Dennis Smith Jr. looks forward to Dirk Nowitzki’s mentorship during rookie season

DALLAS — One player is set to join an exclusive fraternity of players, entering his 20th season with the Dallas Mavericks during the 2017-18 campaign. The other is just beginning his NBA journey, starting his rookie season with the Mavericks after just one year at the collegiate level.

Still, according to Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., he and 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki figure to form a bond during the upcoming season while hoping to lead the team back to the playoffs.

Selected with the No. 9 pick in June’s NBA Draft, the 19-year-old Smith admittedly aspires to reach the accolades that Nowitzki already has accomplished in his storied career. Nowitzki ascended to No. 6 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list last season, despite playing in just 54 games during the ’16-17 campaign for his lowest number of outings since his rookie year. He also averaged 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game, connecting on 43.7 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three-point range while battling a nagging right Achilles strain. Nowitzki, 39, added to his growing list of achievements as well by becoming just the sixth player in league history to reach the 30,000-point plateau, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Michael Jordan (32,292) and Wilt Chamberlain (31,419). And with the 7-footer set to join Bryant as the sole members of the NBA’s 20-year, only-one-team club, Smith hopes to learn from Nowitzki’s knowledge of the game during his rookie year.

“I believe that when two great minds, and I’m not a great mind yet, but I’m looking forward to being that and learning from him. Learning from Dirk, I believe that when two great minds get together success happens,” Smith candidly said during his introductory press conference back in June when asked about teaming with Nowitzki this season.

“It’s going to be hard to explain,” he added. “I haven’t had the chance to meet him yet, and I think after I meet him I can answer that question better. But I’m sure it’s going to be exciting. It will be exciting for both of us, I’m sure, and something new.”

Already the NBA’s top all-time foreign-born scorer, in addition to being the league’s active leading scorer and the longest-tenured player with one team, Nowitzki joined Bryant (Lakers), former Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton and ex-San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan as the only players in league history that have spent their entire careers with one franchise and played 19-plus seasons. Nowitzki also became just the third player in league history to score 30,000 points with one franchise, joining Malone and Bryant on that short list. But while entering the ’17-18 schedule just 1,159 points away from tying Chamberlain for fifth on the league’s all-time scoring list, Nowitzki’s greatest impact on the team this season may come by taking Smith under his wings.

While Smith is certainly a long way from reaching Nowitzki’s heights, he quickly emerged as a rookie to watch after his impressive play during the MGM Resorts Summer League in Las Vegas last month. The former North Carolina State standout averaged 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals in six games as the Mavericks’ summer squad advanced to the semifinals of the tournament with a 5-1 record. Those numbers helped to earn Smith a spot on the All-NBA Summer League First Team, beginning his professional career in the right direction. That said, the cat-quick guard knows he still has much to learn about the NBA game during his first professional season. And while acting as a sponge for Nowitzki’s knowledge of the game, Smith says he expects to grow under the veteran’s tutelage on a daily basis this season.

“You know, I think it’s a blessing that I landing here, because it’s such a winning program,” Smith explained. “Everybody wants to win, and it’s a selfless mentality. That’s what I’m all about, so it’s a perfect fit for me.

“I’ve got a lot of things to learn about the pro game, ’cause obviously, this is my first time playing in it. And I think I’m taking it all in right now. I’m all ears from the hotel all the way until the game is over, so I’m taking everything in that I’m supposed to.”

Dennis Smith Jr. hopes to ‘enhance basketball career’ by building bonds with Mavs assistant coaches Darrell Armstrong, God Shammgod

DALLAS — They’ll be two of the less-heralded figures on the Dallas Mavericks’ sideline during the upcoming season. However, both assistant coach Darrell Armstrong and player development coach God Shammgod will be handed a great deal of responsibility this season as they take Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. under their wings.

Joining Dallas’ coaching staff midway through the 2008-09 campaign, Armstrong brings with him 14 years of NBA experience as a player. During his playing career, Armstrong earned both the NBA’s Sixth Man Award and Most Improved Player Award in 1999. He also participated in the Slam Dunk contest at the 1996 NBA All-Star Weekend, ending his stellar career with averages of 9.2 points, 4.0 assists and 1.34 steals in 840 total games during stints with Orlando, New Orleans, Dallas, Indiana and New Jersey. Armstrong’s duties now include assisting with the development of the Mavs’ young players, which will include Smith during his first year in the league.

Meanwhile, Shammgod enters his second season with the Mavericks after originally joining the club as a ball-handling expert last summer. He played in the league with the Washington Wizards during ’97–98 season after being drafted with the 45th overall pick in the second round. He also played in the Chinese Basketball Association for several teams. And while joining forces with the team’s strength and conditioning coaches, Shammgod and Armstrong will be asked to help bring out the best in Smith during his rookie season.

