Nerlens Noel on his road to recovery, potential return to Dallas

Top 5 plays of the week

Dorian Finney-Smith returns to action, Dwight Powell flies high, and Nerlens Noel gets it done at both ends in this week's top 5 plays!

“Courageous. Self-Righteous. Perseverant.”

When I asked Nerlens Noel to describe this past season in Dallas in a couple of words, those were the three words he landed on.

After heading to Dallas in a trade in February of 2017, Noel hit restricted free agency last summer. He came back to Dallas on a one-year qualifying offer that allowed him another season to prove to the league the special player he could be.

Fast-forward through a season of coming off the bench, seeing his role in the rotation vanquished and a Dec. 8 thumb surgery that sidelined him for nearly two months: Noel was finally ready to suit up again.

Noel was activated on Feb. 28, where he came off the bench and played 15 minutes against the Thunder. The time had finally come. The last time he logged minutes in a Mavericks jersey was on Nov. 22.

“The first day back was a lot of nerves,” Noel said. “I came back being antsy for a while trying to come back … just getting more comfortable as time went along. Having Dennis [Smith Jr.] and J.J. [Barea], great floor generals that help ease me into it as the game went along.”

For fans, it was a chance to see Noel on the court again. But for Noel, it was a reward for all of the time he spent off the court rehabbing a thumb injury that had been nagging him since the start of the season.

“The beginning of the year was difficult for everybody because of the schedule and so on and so forth,” Rick Carlisle said back in early February. “Some of his struggles turned out to probably be related to the fact that his thumb had a ligament tear, probably from day one.”

A thumb injury might sound minor compared to an ACL or other long-term injuries, but Noel explained how the recovery process was different than anything he had ever experienced. We probably all take our thumbs for granted and after the surgery, Noel learned how grueling life without one is.

“It was different. It was the most different type of recovery I have went through because it is just the thumb,” Noel said. “You have to be mindful just taking care of it day-to-day. You never know how much you use your thumb until you are not using it.”

Even though Noel shoots with his right hand, the injury was difficult because he views his left hand as his dominant hand.

“Just staying patient in the cast I had,” he said. “Not being able to do anything with my left hand which I feel is my dominant hand. Just easing it back and getting more used to it on the court. Doing more work with the medicine ball, the basketball feels like a feather come game time.”

Two of the guys he credits as crucial to his development and recovery this season are assistant coaches Jamahl Mosley and Melvin Hunt.

“Mose is more of my workout dude and staying on me on things I need to work on around the rim,” he said. “Staying in shape and staying on me about that. Coach Mel for my mental and taking me aside and telling me to stay encouraged and keep going.”

But those aren’t the only pillars he credits for his development as a person and player this season. Noel’s former coach in Philadelphia, Brett Brown, has played a prominent role.

“Coach Brown has been in my corner. He has been in my corner since I left Philly and always checking in on me,” Noel said. “Making sure I was staying on the right things. Going back to my rookie year, he was the first coach I had in this league. He is a very genuine guy that has helped me out a lot.”

Noel was drafted by Brown and the Philadelphia 76ers with the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft. He would appear in 171 games through three and a half seasons before being traded to Dallas.

For the past two months, Noel’s spent countless hours in the training facility working on not only his rehab, but simply putting in the work to become a better overall player. Work ethic is big for Noel and it was that work ethic that was in question throughout parts of the season. When we talked earlier in the year about outside voices questioning his effort, it didn’t bother Noel because he knows the work he puts into the game to be the best player he can be.

“I think you can make anything up. I know I work hard and I do what I got to do. I know the reason I am in the position I am in is because I worked hard,” Noel said earlier in the season.

“With injuries, I had the ACL injury, I had to work really hard to get back from that,” he said in December. “It isn’t really going to bother me. I’m not really worried if anybody feels sorry for me, but I’m just worried about myself and making sure I got to do what I got to do. I’m doing what I am doing even when I am not playing; I think that speaks to more mental work with hard work. I just keep my head down, keep pushing and get better and better.”

Dallas is now entering the final month of the season eliminated from playoff contention. For the Mavs, it’s a time to see what they have in Noel and their young core.

“That is what we are looking at,” Carlisle said. “We have a period of games here to look at it. As we go along we will have to tweak things and adjust things.”

Even for the veterans like Dirk Nowitzki, it’s nice to have another athletic body on the court that can grab rebounds and impact the game defensively.

“It is good to see Nerlens back and playing way above the rim with great blocks,” Nowitzki said. “Obviously his timing and his catching will get a lot better as he plays more. It is good to see him back and good to see athletes out there. We have definitely missed some of that.”

With the recent signing of Jameel Warney and counting the two-way players in Jalen Jones and Johnathan Motley, the Mavericks have a total of 13 players on the roster that are 26 years old or younger. Six of those players are 24 years old or younger. The only players on the roster that are over the age of 28 are Nowitzki, Barea, Wesley Matthews and Salah Mejri. As the Mavericks try to sort through who will be a member of their young core moving forward, Noel realizes it has the potential to be something special.

“I think this young core could be special. Take this past game against Denver, they were one of the hottest teams in the West. We just walked in there like they were just any other team,” Noel said.

The Mavericks beat the Nuggets 118-107 in the game behind 24 points from Yogi Ferrell, a double-double from Smith Jr. and a 14-rebound performance from Noel.

“We played our game and played hard. Everybody had fun,” Noel said. “Yogi was hooping like he can. Dennis was getting to the basket 11 assists and 18 points. I was able to get rebounds and change the game defensively. Dirk was hitting shots and HB. When guys are playing like that with such a young core you can only get better. Against a team like that, that is special.”

It is a new age of Mavericks basketball and the Mavericks want to see if Noel can be a part of that for the long run.

“I view these [last stretch of games] as some of the most enjoyable basketball games of my life,” Noel said. “Just taking the weight off your shoulders and playing ball especially turning the corner with the guys. Like Dennis and Yogi and J.J., just feeling my game. The game just becomes more fun. You can just naturally go out there and play and not really have to worry about anything, just having fun.”

How much more fun can you have when you get to play with one of your good friends who just happens to be the new star point guard on the team. Noel and Smith Jr., two of the youngest guys on the team, have gravitated toward each other as the year’s gone along. Out of all the topics we talked about for over 30 minutes after practice, nothing made him light up more than talking about his relationship with Junior. From their similar upbringings to bragging rights in NBA 2K, their relationship is blossoming off the court.

