Mavs’ depth, quickness should allow them to play full-court press defensively in ’17-18

DALLAS — Ninety-four feet. It’s the full length of an NBA court. And if the Dallas Mavericks have their way this upcoming season, it will be the full distance their defense will cover on a nightly basis.

Taking the court with plenty of depth in the backcourt, the Mavericks hope to use their quickness and agility to their advantage this season. The Mavs also intend to make defense their calling card after ranking near the bottom of the league in several defensive categories last season. And with five point guards on the roster, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle can see the team’s perimeter players picking up opposing teams for the full length of the court to increase the defensive intensity.

“Well, we’ll make the defensive game their style of game, which means use your quickness 94 feet and make it a 94-foot game on defense, instead of making it a half-court game where a size disadvantage can become a problem,” Carlisle explained. “Quickness is such an important part of today’s game. I don’t worry that much about mismatches in the post and things like that. I mean, those things are arduous and they take time, and generally they don’t produce that much. 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. That’s the thing we’re asking these guys.

“We’re going to have the option (to press full court), you know, with our depth at the perimeter positions. And look, these guys are some of our better players, so we’ve got to keep them playing. We’ve got to keep them on the floor.”

Last season, the Dallas squad showed that it could get back in transition after miscues at the offensive end of the floor, surrendering the fourth-fewest baskets off of giveaways while allowing 14.0 points a game following turnovers. The Dallas defense also ranked fifth while allowing just 11.6 second-chance points a game inside. And after allowing just 39.5 points in the paint per game to rank third in that department, the Mavericks will attempt to elevate their perimeter defense by implementing a full-court press.

The Mavericks allowed 13.6 fast-break points per outing to rank 17th in the league last season. The Mavs forced just 7.5 steals per game as well, ranking 19th in the NBA in that category. However, with the addition of first-round draft pick Dennis Smith Jr. to the backcourt and 23-year-old center Nerlens Noel anchoring the interior, the Mavericks expect to see more success at the defensive end of the floor. And after the Mavs ranked 22nd in the league with a defensive rating of 106.3, the team sees a full-court press as the key to a turnaround on that side of the ball.

“It’s going to help a lot. A lot of times people don’t want to press full, ’cause they might get tired and want to come out of the game. But we’ve got so many good guards, we’ll be able to give it 100 percent every single play,” Smith proclaimed.

“You know, I think it’s going to open a lot of things up, especially for me to be able to show my defensive abilities,” Noel added. “When they’re up pressing, those guards are not going to be able to go right by them and get a clear lane to the rim. So, you know, it’s giving your guys that comfortability to be able to scramble things up.”

Rick Carlisle hopes to grow Dennis Smith Jr.’s defensive abilities, all-around game to help make him ‘franchise-caliber player’

DALLAS — He comes into the NBA as one of the most athletic and explosive players in this year’s draft class. Now, first-round draft pick Dennis Smith Jr. will be asked to use that raw athleticism in order to develop into one of the league’s best two-way players.

Selected by the Dallas Mavericks with the ninth overall selection in last week’s draft, Smith comes into the league with high expectations already placed on his broad shoulders. The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder averaged 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 at North Carolina State. He also earned the Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year Award and a spot on the All-ACC Second Team after leading the league in assists and finishing sixth in the conference in scoring. Smith will now be asked to step in and immediately elevate a Dallas offense that ranked 30th in scoring (97.9 ppg), 27th in assists (20.8 apg) and 23rd with an offensive rating of 103.7. But according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, Smith’s development at both ends of the floor will be the focus in Year 1 as the team tries to foster the full potential of the budding star.

“We’re excited, and we know that we’ve got a kid that is extremely motivated and that has tremendous ability. And our job going forward here is to give him the tools to have ultimate success to become a great player and to become a franchise-caliber player,” Carlisle said Friday during Smith’s introductory press conference with the Dallas media. “You know, I really believe that he understands there’s a lot of work involved. I don’t believe he wants anything handed to him, and I think he has full intention of earning everything. And we’re excited to have him here today and to get started.

“This is a fact. There’s no player that comes into this that can be totally prepared to play defense in the NBA with the pace, the strength difference, the speed difference and all those kinds of things. But I think Dennis understands that staying on the court to do that means you’ve got to be strong in both areas,” the coach explained. “It’s important to attack the guy that’s going to be attacking you at the other end, but you’ve got to be able to guard him, too. And you’ve got to have a system in place where your teammates can help you do that, so that’s going to be one of the biggest parts of his learning curve. You know, I expect the offensive stuff to happen pretty naturally just based on what I’ve seen on film, but NBA defense is a different metabolic situation. There’s a lot to learn, and he understands that.”

Smith’s offensive game is unquestioned after becoming 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 also showed glimpses of being able to impact the game in a multitude of ways after becoming the first player in ACC history to record two triple-doubles in the same season during conference play. However, despite his offensive prowess and hard play, Smith admits that he has much to learn on the defensive end in order to reach his full potential.

