Mavs make splash with series of moves to acquire Nerlens Noel at trade deadline

DALLAS — Although a day of wheeling and dealing at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline led to plenty of roster movement, the Dallas Mavericks feel like they set themselves up to compete now and for seasons to come by adding a young and athletic big man.

Thursday, the Mavericks (22-34) announced that they had officially waived The Colony native and three-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams, clearing up a roster spot and more playing time for the team’s young guards. Dallas also acquired 22-year-old Nerlens Noel from the Philadelphia 76ers, sending away veteran center Andrew Bogut, second-year pro Justin Anderson and a protected first-round draft pick in exchange. The Mavs now hope to work Noel into the fold quickly, looking to claw their way into playoff contention in the process. And with another contributor to add to their emerging young core now on the roster, the Mavericks believe they picked up a building block for the future.

“It was great having Deron and his family back home in Dallas for the better part of two seasons,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said in a statement after the team waived Williams. “At this time the decision has been made to focus on playing our young guys, and the organization felt that giving Deron the freedom to choose his next team was the right thing to do. Deron still plays at a high level, and I believe he will be a difference-maker for a contending team down the stretch of this season. We wish him and his family the very best.

“In Justin Anderson, Philadelphia has acquired a high-class person and multiple-position player who has made great strides over his first two years. We thank Justin for his hard work and commitment to the Dallas Mavericks’ culture, and wish him the best. Nerlens Noel gives us something we desperately need — a young big who is a high-level rim protector and lob threat and has a high basketball IQ. We look forward to getting him to Dallas and integrated with our team as soon as possible.”

On the season, the 6-foot-11 Noel is averaging 8.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and .9 blocks a game, clocking 19.4 minutes an outing in a mostly reserve role during his 29 appearances. The former Kentucky standout and No. 6 overall pick of New Orleans during the 2013 draft is also shooting a career-high 61.1 percent from the field, giving the Mavericks an above-the-rim option in the interior.

Noel has averaged 10.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.6 blocks for his young career, starting 140 of 171 total games. He’ll now join a Dallas frontline that already features 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, adding depth to the center position after the migration of Bogut. And although Nowitzki admits that he had mixed emotions when he first learned of the trade after losing two teammates, the 7-footer looks forward to integrating an athletic big man that can help the Mavs win immediately.

“Well, he’s an athletic big,” Nowitzki said while praising the acquisition of Noel. “He’s young, and he’s  got a lot of potential. You know, he’s a rim protector, he’s long and he can finish around the rim. I think that’s what they were looking for. You obviously always hate to see teammates go. I love Bogut, and I love Justin. [Anderson] is a hard-working kid with a bright future. But in a deal, that’s just how it works. You have to give something to get something, so I wish those guys the best of luck. They gave everything they had here, and we’ll move forward.

“You know, we’re obviously trying to compete,” Nowitzki added. “No matter who wears this jersey, we’re going to go out there and try to win these games. We don’t play to lose. I think no competitor plays to lose, so whoever is out there and whoever is healthy is going to go out there and battle it out to see where we end up towards the end.”

Note: The Mavericks will now begin play after the All-Star break on Friday night in Minnesota, taking on the Timberwolves. The season series is tied at 1-1. The game will tip off at 7 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270.

The Mavs return to their home floor on Saturday, hosting the New Orleans Pelicans. The season series is tied at 1-1. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

J.J. Barea (left calf strain) — out

Game 54: Mavs vs. Magic

Highlights: Mavs vs. Magic

Check out all the top plays from Saturday's 112-80 win over the Orlando Magic!

Despite limited playing time this season, Justin Anderson’s patience was rewarded against Lakers

DALLAS — Although most of his playing time came late in a runaway 122-73 win Sunday over the Los Angeles Lakers, second-year pro Justin Anderson was simply happy to contribute for the Dallas Mavericks during a much-needed victory.

Scoring 12 of his career high-tying 19 points in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win, the 6-foot-6 Anderson made the most of his additional playing time after limited action during the first half of his second season. He also led seven different scorers in double figures as the Mavericks (15-29) bounced back from consecutive losses in impressive fashion, earning the praise of his veteran teammates and head coach in the process. And although Anderson’s admits that his performance might not be enough to earn more time on the court going forward, he also says that playing a role in the win was still rewarding after patiently waiting for his opportunity.

“It was good. I’m just thankful for the opportunity, and I just went out there and played as hard as I can,” Anderson said following a 5-of-11 shooting performance during Sunday’s win. “I’m just happy that my teammates helped me and pushed me to go out there and be aggressive, and those guys helped me and put me in good positions.”

