The faster, the better for the Mavericks offense

Dennis Smith Jr. is known for his thunderous dunks, but his most destructive play Monday night in San Antonio was a layup.

Smith took the ball out of the basket after a Brandon Paul bucket and raced it up the court, lifting off while there were still 21 seconds left on the shot clock and catching everyone — including even the camera crew — by surprise. Smith’s man ended up on the floor so the Mavericks had a 5-on-4 opportunity, and the rook took control of the situation, turning it into two easy points.

Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle wants Smith to do things like that more often. You might only get one or two chances at a play like the one above per game, but generally speaking if Smith could run the ball up the floor with a little pace every time, Carlisle is confident the opposing defense could bend or break earlier in the shot clock.

“Put pressure on the D. He can do it like no one else we’ve had here in quite some time,” Carlisle said. “He’s getting better and better with things like that, with things defensively, with recognition, seeing where his shots are coming from, and seeing how to play with teammates.”

This season, the Mavericks have been very good at scoring after opponents’ misses, with an effective field goal percentage of 52.6 percent in those situations, per nbawowy. For reference, that would rank ninth in the NBA for the season. However, Dallas’ team eFG% after opposing made baskets or free throws is just 47.5 percent, which would rank 29th in the league. That’s a significant split in efficiency, and Carlisle is certainly aware of what happens when his club begins an offensive possession against a set defense.

“The defense has early position that they want. They’re in their shell, or however you want to term it,” he said. “Frequently in those situations if you try to call plays, things are scouted well, teams are relaying calls. It’s just an inherently, intrinsically more difficult way to play.”

In other words, if you walk the ball up the floor slowly against a set defense, you’ve got an uphill struggle ahead of you. You might be able to fool teams with a couple set plays throughout a game, but generally opposing scouting is so good these days that most teams know exactly what you’re running. Watch Dirk Nowitzki, for example, before every inbound pass, for example: He calls out the opposing play to the Mavs staff, who then shouts back the action. Dallas ranks third-best in the league defensively in points per possession allowed against both baseline out of bounds plays and plays following a timeout, per Synergy Sports.

For the season, the Mavericks have been very good offensively early in the shot clock. Their team effective field goal percentage is 60.1 percent when they shoot with 22-18 seconds left on the shot clock (considered “very early” by NBA Stats), 55.2 percent when there’s 18-15 remaining (“early”), and 52.7 when there are 15-7 seconds (“average”).

But as the clock winds down, so does the accuracy: Dallas shoots just 37.9 percent from the field when there are 7-4 seconds left on the shot clock (“late”) and 38.2 percent when there are 4-0 seconds left (“very late”). It’s hard for most players to create something out of nothing. It should be noted, though, that Carlisle worked with Smith on late-clock shooting after Monday’s practice.

If Smith could turn just three or four opposing made baskets into fullcourt sprints the other way, it could really play to the Mavs’ advantage. Maybe it only results in an extra two points across the course of a game, but an extra bucket here or there could keep you in a close game down the stretch. Points are points, no matter how you get them.

Tonight could be a good example of end-to-end sprints. The Brooklyn Nets rank second in the league in pace (to the Mavs’ 25th, though they’re rising), and per NBA Stats more than 21 percent of their shots come with 22-18 seconds left on the shot clock, second-highest in the league. Dallas, by comparison, takes just 10.6 percent of its shots that early in the clock.

“When you score on (the Nets), they’re as good an answer-back team as I’ve seen in this league,” Carlisle said. “The other night against Memphis they took the ball out of the basket and zoomed it up full-court and laid it in like three or four times. That’s really a disheartening thing for your defense.”

This could be the same kind of thing coaches always preach against teams that like to press: Sometimes the best way to combat their stuff is to throw it right back at them. If Smith can push the ball the other way back at the Brooklyn defense, it could lead to plenty of easy points for Dallas. The Nets rank 27th in defensive rating this season and have allowed at least 117 points in four of their last five games.