“Dennis and I have really grown together,” Noel said. “Even when I wasn’t playing we would still hangout and do a lot of things together. He is just a kid that pretty much comes from the same background that I do. Just from a different region.”

“We really relate on a lot of things in life and it really makes it that much easier to be yourself and be transparent with somebody and build that relationship,” Noel added.

But what about NBA 2K, who gets to talk the most smack when you’re on the sticks?

“We’re always going at it. I definitely beat him in 2K and Madden,” Noel said.

Noel went on to explain how Dennis plays with the best teams in the league while real players test their talent using any team in the league.

“He doesn’t like playing randoms though. He only likes the top-five teams. You have to test your skills with randoms.”

Video games are one thing, but actually playing on the court together is another.

“I think it brings a new dynamic with me and Dennis with the speed of the game,” Noel said after his first game back. “I know that is the way he likes to play and the way I like to play too for us to excel.”

Noel is anxious to build on the rapport the tandem has developed so far.

“Come out here and establish more chemistry game-by-game with Dennis … The more time I play and the games go along, I am going to get better with these guys and get back to where we were at before.”

On opening night, Noel had one of his best games in Dallas where he posted 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in 19 minutes of play. Getting back to that type of game shape will take some time.

“That game I was in great shape and I am in pretty good shape now. It is hard to get in game shape without playing games in the NBA. It’s all going to come,” Noel said.

As we shifted our conversation to the topic of his relationship with Rick Carlisle, it was a chance for Noel to speak directly on the subject after spending over a year with one of the game’s best.

“Our relationship is good,” Noel said.

“Coach Carlisle is a good guy and a family man. He definitely understands me like I understand him. We’ve never had any type of conflict because at the end of the day we really understand each other for the most part,” Noel expanded.

Noel joined the Mavericks at the trade deadline last season. He was immediately thrust into Carlisle’s system and had to learn everything on the fly. His relationship with Carlisle has come a long way since then.

“We have gotten closer,” Noel said. “When I first got here I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I knew he was a great coach. We slowly started communicating more and being more open about things. Even through the summer when I stayed here for a little bit after the season working with him and trying to grow.”

Noel’s last three coaches: John Calipari, Brett Brown, and Rick Carlisle.

What makes Carlisle different than the other two?

After praising them all as “exceptional coaches,” Noel talked about the ability they all have to challenge their players and push them when they need to.

“Carlisle definitely expresses himself maybe a little different. I think all coaches have that ability to turn up and yell at you when they need to. I think all three coaches have that ability to push you when they need to,” Noel said.

On what exactly separates Carlisle from the other two, Noel brings up the evident wit of Rick.

“Maybe his wit. All coaches are perfectionists, but Carlisle is really a perfectionist to a T,” Noel said. “Constantly on everything. He is really on top of everything to the X’s and O’s to how you walk and how you talk. Just everything surrounding you. It is definitely good to have a coach like that that wants you to be a perfectionist. It is really contagious.”

Nerlens Noel is somewhat of an enigma. One day he’s throwing down high-flying dunks and the next he’s doing an interview with Kevin Hart in a cold tub.

“I know Kevin from a little while back from when I was in Philly. He hollered and wanted me to come up and do it. It ended up being very funny and he is just a courageous guy who is off-the-wall funny. The movies he has done like Jumanji I just seen, it was great. We talked a lot about advice and life. Relationship advice especially,” Noel said.

The last month of the season is huge for Noel as he is set to hit free agency once again this summer for the second consecutive year. Except this time, he will be unrestricted and free to sign with the team of his choice.

When opening up about his upcoming summer, Noel wants to head into the offseason with a clear head.

“Definitely just an open mindset. Different type of free agency. Little more broad now,” Noel said in reference to being an unrestricted free agent.

“Once this summer ends I’ll be working harder than I’ve ever worked. Just growing in this league and being older. Getting the priorities right and evolving. My mindset has only grown stronger in what I really want in life and want from this game. Right when the season ends I will strictly be working on my game and staying to myself and just letting things play out.”

Money aside, what would be the draw to come back to Dallas and be a member of the Mavericks again?

“Obviously having a young core like this and having an experienced coach who knows how to put you in a position to succeed on the court especially one who is an X’s-and-O’s genius that can draw anything up,” Noel said.

“I know coach Carlisle. I think we think similar from that point of view in just basketball. Whether he knows it or not, I really respect how he goes about his day and manages things. That’s why I understand him a little more as time goes along. He just bounces things off me and I really challenge myself to succeed in those things.”

On if he can see himself in a Mavs jersey next season, Noel said he would definitely be open to it. “I can’t say I can’t. I will definitely be open. I am excited to see how the season ends and see what we can make happen,” Noel said.

The chapter on Noel’s 2017-18 season is coming to an end, but the next one is only beginning. Hopefully it will be in Dallas.

Only time will tell.

Nerlens Noel likely to return to action Wednesday against the Thunder

Practice Report: Nerlens Noel

Mavs C Nerlens Noel dishes on his highly anticipated return from injury tomorrow night against the Thunder.

Mavs center Nerlens Noel will be available to play on Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, barring any unforeseen setbacks.

Noel hasn’t appeared in a game since Nov. 22 and has been inactive since early December following surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb. Shortly after the new year, Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said Noel would begin ramping up his activity throughout January with the hope of returning in February. It took Noel a couple full-contact practices following the All-Star break to receive full clearance to play, but now it appears like he’s finally about to make his long-awaited return to action.

“Especially these last few games, I’ve been really antsy,” Noel said. “Watching guys like Junes, watching (Dennis) develop the whole year, I really want to get out there and help him a little bit.

“I know when I’m out there, it is a difference,” he added. “I’ve just got to assert myself like I know how, and help this team on both sides of the court.”

Noel was impressive in the 22 games he played for Dallas after joining the Mavericks via trade, averaging 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, and a steal in 22 minutes per game. After putting together a 16-point, 11-rebound, three-block performance on opening night against Atlanta, Noel seemed primed for a strong second season in Dallas. However, he gradually received less playing time throughout November before ultimately having thumb surgery.

“The beginning of the year this year was difficult for everybody because of the schedule and so on and so forth,” Carlisle said just before the All-Star break. “Some of his struggles turned out to probably be related to the fact that his thumb had a ligament tear, probably from day one.”

