Mavs expect Dennis Smith Jr., Yogi Ferrell ‘to push each other’ for minutes in ’17-18

The Film Room: Dennis Smith Jr.

Bobby Karalla breaks down Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr.'s game, and how he can use his athleticism to take the Mavericks' offense to the next level.

DALLAS — There was a revolving door at point guard for the Dallas Mavericks during the 2016-17 season, leading the front office to nab North Carolina State freshman standout Dennis Smith Jr. with the No. 9 pick in last month’s NBA Draft. Still, despite high hopes for Smith during his rookie season, the Mavericks don’t expect the cat-quick guard to be awarded the starting spot without a challenge from second-year lead guard Yogi Ferrell.

Last season, Ferrell averaged 11.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals in 36 games with the Mavericks, making 29 starts after originally being signed to a 10-day contract on Jan. 28. He also shot 41.2 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from behind the three-point arc, garnering a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team to become the first Mav to do so since Marquis Daniels and Josh Howard during the ’03-04 campaign. Ferrell was also named Western Conference Rookie of the Month during February, becoming the first Mav to receive the honor since Devin Harris in 2004. And according to Mavs owner Mark Cuban, Ferrell will certainly challenge Smith for the starting point-guard duties when training camp gets underway in late September.

“I think Yogi and Dennis are going to push each other,” Cuban said during Smith’s introductory press conference with the Dallas media last month. “You know, Yogi is super competitive. He started a lot of games as a D-League call-up and basically a 10-day, and I know that he’s just as competitive as Dennis is. They’re going to push each other. And I think that young core is what we want to continue to build on and grow with, and hopefully surprise a lot of people.”

Smith is ready for a healthy competition, according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, after a stellar season at the collegiate level.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Smith averaged 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists last season, shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from behind the three-point arc. He also earned Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and a spot on the All-ACC Second Team after becoming the first player in ACC history to record two triple-doubles in the same season during conference play. Likewise, Smith became the first player to lead the ACC among freshmen in points and assists since Ed Cota during the ’96-97 season. Now, Nelson says Smith is ready to thrive in Mavs coach Rick Carlisle’s system as he tries to revitalize a Dallas attack that ranked 30th in scoring (97.9 ppg), 27th in assists (20.8 pg) and 23rd with an offensive rating of 103.7.

“Those keys are earned. You know, it’s going to be an interesting training camp,” Nelson explained. “I think Dennis is going to play for one of the best coaches in the NBA. That being said, I think internally you can’t help but be excited by the potential, but he wouldn’t want it any other way. Just knowing the character of Dennis and knowing his family and surrounding structure, he’s going to want to earn those minutes. He’s truly a winner in every sense of the word.”

Dennis Smith Jr.’s raw athleticism helps Mavs keep pace with NBA’s new trend at point guard

DALLAS — After seeing newly-named MVP Russell Westbrook dominate the NBA en route to a record number of triple-doubles in a season, the Dallas Mavericks are hoping that a player with similar athletic ability can also take the league by storm next year.

This season, Westbrook averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists, becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson during the ’61–62 campaign to average a triple-double for an entire season. He also broke Robertson’s record for most triple-doubles in a single season with 42, lifting the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 33-9 record in those games. Westbrook’s dominance speaks to a growing trend in the league of athletic and explosive lead guards to welcome in a new era. That said, the Mavericks hope the selection of former North Carolina State freshman standout Dennis Smith Jr. with the No. 9 pick in last week’s NBA Draft has a similar impact on their team next season.

“I believe it translates well,” the 19-year-old Smith proclaimed during his introductory press conference with the Dallas media last week. “Russell Westbrook is super athletic, and that’s a guy I watch a lot of. And he dominated this year. He had a great year, and I think that’s largely due to how athletic he is compared to other point guards. I believe I can be similar to that, in terms of above-average athleticism. … Russell Westbrook is just relentless. He attacks at every opportunity, and he competes every possession.”

