Game 39: Mavs vs. Warriors

Game 32: Mavs vs. Pistons

GAME RECAP: Mavericks 110, Pistons 93

Harrison Barnes scores 25 points and seven rebounds as the Mavericks get the victory over the Pistons, 110-93.

Game 21: Mavs at Spurs

Powell Alley-oop

J.J. Barea throws up the alley for Dwight Powell to finish the oop with a slam.

Mavs plan to use multiple point guards together in order to speed up pace in ’17-18

DALLAS — It became a position of strength for the Dallas Mavericks after the selection of rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. with the ninth overall pick in June’s NBA Draft. Now, according to head coach Rick Carlisle, the Mavericks could send multiple point guards out to the court at the same time this season in order to play at a faster pace.

Seeing veteran guards Devin Harris and J.J. Barea return with the team this upcoming season, the Mavs will have a balance of youth and experience in the backcourt to add depth behind Smith at the point. The Mavericks are also hopeful second-year floor general Yogi Ferrell and 27-year-old combo guard Seth Curry can continue to make strides after breakout individual seasons during the 2016-17 campaign. And with plenty of depth at the point guard position, Carlisle envisions using multiple playmakers together this season as the Mavs attempt to speed up the tempo.

“It’s our roster. It’s not just one guy,” Carlisle explained. “You know, we’ve got five legitimate point guards on this roster. And if we don’t play a more uptempo style, somebody is going to be sitting and we’re going to be sitting one of our better players. I don’t want to do that.

“Do the math. I don’t see us playing four of them at a time, but I would say the answer is yes. I do see us being able to play with multiple point guards and playmaker types, which is really important in today’s game,” the coach added. “I mean, you’ve got to have playmaking, and those playmakers have got to be able to defend and rebound. I mean, you can’t go and play transition basketball unless you’re stopping somebody and getting the ball off the boards.”

The Mavs ranked 30th in the league in scoring last season, posting just 97.9 points per game as a team. The Dallas offense also dished out just 20.8 assists an outing as a team, ranking 27th in that department. To Carlisle’s point, however, the Mavericks finished last in the league in rebounding as well, pulling down just 38.6 boards a game. And after finishing with the second-to-last slowest pace in the league, the Mavericks know they’ll have to rebound better in order to speed up the tempo and generate more offensive success during the ’17-18 campaign.

The Mavericks did rank seventh in the league with a defensive rebounding percentage of 77.6 percent last season, giving them encouragement that they can fuel their fast-break offense this year. However, Dallas’ 103.7 offensive rating last season ranked 23rd in the league. The Mavs also averaged the fewest freak-break points in the league last season, scoring just 7.8 points a game in transition after failing to finish off defensive possessions with stops. And after averaging just 32.8 points per game in the paint to rank last in that area last season, the Mavericks will depend heavily on their guard play to create more scoring opportunities.

“Obviously, playing at a faster pace is something that we did when I first got here. I’m glad we’re kind of getting back to it,” Harris explained. “I think we have guys that are going to relish in that type of environment. The way we can attack the rim with some of the young guys that we have, the way we can space the floor with some of the shooters that we have and bigs being able to finish as well, I think it fits our team well. We’re going to take that first look, if we get it. If not, we’ll move the ball like we tend to do. But I think playing at a faster pace is going to suit this younger group that we’ve got.”

Dennis Smith Jr. could open things up for the Mavs’ 3-point shooters

What is the most important position in basketball? Some would say it’s center. If your big man isn’t athletic enough to defend the pick-and-roll or at least score efficiently around the rim, your team might be doomed. Some would say it’s the power forward. Can your 4-man shoot the 3? Can he exploit size mismatches due either to his strength or his quickness? Your power forward’s skill set defines your offense.

Many others, however — probably the majority — would say it’s the point guard position. Now more than ever, the NBA is catered to the quarterback. Nearly every team runs heavy pick-and-roll offenses that feature the point guard in an attacking, scoring-minded role. Gone are the days when 20 starting point guards would average single-digits in scoring. It’s a new era, and your point guard needs to be able to run an offense and score 15 or 20 a night while still creating quality looks for his teammates and defending guys like Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul for 30-plus minutes. Sheesh.