Although he’s right-handed, Noel generally prefers to finish around the rim with his left. That fact, in addition to the obvious risks of playing with ligament damage, led to the choice to have surgery.

“Where I was at, the best thing was just to take care of it,” Noel said. “That’s what I did. At this point in the season, I’m looking forward to tomorrow, coming back. I did what I had to do, and my hand is a lot better.”

The Kentucky product will wear a very small cast on his left hand for now, but not for long. “It’s really not that bad,” he said. In addition to getting used to the cast, he’s readjusting to life without braces. (Those of us who had to suffer through that know how excited he must be for those to be off.)

Noel has remained positive and enthusiastic on the bench during his absence since rejoining the team, and he and Dennis Smith Jr. appear to have a very strong relationship. Now’s the 23-year-old big man’s chance to show that connection in particular can manifest itself in the form of good basketball down the stretch of this season.

“It’s an opportunity for us, as we move along here, to look at potential young groups of guys that could be playing together in the future to see the viability, the chemistry, those kinds of things,” Carlisle said.

“We want athletic, young bigs that can block shots,” Mavs GM Donnie Nelson said after this month’s trade deadline. “We traded for him (last season) for a reason.”

The Mavs still have 21 games left this season, which means Noel has 21 more chances to prove that his hand is healthy and he’s still a fearsome dunker and menacing defender. He showed serious flashes of potential last season before the thumb injury ultimately cost him much of this season. But now that the injury is behind him, hopefully he can quickly return to form.

How pushing the pace could lead to a better Mavs offense

Practice Report: Dennis Smith Jr.

Mavs PG Dennis Smith Jr. weighs in on how training camp has been going so far, playing alongside Dirk and more.

Rick Carlisle’s announcement that Dirk Nowitzki would start at center instead of Nerlens Noel was easily the biggest revelation from Mavs Media Day. That statement may be spun in several different directions which all led to new questions. How does it affect Nerlens Noel’s future? Who will start instead of him? Will the Mavs be able to rebound? What about the defense?

Those are all important questions to consider, but one element lost in all of that thinking is a potential solution that decision brings to the table: By starting Nowitzki at center the Mavericks are going to play 5-out basketball to begin games, which should increase the pace of the game and lead to significantly better offensive starts for Dallas.

Looking back over the last couple seasons, how many times can you remember the Mavs falling behind 12-4 or 16-6 to start games? It seems like it happened almost every other night. Many of the supporting characters changed during that time, but one constant when the team was healthy was typically starting Nowitzki at power forward next to a traditional center (like Zaza Pachulia or Andrew Bogut), a bigger-bodied point guard (Deron Williams), and a “big” shooting guard and small forward (Wesley Matthews at 2, and either Chandler Parsons or Harrison Barnes at 3). The Mavs began games with more size than most opponents, but with that usually comes less speed and fewer chances to make explosive plays in transition.

During the 2016-17 season, opponents outscored the Mavs by 1.6 points per game in the first quarter, but not by more than 0.6 points in any other frame. In 2015-16, meanwhile, opposing teams outscored the Mavs by exactly one point in the first and 0.9 points in the third quarter (when starters play together the most), yet Dallas outscored opponents in both the second and fourth quarters.

NBA games are impossibly difficult, but the recipe to a victory is pretty simple: Win the first quarter. Over the last five seasons, the Mavericks are 137-59 in games when they lead after the opening frame, but just 72-125 when they trail. Carlisle often calls the NBA a first quarter league, and he’s absolutely right.

Practice Report: Rick Carlisle

Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle addresses the media after day three of training camp.

Where does Nowitzki at center factor into this? Last season, per nbawowy, the Mavericks scored 1.098 points per possession with Nowitzki at center. The Mavs’ two most-used lineups with Nowitzki at 5 both scored at least 108.9 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com, a mark which would’ve ranked top-10 in the league last season. For the season, the Mavs scored just 103.3 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, per NBA Stats. Meanwhile, the only big-big combination including Dirk to consistently score at an above-average rate was the German playing alongside Dwight Powell, which didn’t happen very often.

Nowitzki basically broke the sport when he entered his prime around the turn of the millennium because he was able to stretch the floor and bend defenses in ways no other power forward before him had ever been able. His combination of shooting and athleticism made him a walking mismatch that nuked traditional defensive gameplans.

Moving him to the center spot is the modern version of the same idea. Assume he starts alongside Dennis Smith Jr., Seth Curry (or potentially Yogi Ferrell), Wesley Matthews, and Harrison Barnes. Those are five players who can all shoot 3s, featuring two ball-handlers and a 4 and 5 who can both bully switches in the post. When Smith runs high pick-and-roll with Nowitzki, the opponent faces an impossible decision: Do they switch a center onto the explosive Smith and a point guard on the 7-foot Nowitzki, or do they hope to fight through it while not leaving easy options for either player? And what happens if the Mavs run multiple pick-and-rolls in the same possession? And what about the shooters dotting the perimeter? That’s going to cause problems early in the shot clock.

“Coming off a screen with Dirk, I’ve never seen lanes like that before,” Smith said.

Putting Smith into all that space ought to work wonders for him individually as well. Whether teams switch against him or go under the screen, he’ll almost always have a way to find at least a decent look for himself or for another player. Because the Mavs are going to dial up the tempo a bit, they’ll be able to get into those sets faster and catch dozing opponents off-balance, which should free up even more room for Smith to get to the rim.

“It’s the perfect play style for this team, for the modern-day NBA,” Noel said. “I feel like this is the perfect position with the pieces we have, especially with Dennis leading the pack.”

This is a pretty significant shift in philosophy, although we don’t know yet to what degree they’re going to increase the pace, which is an estimation of possessions per 48 minutes. Last season the Mavs ranked 29th. Throughout most of Carlisle’s tenure as head coach, though, the Mavs have usually ranked somewhere in the middle-third in pace and in the top-10 in offensive rating. Last season was an exception in both cases.

Noel’s comments are particularly important because, if Nowitzki starts at center, it means Noel isn’t starting at all. It should be noted that even if Nowitzki starts, it will almost be in name only. Dirk played just 26.4 minutes per game last season, and he spent nearly half those minutes per game playing with J.J. Barea and the second unit, per NBA.com. The German is often the first player on either team to check out of the game, heading to the bench around the 7-minute mark. He spent only 16 minutes per game playing next to Harrison Barnes in 2016-17; if you do the math, that’s five minutes at the beginning of either half and a few minutes at the end of the second and fourth quarters.