Possessing a 48-inch vertical, Smith’s athleticism was well publicized after one season at the collegiate level. His ability to impact the game in a multitude of ways is also something that figures to elevate the play of the Mavericks after a 33-49 season.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder averaged 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists last season, shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from behind the three-point arc. In the process, Smith earned Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and a spot on the All-ACC Second Team after becoming the first player in ACC history to record two triple-doubles in the same season during conference play. The Mavs now hope Smith’s athleticism and do-it-all play translates to the next level. And according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, Smith’s pure athleticism should complement 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki at the offensive end.

“I couldn’t be more excited about adding Dennis Smith to the roster,” Nelson said. “He’s an electric young player with tons of potential. Obviously, he’s young and minutes are earned in this league, but his skillset is rare. I think he’ll be a terrific fit. He’s a pick-and-roll player with big-time athleticism and tons of potential. And I think with [Mavs coach Rick Carlisle] and specifically the system that we play, it’s a really, really good fit. This was the guy that we were after. And if we had drafted a lot higher, he was the guy that we had circled. A strange set of circumstances panned out, a surprise pick or two, and we got our guy. So, again, positionally it fits. Really, the big hole was at point guard. He fits in really well with our guys, our chemistry and where we’re going. We think he can be a nice building block in our retool. And with Dirk specifically, he and Dirk in the pick-and-roll is exciting to think about. So, we think it’s really good in the here and now. It gives us a building block to move forward with, and we are just excited.”

Smith played at Trinity Christian School and averaged 22.2 points per game as a junior before being named North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year. However, after tearing his ACL, Smith was forced to miss his senior season in high school and rehab his way back onto the court. The Fayetteville, N.C., native then showed no signs of the injury during his only season in college, dazzling fans with explosive plays on a regular basis. But according to Mavs owner Mark Cuban, Smith won’t be able to rely on simply his athleticism in order to be effective in the league.

“Dennis is someone we’ve had our eye on since we started scouting this class,” Cuban explained. “Dennis is a money player. He’s here to produce, and the results will speak for themselves. You know, we can project, we can hope and we can talk about a lot of different things, but it’s all just talk until he walks out to the court. But the good news is, as you heard him say, he works hard, he prepares and he watches tape. There’s a lot of kids that will come in, and just because they’ve been so much better physically and athletically than everybody at the different levels they’ve competed at they don’t really take the cerebral approach. Knowing that Dennis likes to watch film, knowing that he likes to learn, I think that’s going to be the difference maker. … Like I said earlier, we can watch him athletically, but it’s how he approaches the game, it’s his cerebral approach to the game and his willingness and desire to learn that makes the difference between a guy with All-Star potential and somebody that actually reaches that potential. So, we’re hoping when he walks on the court, I’m not going to say who he compared himself to with a jump shot, but hopefully he has that kind of rookie year.”

After patient waiting game for Dennis Smith Jr., Mavs get their man at No. 9 in NBA Draft

DALLAS — After playing the waiting game for their turn to select with the No. 9 overall pick in the NBA Draft, the Dallas Mavericks had their patience rewarded Thursday night with the rights to North Carolina State freshman standout Dennis Smith Jr.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Smith was an early-entry candidate to this year’s draft, averaging 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists while shooting 45.5 percent from the field and 35.9 percent from behind the three-point arc during his lone collegiate season. He also garnered plenty of accolades during one season in college, earning Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and a spot on the All-ACC Second Team after leading the league in assists and finishing sixth in the conference in scoring. And according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, Smith could slide instantly into the starting lineup for the team next season.

“This is a huge day for us and a huge night,” Carlisle said shortly after the selection of Smith. “You know, I started studying the draft back in March, because of the way our season was going, and there were four really big-time point guards in the draft. I loved Dennis Smith, and I thought he was as good as any of them. I just never dreamed that at nine we would have an opportunity to take one of those four guys, and the stars fell the way that they fell.