He added: “You know, I’m just trying to stay optimistic, man, and just keep trying to understand that this is a part of my growth individually. This is something that one day I’m going to look back and say that this was probably the best thing that ever happened to me, so I’m just humbled. Right now, my head is in the dirt, and I’m just continuing to work hard and trying to do everything I can to help my team when my number is called. It feels good for us all to go out and get this win.”

This isn’t the first time Anderson has been forced to wait for his opportunity to make an impact, seeing little action much of his rookie season before emerging late in the 82-game schedule to help push the Mavs into the playoffs. However, after a strong close to the 2015-16 campaign, Anderson was expected to pick up where he left off at with an even stronger second season.

The 23-year-old Anderson was unable to initially crack Mavs coach Rick Carlisle’s rotation early in his rookie year, making 55 appearances while averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per outing last season. He was then inserted into the starting lineup and quickly provided a spark on March 28 in Denver, scoring 11 points, grabbing four rebounds, dishing two assists, collecting a steal and registering two blocks in 24 minutes of action during a 97-88 victory that led to wins in seven of the final nine games and a playoff berth. Anderson upped his production in the playoffs by averaging 9.4 points, 4.0 boards and 1.4 assists in 18.8 minutes as the Mavericks fell to Oklahoma City in five games during the first round. And although Sunday’s win gave all of the Mavs’ young contributors a chance to show what they can do, starting point guard Deron Williams says he was most excited for Anderson’s impressive showing.

“I know it’s been tough on a lot of them, especially Justin. He was playing a lot early, and lately he’s either not played or played sparingly,” Williams explained. “I know that can be tough on him, but obviously, he’s stayed professional. He keeps working hard, and (Sunday) he got his opportunity and made the most of it.”

On the season, Anderson is averaging 6.8 points and 3.2 rebounds, shooting just 39.8 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from three-point range during his 40 appearances. The 21st overall pick in in the 2015 draft has also seen his playing time impacted by the emergence of 26-year-old sharpshooter Seth Curry and undrafted rookie Dorian Finney-Smith. That said, Carlisle confesses that Sunday’s performance may not be enough to earn Anderson more playing time immediately. But after seeing the young pro remain ready for his opportunity, Carlisle says he won’t hesitate to insert Anderson into the lineup when the time calls for it.

“He’s been working extremely hard, so he put himself in a position to succeed (on Sunday),” Carlisle said while assessing Anderson’s latest performance. “And if you’re looking at the stats and the numbers, he scored and made shots, which was great. I thought he went hard and he took a charge, so there’s a lot of positives there.”

Note: The Mavericks will now conclude their three-game homestand Wednesday at American Airlines Center, hosting the New York Knicks. New York leads the season series 1-0 after a 93-77 home win on Nov. 14. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Wesley Matthews (right hip strain) — day-to-day

Andrew Bogut (right hamstring strain) — out

J.J. Barea (left calf strain) — out

Deron Williams’ mastery of Mavs’ offense can be credited to Year 2 in Rick Carlisle’s system

DALLAS — After battling a nagging left calf strain that sidelined him for nine games from Nov. 6-23, three-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams has begun to recapture the elite form that he displayed during the 2015-16 season.

Last season, Williams averaged 14.1 points, a team-high 5.8 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 65 games, making 63 starts while shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three-point range during his first campaign with the Dallas Mavericks. Williams was also hampered late in the season due to a left abdominal strain and sports hernia that forced him to miss eight of the last 11 games on the schedule and the final four outings during the Mavericks’ first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City. The 32-year-old lead guard then re-signed with the team to a reported one-year deal worth $10 million during free agency this summer, hoping to pick up where he left off at this season. And with his injury concerns seemingly behind him, the Mavs now believe they’re seeing Williams at his best once again.

“When a veteran guy like that has a pulse on the game, it’s a real advantage for your team,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle recently said while praising Williams’ command of the offense. “It’s helping a lot, and he’s really one of our real key guys. He’s our starting point guard, and he’s got an unusual game for a point guard in this league. But with the way we play, we depend on him to make plays and to score, and he’s got a tough defensive matchup every night. We need him to rebound, and we need him to really play a total all-around game. You know, he’s another guy that was coming off injury problems early, and he missed eight or 10 games. And it took him a while to get a rhythm and get to feeling good. Now, he’s back to where he needs to be, so we’ve just got to keep him going.”

Bouncing back from a lackluster ’14-15 campaign in Brooklyn that led to eventual buyout talks, Williams welcomed a change of scenery last season after playing for four different coaches during his 3 1/2 years with the Nets. He’s now beginning to thrive under Carlisle’s tutelage with another year in the same system, earning the coach’s trust in the process.

On the season, Williams is averaging 13.7 points and a team-high 7.1 assists a game, shooting 43.2 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from three-point range. He’s also seen a steady increase in his production since returning from the calf injury that bothered him earlier in the season. And while growing more familiar with Carlisle’s free-flowing offense, Williams has become an extension of his head coach on the floor by often taking on the play-calling duties.

