBA level, or maybe even better. The loss of Wright forced Carlisle’s hand — initially Smith received the minutes, then Powell claimed them and appeared to be growing more comfortable by the game. Are there issues? Yes, of course. Every rookie suffers through growing pains. But those flashes are what kept him on the floor.
Ultimately, the addition of Amar’e Stoudemire pushed Powell further down in the pecking order. He’s recently been playing in Frisco with the Texas Legends, where he’s performed very well. The Mavs recalled him to the NBA squad once again today after he put together a string of dominant performances in the D-League. In time, he could become a key player for this Mavericks team. It might not be this season, but his time could be approaching.
Where did he come from? How’d he end up on the Mavs? What does his present and future look like with the team? It’s time to meet Dwight Powell.
Powell was a four-year player at Stanford, where he played heavy minutes his junior and senior seasons. His third year in school was probably his best; he averaged 14.9 points and 8.4 rebounds on 46.7/45.5/79.6 shooting splits, terrific numbers for any big man. He boasted a 23.3 PER for the season and finished fifth in the Pac-12 in Win Shares per 40 minutes. His productivity slipped a bit his senior season, however, when his numbers dropped to 14.0 and 6.9 on 46.2/25.6/68.7 shooting. However, his team advanced to the NCAA Tournament and made a run to the Sweet 16, defeating Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks en route. Powell scored 15 points in that win and 17 in the loss to Dayton.
At the NBA Combine, Powell checked in at 6′ 11″ with shoes and showed off a 35-inch vertical leap. That, combined with his 7′ 0.5″ wingspan made him a tantalizing physical prospect. Not many big men can move the way Powell does, but at just 234 pounds scouts worried that he doesn’t have the size to play center and, because his three-point percentage dropped his senior season, he might not have the range to play the power forward position in the modern NBA. Plus, he was a four-year player in school, which to a degree limits his potential — scouts love 19- and 20-year-old big men because they have an extra couple years to learn under pro coaches in a pro system.
DraftExpress rates every prospect entering the Draft. Its profile on Powell: “Dwight Powell’s bread and butter remains as a potential face-up power forward, where he combines his incredible athleticism with potential as a jump shooter … His athleticism helped him draw fouls on 20.5% of his possessions, a solid number which helped him maintain a solid level of efficiency. In order to fully utilize his athleticism, his jump shot will have to become more consistent.” The site also mentioned that, of all the power forward prospects entering the Draft, Powell had the highest volume of plays in isolation, which generally decreases efficiency. He even earned more one-on-one looks than lottery selection and D/FW product Julius Randle.
These factors, combined with the ridiculous number of quality prospects, led to Powell being drafted by the Charlotte Hornets at pick No. 45. He was immediately traded along with former Maverick Brendan Haywood to Cleveland for Alonzo Gee. A week before training camp, he was dealt along with several other players to Boston for Keith Bogans in what virtually amounted to a salary dump so the Cavs could trade for Kevin Love.
Powell’s time in Boston was spent mostly in the D-League with the Maine Red Claws, similar to how second-year Maverick Ricky Ledo has spent most of his two seasons with the Texas Legends. All in all, Powell was assigned to and then recalled from Maine five times in one month. In four games with the Red Claws, Powell dazzled, scoring 21.5 points on 59.3 percent shooting and grabbing 10.5 rebounds in 32 minutes per game. Meanwhile, with the NBA club Powell would appear just five times and play only nine minutes with the franchise.
He was buried on the depth chart behind young big men Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and Tyler Zeller, and Boston also had to find minutes for veteran forward/center and former Mav Brandon Bass. With such a logjam at the position, suddenly Powell became an expendable asset. However, due to his limited playing time with the team, it’s unclear if the Celtics knew exactly what they had in the rookie.
THE MAVS COME CALLING
As the phone calls for Rondo kept pouring in, the Celtics finally came to terms with trading their franchise player. The Mavs offered the best package in return for the All-Star: Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson, and a couple draft picks. But in return, they demanded Powell as well. Boston eventually conceded.
At the introductory press conference following the deal, Mavs proprietor Mark Cuban admitted the club considered buying a second-round pick to nab Powell. The club had traded both of its second-rounders to the Knicks as part of the deal that brought Tyson Chandler to Dallas. However, the Mavericks chose instead to sit tight, and eventually the opportunity to grab him presented itself anyway. Carlisle said the Mavs had eyes on him for a while. “Dwight Powell is a guy who we had in for draft workouts last year who we really liked in the draft, and a guy that they did not want to give up,” he said.
Cuban kept trying to get Powell to open up about his abilities, eventually bragging himself about the new Maverick. The rookie finally explained what he hoped to accomplish with the team. “For the most part, just bring heart, bring effort,” he said. “In the position I’m at right now, having been traded a couple of times and landing here, I’m really looking forward to the opportunity, but I also want to work as hard as I can to stay here and show my values, show my worth and contribute to this team.”