By trading for Nerlens Noel last season and bringing him back for 2017-18, the Mavs shored up their center spot. Noel brings an athleticism and defensive versatility that this club hasn’t seen at that position in years, if ever at all. Dirk Nowitzki is thankfully still playing basketball, and he and Harrison Barnes can both still get you 20 points from the power forward spot. No questions there from a consistency standpoint.

Point guard, however, was the team’s biggest area of need heading into the summer. The Mavericks believe they filled that hole on draft night by selecting Dennis Smith Jr., who now steps into an offense that is practically ready-made for a player of his exact profile. Dallas will start athletes on the wing and at the 5-spot and can spread the floor with as many as four shooters around Smith who have all shot 38 percent or better from deep within the last couple years. All the offense needs is a player who can regularly initiate the sequence that results in a good shot. Ideally, that’s either a dunk or a 3-pointer.

The Mavs had some talented starting point guards last season, but neither were quite like Smith. Deron Williams entered the season as the starter, and while he was a terrific passer and at times a potent scorer from the 1-spot, he doesn’t have Smith’s explosiveness within the pick-and-roll. Williams was brilliant distributing the ball, especially once Nowitzki was healthy again, but he couldn’t attack switches against big men the way Smith projects to be able to. Yogi Ferrell, meanwhile, is a super-quick point guard and was an excellent 3-point shooter in his rookie season, but he doesn’t have Smith’s size or leaping ability. He gained a much better understanding of where his teammates want to be on the floor from a ball distribution standpoint, and hopefully with a full training camp to grow accustomed to these guys, Ferrell can take his passing game up another level this season. He and Smith will likely share the floor for stretches this season.

The Film Room: Dennis Smith Jr.

In this episode of The Film Room, we look at how one particular play illustrates Dennis Smith Jr.'s ability as a point guard.

The hope is that Smith’s game is an amalgam of those of Ferrell and Williams, that he can attack off the bounce like the cat-quick rookie and move the ball like the heady vet. If he can do those things, it could mean the Mavs’ shooters will find themselves in acres of space throughout the season, which could lead to a massive improvement in the team’s 3-point shooting.

Last season a combination of injuries, roster moves, and resting vets down the stretch led to some distorted team numbers. For example, the Mavs shot 36.2 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in 2016-17, which ranked 21st in the NBA. However, the players they’re bringing back from that team collectively shot 37.0 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers, which would have ranked tied for 14th in the league. That might not seem like a significant difference, but considering the Mavs attempted 1,800 of them, it makes a difference across 82 games.

Those same numbers, too, took a massive leap once Dirk Nowitzki returned from injury on Dec. 23. The Mavs didn’t really start ticking offensively until later in the season, but bringing Nowitzki back achieved two things. First, it meant that between Dirk and Barnes, the Mavs could always play a power forward capable of shooting 3s, which opened up the offense. Second, it meant the point guards could always play pick-and-roll with a fearsome jump shooter, which bends defenses in fortuitous ways.

Below is a table showing the primary jump-shooters’ catch-and-shoot 3-point percentages both before and after Nowitzki returned from injury on Dec. 23, when many of their best shooters became even better.

Player C&S 3P% Before Dec. 23 C&S 3P% After Dec. 23 Difference
Dirk Nowitzki 31.6% 39.6% +8.0
Seth Curry 35.5% 43.4% +7.9
J.J. Barea 42.9% 46.7% +3.8
Devin Harris 33.3% 37.0% +3.7
Wesley Matthews 36.3% 38.9% +2.6
Harrison Barnes 36.6% 36.4% -0.2
Yogi Ferrell N/A 40.5% N/A
Totals 36.0% 39.7% +3.7

Of course, Nowitzki’s return wasn’t the only thing to happen that resulted in basically a full-scale improvement in 3-point shooting. Devin Harris and J.J. Barea both missed large chunks of time in the early part of the season, and most importantly once Ferrell came into the fold, the team saw an immediate offensive improvement in that regard. Why? Because for weeks at a time Ferrell was the only player on the roster who could consistently get into the lane.