“We’re getting a guy that is an instant impact guy. He has great quickness, he’s explosive, he can score and he can pass. We didn’t have him in for a workout, because it just didn’t seem like he was going to fall to us. But in the last several days a couple of our guys went down to a pro day that he had in Raleigh, and they had a great visit with him down there. [Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson], myself and Mike Finley facetimed with him a couple of days ago and asked him some pointed questions that were not easy questions for a guy in his position about coming to a team with some veterans. He’s a no-nonsense guy. … He has a hit-first personality, he wants to be great, and he has the ability to have great impact on our team. And before anybody ask, I think at this point and time I would project him as a starter. But he’s going to have to earn it, and he understands that. But this is a historic night for us, and we fulfilled a great need. Playmaking is such an important part of the NBA game now that having guys, like Dennis Smith Jr., that can create simply on their own … is a great blessing for us tonight.”

Smith became the first player to lead the ACC among freshmen in points and assists since Ed Cota during the 1996-97 season. The Fayetteville, N.C., native was also the first player in ACC history to record two triple-doubles in the same season during conference play.

Smith played at Trinity Christian School and averaged 22.2 points per game as a junior before being named North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year. However, after tearing his ACL, Smith was forced to miss his senior season in high school. The do-it-all guard then showed that the injury was not going to slow him down at the collegiate level, ascending to the top of the Mavs’ draft board to help revitalize Dallas’ stagnant offensive attack. Smith will now be asked to join forces with 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and leading scorer Harrison Barnes to immediately boost a Dallas attack that ranked 30th in scoring (97.9 ppg), 27th in assists (20.8 apg) and 23rd with an offensive rating of 103.7.

“I couldn’t be more excited about adding Dennis Smith to the roster,” Nelson proclaimed. “He’s an electric young player with tons of potential. Obviously, he’s young and minutes are earned in this league, but his skillset is rare. I think he’ll be a terrific fit. He’s a pick-and-roll player with big-time athleticism and tons of potential. And I think with Rick and specifically the system that we play, it’s a really, really good fit. This was the guy that we were after. And if we had drafted a lot higher, he was the guy that we had circled. A strange set of circumstances panned out, a surprise pick or two, and we got our guy. So, again, positionally it fits. Really, the big hole was at point guard. He fits in really well with our guys, our chemistry and where we’re going. We think he can be a nice building block in our retool. And with Dirk specifically, he and Dirk in the pick-and-roll is exciting to think about. So, we think it’s really good in the here and now. It gives us a building block to move forward with, and we are just excited.”

“It was great. They came to my pro day, and they were impressed by what they saw. And I was very impressed,” the 19-year-old Smith added in a teleconference call with the Dallas media. “I’m already impressed by the history of the organization. And then to get to speak to them personally, it didn’t do anything but further my admiration for them. So, I was thankful whenever I heard my name called by them. I’m definitely motivated by (dropping to the 9th pick). I just use it as fuel to the fire. I’ve been underrated my whole life, and that’s perfectly fine with me. I’m accustom to it. I’m going to go out and be Dennis Smith, and nothing can stop that. The Mavs can expect to get a point guard who’s trying to win every game. Not selfish at all. Not caring about stats, but I do want to make my teammates better. I think that’s very important — winning games and having a great team effort. And I can bring that to the team.”

Mavs face task of finding suitable subs for Dirk Nowitzki in ’16-17

DALLAS — With their superstar and franchise player set to enter his 19th year in the NBA at the age of 38, the Dallas Mavericks know the importance of lightening the load on 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki’s broad shoulders during the 2016-17 season.

Last season, Nowitzki posted a team-high 18.3 points per game during his 18th campaign, becoming the oldest player in the league to lead his respective team in scoring during the ’15-16 schedule. He also connected on 44.8 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from three-point range while making 75 appearances, clocking 31.5 minutes per game.