Much of the rest of that time will ostensibly belong to Noel, and both he and Nowitzki could share the floor together against some second units and put Barea in pick-and-roll paradise. That should be an effective trio, as Barea and Nowitzki are both dangerous offensive players, especially in partnership with a rim-running big man. Noel can fill that role while also picking up the athleticism slack to clean up the defensive end.

“We make things happen,” Noel said. “Dirk is such a special player with his mentality of the game. He’s just able to make things happen regardless of whether he can move quick or not.”

2017 Media Day: Seth Curry

Seth Curry looks ahead to the 2017-18 season with Mark and Coop.

Pledging to start Curry or another shooting guard means the Mavs will open games with three players 6-foot-5 or shorter, but that doesn’t worry Carlisle. While bigger players like Barnes and Nowitzki are adept at using size to their advantage against switches, many other stretch big men in the NBA don’t have that same ability in the post, and there are only a handful of bigger guards who could potentially use size to their advantage on the block. That gives the Mavs the freedom to embrace their quickness edge and play some full-court defense if they so choose.

“(Post plays) are arduous, they take time, and generally they don’t produce that much,” Carlisle said. “But if you’re quick and you have the ability to cover ground, then get up and make this a 94-foot problem for the offensive guards.”

To Carlisle’s point, only four teams in the league used post possessions more than 9 percent of the time last season, per Synergy Sports, and even the best post team in the league scored below one point per possession in those situations. Post offense is generally inefficient because most players don’t have the skill to score more than half the time down low, and if you’re posting up, it means you’re not shooting 3s. One thing that makes Barnes and Nowitzki stand out as above-average post players is they’ll typically only back down guys who are six inches (or more) shorter than them. It’s much easier to post up when there’s a mouse in the house than when you’re picking on someone your own size. Dallas would much rather have to defend post-ups than roll out a bigger, slower lineup and have difficulty covering all the real estate around the perimeter.

Defensively, they don’t even need to press in order to bother opponents; the Mavericks can disrupt opposing offenses with those small guards simply by slowing down the beginning of a play. There’s an undeniable correlation between good offense and the time it takes to advance the ball past midcourt. Per Mavs analytics, Dallas scored at least 1.09 points per possession each of the last two seasons when advancing the ball beyond the halfway point in three seconds or less, but not more than 1.05 points per trip when it took four seconds or longer. The same holds true for every team in the NBA: The sooner you can get into your offense, the better.

Think about it: If the point guard can cruise up the floor and begin running a play before the poor big men can even get themselves down the floor and into position, the defense is already beginning at a disadvantage. Any precious seconds the guards can keep their opponent in the backcourt not only helps the big men, but it also shaves some time off the shot clock, shortening the possession the way an NFL running game shortens a game. It also leads to forcing more turnovers, which the Mavs have done better and more consistently than almost every other team the last five seasons.

This is a lot of information to think about, and it’s not even a guarantee that Noel won’t be a starter at some point this season, depending on the matchup. He’s going to get his minutes no matter what, of course. Again, Nowitzki starting at center is really something that’s only going to influence about 10-15 minutes each game, all in an effort to maximize the Mavs’ chances of scoring points during that time and not digging themselves into a hole. It’s a smart way to get the ball moving and find good shots to begin the game and hopefully get everyone into a comfortable groove, all the while putting Smith into a better position to make an impact on games by capitalizing on extra space and an increased tempo. And, hey, if nothing else it’ll at least make things more exciting to watch.

“It’s gonna be a lot different than how we played last year,” Smith said. “Obviously we were one of the slowest teams. We’re looking to up the tempo, and (Carlisle’s) showing me different ways I can contribute to that.”

Step one is to move Dirk to center. We’ll see what step two is when the rest of the starters are announced on Monday night.

Returning Mavs have the ingredients to put together a much-improved offense

With the Mavericks’ re-signing of Nerlens Noel, the club has solidified its core and essentially guaranteed which players from last season’s roster will return for 2017-18.

Dallas has experienced less year-to-year continuity than many other teams in the NBA since the 2010-11 championship season, but the Mavs have still managed to qualify for the postseason four times in those six years, bucking conventional wisdom. Typically, you would expect teams with extensive roster turnover would struggle from one year to the next, and that’s generally true, but has largely not applied to Dallas in that time. We’ve seen the Mavericks return as few as four players from one season’s roster to the next, but the engine has for the most part kept humming.

The 2016-17 roster was a microcosm of that trend, as the team experienced multiple waves of turnover in the same season. A whopping 24 players suited up for the club, the most since 27 did so during the 1996-97 season. Last year’s roster was decimated by injuries, and Dallas made a series of midseason moves including cuts and trades to send away players in exchange for new ones. The Mavs finished 33-49, but while they obviously weren’t happy with their record, they looked forward to developing the young nucleus of players they’d assembled of Harrison Barnes, Seth Curry, Noel, and first-round draft pick Dennis Smith Jr. — a group which, true to form, was brought together in the span of one calendar year.

This year represents a shift in that trend. The Mavericks are currently set to return 11 players from last season’s roster, with Noel the latest addition. Rounding out the roster are Smith Jr., Maxi Kleber, Josh McRoberts, two-way contract recipient Johnathan Motley, and several players who will be invited to training camp.

There are clear advantages to establishing year-to-year continuity. But the burning question is this: The Mavs won 33 games last season and are bringing back much of that roster. Does that group have what it takes to win more games? Are there any signs this group can improve from 2017? The answer is yes, at least on one side of the ball.

For years, Rick Carlisle has been considered one of the great coaching minds in the NBA, and his offensive system in Dallas is the envy of many coaches around the league. It’s produced serious results for the Mavericks for almost his entire tenure; his teams have finished top-10 in offensive rating six times in his nine seasons. Last year’s club, however, finished just 23rd, which on paper doesn’t look good. But when you take a look at only the 11 players the Mavericks are bringing back, you’ll see something to be excited about.

