The Mavs ran a familiar-looking play to open Monday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Dirk Nowitzki caught a pass on the wing, and Yogi Ferrell set a pin-down screen for Nerlens Noel. Nowitzki delivered the ball to the elbow, and Noel let it fly.

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The Mavericks ran a similar play for Tyson Chandler to open many games during the 2010-11 season. Chandler, according to, was 16 of 33 on shots from the right elbow area that year. It was the first time this season I can remember the Mavericks running the play for Noel, but the big man is 5 of 11 in the mid-range since coming to Dallas, a very respectable mark for a big man.

More importantly, Noel said knowing the opening play would be called for him gave him a boost to start the game. He scored eight points in the first quarter.

“Coach called it early at shootaround,” Noel told “I think it was a great call to get me going and get me a shot, especially that early.”

Noel remembers a few opening plays called for him while he was playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, but they were never designed for him to get a jump shot. Since joining the Mavs, however, Noel and head coach Rick Carlisle have committed to expanding the 6-foot-11 center’s range so that he can knock down that shot with regularity.

While Noel is known mostly for his rim-rolling ability and big-time hops, he and the Mavericks consider developing a consistent mid-range jumper to be vital to his game. It’s difficult to roll against a jam-packed lane, but if the 22-year-old Noel can step out and hit a 15-footer at a solid clip, it could change how he’s defended.

“I think it opens up a new level,” Noel told “No big men can stay with me off the dribble. I think I’m too quick. But with that mid-range jump shot, they’re gonna have to step up on me, and I think my first step is good enough to go by anybody.”

Noel is certainly confident, but there’s a reason. He really does posses an elite first step for a big man. At one point in Monday’s game, a 92-91 loss to Oklahoma City, he caught a pass in transition at the 3-point line and drew a shooting foul.

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There aren’t many big men in the NBA who can get to the basket so easily, so if opposing centers are forced to step out more often against Noel, they risk giving him a driving lane to the rim.

At just 22 years old he has a considerably bright future, and though he’s a restricted free agent this summer, the Mavericks can match any contract offered to him. The front office has said it hopes Noel will be here long-term, so it only makes sense that Carlisle would become personally invested in the big man’s development. He and Noel can often be seen working together on that jumper after practice, and their focus right now is footwork.

“He doesn’t really do too much with the technique,” Noel told “It’s more just consistency and shooting it with a rhythm, just with the right footwork. As I’ve learned from him, that makes a big difference — using the same footwork to get in the shot because it helps with the rhythm, especially when I know I’m gonna be the shooter.”

If he keeps sinking the mid-range jumpers, he might be the shooter by design much more often, especially on one of the Mavs’ signature plays.

“Hopefully,” Noel joked. “I made it today. Keep it coming, coach!”

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