This is the game within the game tonight: Can Smith push the tempo every now and then, just enough to squeeze out an extra couple points? These teams could combined to score 220 tonight, but an extra two could make all the difference in the world.

Highlights from Dennis Smith Jr.’s Q&A with David Aldridge

Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. participated in a Q&A with the NBA’s David Aldridge for the respected writer’s Monday Morning Tip, a weekly column on all things NBA. Check out the full article here, with some of Smith’s best answers below.

Aldridge: How have you tried to separate the mental toll of the 82-game season from the physical?

DSJ: Physically, I’m doing a really good job right now. Our training staff, they make sure I stay on top of everything, whether I feel like it or not — make sure that I do it. It’s greatly appreciated. Mentally, I think that just comes from having humbleness. I appreciate being able to play right now. I sat out a whole year already with my ACL. I’m thankful for this opportunity.

Aldridge: It’s funny that you mentioned that, because a lot of the scouts I spoke with before the Draft said one of the things they were most impressed with about you was you came back and played Adidas Nations — where you got injured — the next year. And I wonder how important it was for you to get back in time to play Nations?

DSJ: I think that was one of the biggest things to help me conquer the injury mentally. For me, I was up early, moving, way before I was supposed to. I got in trouble for it a couple of times. I was moving around so much before I was supposed to my grandma hit me with a broom a couple of times when she caught me. For me to go back to Nations where I tore it at, that was a big mountain I had to climb mentally, and I think I conquered that.

Aldridge: I asked Coach (Carlisle) this — and coaches want to win every night. But I asked him if it would be good for you to experience failure, so he can learn from it. Because that’s what this league is. Everybody gets their butt kicked; the great ones come back from it.

DSJ: Exactly. That’s mental toughness. And I think part of being a rookie, especially being a point guard, I think it’s important for me to take some of these lumps. I want to win every game, but tribulations come with being the best. That’s with everybody. So you take your lumps early, but you’ve got to look at everything as a lesson, and you’ve got to grow from it.

Smith is a super-confident player who oozes potential and has already shown flashes of greatness just 12 games into his career. The season hasn’t gone the way he and the Mavs hoped it would, of course, with Dallas sitting at just 2-12 on the year. But as Smith said early in training camp, there’s beauty in the struggle. He’s learning a heck of a lot, and even though there have been more losses than wins, he’s still experienced some high moments.

The Mavs know they got a good one on draft night, and Smith’s play so far this season — along with the attention he’s getting from national media and some of the biggest stars in the game — only confirms that he’s got a chance to become one of the special talents in this league.

Hoops for Troops Commitment to Service

2017 Hoops For Troops

Thursday, November 9th, the Dallas Mavericks staff joined with Dallas Mavericks, Dennis Smith Jr. and Dorian Finney-Smith, dancers, ManiAACs, and Caliber Home Loans to host a “Commitment to Service” volunteerism event.

DALLAS – In celebration of the NBA’s Hoops for Troops week, the Dallas Mavericks partnered with approximately two dozen active military from NAS Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base on Thursday and boxed over 10,000 meals that will go to needy families in North Texas.

One of the active military personnel who helped box meals at American Airlines Center is Grand Prairie’s Tiffany Parker, who jumped at the chance to help those who could use a helping hand.

“This is a great opportunity for us to get out and serve,” Parker said. “Not only just serve the country, but to serve those who are less fortunate than us.”

“Being in the Air Force we’re always taught to service before self, and we have a wing man mentality. So we’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure the community is taken care of, and we’ll taking care of those others that are less fortunate than us.”

Along with the military personnel, Mavs rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr., second-year forward Dorian Finney-Smith, the ManiAACs, Mavs Dancers and members of Caliber Home Loans and Mavs staff also helped pack the 10,000-plus meals in less than one hour. The group packed a total of 10,080 meals of jambalaya that were delivered directly to the North Texas Food Bank.

“I think this is great,” Smith said. “It was a really good experience because as a kid this is something I always wanted.”