For this exercise, I took a look at the 2016-17 Mavs’ overall offensive efficiency in terms of points per possession, as well as the team’s efficiency by play type. Then, I compared the entire team’s numbers to only those of the returning 11 players to see how they’d stack up against not only the Mavs, but also the rest of the NBA. The results are pictured in the chart. (Click to enlarge.)

The Mavericks finished bottom-half in many of those offensive categories last season, but the 11 players they’re bringing back collectively finished much higher. For example, they would have combined to finish 10th in points per possession, up from the team’s position in 17th place. The returning Mavs were better at spot-up shooting, scoring in the pick-and-roll both as the ball-handler and the roll man, scoring in isolation and in the post, and when cutting or coming off screens.

The Mavs’ offense consists mostly of those actions. Dallas isn’t a big transition team and the Mavericks don’t run a lot of hand-off plays. They’re not particularly aggressive going after offensive rebounds, either. Generally, when they’re at their best, they’re running a ton of pick-and-roll to get looks at the rim or on the perimeter, and if that fails then they take advantage of size mismatches created by switches in the post.

Point guard injuries hurt the Mavs last season, as it took pick-and-roll scoring largely off the table. It’s difficult for less-experienced point guards to fill in for veterans and immediately replace their production. When players like Deron Williams and J.J. Barea were sidelined with injuries, Jonathan Gibson, Pierre Jackson, and Quinn Cook were called upon as replacements. To take pressure off of them, the Mavs relied more on Harrison Barnes and others in isolation, which allowed him to grow as a scorer but limited ball movement and the free-flowing nature of Carlisle’s sophisticated system. Luckily, Yogi Ferrell later burst onto the scene to make up for that lost production at point guard, and eventually Barea returned to action later in the season.

That’s where the addition of Smith is so key. He projects as an effective scorer in the pick-and-roll because of his combination of quickness and explosiveness, and hopefully Barea will be much healthier this season after being limited to just 35 games last year. Ferrell is also returning, and he really showed signs of improvement as the season went on. Dallas ought to be able to run much more pick-and-roll next season and much less isolation, and that could have very real benefits.

Below is the Mavs’ play type by volume in the Carlisle era, per Synergy Sports. The club’s offensive peak came during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, when Dallas finished third and fifth in offensive rating, respectively. Notice in the chart below which play type is most prevalent.

Each of those two seasons, more than 20 percent of the Mavs’ offense came from pick-and-roll ball-handlers. Fans who remember those two seasons know Monta Ellis was the primary recipient of those possessions, while Devin Harris, J.J. Barea, and a few other players handled the rest of playmaking duties. The next season, 2015-16, Dallas finished 10th in offense, and pick-and-roll ball-handlers used 17.8 percent of their possessions.

Also pay attention to the inverse relationship between pick-and-roll ball-handling (dark blue) and isolation (black). The more pick-and-roll the Mavs run, the less isolation they run. When the ball is moving and the guards are attacking the lane coming off those screens, Dallas is not only scoring more efficiently, but the Mavericks are playing a better brand of team basketball. It’s no coincidence that roll men also profited when ball-handlers used more of the offense — if guards are looking to score at the rim, they’re also looking for teammates at the rim. Dallas finished third in offense in 2013-14, and more than 30 percent of its offense consisted of pick-and-roll ball-handlers or roll men using the possessions. In this era of the NBA, that’s a hugely important source of offense.

The hope is that Smith and the other Mavs guards (including Curry, who after a while grew more comfortable in that role) can use the pick-and-roll to generate more looks and more points within the offense. NBA defenses are the best in the world, but even they haven’t found an answer to dominant ball-handlers. LeBron James, James Harden, Chris Paul, and John Wall spearheaded some of the league’s best offenses this season by using ball screens to get into the lane and break down the opponent. When that happens, it opens things up for teammates around the arc.

Dennis Smith Jr. Highlights

Check out some of All-Summer League First Team Dennis Smith Jr.'s best plays from Las Vegas and NC State!

In the Mavs’ case, that’s Smith, Barea, and Ferrell getting into the paint to clear some space for Wesley Matthews, Seth Curry, Harrison Barnes, and Dirk Nowitzki, he of the 30,000-point club. That’s made even easier with the roll gravity created as Nerlens Noel rumbles down the lane, and both Dwight Powell and Salah Mejri proved to be more than capable roll men last season.

That space will certainly benefit the Mavs’ shooters. Last season, Jan. 12 became a very important date, as it was the night Seth Curry became a full-time starter and Nowitzki was declared starting center. Dallas pledged its allegiance to small-ball for most of the rest of the season, and it all began that night.

Before that date, the Mavs had struggled to consistently knock down 3-point shots, converting on just 34.8 percent from beyond the arc. But the combination of small-ball creating more space, acquiring Ferrell and Noel, and Barea’s return resulted in a much more wide-open attack, and it paid dividends. From Jan. 12 to the end of the season, the Mavs shot 36.1 percent on 3s. For reference, a 34.8 percent mark for the season would have ranked tied for 21st in the NBA, while 36.1 percent would have ranked 14th. The primary players who benefited: Nowitzki, Matthews, and Curry.

The chart below shows their success rate on catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts both before and after Jan. 12. (Not included were Barea and Ferrell, who combined to shoot better than 40 percent on 4.7 catch-and-shoot treys per game after Jan. 12.)

Player Before 3PA/g Before 3pt% After 3PA/g After 3pt% Difference
Dirk Nowitzki 4.0 34.6% 2.1 40.5% +5.9%
Wesley Matthews 5.6 36.4% 4.1 39.4% +3.0%
Seth Curry 2.8 39.6% 3.3 41.4% +1.8%

Not all of this has to do with small-ball and point guard play, but it’s hard to deny the correlation. Once the Mavs created more space, their best and most frequent 3-point shooters shot the ball significantly better.

OK, so what does this all mean? First and foremost, the returning Mavericks scored at a playoff-caliber clip last season. The goal is for them to pick up where they left off, and perhaps take it up another level with the addition of the dynamic Smith. How can they do this? Smith, Barea, and Ferrell — who combined to appear in just 13 games before that key Jan. 12 date — all are able to get into the paint and break down defenses more often than the Mavs guards were able to last season, which could lead to more looks at the rim both for them and for their pick-and-roll dance partners. Meanwhile, defenses might pack the paint to take that away from them, which would lead to open looks on the perimeter for the Mavs’ best shooters, who proved last season that their accuracy would rise with even the slightest extra smidgen of breathing room. If all of those things fail, then somewhere along the line the Mavs will have picked up an advantageous switch, leaving either Dirk or Barnes one-on-one against a smaller player.