Nowitzki passed Shaquille O’Neal (28,596) to move into sixth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list last season as well, inching just 509 points away from becoming the sixth player in league history to amass 30,000 for his career. He’s now only 1,928 points behind Wilt Chamberlain for the fifth position on the all-time scoring list, looking to reach that milestone during the next couple of seasons. But after signing Nowitzki to a reported two-year deal worth $50 million on July 27, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle admits that the team might look to preserve the ageless veteran this upcoming season in order to rely on him during the stretch run.

“We’ve got to try to notch it down a little bit,” Carlisle said while addressing Nowitzki’s heavy minutes last season. “You know, I’d say mid-20s. … It would be good to get him to 26 (minutes per game). You know, it’s tricky, because if you play him too few minutes, he’ll never get into the flow of the game. And he’s very much a rhythm-and-flow player, so I have no concerns that we won’t be able to continue the transition and just try to lighten the load a little bit. It’s a deep roster, and there’s a lot of talented guys. There’s a lot of guys that can score. Our shooting, I think, is better in a lot of areas, and so we’ll be fine there.”

For his career, Nowitzki has averaged 35.3 minutes per game during his previous 18 seasons. The 2007 league MVP and 2011 Finals MVP also ranks 12th all-time in games played and 11th in minutes, putting many miles on his legs in the process. That said, Nowitzki isn’t opposed to having his playing time trimmed if it’s beneficial to the team. And after experimenting with taking occasional nights off during back-to-backs the last two seasons, Nowitzki expects that trend to continue.

“You know, I don’t really have a number in my head. That’s up to the coaches,” Nowitzki said while addressing his playing time last season. “I’m going to get ready for whatever it’s going to be and however it’s going to play out. I’m sure there’s some games where you go a little higher. I’m not sure what we’re doing on back-to-backs here and there, but I’m sure there’s going to be a little rest built in there. And you just have to wait and see how the season goes. I think last year I felt really good in the month of November. When I started off, I felt good and I was moving well. And then I kind of fell in a hole from December till March, so I’m hoping to avoid that hole this year. And hopefully I can still play effective minutes when I’m out there.”

Inking 25-year-old big man Dwight Powell to a reported four-year deal worth approximately $37 million on July 8, the Mavericks could ask the third-year pro to assume the majority of minutes behind Nowitzki at power forward this season. The Mavs could also turn to new addition Quincy Acy, another 25-year-old and Mesquite native that hopes to give his hometown team a lift in his fifth NBA season. Meanwhile, the Mavs could also go small for stints without Nowitzki on the floor, sliding versatile forward Harrison Barnes up from his customary three position to give the future Hall of Famer a breather.

After averaging 37.7 minutes per game during the ’08-09 season, Nowitzki saw his playing time steadily slide prior to going back up to 32.9 minutes an outing in the ’13-14 campaign. Carlisle then managed to trim the 7-footer’s minutes under 30 during the ’14-15 season for the first time since he was a rookie, placing Nowitzki on the court an average of 29.6 minutes during his 77 appearances. But according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, the team is stocked with young up-and-comers hungry for more playing time behind Nowitzki on the depth chart. And with hopes of lightening Nowitzki’s workload, the Mavericks will call upon those young contributors for stretches this season.

“I think this year, maybe a little bit more than in the past, we’ll have an emphasis on seeing which of those young guys can step up and fill rotation roles,” Nelson explained this summer.

“You know, we’re excited. I think we’re better than we were last year,” he added. “We also have some really nice young pieces, and I think at the start of training camp we’ll have some really solid veteran leadership in the starting positions laced with guys in their mid-20s. So, it’s a really nice complement of Mavericks that have carried that baton for years and a young complement of Maverick young guns that will be positioning themselves for roster minutes.”

Another year in Rick Carlisle’s system should bode well for Deron Williams

DALLAS — Despite seeing his 2015-16 season derailed by injuries, three-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams returned to playing at an elite level during his first campaign with the Dallas Mavericks.