“Growing up in the area that I did (in Fayetteville, N.C.), I know a lot of kids that wanted something like this to happen to them. So I appreciate the opportunity and I look forward to doing a lot more in the future.”

Last year when he was a rookie during Hoops for Troops week, Finney-Smith helped build a ramp for those who use a wheelchair. So he was more than happy to return this year and offer his support again.

“I’m honored to be able to help the community and give back,” Finney-Smith said. “I love the opportunity to work with the community and make a difference.”

“Last year I built a wheelchair ramp for Hoops for Troops and it was fun, and this year I decided I’m going to pack some food.”

Finney-Smith feels especially indebted to the men and women of the military.

“They sacrifice a lot to be out there for this country,” Finney-Smith said. “To serve in the armed forces and help the world and the community is a great accomplishment.”

The NBA’s Hoops for Troops Week is in conjunction with Veterans Day, which is Saturday.

“Every year the NBA and all of the teams come together to celebrate Hoops For Troops week,” said Katie Edwards, the Director of Community Relations for the Mavs. “It’s a great time for the team, our players and all of our staff and volunteers to join with the military, and we work side-by-side to give back to the community.”

“We’ll do this every year and we like to change our impact and really do lots of different things. We’ve built wheelchair ramps, we’ve done partnerships with the food bank, and this year we were partnered with Feeding Children Everywhere to assemble the meals for those in need who are here in North Texas.”

Krystal Rivera, the Regional Manager for Feeding Children Everywhere, opened an office in Dallas this past year, and it didn’t take her long to figure out who was going to be one of her closest allies.

“We opened up an office here in Dallas as a response to Dallas being the third-largest food desert in America,” said Rivera, whose main headquarters is located in Orlando, Fla. “So when we moved to Dallas, I started reaching out to some really great companies who are known for giving back and being involved in the community, and a common theme was the Mavs.”

“The Mavs give back, they love on their community, and so I connected with the head of their foundation, who is Katie Edwards and who was so open to supporting us once she learned about our mission. I said, ‘Katie, let’s do this together and let’s make something work,’ and here we are.”

Bryan Bergjans, the National Director of Military & Veteran Lending for Caliber Home Loans, also partnered with the Mavs on Thursday’s project. Headquartered in Coppell, Caliber Home Loans work to meet the mortgage needs of the men and women who are serving – or who have served – in the United States Armed Forces.

“Any time we get an opportunity to partner up with the military and do community outreach, we want to do it,” Bergjans said. “The best way to get involved in the community is by doing stuff like this, so partnering up with Mavericks and having an opportunity to partner up with the Air Force really allows us to get involved with our community partners and show our commitment to serving the military and helping.”

“Any time you get to do things where you walk away feeling great about everything and you’re getting involved in the community, it’s fantastic. Caliber Home Loans is fantastic for supporting the military and the community, so any chance that we get in the future to partner up with the Mavericks, we’ll hopefully be able to do it.”

That support by Caliber Home Loans is much appreciated by Clay Jennings, who is a member of the NAS Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base. As music blared in the background while the volunteers were busy packing the boxes with food, Jennings explained what this symbolic day of serving meant to him.

“We wanted to bring out the holiday spirit, bring out the other functions about how the military serves our folks,” Jennings said. “We’re one percent or two percent of the country, so it’s extremely honorable for one, not forgetting about us, and two, it gives us another opportunity to give back in a different way.”

“I’m really humbled, really honored and I truly love this. It’s awesome, we’re thankful, and the public should know we’ve always got their back. No matter what their thoughts and political agenda are, we’re always there.”

A North Carolina State Wolfpack product, Smith can’t wait until next year when he hopes he’ll be selected again to help pay tribute to the military during the NBA’s Hoops for Troops week.

“I met a couple of great people and a fellow Wolfpack, so it’s been a good experience,” Smith said. “It’s all for a good cause — I’m 100 percent in for it.”

“They’re super excited, I came over here excited. Whenever I saw everybody and how excited they were that gave some more life to it, so it was really a good experience for me.”