Every facet of a team’s offense is connected. Dribble penetration creates havoc, but not if you don’t have any shooting. Solid screen-setting both on and away from the ball creates havoc, but not if you don’t have a ball-handler to utilize that space. Quality 3-point shooting creates more havoc now than it ever has in the history of the sport, but not if you don’t have other players working to set up those looks for you. The Mavericks still must execute at a high level (and hopefully have better injury luck this year than last), but they seem primed to run pick-and-roll and shoot at a high level. Those are the key ingredients to an effective offense, and the Mavs have been one of the league’s best offenses for most of Nowitzki’s career and especially in the Carlisle era. Their mission this season is to prove that last year was the exception, not the rule.

Mavs sign center Nerlens Noel

Noel Highlights 2016-2017

2016-2017 Nerlens Noel Highlights

DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks announced today that they have signed center Nerlens Noel. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Noel (6-11, 220), who was acquired by the Mavericks from the Philadelphia 76ers in a trade-deadline deal on Feb. 23, averaged 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.0 steal, 1.1 blocks and 21.9 minutes in 22 games (12 starts) with Dallas last year.

For the 2016-17 season, Noel posted averages of 8.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 1.3 steals, 1.0 block and 20.5 minutes in 51 games (19 starts) with Philadelphia and Dallas.

The three-year veteran out of Kentucky holds career averages of 10.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.5 blocks and 27.6 minutes in 193 games (152 starts) with the Sixers and the Mavericks. He has shot 51.1 percent from the floor for his career.

A native of Malden, Mass., Noel was originally selected by the New Orleans Pelicans with the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. His rights were later traded to Philadelphia along with a future first-round pick in exchange for Jrue Holiday and Pierre Jackson.

As a rookie in 2014-15, Noel averaged 9.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.9 blocks and 30.8 minutes per game in 75 games (71 starts) while garnering NBA All-Rookie First Team honors.

In his lone season at Kentucky (2012-13), Noel averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.1 steals, 4.4 blocks and 31.9 minutes en route to earning First Team All-SEC, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and SEC Rookie of the Year honors. On Jan. 29, 2013, Noel set the UK single-game record with 12 blocked shots in a victory over No. 16 Ole Miss.

Noel suffered a torn ACL in a game against the Florida Gators on Feb. 12, 2013, ending his 2012-13 season. Despite the injury, Noel declared for the 2013 NBA Draft following his freshman year. He missed the entire 2013-14 NBA season recovering from knee surgery.

The 23-year-old was the top-rated player by both ESPNU recruiting and Scout.com coming out of high school and was rated the second-best prospect by Rivals.com

The Mavericks’ 2017-18 training camp roster is now set at 20 players.

Nerlens Noel already working out with Mavs teammates ahead of ‘biggest offseason’ of his career

Nerlens Noel called this summer the “biggest offseason” of his life, and it looks like he’s already getting a head-start on improving alongside his new teammates.

Noel, 23, has already been in the gym with some of the other Mavericks, not wasting much time after the end of the 2016-17 campaign. This summer will be an unusual one around these parts, because in recent seasons the Mavericks have had numerous unrestricted free agents on the roster. This time around, however, 14 of the 15 players are either under contract next season, or the Mavs have a team option to extend them another year if they choose. Noel is the one who isn’t. He’ll be a restricted free agent this summer.

The Dallas decision-makers have said many times they hope to retain the young center for the long-term. The club acquired him at the trade deadline in exchange for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, and a conditional first-round draft pick which ultimately became two second-rounders. The negotiating period won’t begin until July, but Mavs owner Mark Cuban pointed to Noel’s involvement in informal team workouts on a recent appearance on the Ben & Skin Show on 105.3 The Fan.

“I’m not allowed to talk about [negotiations] but all I can tell you is he’s one of a bunch of guys who came in, they all got together and said ‘Let’s go down to the practice facility and start working out together,'” Cuban said. “So they’re down there now and so that’s exciting to see, and he’s part of that group.”

During his exit interview, Noel said he’d enjoyed his short time with the Mavericks, despite the club’s failure to qualify for the postseason. Still, Dallas pulled off a six-month youth movement while still staying within striking distance of a playoff spot, and hopefully with another offseason of activity, the Mavs can assemble a team capable of returning to the playoffs in Dirk Nowitzki’s 20th season.

“I love Dallas. In my short time here, I’ve really enjoyed it,” Noel said. “I think it’s been a great time. And with the pieces that we have and the opportunities that could be seen in the near future, I think there’s a lot to be excited for. But obviously, there’s some things that will be worked out, most likely, and we’ll just go from there.

“I think I built a lot of chemistry. I think Philadelphia was a little different situation, with guys coming in and out, and just trying to find the right niche with young guards that can play. But this team had a veteran group that already knows how to play pick-and-rolls. I know they’ve had Brandan Wright and Tyson, so they’re experienced guards. And I think it was something I definitely needed. It’s something that will continue to grow, assuming things go the way they should into next year.”

The Mavericks front office is excited about the club’s youth, and it appears Noel also recognizes the potential of this group.

On the Inside: Nerlens Noel

2016-17 Exit Interview: Nerlens Noel

Mavs C Nerlens Noel addresses the media for exit interviews.

Over the next several weeks, we will publish end-of-season breakdowns for some of the key Mavericks as part of our “On the Inside” series. Imagine never having seen the players before, and this is the scouting report. Read all of them here.

There are many reasons to appreciate the NBA, and different players possess certain qualities that are easy to appreciate.

Take Dirk Nowitzki, for example. His age-38 season got off to a rocky start, but by the end of the year he was the same ol’ Dirk, relying on smarts and footwork to sink 18-footers and trailing 3s. Each Nowitzki game is a masterclass in the sport’s most subtle nuances. Many people can’t or don’t understand the effect he has on a defense simply by being on the floor, even if he’s camping out 25 feet from the rim. At this point in his career, he’s a thinking man’s superstar.