Smith, 19, averaged a staggering 1.9 steals per game last season with the Wolfpack, showing an uncanny ability to play the passing lanes and create turnovers. However, the cat-quick guard confesses that he still has to learn the proper way to play defense within a team system, hoping to pick up Carlisle’s defensive principles and philosophies quickly during his first season. And despite naysayers doubting his defensive abilities and effort level coming into the draft, Smith looks forward to giving the Mavericks a spark at both ends of the floor next season against a gauntlet of point guards in the Western Conference.

“I just go out and play my game, and everything else will take care of itself,” Smith explained. “(Criticism) wasn’t frustrating. Like I said, I go out there and try to be the best Dennis Smith Jr. I can every game. My teammates appreciated my effort, my coach and the rest of the staff approached my effort to a maximum level, so I think I did a good job with that. And they feel the same.

“I want to learn exactly how to play defense,” he added. “You know, that’s not something that was really pressed about last year. And with the staff we had, we were more of an offense-oriented team, so we really didn’t learn too much about defense. I’m looking forward to learning a lot about it this year, and I think that will be the main thing — learning how to play.”

Mavs hope to establish defense-first mentality early in training camp, Rick Carlisle says

Bedgear Training Camp Practice Report: Rick Carlisle

Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle addresses the media after the team's first practice of training camp.

DALLAS — After finding success at the defensive end of the floor to close the 2015-16 schedule, the Dallas Mavericks could once again be reliant on that side of the ball this upcoming season.

Last season, the Mavericks ranked 14th in the NBA while allowing 102.6 points per game. The Dallas squad also finished the season with just a 104.3 defensive rating, which ranked 16th in in the league. However, the Mavs played their best defense during the final nine games to reach the playoffs for a 15th time in the last 16 years. And with a heavy focus on defense during the first day of training camp presented by Bedgear, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle hopes his team can replicate that success this season.

“A lot of defense today,” Carlisle said Tuesday after the team’s first practice. “Defense was the priority. We did a little bit of offensive stuff, but we got a good start on defensive stuff and philosophical stuff, so it’s a good start.”

Falling three games below .500 following a 133-111 loss in Sacramento on March 27, Carlisle led the Mavericks to six straight victories from March 28 to April 8 and wins in seven of the final nine games to finish the ’15-16 season with a 42-40 record and the sixth seed in the Western Conference. Carlisle now could look to once again utilize that formula this season after his decision to play at a slower offensive tempo led to plenty of defensive success.

Holding opponents to 88.6 points on 43.8 percent shooting during that final nine-game stretch, the Mavericks could have their blueprint for this season. The coach also says that the Mavs will have more versatility on defense with the addition of 6-foot-8 forward Harrison Barnes, pairing him with swingman Wesley Matthews on the perimeter. That said, Carlisle believes the Mavericks will have the option of playing at different speeds in order to see more success on both ends of the court.

“Barnes and Matthews give us two high-level perimeter defenders at the two and three. And then when we bump Barnes to four, he can guard fours and Wes can guard threes. It just gives us more flexibility, more versatility, and I think it’s going to give us an opportunity to do some more things with switching and things like that,” Carlisle explained.

He added: “I don’t know that it’s going to be an absolute at this moment, but as we go along we’ll have a package of things that will allow us to play out of a more low-to-mid pace. You know, during the last nine games we were No. 3 in the league in defense, and a lot of that had to do with we were playing at a different pace offensively, so we’ll see. The truth is we’re going to be a multiple-style, multiple-pace team most likely.”

Mavs could look to address perimeter defense in NBA Draft

DALLAS — While admittedly looking to retain the services of spark plug Al-Farouq Aminu this summer in free agency, the Dallas Mavericks may also attempt to bring in a player capable of aiding the high-engery forward at the defensive end of the floor via this month’s NBA Draft.

Emerging as the Mavericks’ best perimeter defender during the 2014-15 campaign, the 6-foot-9 Aminu will now opt out of his contract and test free agency on July 1 with hopes of returning to the squad next season. The Dallas front office will then look to keep him in the fold with an attractive offer. Meanwhile, the Mavs could attempt to bring in another player that’s capable of providing lockdown perimeter defense, armed with the 21st and 52nd picks in the draft on June 25.

“When you have a leak in the roof, you’ve got to figure out if there’s a bunch of little things contributing to it or if it’s one big thing,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said while addressing the team’s defensive deficiencies this season. “Right now, we got a lot of little things that we need to get patched up and that’s what we’ve looked at.

“The biggest thing for us as a team right now is we have to get more consistent defensively. … That’s our goal right now going forward.”

The Mavericks ranked 25th in the league in points allowed this season, giving up 102.3 points an outing. The Mavs also had a 103.7 defensive rating, ranking 18th in that department. But, according to NBADraft.net, perimeter defense is certainly something the Mavs are looking to address in the draft, tabbing Virginia’s junior standout Justin Anderson as a possible candidate for the team in the first round.