Finney-Smith also left American Airlines Center with a warm and fuzzy feeling in his heart about his involvement with the troops.

“It’s an honor to be working alongside them knowing how much they sacrificed for the United States,” Finney-Smith said. “All of the people I’ve met through Hoops For Troops have been amazing. Hopefully I can continue doing it.”

Numbers on the Boards: Episode 1

Numbers on the Boards: Dennis Smith Jr.

Episode 1 of Numbers on the Boards with Jeff "Skin" Wade and Bobby Karalla features Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr.!

Welcome to Numbers on the Boards, a podcast for basketball fans who want to have some fun listening to Mavs TV analyst and 105.3 FM’s Jeff “Skin” Wade and Mavs.com’s Bobby Karalla talk hoops, stats, and life in the NBA with a new guest each week.

On this week’s episode, Skin and Bobby are joined by Mavs point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who dishes on his pregame playlist, adjusting to life in the big city, and arriving to the NBA as a member of a lauded rookie point guard class. Enjoy!

Subscribe to Numbers on the Boards on iTunes, Google Play, and wherever else podcasts are available!

Dennis Smith Jr. does the thinking while his play does the talking

Dennis Smith Jr.’s game doesn’t exactly match his personality.

The same player with the 48-inch vertical leap and practically a feature film-length highlight reel of dunks in gyms around the country is the one who contextualizes his development in Zen-like fashion at his locker after a game when he scored a career-high 19 points and handed out five assists in his team’s first win of the season. His style oozes with confidence, but he’s humble as can be off the floor.

“I’m learning, I’m learning,” Smith said. “What is it, five games in? Four games in? It’s not even a tenth of the season that’s gone by, so I’ve got a lot to learn. But like I said, it’s a process. There’s gonna be some bumps in the road, but I’m doing everything full speed ahead.”

The 19-year-old’s loudest highlight of the night came early on, when he went from basically a dead stop at the 3-point line all the way to the rim in two dribbles, finishing off his drive with a two-handed dunk in traffic.

It’s a play that shines a spotlight on his undeniable athleticism, but the rookie is also developing into a cerebral point guard with a solid grip of the offense, including where his teammates will be, and when they’ll be there.

“He understands that the defense will break down in a split-second,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s got the quickness to get by people. Some of the things he’s doing to generate baskets and fouls and shots for guys, we’ve never had that dimension on this team.”

Smith has appeared in only three of his team’s five games so far this season, but he’s already shown the ability to adapt and improve, which the Mavs say stems from his willingness to learn. The rook has a 3.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio through three games and has assisted on nearly one-third of his teammates’ buckets whenever he’s on the floor. He shined in the second half against the Grizzlies, scoring 14 of his 19 points, including sinking a couple daggers late in the shot clock in the fourth quarter.

Showing up in big moments is as sure a way as there is to win over your teammates. The veterans are constantly providing extra coaching to the young point guard because they see something special in him.

“Sometimes we’ve got to stay in his ear, and he’s receptive. He wants to win,” Wesley Matthews said. “He’s not one of those guys that’s about himself. Sometimes we gotta pick him up to keep him where he’s at because we need him. He made big clutch plays for us at the end of this game. He’s just got an athleticism that you just can’t teach.”

Indeed, his on-court talent is tantalizing. Smith dazzled in the second half as a playmaker, changing speeds or hesitating in the pick-and-roll to give his big men an extra half-second to roll to the rim.

Instincts certainly play a part. Smith states plain and simple that he’s been playing basketball since he was six, so this is nothing new to him. However, his off-court work is definitely playing into his rapid improvement. In addition to private film sessions with Carlisle, Smith is watching film of Baron Davis and Gilbert Arenas to gain an understanding of what’s possible as a guard who can both score and pass. (For example, moves like this.)

That’s another quality that will resonate with veterans. Smith is a young and exciting player, but there are plenty of teenage prodigies will talent who don’t fully embrace the challenge of becoming a star. The Mavs rookie has gotten a head-start on all of that, so it’s no surprise that the veteran players are thrilled to see him succeed.