Ferrell averaged 6.1 drives per game last season for the Mavericks, the most on the team. Most of those lane attacks came against opposing starting lineups, too. That number represents a big increase from Williams’ average of 4.9 drives per game and is a slight uptick from Barea’s 5.6 per game, but the Puerto Rican rarely played against starters. What we’re primarily focusing on is the starting point guard’s ability to get into the paint, because that’s where Smith is likely going to come in. The Mavs offense has to create penetration against opposing front line units to stay competitive early in games and avoid falling behind early.

Assuming Smith clinches the starting job in training camp, he’s presumably going to be playing plenty of minutes with Nowitzki. The German has an unrivaled influence on opponents’ defensive rotations, as his defender never wants to leave him open. That could mean Smith will commonly come off ball-screens with an immediate driving lane to the basket, forcing defenders to slide over and help. That’s going to leave Mavs shooters open all over the floor. In order to achieve all of this, though, a point guard has to have the quickness to attack, the explosiveness around the rim to strike enough fear into the defense to force help, and the court vision to identify the open man.

It’s been a while since the Mavericks have had a player with all three of those traits. The most recent is Monta Ellis, whose blistering off-the-dribble game fueled a top-five Mavs offense for back-to-back seasons from 2013-2015. Just look at everything going on here.

Ellis cruised right through the first line of help defense and into the paint, where the entire Pacers defense collapsed to prevent a layup attempt. That left Jose Calderon wide open for a 3 on the weak side. Nowitzki helped this action, but most of the credit goes to Ellis for so quickly and decisively getting into the lane. He knew he wouldn’t get a shot off, but by drawing so much attention through his action, he created a great look for someone else.

Ellis had a knack for attacking the paint early in the shot clock, and he and Nowitzki developed very good chemistry in the pick-and-pop game. The shifty guard had the freedom to choose whether to use his screen or attack in the opposite direction, and doing so would usually catch the defense off guard. Below, Ellis attacks before the opposing defense is even set, and again he finds Calderon open for 3.

Nowitzki wasn’t even involved in the following play, but his presence was surely felt.

Ellis called for a screen from a different player, then quickly crossed over and got going toward the lane with one hard step and dribble. Nowitzki’s defender was the only other big man on the floor, but he was pulled 25 feet out from the rim. That left only a couple guards to help against the driving Ellis, who once again found Calderon for 3. The Mavericks finished second in the league in 3-point shooting in 2013-14.

Smith is quick and explosive enough to make these plays. Swap out Calderon for Seth Curry or Wesley Matthews and you can have that similar 3-point production on the weak side. Barnes and Nowitzki are obviously no slouches from deep, either, and if Smith plays with Barea, Harris, or Ferrell, he’ll have another lead guard he can trust to hoist the long-range shots too.

He’ll have no shortage of options, but as was the case with Ellis, everything will start with Smith. Can he break down that first line of defense? Can he get into the lane and draw attention? And, if he does all that, can he also make the right pass to the right player at the right time? It’s a tough ask of a 19-year-old rookie, but that’s the kind of thing Smith will have to do multiple times per game for 82 in order for this offense to click at the level it’s capable of reaching. The good thing is Nowitzki and Noel will help him do that by drawing their own attention as a screener, and the shooters are going to be able to convert those looks when they’re there. Smith will only need to focus on doing his job, and fortunately he’s already shown he can do it.

Devin Harris expects to be multi-positional player in Mavs’ crowded backcourt during ’17-18 season

DALLAS — After seeing time on the court at three different positions for the Dallas Mavericks since returning for a second stint with the franchise prior to the start of the 2013-14 campaign, veteran guard Devin Harris expects to once again be used in a multitude of ways by coach Rick Carlisle this upcoming season.

Harris, a 13-year veteran, overcame a right great toe sprain last season during the Mavericks’ final exhibition game against Denver on Oct. 21, avoiding surgery and an expected three-month layoff to average 6.7 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists an outing in 65 appearances. Upon his return Harris found himself in a crowded backcourt that featured veteran point guard J.J. Barea, swingman Wesley Matthews, 27-year-old sharpshooter Seth Curry and second-year standout Yogi Ferrell. The Dallas backcourt became even more crowded this offseason with the drafting of first-year floor general Dennis Smith Jr. But after ending last season on a high note with 15 points and eight assists while operating at point guard during the Mavs’ 100-93 win at Memphis on April 12, Harris believes his versatility will help him find a way onto the court during the ’17-18 campaign.