“Well, both of those guys played in the league, and both of those guys grew up playing the point guard position in different fashions,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said while praising Armstrong and Shammgod. “Both of those guys have done a great job for us and have influenced our program in a very positive way, so they’re going to help.

“You know, there’s a lot that goes into a highly successful NBA player. … Dennis coming off the (ACL) injury a year and a half ago, you know, these guys are going to be very important,” the coach added. “They’re going to find every nook and cranny of things that need to be tweaked, strengthen whatever it is, and we’ve got to build him into a guy that can stand up to the wear and tear of an NBA season. A lot of work goes into that.”

Smith has a prior relationship with Shammgod stemming from his high school days, hoping to reconnect now that the two are in Dallas.

Despite a torn ACL that cost Smith his senior year of high school, the former North Carolina State standout was praised for his athletic ability during his lone collegiate season. Smith averaged 18.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists last season, leading to the Mavericks taking him with the No. 9 pick in the first round of June’s draft. He now hopes Shammgod can take on the role of mentor in his career, looking to the ball-handling legend for more than just coaching on the court. The 19-year-old Smith also believes that he can enhance his skills after Shammgod mentored a young Kobe Bryant early in his career. That said, the two figure to form a bond quickly this upcoming season in the Dallas locker room.

“He had a great impact,” Smith said of Shammgod’s influence early in his basketball journey. “You know, you hear a lot of stories about him, and then you finally get to meet him and realize he’s a humble guy. He has a lot of knowledge about the game, so I’m looking to be a sponge and take in everything I can. I believe that he’ll help enhance my basketball career.”

Wesley Matthews hopes Mavs’ young players return ‘angry, hungry’ next season

DALLAS — He served as a mentor for many of the Dallas Mavericks’ first- and second-year players throughout the 2016-17 season. Now, veteran swingman Wesley Matthews hopes his mentorship and guidance motivates the Mavericks’ young players to return to the court next season with a chip on their shoulders.

Starting out the ’16-17 schedule with a 4-17 record as injuries depleted their veteran-laden roster, the Mavs were forced to turn to a bevy of untested and unproven contributors often this season. The Mavericks’ unsung heroes then gained valuable experience on the court, despite missing out on the playoffs following a 33-49 season. Still, with the bitter taste of missing the postseason lingering his mouth, the 30-year-old Matthews says the Mavs must use their shortcomings as motivation going into next year.

“We need to stay healthy,” Matthews matter-of-factly said. “You know, in my two years here, it’s been a lot of what-ifs because of injuries, and that’s just part of the game. But everybody just needs to take the offseason to get better, let the frustrations of stuff that we could control kind of be in our minds and come back with a mentality that this isn’t going to happen again until later in the year.”

This season, Matthews averaged 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists an outing while playing in 73 games, connecting on 39.3 percent from the field and 36.3 percent from behind the three-point arc. Perhaps more importantly, Matthews took the team’s undrafted rookies under his wing after also going untaken in 2009.

The Mavs finished the season with four undrafted rookies playing meaningful minutes in point guard Yogi Ferrell, first-year forward Dorian Finney-Smith, midseason addition Jarrod Uthoff and Argentine swingman Nicolas Brussino. Second-round draft pick A.J. Hammons also saw plenty of playing time late in the season as the Mavericks rested their veterans and extended the minutes of their young players down the stretch. That experience figures to prove beneficial for the Mavs’ emerging young core going forward. And according to Matthews, the Mavs will now look to those young pros next year in hopes of producing a bounce-back season.

“They got better every week and every month. You know, as games went on, you’d see something else, and they’re receptive. They listened, and they work hard,” Matthews proclaimed while praising the team’s young contributors.

“I expect for them to keep working,” he added. “All of the young guys were essentially undrafted, so I can relate to all of them. And they should be angry regardless. They shouldn’t need much motivation. With us not making the playoffs, fortunately, it gave them more opportunity to play and more opportunity to grow as players, to get real-time minutes and be in situations like that. So, learn from that, and just be hungry for more.”

Wesley Matthews relished role as mentor for Mavs’ undrafted rookies

2016-17 Exit Interview: Wesley Matthews

Mavs G Wesley Matthews addresses the media for exit interviews.

DALLAS — Despite seeing a slight increase in his production during his second campaign with the Dallas Mavericks, versatile swingman Wesley Matthews’ biggest impact throughout the 2016-17 season may have come in the locker room while serving as a mentor for the team’s young contributors.