“Tonight was the biggest night,” Nerlens Noel said. “That last lob he threw, that was something that J.J. really has a good knack for, just probing and dribbling. Dennis did it tonight. I was ecstatic that he’s taking these small steps and learning.”

That his most efficient game came when starting as the lone ball-handler should not go unnoticed. After starting Yogi Ferrell at 2-guard next to Smith in his first two starts, Carlisle turned to a bigger lineup against the Grizzlies with Noel at 5 and Dirk Nowitzki at power forward. Smith shouldered the playmaking burden for most of the night and he responded by handing out five assists against only one turnover.

“Tonight was the biggest amount of responsibility we put on him to start with that group, and really be pretty much the main ball-handler,” Carlisle said. “That’s a lot of responsibility and he did a great job.”

“He’s just like me,” Smith said of his coach. “He hates to lose. So I think that drives both of us.”

For a guy with as seemingly joyful a game as Smith’s — one full of dunking, pull-up jumpers, and forceful play that commands extra defensive attention — the player himself stays eerily calm and collected. He even pumps up the crowd with a cool and quiet confidence. It’s as if he expects this to happen. Nowitzki and other veterans will commonly talk about the importance of not getting too high with the highs or too low with the lows, and Smith’s personality seems to fit in perfectly with that philosophy despite his young age.

He understands how talented he is and what it means to have gained this level of responsibility so early in his career, and he’s willing to accept the extra pressure and attention that comes along with this role. It would be easy for anyone to become overwhelmed by all of that, but Smith is not one of those people. He sees the game in a different way and approaches these situations as merely a new challenge, apparently unfazed by the bright lights. As he says, “it’s just playing basketball.”

“It’s the highest level now, but I’ve worked to be on this level,” he said. “I deserve this opportunity, and I’ve got to own that and earn my keep.”

Dennis Smith Jr. made some veteran plays in win at Atlanta

There are some hard truths we must all accept when we talk about young players. They’re going to make plays that will make us get out of our seats, and they’re going to make plays that will make us shake our heads.

The inescapable truth is that Dennis Smith Jr. is only 19 years old, and he won’t turn 20 until Thanksgiving. He’s the second-youngest Maverick ever, and on opening night he’ll be the youngest starter in franchise history. Smith has described training camp as challenging. Rick Carlisle has said the rookie is going to make mistakes that he must learn from. That’s part of the process in this league, especially when you play the most difficult position there is.

So far through five preseason games, he certainly has made some errors, but he’s also come a long way in a very short period of time. On Monday against Orlando, he recorded 16 points, seven assists, six rebounds, a steal, and a block. Thursday in Atlanta, he finished with nine points and three assists before exiting with a sprained ankle Carlisle described as not serious.

These last two performances have been mature enough to make Smith appear more like a 25-year-old than a 19-year-old. You’ve got to be careful when expecting too much from rookie point guards because they’re digesting a ton of new information and assuming a heck of a lot of responsibility, and it’s still just the preseason, but these last two games Smith has looked like the kind of player who can handle that burden. He’s living up to the hype.

The most tangible way he’s already making an impact is by pushing the tempo. The Mavs are playing at a pace of 104.01 possessions per 48 minutes when Smith has been on the floor this preseason, a notch above the team’s 102.32 pace overall. Preseason games are typically played at a faster pace than regular-season contests, but Carlisle’s goal is for the Mavericks to run, run, and run some more this season largely because of who’s playing point.

“Most teams would like you to walk it up because it kind of plays into their defense,” Carlisle said. “It lets them get set up and keep focusing on the ball as it moves around. For (Dennis), it just makes the game harder for him to go slow, and it’s an easier game if he can keep that vertical pressure on the defense.”

That term — “vertical pressure” — is not something that’s been too familiar to the Mavericks the last couple seasons. That means getting up the floor moving toward the basket, driving into the paint, and looking to generate points. Dallas ranked 21st in drives per game last season, but the Mavs have been at their best in recent seasons when they’ve had players who can break teams down on the perimeter and get into the lane.