Then there’s Russell Westbrook, who might be on the opposite end of the spectrum from Nowitzki in terms of making court noise. Westbrook is the most ferocious player, pound-for-pound, perhaps in NBA history. He’s a bicycle-sized freight train who swoops into passing lanes like a hawk, runs the length of the floor like a crazed bull, and dunks with the power an angry Shaq. He’s a 7-footer trapped in a 6-foot frame, and in his attempt to break out of the cage that is his body, he causes chaos all over the floor.

Generally, players are either one or the other. Chris Paul is more like Dirk. Giannis Antetokounmpo is more like Westbrook.

As it happens, though, the Mavericks have one of the few players who consistently flash both the qualities of a cerebral star and a game-breaker. Nerlens Noel is firmly in the middle, for now at least, and how he develops as he grows up — he’s still only 23 years old — will ultimately determine the camp in which he belongs.

Either way, it was very easy to appreciate Noel in his brief stint with the Mavericks to end the season. He appeared in just 22 games, but in that short time he showed enough to make the front office believe in him. Noel will become a restricted free agent this summer, but while nothing is guaranteed, the brass has said many times the goal is to bring him back long-term and make him a key player in this team’s future. This is an attempt to show why they feel the way they do, and why Noel will hopefully be making savvy plays and causing chaos in Dallas for many years to come.

The art of the alley-oop

Noel’s most obvious and significant offensive contribution in his 22 games with Dallas came in the form of finishing alley-oops in the pick-and-roll, particularly in partnership with J.J. Barea, who Noel considers one of the best lob passers on the team, alongside Devin Harris.

Overall in the pick-and-roll (including pops for jump shots), Noel scored 1.184 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports. That mark ranked 20th out of 120 in points per possession among players who recorded at least 49 possessions as the roll man, finishing just behind Hassan Whiteside (1.196) and ahead of Nikola Jokic (1.146) and Joel Embiid (1.141). Given his combination of length, quickness, and leaping ability, Noel is a pretty easy lob target.

Through his first half-dozen or so games in Dallas, though, the alley-oop numbers simply weren’t there. It took a while for the guards to know what Noel was thinking, just like it took him some time to learn to read their minds. Throwing and finishing a lob might look easy, but Noel said it’s anything but.

“There’s definitely a lot more than people see, especially when you have so much (responsibility) to harness in the pick-and-roll,” he told Mavs.com. “Being athletic, I can really switch up from short rolls, to knowing when to slip, and just playing off so many different guards that have different tendencies. Whenever you’re playing pick-and-rolls it’s not that simple. You have to see who you’re playing with.”

The Mavs’ offense is a careful, calculating one. Dallas wishes to avoid turnovers like the plague, but Rick Carlisle also wants his team to constantly keep the ball moving, too, and he wants multiple pick-and-rolls until something opens up. That means there’s a lot of real-time negotiating between the ball-handler, the screener, and the primary defenders.

Thankfully for Dallas, Noel understands the game at a high level for such a young player, so he gained a quick grip on the system and when and where to expect the ball. What’s more, he’s got the athleticism to finish over players and contort his body in mid-air to accommodate whichever kind of pass comes his way.

Sometimes, when playing with Barea in particular, Noel said the ball comes his way before he’s even expecting it, not unlike a quarterback who throws a pass to a wide-out before he makes a cut.

As you can see above, though, that can have a devastating impact on the defense. Noel gets to the rim so quickly and can climb so high into the air that other big men are too slow to keep up, and defenders responsible for help become helpless. Barea threw the pass before Noel stepped below the free throw line.

“Some of the guys had to learn how athletic I was, to be able to go and get it,” Noel told Mavs.com. “I think easily seeing what kind of position the (opposing) big man is in, it’s just hard to turn around and be able to get off the floor when you’re trying to play the pick-and-roll, so once I reach his level or get behind him, it really signals the alley-oop (lob) every time.”

But he’s not just a lob threat. Noel can make plays off of short rolls, situations when he receives the pass before he arrives at the rim. As shown below, he’s got the footwork and ball-handling ability to dribble-drive to the rim, but he can also read the defense and find the open man on the move.

“Most of the time, I’ll be rolling to be a target and open up for another guy on the weak side, with his guy coming in to tag,” Noel told Mavs.com. “Most of the time I will be rolling, but different teams play different styles. Sometimes I like to short roll and quarterback the gym.”

Most centers in this league can’t rise for a jump shot and then deliver a sharp pass to a cutter along the baseline. In fact, there are many wings who can’t make that play, either. Noel has been an above-average passer for his position for most of his career, though, even dating back to his high school days when he was able to play some point guard.

Whether it was him moving it or someone else, generally the ball moved better when he was on the floor, especially with veteran guards. In 133 minutes Noel and Barea shared the floor, Dallas assisted on more than 65 percent of its made field goals, per NBA Stats. In the 145 minutes when Noel and Harris played, that number rose to 69.8 percent. For reference, the Warriors led the league in assist rate this season at 70.5 percent, and just one other team finished with a rate higher than 63.1 percent.

The next frontier for Noel in terms of offensive development, particularly in the pick-and-roll game, is developing a reliable mid-range jump shot. Some nights the roll simply won’t be an option because of how some teams pack the paint. In those instances, he’ll need to show he can step out and knock down a couple 15-footers to keep the defense honest.

That was the opening play against Memphis in the last game of the season. Noel was given a jumper by design. It was the second time I can remember Rick Carlisle calling the young center’s number from range on the first set, with the first coming a couple weeks earlier against OKC.

“I think it opens up a new level,” Noel told Mavs.com that night. “No big men can stay with me off the dribble. I think I’m too quick. But with that mid-range jump shot, they’re gonna have to step up on me, and I think my first step is good enough to go by anybody.”

Indeed, if he can hit that shot with any level of regularity, defenses will have to take that into consideration when constructing the gameplan. Even if Noel puts on the 20 pounds he said he hopes to add this summer, he’ll remain quicker than an overwhelming majority of NBA centers. If lumbering big men want to step out and contest the mid-range J, Noel is more than happy to attack them off the dribble.

As for the chemistry and growing more comfortable with the younger guards, Noel said it will come in time — assuming, of course, that he’s back with Dallas next season.

“Me and Seth have grown, me and Yogi have grown together,” he told Mavs.com. “It’ll be hard to really stop a team that gets on the same wavelength with every guard on your team, and the pick-and-roll is just as effective with every guard. I think as we continue to grow and I get more comfortable with them, and they get more comfortable with me, it just continues to help the team.”