This season, the 30-year-old Matthews averaged 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists an outing while playing in 73 games. He also connected on 39.3 percent from the field and 36.3 percent from behind the three-point arc, continuing to provide stellar outside shooting in his second season with the team after signing a reported four-year deal worth $70 million last summer. But after seeing the Mavericks’ playoff hopes dashed by countless injuries during a 33-49 campaign, Matthews says the team’s veterans and young players must return next year motivated by their lackluster record.

“We need to stay healthy,” Matthews matter-of-factly said. “You know, in my two years here, it’s been a lot of what-ifs because of injuries, and that’s just part of the game. But everybody just needs to take the offseason, get better, let the frustrations of stuff that we could control kind of be in our minds and come back with a mentality that this isn’t going to happen again until later in the year.”

Going untaken in the 2009 draft after earning second-team All-Big East honors at Marquette as a senior, Matthews related to the Mavericks’ young contributors and unsung heroes this season.

All told, the Mavs finished the season with four undrafted rookies on the roster in point guard Yogi Ferrell, first-year forward Dorian Finney-Smith, midseason addition Jarrod Uthoff and Argentine swingman Nicolas Brussino. Second-round draft pick A.J. Hammons also gained experience late in the season after a stint with the Mavericks’ NBA Development League affiliate, the Texas Legends. Matthews and the Mavs now hope all of the young contributors can expand their games during the summer to return better players next season. But according to Finney-Smith, it was Matthews’ mentorship and tutelage that helped him get through the grueling 82-game schedule during the ’16-17 campaign.

“He did a lot, man. I mean, I learned a lot through the adversity this year, especially shooting droughts, and he never let me doubt myself,” Finney-Smith said while praising his veteran mentor after playing in 81 games as a rookie. “He always stayed on me, and he always told me to remember what got me on the court. So, whatever happens on offense, just make sure you keep doing what you’re doing.”

Finney-Smith was just one of the many young players on the roster that Matthews took under his wings this season as the Mavericks’ veterans suffered through an injury-riddle year. But it’s the experience that the Mavs’ young contributors gained this season that Matthews says will be beneficial as the team tries to make a playoff push again next year.

Matthews now expects for the first- and second-year pros to enter the summer motivated for more success after gaining valuable on-court experience this season. That said, the eight-year veteran will admittedly continue to push the young pros for more personal and team success moving forward.

“I mean, I expect for them to keep working,” Matthews proclaimed. “All of the young guys were essentially undrafted, so I can relate to all of them. And they should be angry regardless. They shouldn’t need much motivation. With us not making the playoffs, fortunately, it gave them more opportunity to play and more opportunity to grow as players, to get real-time minutes and be in situations like that. So, learn from that, and just be hungry for more.

“They got better every week and every month. You know, as games went on, you’d see something else, and they’re receptive. They listened, and they work hard.”

After battling nagging calf injury all season, Mavs’ J.J. Barea looks forward to healthy summer

DALLAS — Hampered by a nagging left calf injury that sidelined him for much of the 2016-17 season, veteran point guard J.J. Barea still found a way to make an impact for the Dallas Mavericks on and off the court.

This season, Barea played in just 35 games while battling through the lingering calf injury, averaging 10.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists during 22.0 minutes per outing. He also connected on 41.4 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from behind the three-point arc, emerging once again as one of the Mavs’ best playmakers off the bench. But after playing the fewest amount of games since making 33 appearances his rookie season, the 11-year veteran reflected on his up-and-down ’16-17 campaign.

“You know, personally, it was tough. I’ve never went through what I went through this year, but I learned a lot,” Barea said after the conclusion of the season. “I learned a lot about my injury and my calf, but I was able to finish healthy. I’m going to be able to have a good summer, and I’m going to really work more on my body than basketball. Basketball, I think, I’m in a good place and in a good rhythm. Knowing the game, I’ve just got to really work on my body, and I have to be able to have a good year next year.

“I learned things I’ve got to do for it not to happen again. When it does, I’ve got to be a little more patient. But hopefully I’m going to work on it, so we’ll go from there.”

The 32-year-old Barea returned to the lineup and tried to help the Mavericks finish the season strong with nine points and three assists in 14 minutes during a 105-96 home win over Brooklyn on March 9 after missing the previous 20 games. He also struggled through a stint when a previous injury to the same calf forced the undersized floor general to miss 24 of 26 games from Nov. 18 to Jan. 5. But despite seeing the Mavs miss out on the playoffs following a 33-49 season, Barea says it was rewarding to battle with his teammates to close the grueling 82-game schedule.

Barea averaged 16.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists while competing in nine of the Mavericks’ first 10 games, picking up where he left off at after a stellar year during the ’15-16 season. He then found himself out of the lineup after straining the calf during a 90-83 defeat in Boston on Nov. 16. Barea returned to the lineup to play in 17 of the final 19 games, highlighted by a 20-point, seven-assist outing during a 111-104 win in Brooklyn on March 19. And after averaging 12.2 points, 3.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists during five games in April, Barea was excited to head into the offseason on a high note.