Here’s what he’s talking about.

Smith collected the loose ball himself on the defensive end and pushed the ball up the floor, beginning his drive just five seconds into the shot clock. Notice that the Hawks don’t have any rim protection established before his drive, and Jeff Withey is pulling the opposing center out of the lane and closer to the 3-point lane. (Smith wisely paused to allow Withey back into the play, forcing his defender to pay him attention.) There’s a clear path to the basket open for the taking, and Smith was not only quick enough to find it, but athletic enough to finish over the defender at the rim. That’s an incredible play that most 19-year-olds simply can’t make and it was made possible in part because he got up the floor so early.

“We want to push it every single time, even if there’s a score,” Carlisle said. “The quicker you get it over halfcourt, the greater chance you have to make an early vertical attack on the basket, and it conserves more time to finish out a possession.”

Young players are often criticized for being able to play at only one speed, but Smith has demonstrated he can probe to find open spaces. The next play happens much later in the shot clock against a set defense, but Smith is able to patiently cross over and hesitate to get into the teeth of the defense.

There’s a lot happening in what looks like a pretty simple play. First, Smith sets up a pick-and-roll with Nerlens Noel, forcing Dennis Schroder to defend on Smith’s left side in anticipation of the screen. Smith sees that right is the better way to go, so he quickly crosses over and begins his drive. He then mixes in a quick hesitation dribble to get Dewayne Dedmon thinking about the possibility of a lob to Noel, but the extra few inches of space were all Smith needed to get off a shot himself. He’s so explosive that Dedmon could barely even offer a contest.

Once defenses begin to show Smith more respect, that’s going to open up better looks for his teammates. For example, below Smith finds Maxi Kleber for 3.

Both defenders involved in the pick-and-roll stick with Smith, leaving Ersan Ilyasova to tag against the rolling Withey. Three Hawks defenders are committed to just two Mavs, meaning there’s someone open, and Smith was able to find him with an accurate pass.

“In this league, I’ve got to attack first, and then make my reads from there,” Smith said. “It’s tough for defenders to stay in front of me. If I can beat my man and make the defense collapse, I’m smart enough to make the right read out of that.”

These are the kinds of plays that really good veteran point guards make several times every single night, no matter who’s guarding them. Smith has shown throughout the preseason that he’s capable of making some awe-inspiring plays, but lately he’s showing that he can make the so-called simple ones, too. If he can consistently generate good looks both for himself and his teammates the way he did against Orlando and Atlanta, he could put up some impressive individual numbers and, more importantly, the Mavericks offense is going to fill it up. The 19-year-old hasn’t really looked his age, and in this case that’s a good thing.

The Mavs are pushing the pace this preseason

The Mavericks played at the second-slowest pace in in the NBA last season. If their style this preseason is any indication of what’s to come when the games start counting, that grinding style will soon be a thing of the past.

Rick Carlisle often mentions the importance of controlling tempo. During the past couple seasons, that meant slowing the game down and turning it into a knock-down, drag-out battle featuring plenty of isolation and other plays that limit the possibility of turning the ball over. Dallas had slower rosters the past two seasons, particularly in the frontcourt, so that style fit the personnel.

This season, however, Dirk Nowitzki is projected as a full-time starting center and Harrison Barnes is the full-time starting power forward. The Mavericks have committed to spreading the floor, and when combined with the addition of 19-year-old point guard Dennis Smith Jr. that lends itself to playing a much faster, more aggressive brand of basketball. Fortunately for Mavs fans, faster basketball is also more exciting to watch.

First, a primer on what exactly this stat is: Pace is the estimation of possessions a team plays per 48 minutes. Last season, the Mavs played at a pace of 94.16 possessions per 48 minutes. Only the Utah Jazz played slower. So far this preseason, however, Dallas is playing above 103 possessions per 48, according to NBA Stats. Playing slower isn’t necessarily bad; Utah and San Antonio both finished bottom-5 in pace last season and both teams won 50+ games. Carlisle’s offensive system, though, works best when the ball is moving and possessions flow.