Starting 63 of his 65 appearances last season, Williams ranked second on the team in scoring while averaging 14.1 points an outing. The Colony native also pulled down 2.9 rebounds and dished out 5.8 assists a game, connecting on 41.4 percent shooting and 34.4 percent from three-point range for his hometown team. However, Williams would eventually be hampered by injuries near the close of the regular season, missing eight of the final 11 games as the Mavs battled for a playoff position. And after a left abdominal strain and sports hernia forced the veteran floor general out of the lineup for the final four games during the team’s first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City, Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson says that he’s eager to see what a healthy Williams will do this upcoming season after he reportedly re-signed with the team to a one-year deal worth $10 million.

“You just can’t say enough about a guy like D-Will,” Nelson said while praising Williams’ play last season. “With him coming back, he had fun. He had fun for the first time in a long time, and I think he really had an opportunity to express himself. I think [Mavs coach Rick Carlisle] used him very well.”

Returning to the lineup after an eight-game hiatus, Williams played through his late-season injury concerns to score 15 points in 29 minutes during a 98-91 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on April 10. He then boosted the Mavs into the playoffs the following night by scoring 23 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing six assists in a 101-92 road win against Utah.

Bouncing back from a lackluster ’14-15 campaign with the Brooklyn Nets that led to eventual buyout talks, Williams made the most of his new opportunity in Dallas last season. Williams averaged 13.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists during his last season with the Nets, appearing in 68 games and making 55 starts. He also connected on just 38.7 percent from the floor and 36.7 percent from three-point range. But after a fun-filled season with the Mavs that featured a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to cap off a 117-116 double-overtime thriller against Sacramento on Jan. 5, the 11-year veteran could be set for more success following surgery this summer to repair his sports hernia injury.

Williams entered free agency after declining a player option for $5.6 million to test the open market. He’s now expected to pick up where he left off at, hoping to continue to thrive under Carlisle’s direction. And after Williams played for four different coaches during his 3 1/2 seasons in Brooklyn, Carlisle expects for the veteran lead guard to feel more comfortable with another year in the system.

“Well, he was one of our best players, and I enjoyed working with him,” Carlisle said while praising Williams’ 15-16 season during a recent interview with NBA TV. “He’s going to be back with us next year, and we’ve just got to get him through a couple of the injury things that happened. He had a sports hernia in the playoffs that really kind of screwed up our chances in that series. But the one game that we won, he had 11 points in the first half and kind of got us going. So, he’s still a tremendous player. And he’s from Dallas, so I know he likes being back home. We love having him there.”

Building young core around Dirk Nowitzki was priority for Mavs this offseason, Donnie Nelson says

DALLAS — Although he says it wasn’t purely by coincidence that the Dallas Mavericks were able to retool this summer by adding a stable of young players, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson admits he’s excited to see how the team’s emerging youth movement contributes during the upcoming season.

Signing 24-year-old forward Harrison Barnes this summer in free agency, the Mavericks feel they added a budding star capable of taking the reins from 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki in seasons to come. The Mavs also inked big man Dwight Powell, 25, expecting the former Stanford standout to continue to blossom in Year 3. Meanwhile, the front office drafted 23-year-old rookie center A.J. Hammons, adding him to a young core that already featured second-year pro Justin Anderson. And after signing several players 25 years old and under in combo guard Seth Curry, big man Quincy Acy, Argentine swingman Nicolas Brussino, BYU standout Kyle Collinsworth, forward Dorian Finney-Smith, undrafted LSU guard Keith Hornsby and post player Jameel Warney, the Mavericks built a roster mixed with proven veteran leaders and untapped talent.