“I mean, any time you’re in a system for a couple of years, you’re going to pick up things a little better. It’s been a while since I’ve had that opportunity, so it’s been great. I’m forming chemistry with some guys and getting used to playing with some guys for once. Coach [Carlisle] likes to control things a little bit, but at times he let’s me have some freedom,” Williams candidly said.

He added: “I mean, I think that definitely helps, knowing what coach expects and how he talked about me having some chemistry with a couple of guys. It’s definitely been fun to play with them, especially when we’re playing like this. You know, when we’re playing like this, it’s a lot of fun. We’re just doing a lot of pick-and-rolls, and just playing basketball out there. You know, see where we can get a matchup, drive and kick. I think when you get in the habit of just calling plays, teams are great at scouting. You know, we’re just playing basketball. And you can’t really scout for that, ’cause there’s nothing to really scout for. We’re just running random pick-and-rolls, drives, cuts and different things like that. You know, I think it speeds up the tempo a little bit. We’re able to get some easy looks, instead of just having to grind it out for every little bucket.”

Averaging 15.1 points, 2.2 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game during the month of December, Williams began to showcase the skills that made him desirable to the Dallas front office to bring back this season. He’s now averaging 14.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists in 10 games during the month of January, shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from three-point range during that span. In the process, Williams has led the Mavericks (15-29) to a 5-5 mark during the month, including wins in four of their last six games. And according to 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, Williams’ aggression has opened up scoring opportunities for his teammates.

“I think D-Will has been great, breaking teams down with his little slow crossover he’s got. He’s getting in the lane and making stuff happen for us,” Nowitzki said while praising his floor general.

He added: “I mean, it’s been more of the same. I thought last year at times he was our best player. He was our crunch-time player at times. He got big plays run for him, and he came through a lot of the time. And just injuries, unfortunately, at the end cut his season a little short. But I think this year, besides the little calf thing that he had, he’s been healthy and he’s looking better and better from month to month. Hopefully he can stay injury-free and keep going. Like I said, he’s making stuff happen for us. We need people to penetrate and get in the lane, especially now with J.J. (Barea) out again. He gets in there and makes stuff happen, and we depend on that as shooters.”

Note: The Mavericks will now conclude their three-game homestand Wednesday at American Airlines Center, hosting the New York Knicks. New York leads the season series 1-0 after a 93-77 home win on Nov. 14. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Wesley Matthews (right hip strain) — day-to-day

Andrew Bogut (right hamstring strain) — out

J.J. Barea (left calf strain) — out

Deron Williams has thrived since returns of Dirk, Bogut

Deron Williams has been the best pick-and-roll point guard in the NBA this season.

That’s a bold claim to make, of course, especially if you’ve watched any of what James Harden has done this season in Houston, or what Steph Curry does every night, and the list goes on. There are a lot of terrific point guards in the league right now, and offenses rely more than ever on the spread pick-and-roll to generate points, and they are doing it efficiently — so efficiently, in fact, that the league has taken notice.

But yep, Deron Williams is the most efficient of them all to this point.

The Mavs point guard is creating 1.177 points per possession this season in possessions deriving from the pick-and-roll, per Synergy Sports. (In other words, when a possession begins with a pick-and-roll involving him as the point guard, and ends when either he or someone else shoots as a direct outcome of the play.) Of the 122 players in the NBA with at least 100 such possessions, Williams’ 1.177 PPP mark ranks at the very top of the list, and the gap between Williams and second-place Tony Parker, 0.079 PPP, is larger than the gap between second and 17th place.

Williams has long had a reputation for being one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the NBA. But what about this season is so different? How has his efficiency taken such a huge leap, up to 1.177 points per possession this season after just 0.932 last season?

Part of it has to do with his increased comfort level in general. This is the first season he’s played for the same head coach in two straight seasons since 2010, during his days with the Utah Jazz. Health could very well have something to do with it, as well. But any time you’re taking a point guard’s numbers into consideration, you must also consider the personnel around him. Are there shooters? Quality big men? Good spacing? All of those factors can make a significant impact on that player’s effectiveness. In the Mavs’ case, particularly since the returns of Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bogut, Williams’ club has been able to check off every box for him. All he’s had to do is make the right decision.

Dirk Nowitzki’s nearly full-time switch to the center position has further opened up the offense. For nearly 20 years, he’s been a floor-spacing menace to opposing defenses, able to dictate the coverage simply by standing still on the wing or atop the arc. Until this season, though, he was doing it as a power forward almost 100 percent of the time. This season, however, nearly half his minutes have come at the 5, per Basketball-Reference.

What does that do for the offense?