“Trying to play off play-calls is a difficult way to go in this league now, with the way zones can slough over and scouting is so good,” the coach said.

One of the most obvious ways the goal of increased pace has manifested itself in transition, where there’s no need to call a play or set up anything too complex. Smith has permission from Carlisle to push the ball whenever he sees fit.

“He gave me the green light,” Smith said. “If there’s a lane, he wants me to go as many times as I can.”

In the play above, Smith pretty casually brought the ball up the floor but then saw a driving alley and attacked it decisively. J.J. Barea later made a similar play. These are plays the Mavs just didn’t make very often last season. Dallas ranked last in fast break points per game last season at just 7.8, but so far through two preseason games the Mavs have averaged 13.5 fast break points. Yes, it’s only preseason, but it’s clear the club intends to push the pace, and that begins from the instant someone gathers the rebound.

“Someone” is the operative word in that sentence. Carlisle doesn’t only want the point guard to bring the ball up the floor this season. It could be a guard, sure, but it could also be Wesley Matthews or Harrison Barnes. It doesn’t matter who’s pushing the ball, as long as it gets up the floor as soon as possible.

“It allows us to get into the offense quicker, instead of every time finding the guard, going down, getting into the set offense,” Barnes said. “You lose that kind of momentum from that stop.”

Wesley Matthews has been a big beneficiary of that new style. He began playing more small forward last season and will likely almost exclusively play that position this year, which gives him a step against some bigger wings. His assist numbers took a step up once the Mavs went small last season, and that trend has continued so far this exhibition season: In 38 minutes this preseason, he has seven assists.

“The more fulcrums you can have to the offense out there, especially in transition, it just makes it harder to guard,” Carlisle said.

In the play above against Milwaukee coming up the floor after a miss, Matthews and Nowitzki are already in a pick-and-roll just five seconds into the shot clock. Last year that would have been almost unthinkable, as it takes almost that long just to, as Barnes said, locate the point guard after the rebound and wait for everyone to get into position. If you can run a legitimate-but-simple play five seconds into a possession you can put all sorts of pressure on an opposing defense, and when your center can pop out 26 feet from the rim that strains the defense even further. Matthews drove away from the screen and found Barnes open in the corner for a 3-pointer.

It helps, of course, that the starting lineup features five players who can all shoot. With Nowitzki setting ball-screens for every player 1 through 4, the Mavericks can force switches and bend defenses in ways a lot of other teams that start traditional centers simply aren’t able to. That can often result in an easy look early in the shot clock, as teams are reluctant to switch a center on a point guard and defenders are nervous about helping too far off their own man.

In the play above, two defenders followed Smith off Nowitzki’s screen, leaving only Justin Holiday to defend both Dirk and Seth Curry. That’s a tough proposition for the defender, as both players can shoot the 3 at a high level and he can only guard one of them. That’s a great look at the basket 14 seconds into the shot clock. So far this preseason, the Mavs have made a point to shoot their shot if the look is there. As a result, everyone is playing with a little more freedom and confidence, and the offense rarely bogs down.

“We’ve been watching a lot of tape of last year of ruts we got in — good shots, bad shots — and I think it’s really important, especially for us vets but for everyone in general,” Barnes said. “Good shots are contagious, and so are bad shots. If you burp up a bad shot, that can get contagious to the team.”

Again, it’s only preseason, but the seeds to a faster, more exciting offense are there. The Mavericks are attacking the basket, sharing the ball, and playing a more free-flowing style that lends itself to consistently better shots. As the preseason continues and we reach the quickly approaching regular season, we’ll see if they can continue to play this way. That will start tonight against Orlando, but the club will be without a few of its top players. It should be a good test then, especially for Smith, to see how he responds to playing without Nowitzki, Barnes, Matthews, and Noel.

“Pace” was a big buzzword last year and it will continue to be so this season, only this time around it means something totally different.