“You know, point-guard play is tremendous in this league,” Harris explained at the conclusion of last season. “I’ve played a little two, I’ve played a little one and I’ve played a little three. So, obviously, my position doesn’t change. But having a good point guard just really sets up your team to be successful.

“Since we got J.J., I haven’t spent a lot of time playing the point. Obviously, growing up that’s pretty much what I played throughout my NBA career. It felt good to get back out there and be aggressive, play with the young guys and just have fun, and I think that was the main point. (Playing point guard) is something I feel I still can continue to do. But with the team and the structure we have, two and three are more the positions I have to play. I would like to play (at point guard) a little bit more, but we’ll see what happens.”

Harris saw plenty of personal success at point guard earlier in his career, making his lone All-Star appearance while averaging 21.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6.9 assists in 69 appearances for the New Jersey Nets during the ’08-09 season. However, after several nagging injuries in recent years, Harris has made a seamless move to playing off the ball while also accepting a reserve role with the Mavericks.

Harris was forced to miss the first 41 games of the ’13-14 season while recovering from surgery to repair the second toe on his left foot, returning that year to average 7.9 points and 4.5 assists in 40 games. He then bounced back to play in 76 games the following season while posting averages of 8.8 points, 1.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 22.2 minutes an outing, showing what he’s capable of when the cat-quick guard is 100 percent healthy. He was later forced to undergo surgeries on his left great toe and his left thumb, ending a ’15-16 campaign that saw him average 7.6 points, 1.8 assists and 20.0 minutes in 64 games. Still, after ending last season injury-free, Harris expects for his versatility to be on full display once again.

“Obviously, going into (the offseason) healthy helps,” Harris explained. “You know, the last month or two months I kind of showed when I’m healthy what I’m capable of doing. And at this point you’ve got to kind of let the chips fall where they may and see what happens.”

Devin Harris has been impressed by offseason training of Mavs’ young players this summer

DALLAS — Committed to returning to the Dallas Mavericks better next season after battling his way through a right great toe injury early in the 2016-17 campaign, 13-year veteran Devin Harris has been encouraged to see the team’s young contributors in the gym alongside him every day this offseason.

Dropping nine of their final 11 outings to close the season, the Mavericks finished the grueling 82-game schedule with a 33-49 record and on the outside looking into the playoffs. The Mavs also increased the minutes of their young players down the stretch with the postseason no longer in sight, opting to rest veterans to ensure that their first- and second-year players spent more time on the court. But after playing alongside the team’s young players in the Mavericks’ 100-93 season-finale win at Memphis on April 12, Harris says he’s been pleasantly surprised by their offseason training thus far this summer. And with a bevy of returning young players set to compete with the Mavs’ Las Vegas summer-league squad July 7-17, Harris believes fans will see the growth of each player immediately.

“It’s been good. … Working with the young guys that have been here, and I’ve spent a lot of time working with Wes (Matthews) as well,” Harris said while making an appearance last week at Mavs Basketball Academy’s overnight camp. “I think it’s been good. It’s been beneficial for (the young players). They’ve made generous strides over the course of the season, and I think they’re making strides this summer as well. And I think it’s only going to benefit them coming into training camp.”

The Mavericks finished the season with five first-year players seeing time on the court late in the schedule, featuring four undrafted rookies as well. The Mavs also ended the year with nine players on the roster 26 years old or under, forming the franchise’s emerging youth movement.

Ending the ’15-16 season with the second-oldest team in the league behind only San Antonio after sending out a lineup with an average age of 30 years old, Dallas then finished this season with an average of 27.3 years old. And despite missing out on the playoffs for just the second time in the last 17 seasons, Harris is confident the Mavericks can make another run at the postseason by continuing to foster their young talent going into next year.

“You know, we’ve been so good for so long. Obviously, this year kind of caught up with us, but I think we’re not that far off,” Harris admitted. “We still have veteran leadership, and we finally have some young guys to kind of build upon. Hopefully, they can come back and make that next jump with just a few pieces here and there — some more shooting, bigs that can be more aggressive on the rebounds. I think with rebounding we’ve had struggles the last couple of years, but I don’t think we’re that far off.”