Pulling a center 25 feet from the rim is like sticking a point guard down on the block: It makes him uncomfortable. No disrespect to the defense, of course, but it puts the offense at an overwhelming advantage to space the floor with good 3-point shooting at every position and then isolate the center in space. This is Tyson Chandler, still one of the top interior defenders in the league. But on the perimeter, he’s helpless against the Williams/Nowitzki 1-5 pick-and-roll.

That’s Mav-on-former-Mav crime right there. Chandler knows better than just about anyone how dangerous Nowitzki can be on the outside if left unguarded. Devin Booker slid over to contest the shot as best he could, but at 7 feet tall, the German wasn’t bothered.

Naturally, after seeing something like this on film, a center will think it’d be best to simply hug Nowitzki — as another former Dirk ally, Zaza Pachulia, does below — and hope someone else can stop Williams’ drive. The only problem, though, is typically when a guard penetrates, it’s the center’s job to contest. By pulling him from the lane, there’s no one to stop dribble penetration from reaching the rim.

This is playing in huge amounts of space, but Dallas can condense the floor to present even more difficult decisions for a center. In the play below, Nowitzki is the power forward but is guarded again by Chandler. Watch what happens as he sets a ball-screen for Williams and then back-pedals to the free throw line.

Chandler’s instincts, as well as basic defensive philosophy, tell him to abandon Nowitzki to stay in front of Williams. To hug Nowitzki here is to surrender a layup, guaranteed. There is simply not enough time for any other player to help against Williams’ drive. But Nowitzki escapes unguarded and disregarded to the mid-range, where he’s hit thousands and thousands of jumpers in his career. There’s no solution for the defense, either. If P.J. Tucker rotates too quickly to Dirk, Harrison Barnes will be all alone on the wing for an open 3.

The Mavericks have shown they can open the floor up even more than this, however. The higher the screen, the more space there is underneath for Williams to roam, and the greater the strain on the defense to scramble.

In the play above, Nowitzki sets his screen near midcourt. Williams then sprints toward Dragan Bender, Nowitzki’s defender, and puts him on his heels. Brandon Knight thinks he’s out of the play for a split-second, then briefly plays the passing lane, then finally catches up to Williams. By then, Nowitzki is comfortably standing 18 feet from the rim waiting for the pass.

That play above is the future of the NBA, in my opinion. James Harden already utilizes extremely high screens to get up to full speed by the time he’s reached the 3-point arc. As more and more athletic players reach the NBA, they’ll be able to cover more ground in fewer strides, so why not pull the pick-and-roll out to 40 feet instead of 30? (I don’t envy defenses.)

Andrew Bogut has shown, though, that you don’t need to set a screen 40 feet from the basket just to create an easy jump shot. Rather, all you need to do is set a monster screen and remove one defender from the play.

It doesn’t get much easier than that in the NBA.

Nowitzki and Bogut aren’t the only options in the pick-and-roll. Dwight Powell has scored 1.152 points per possession as a roll man this season, with that number trending upward. Harrison Barnes, meanwhile, has scored a ridiculous 1.246 PPP in 61 possessions as a roll man. He’s 33 of 55 from the field — yes, 60 percent — in those situations, with nearly all of them coming on jump shots, not dunks. The fade to the corner has become a favorite of his. He’s 20 of 34 on no-dribble jumpers in the pick-and-pop, per Synergy.

And things become unfair when the Mavs use both Barnes and Nowitzki in combination to set a double-screen, otherwise known as a drag screen, at the top of the arc.

Williams dribbles horizontally, parallel to the baseline, leaving it up to the Suns defenders to commit to one thing or another before making his move. Marquese Chriss initially switches off Barnes to slow Williams’ attack, but he’s under the impression that Eric Bledsoe will eventually get back over to help him. Bledsoe can’t leave Barnes open, though, and we already know there’s no way Chandler is leaving Dirk, which means once Chriss leaves Williams alone, he’s got a wide-open 3-pointer.

Williams was 4 of 5 from deep last night and is shooting 43.1 percent from beyond the arc in his last 12 games. During that time he’s scored at least 20 points six times and has dished out at least eight assists five times, including 12 last night.

There’s never been a question about Williams’ ability to read the defense and distribute the ball. Similarly, there’s never been a question about Nowitzki’s ability to shoot open jumpers. Bogut has been one of the biggest screeners in the league for a decade. Barnes has answered every question about his game and then some this season. So, naturally, when those players pair up, good things will tend to happen.

In Williams’ case, he’s been better at what he’s doing than anyone else in the NBA this season.

Game 37: Mavs vs. Hawks

Highlights: Mavs vs. Hawks

Check out all the top plays from Saturday night's game against the Atlanta Hawks.

Game 36: Mavs vs. Suns

Highlights: Mavs vs. Suns

Check out all the top plays from Thursday's game against the Suns.