After strong close to ’16-17 season, Mavs have high expectations for Dwight Powell this year

DALLAS — He came on strong to close the 2016-17 season, making the most of additional playing time near the end of the schedule as the Dallas Mavericks rested their veterans. Now, the Mavericks are hopeful backup big man Dwight Powell can continue his progression this upcoming season while carving out a bigger role with the team.

Last summer, Powell signed a reported four-year contract worth $37 million, hoping to emerge as a multi-positional player with the team. The 26-year-old then produced career-high numbers across the board during his third season in the NBA, averaging 6.7 points and 4.0 rebounds in 17.3 minutes an outing while making 77 appearances. However, Powell saw his most production while averaging 13.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 28.3 minutes per outing during the Mavericks’ final four games of the season. And after seeing the 6-foot-11 big man begin to tap into his full potential, Mavs owner Mark Cuban says Powell could be set for a breakout season.

“He’s got to be consistent like he has been (late last season) to be a stretch four,” Cuban said while assessing Powell’s play during the ’16-17 schedule. “The first 70 games, he wasn’t. We wanted him to be, but he wasn’t. But as a pick-and-roll guy, he’s been amazing. And if he can shoot 35 or more percent from three, that changes his game dramatically. And then he’s just got to improve on the defensive end. You know, I think Dwight leads the league in (bad) calls against him. I mean, it’s not even close, and so we’ve got to talk to the league to find out why he’s the fall guy so often. And then Dwight’s got to improve his shot blocking, because he’s got the length and athletic ability to be able to block more shots and rebound. But I think he’ll improve in all of those areas. Again, he played more minutes than he ever has, and I don’t think people really recognize that to mentally go from all of a sudden playing four minutes a game for 50-60 games to 20 minutes a game, by the time you get to the end of the season, that’s tough.”

Powell finished last season shooting 51.5 percent from the field, but he connected on just 28.4 percent from behind the three-point arc while continuing to add perimeter shooting to his repertoire. He also saw his three-point shooting percentage climb to 33.3 percent from long range during the team’s final six games, playing more time at power forward after seeing the bulk of his minutes previously as a backup center. Powell registered a career-high 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field and 4-of-8 shooting from three-point range during a 124-111 loss in Phoenix on April 9, grabbing five rebounds, dishing two assists, collecting two steals and recording a block to boot in 32 minutes of action. And according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, Powell’s biggest challenge entering this season is to continue making strides as an outside shooter.

“I thought Powell continues to really do well with his three-point shooting, which is a really encouraging sign,” Carlisle said following last season. “He’s gotten a lot better with it. … Again, that’s a part of his game that needs to come around, and he knows that. He’s been busting his tail working on it, but we just haven’t been able to get him the reps in games. And so, again, now is a time we can look at that, and we can get him some of those shots. Young players in many cases are just so excitable that they get in the game for a short period of time and they’re just so hyped up, and it’s difficult to get into a rhythm. I want to see him play a little more extended minutes at the four, ’cause he’s played almost predominantly at five all year long.”

Acquired by Dallas along with former point guard Rajon Rondo on Dec. 18, 2014, in a deal that sent Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, a 2015 first-round pick and a second-round pick to Boston, Powell joined the Mavericks eager to prove that he was more than just a throw-in to complete the trade. He then showed plenty of promise during the ’15-16 campaign, averaging 5.8 points and 4.0 rebounds during just 14.4 minutes per outing in 69 games prior to inking his new deal. However, despite a spike in those numbers last season, Powell still admittedly has more work to do in order to take the next step in his career. And after seeing the Mavericks miss out on the playoffs following a 33-49 record, Powell says he will have to increase his individual level of play at both ends of the floor this upcoming season.

“Expanding my range and continuing to develop all facets of the game offensively and defensively is a long process, and I’m just going to keep working at it,” Powell explained. “Obviously, I had higher expectations for myself. I wanted to help this team more, and I wanted to win more. … Whatever it takes to help this team win and to put myself in a situation to be successful and help our team be successful, I’m willing to do whatever role [Carlisle] wants me to do. That means continuing to develop really all facets of the game to be ready for those opportunities.”