That’s the subtle, nuanced, thinking man’s stuff. Now let’s get to the part where he becomes unfair.

Sometimes he breaks the game

Noel is the type of guy who can play perfectly within the confines of the center position. And, yes, “confines” is the appropriate word, because some of the things he does makes you think he’s more suited to play small forward.

Noel can streak down the sideline like a vertical threat in the NFL, reel in a long outlet pass, take a dribble, step through the defense, and finish.

He can also jump a passing lane above the arc, take it coast to coast, and finish with a dunk.

And, most spectacularly, he can intercept a kick-out pass, lead the ensuing fast break, and deliver a one-handed pass in stride to a teammate for a dunk.

It should be noted that Noel is right-handed, but in most of these plays he uses his left hand for most of the skill moves. He’s better finishing floaters and layups with his left hand, too. That ambidexterity is oddly appropriate given his rule-bending, gravity-defying nature.

A coach obviously can’t draw up plays like the ones above. Noel will probably never bring the ball up the floor in the halfcourt, and I’m sure Carlisle would prefer he chase a defensive rebound as opposed to sprinting down the floor every time a shot goes up. But that’s not the point. Noel is a highly skilled, highly athletic player who knows when to push those buttons. If he’s with the Mavericks beyond this season, they can gradually grant him more offensive responsibility with the goal of better utilizing his vision, ball-handling, and athleticism as weapons. That will be very, very interesting to follow.

There’s nothing subtle about his defense

Noel Lines Up Defender For The Kodak Moment

Nerlens Noel picks up the steal, leads the break and then rises up over the defender for the slam.

If Noel’s offensive repertoire is a combination of basketball Art (with a capital “A”) and game-breaking tendencies, his defense is an even more dangerous mix. Generally he plays within the Mavs’ defensive system and makes more conventional plays like the one below, when he comes from the weak side to help a disadvantaged teammate and block the shot.

Noel is always on the prowl, patiently waiting outside the lane for a smaller player to test him. When playing as a traditional center, he’s effective as a rim protector. But every now and then he’s given the go-ahead to become momentarily unhinged and create all sorts of chaos on the perimeter, and that’s when he becomes really intriguing.

Noel singlehandedly derailed that Clippers possession by stepping out against J.J. Redick and then Chris Paul, suddenly and aggressively pouncing on them like a leopard. Some teams ask big men to do this more often, but it’s a risky play. Most guards are quicker and faster than most centers, so generally you want big men to back off or else they risk getting blown by. What’s more, guards are masterful at drawing contact from clumsy 7-footers who might hip-check or stick out an arm just far enough to draw a whistle. (You can see Redick brace for contact above.) But Noel didn’t make contact with either guy, and instead just crowded their space and ultimately forced a turnover.

Most of Noel’s best defensive highlights came when he stepped out to the perimeter. Perhaps his most impressive play on that side of the ball came in a home loss to Toronto when, trying to jumpstart a second-half comeback, Noel was unleashed to blitz, trap, and pressure ball-handlers high up on the floor.

He was almost 40 feet from the rim when DeMar DeRozan sent a pass to Jonas Valanciunas. With some help from Devin Harris, who tagged long enough to slow Valanciunas down, Noel was able to cover all of that ground and stuff his shot at the rim. That’s an incredible play.

Noel’s quickness and instincts, particularly in when knowing to step out versus when to play more conservatively, has turned him into one of the most disruptive defensive centers in the league. From the time he joined the Mavs on Feb. 25, Noel averaged 3.8 deflections per 36 minutes, according to NBA Stats. Among centers who played at least 100 minutes in that time, that mark ranked second.

Player Team Minutes Per Game Deflections per 36 Contested FGA per 36
Ian Mahinmi Wizards 19.2 4.7 16.5
Nerlens Noel Mavericks 21.9 3.8 16.2
Willy Hernangomez Knicks 24.0 3.7 14.0
Zaza Pachulia Warriors 17.0 3.6 11.9
DeMarcus Cousins Pelicans 33.7 3.3 13.8

Noel not only causes a ton of deflections, but he also contests a lot of shots. That means that he’s not completely selling himself out to chase a steal to the point that he’s not in position to protect the rim or get a hand in a shooter’s face, and he can stay in good position against faster players who attack him.

One thing four of the five players from the chart above have in common is they don’t play many minutes, which presumably gives them more energy to create chaos defensively without having to worry about logging 35 minutes. However, Noel played the way he did with Dallas for significantly longer stretches while he was still with Philadelphia, and that suggests he could do the same here if asked. He averages two steals and two blocks per 36 minutes for his career. This guy is a maniac on D.

He’s also quick enough to stay in front of smaller players, as shown below against Washington’s Bradley Beal. He didn’t bite on any of Beal’s fakes and crossovers, instead staying low in a defensive stance, eventually forcing a long jumper off the bounce. Not only does Noel play with energy and fire on defense, but he typically plays with discipline, and that’s not a combination you usually find in young big men.

One of Noel’s biggest issues after joining Dallas, though, came in defending the post against bigger, burlier guys like Cousins and Marc Gasol. With aid from his help defenders, Noel was able to coax those guys into committing turnovers on 16.7 percent of the post-up possessions he faced as a Maverick, which ties for 10th among the 62 bigs who played at least 40 post-up possessions, per Synergy. The Mavs would frequently send help from several different directions, and Noel’s active hands generated plenty of steals.

But Noel’s opponents took a higher volume of free throws than any of those players, going to the line 23.8 percent of the time. Double-teaming and active hands can lead to a ton of contact, and in the instances when Noel is one-on-one against a bigger guy, he’s got to stay vertical and contest a shot without fouling. (That’s where potentially adding 20 pounds could be a big help.)

If you’re going to have one Achilles heel, though, it might as well be there. The league is quickly moving away from the post in favor of more pick-and-roll, and Noel has always excelled there. He is a menace against the play the league relies on the most. That’s good news.

Simply put, Noel can bend and break opposing offenses like great scorers can do to opposing defenses. That’s a very rare quality to find in a player. It will be interesting to see, moving forward, if the Mavericks tweak their defensive system to feature Noel more often in his chaos role.

That’s assuming, of course, that he’s a Maverick in 2017-18. And this summer, there aren’t many bigger priorities for the front office than making sure that’s the case.