“I think it’s just a status of kind of where we are as a franchise,” Nelson said while assessing the roster last month. “I wouldn’t say it was more important, but I think we had more roster spots and there’s more opportunity for young guys whether they be free agents or draft picks to come in and make an impact. You know, you’re always measuring where you are, you’re always measuring what the Western Conference looks like, and then in our business you’re always talking about your succession plan. You know, this year things fell right and happened last second and split second, and it really put us in a good position. But I think this year, maybe a little bit more than in the past, we’ll have an emphasis on seeing which of those young guys can step up and fill rotation roles.”

Last season, the Mavericks featured the second-oldest team in the league behind only San Antonio, sending out a lineup with an average age of 30 years old. The Mavs also had just three players under the age of 25 when the season began, putting more burden on an aging core to compete with the young and athletic teams in the West. That could change this season, however, as the Mavs try to lighten the load on the 38-year-old Nowitzki in his 19th campaign.

Nowitzki posted a team-best 18.3 points per game during his 18th season, becoming the oldest player in the league to lead his respective squad in scoring during the 2015-16 schedule. The Mavs now hope a few of their young contributors can help take some of that scoring burden away from Nowitzki, who sits just 509 points away from becoming the sixth player in league history to amass 30,000 for his career. Still, according to Nelson, the Mavs will have a good complement of tested veterans and hungry up-and-comers surrounding Nowitzki as he attempts to lead the team into the playoffs for a 16th time in 17 years.

“You know, we’re excited. I think we’re better than we were last year,” Nelson explained. “We also have some really nice young pieces, and I think at the start of training camp we’ll have some really solid veteran leadership in the starting positions laced with guys in their mid-20s. So, it’s a really nice complement of Mavericks that have carried that baton for years and a young complement of Maverick young guns that will be positioning themselves for roster minutes.”

Mavs’ plan in free agency wasn’t impacted by drafting A.J. Hammons

DALLAS — Believing that they may have come out of the second round with the steal of the NBA Draft last week, the Dallas Mavericks now turn their attention to adding top-level talent to improve the roster when free agency gets underway on Friday.

Selecting 7-foot big man A.J. Hammons out of Purdue with the 46th overall pick last Thursday, the Mavericks may have filled a hole at center by integrating an experienced four-year collegiate player. The Mavs may have also acquired a player capable of protecting the rim by drafting the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. But according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, that won’t stop the team from possibly pursuing a big man that can serve as an anchor inside during free agency.

“This was all about taking the most valuable guy at 46, and I don’t think there’s any relation to what our strategy is going to become on July 1,” Nelson said shortly after selecting Hammons in the second round. “You can never have enough talent in your center bullpen. And given the guys that we have right now, we’ve got shot blocking, we’ve got athleticism, we’ve got more thin rim runners, and A.J. gives us a low-post presence. He’s a guy that’s got a thicker body, a guy that can take some of the pressure off of Dirk (Nowitzki) with that big body, and he’s smart. He knows how to play the game, so he checks off a lot of boxes.”

With veteran big man Zaza Pachulia set to test the open market in free agency to leave a hole inside, the Mavericks enter the summer with only Tunisian center Salah Mejri and seldom-used JaVale McGee under contract for next season. That made the drafting of Hammons important as the Mavs added depth along the front line.

Pachulia, 32, served as the Mavs’ starting center for much of the 2015-16 season, sliding into the first unit 69 times during his 76 appearances. He also averaged 8.6 points and a career-high 9.4 rebounds a game, recording 26 double-doubles. As a senior, the 23-year-old Hammons averaged 15.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 24.6 minutes in 33 games for the Boilermakers, earning Honorable Mention All-America and First Team All-Big Ten honors in the process. He also departed ranked 17th in school history with 1,593 points, third with 930 rebounds and second with 343 blocked shots. But although Hammons could be asked to step in right away and contribute next season, the Mavericks likely will still look to add a proven veteran this summer.

“You know, we’re always looking to maximize impact in terms of talent, and that will be the same,” Nelson said while foreshadowing the team’s summer strategy. “We’re optimistic, and I think it’s an exciting time. This was a good first step to what will hopefully be a great summer for the Mavericks.”