It helped, too, that he’d be playing with Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki, who have a combined 30-plus seasons of experience. Dirk even played a similar game, face-up four, as a younger player.
“There’s a lot I can learn from both of those players on both ends of the court, in the locker room and on the court,” Powell said of his new teammates. “I’m looking forward to spending time with those guys and just pick up as much as I can because they obviously have an almost endless wealth of knowledge compared to me. I’m excited.”
EARNING HIS MINUTES
It didn’t take long for Powell to impress, either. The Mavs sent him to the Legends after a week with the big-league team. He played just one game in Frisco, scoring 26 points and grabbing 21 boards to along with four assists, two steals, and two blocks, before Dallas realized what Powell was made of. One other tremendously respected NBA mind whose eyebrows Powell raised with his performance: longtime NBA coach and current Legends Vice President Del Harris, who hadn’t seen Powell play before that game.
“Some may say ‘it was just the D-League,'” Harris told Mavs.com. “That is such an uninformed observation, as one can tell if they note that one-third of the NBA players have spent time playing in the D-League. 26 and 21 does not translate in a mirror image to the big league, admittedly, but anyone who can do that can contribute in an NBA game.”
Look no further than to center Bernard James, who has always dazzled on assignment in Frisco. Last season, he scored 38 points on 18-of-20 shooting one night, while former Maverick Jae Crowder put together back-to-back triple-doubles with the team. NBA-worthy players put up big-time numbers at that level.
“Dwight has shown that his athleticism, combined with his size and determination, can help not just a bottom-feeder team but one on its way to another 50+ win season,” Harris added.
Steep praise from the 1995 Coach of the Year in the NBA.
Powell was recalled from the Legends on Dec. 29, two days after being sent down, played sparingly in the next seven games, and then exploded onto the scene. In 28 minutes against Denver on Jan. 14, Powell scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting and grabbed five rebounds. His play was a huge bright spot in an otherwise dreary result, as Carlisle gave Dirk, Rondo, and Chandler the night off to rest. Two nights later against the same Nuggets, Powell scored four points and blocked two shots in 14 minutes.
“We like him. He’s active, he battles in there,” Carlisle said of the rookie after the game. “This experience is going to be very valuable for him. Right now, we need him. We need any active big body that we can get our hands on.”
Powell’s mid-range game and athleticism in the open floor make him a perfect fit with the second unit, playing next to either starting big man. He has the quickness to scramble and help on defense as the center playing next to Dirk, and next to Chandler he can step out and stretch the floor from 15-18 feet. Much of his playing time has been coming at the 5-spot next to Nowitzki in an effort to generate space for Monta Ellis and Rondo to attack in.
“(Greg) Smith has been doing a good job, but Powell gives you a little bit of a different look,” Carlisle said. “Both of those guys really have to help us spell Tyson and get him some rest.”
Since that first Denver game, Powell appeared in every contest for the next couple weeks, often the first big man off the bench. He’s guarded Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Anthony Davis, no easy path for a rookie player trying to learn the ins and outs of the best basketball league on the planet. And it means even more that he’s been able to do it as a rookie, playing for a coach who typically doesn’t give young guys time.
“I still have to prove myself regardless of the situation,” Powell said. “I’m just going to keep trying to work hard and show (Coach) that I’m working hard and bring full effort every time he gives me an opportunity.”
Now we wonder where Powell can go in his time with the team. He’s playing key minutes for a team looking to win a championship, which is already a huge step forward from playing for Boston’s D-League team, and even further removed from starting for a good-not-great Pac-12 team last season.
Powell has been moved out of the rotation since the team acquired Stoudemire, and he’s been back on assignment in the D-League. In his last two games on assignment, he’s averaged 34.0 points per game on 65.9 percent shooting to go along with 6.5 rebounds and a block per game. He has certainly not failed to impress with the club, and odds are he will continue to spend time with the Legends throughout the rest of the regular season.
His youth, energy, and developing game already has Del Harris excited, and it’s clear the Mavs front office feels the same way, otherwise he wouldn’t have received the volume of minutes he did when he was in the rotation. He’s got one more year on his contract before he becomes a restricted free agent. Unfortunately, second-round picks rarely sign deals longer than two or three seasons.
But if his present performance continues (or gets even better), it’s safe to say the Mavs will do what they can to keep him. Harris, for one, suspects Powell could have a lengthy career in the league — and even be the “get” in the Rondo deal.
“At his age, it can be anticipated that he will get bigger, better and stronger and be able to be a coveted combo 4/5 player who can take the stronger, slower players to the perimeter and the shorter players to the post and be effective,” Harris said. “In the long run, Dwight could be a ten-year investment and thus has the opportunity to show that he was actually the key player in the deal from Boston, while Rondo was the shorter-term asset. Yes, one could say that I am a fan of this young man.”
Share and comment