“It was huge. You know, I wanted to finish the year strong and be out there doing my thing again, so I could go into the summer a little bit more at ease. I could go out there and help the team out as much as I can. We tried there at the end and wasn’t able to (make the playoffs), but just to be out there and finishing the year was good for me,” Barea said of his late surge to end the season.

Despite being in and out of the lineup due to the calf injury this season, Barea still found a way to make an impact by serving as a mentor for the team’s young guards in the locker room.

Barea took undrafted rookie Yogi Ferrell and 26-year-old combo guard Seth Curry under his wings to help the young floor generals navigate through their first season with the Mavericks. He also gave the duo plenty of added motivation throughout the season, challenging both to produce at a high level in his absence. Barea now sees his mentorship being beneficial this summer. With that said, Barea looks forward to joining forces with Ferrell and Curry next season as the Mavericks try to return to prominence with another playoff push.

“It’s big. With Yogi and Seth, I think we’ve got a good young group. They’re ready to learn, and they’re going to work hard. It’s going to be a team thing. And then the point guards, we’re going to have three to four, and we’ve got to do it together,” Barea explained.

He added: “Now, for me, I always try to produce on the court. But also off the court, I try to help [Curry and Ferrell] out and keep them positive. With everything I went through early, I show them things to do and stuff like that, and I just help them as much as I can.”

Dirk Nowitzki is ready, willing to mentor Mavs newcomer Harrison Barnes

Dirk talks tennis

Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki dishes on his Pro Celebrity Tennis Classic coming up this Sunday at the SMU Tennis Center.

DALLAS — After serving as an anchor for the vast majority of his 18 seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki may have found a teammate he could eventually pass the baton to with the addition of budding star Harrison Barnes.

Seeing the Dallas front office ink Barnes to a reported four-year deal worth $94 million this offseason, Nowitzki says he’s pleased to welcome the 24-year-old into the locker room. The 7-footer is also looking forward to seeing how Barnes develops over the next few seasons, hoping to serve as a mentor for the newcomer during the 2016-17 schedule. And with Barnes already possessing raw athleticism, Nowitzki says he’s ready to do whatever is necessary in order to make sure that the former North Carolina standout reaches his full potential in Dallas.

“Well, I think we want Barnes to keep developing his all-around game,” Nowitzki said Thursday while making a media appearance to promote his upcoming charity tennis tournament.

He added: “We all know he’s athletic, and we know he can guard ones through fours. We want him to improve in shooting, off-the-dribble shooting, post him some, and we want him to run some pick-and-rolls. I think he wants it, and he has the work ethic to develop into a great all-around player. I already heard all summer long that, whenever he was here, he’s in the gym all the time. A lot of guys come here, sign here, or get traded here, and they’re telling me they’re gym rats, but I haven’t really seen many in my 18 years. But he’s the one guy that walks the walk. He’s there in the morning, working out with the guys, and he goes back at night. He wants to get better. I told him from the beginning that I’m here to support him, and I’m here to help him with whatever questions he has — on and off the floor. I’m here to make him a better player, make him feel welcome, and hopefully have a great year.”

Last season, Barnes averaged a career-high 11.7 points to go along with 4.9 rebounds a game as the Golden State Warriors sprinted to an NBA-record 73 wins. But after playing in the shadows of two-time MVP Stephen Curry and All-NBA selections Draymond Green and Klay Thompson during his first four seasons in the league, the 6-foot-8 versatile forward appears ready to step into an expanded role. He’ll now join forces with the 38-year-old Nowitzki, who averaged a team-high 18.3 points per game and became the oldest player in the league to lead his respective squad in scoring last season.

Barnes will also assume more responsibilities with the ball in his hands, hoping to take some of the offensive burden off Nowitzki’s broad shoulders. And with Nowitzki serving as his mentor, Barnes — a member of the Warriors’ 2015 title team — will attempt to push the Mavericks further in the playoffs after first-round exits in four of the last five seasons.

“I’m very excited about it. You know, I’ve been working the past couple of years, but also this summer,” Barnes said last month when addressing his new role with the Mavs. “I’m looking forward to hopefully getting reps at it and developing that way, but also just being around guys that have won and guys that have been coached at this level. I’m going to be next to a Hall of Famer in Dirk, so it will be pretty cool to learn from him and just see where I can take my game.

“When [Mavs coach Rick Carlisle] was talking to me about footwork and stuff, I just thought about the times where I’ve guarded Dirk. He’s just so efficient. Just clean reads, and he’s always able to get to his shot. And hopefully, if I can start to incorporate some of those things, it will make me a better player.”