The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Anderson certainly showed his offensive versatility on the wing in college, averaging 12.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 26 games this season for the Cavaliers. He also showcased the ability to stretch the floor as a shooter, connecting on 46.6 percent from the field and 45.2 percent from three-point range.

However, it’s Anderson’s size, ability to guard multiple positions and near 7-foot wingspan that has scouts and front office executives salivating at his prospective contributions to a team on the defensive side of the ball. And should he fall to the Mavs at No. 21, Anderson could immediately step into the rotation to help spark the team as it tries to make the proper upgrades at the defensive end going into next season.

“Offensively, I like our team,” Carlisle confessed. “It’s really going to depend on two things: getting rid of or keeping down catastrophic turnovers that turn into un-defendable baskets, ’cause that affects your defensive numbers, and then it’s how well we’re able to develop a group edge and toughness about the defensive end. Even though we may not have the best individual defenders from top to bottom, this is the challenge where we’ve got to do it as a team.”

Jae Crowder looks to fill void of Mavs’ departing veterans

DALLAS — Although he’s yet to fully carve his own niche in the NBA since entering the league as the 34th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Dallas Mavericks third-year pro Jae Crowder has gradually began to tap into his potential.

The 6-foot-6 versatile swingman has been used in a multitude of ways by Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle through his first two seasons, playing in 78 games in both campaigns while providing production off the Dallas bench. This season, however, the 24-year-old appears ready to step into his own role and out of the shadows of his departing mentors, attempting to fill the void left by Shawn Marion and Vince Carter in free agency.

“It’s a grand opportunity,” Crowder confessed while acknowledging he figures to see the most playing time in his young career this upcoming season. “It’s the best opportunity I’ve had. You know, those guys [Carter and Marion] really taught me a lot coming into it, and I just try to learn from that and build on each year I’ve been here. I think the opportunity is there, and I just have to take it.  Just being a pro on and off the court. You know, those guys are real professionals and they’ve been in the league for a long time. And just seeing how they work and how they operate day in and day out, I’ll never forget it. And I’ll take it from here until the day I retire.”

Backing up Marion at small forward the past two seasons, Crowder was often asked to defend the top perimeter scorers in the league when the four-time All-Star headed to the bench. The former Marquette standout also played alongside Carter in the second unit, learning what it takes to provide instant offense off the bench.

Now, after losing 10 pounds during the offseason while working on his conditioning, Crowder will try to step into a valuable role for the Mavericks this season.

“Physically, I feel great. Coming into camp, I felt 100 percent. You know, physically, I came into camp ready and I lost a little weight. I came in with a good mindset — free and with a free mind. And we’ve been playing hard and getting after it,” Crowder explained.

With Carter vacating the sixth man role in Dallas to join the Memphis Grizzlies this summer, the Mavs may look in Crowder’s direction for production with the reserves. In order to be relied upon in that role, however, Crowder knows he’ll have to step up after admittedly hitting a wall in his first two seasons.

After starting 16 games during his rookie season, Crowder saw a slight dip in his production in Year 2 while finishing ’13-14 averaging 4.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, .8 assists and .8 steals. And despite raising his shooting percent from 38.4 percent to 43.9 percent in a year’s span, Crowder continued to struggle with his outside shot while connecting on only 33.1 percent from behind the three-point arc.

“By Game 50 or 60 my first two years, I had a little drought and I think that kind of was fatigue. That’s why I changed my body a little bit, trying to fight through that as the season goes along,” Crowder explained. “(I lost) 10 more pounds, and that’s right where I want to be. I feel great, I’m flying around, I’m moving well and I’m right where I want to be.”

Still, it’s at the defensive end that Crowder figures to provide the Mavs with the most support while emerging as a lockdown defender that Carlisle can turn to down the stretch of games. And after impressing his head coach with his intensity early in training camp, don’t be surprised if Crowder is called upon to operate as the team’s defensive closer this season.

“He’s in by far the best shape he’s been in, in three years, and he’s been in good shape in other years,” Carlisle said while praising Crowder’s offseason conditioning. “But he’s trimmed down, he’s gotten leaner, he’s committed to a diet that’s really gotten his body composition where it needs to be to be at his best, and he’s just a tireless worker. I mean, he just keeps working on everything with shooting, running and movement stuff. He knows both the three and the four, and he knows the two. And he’s guarded ones, so that versatility is a key factor for us.”

“I feel like it’s a collective effort for all of us and all of us wing players,” Crowder added. “We have to hold our ground with the best scorers in the league. And it’s a collective effort, as we all know. But I just want to make it hard on guys when I match up on Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. Just make it tough on them the whole fourth quarter, and maybe in the fourth quarter those shots aren’t falling for them. You know, it’s a collective effort, but I want to feel like I’m doing my part.”

Note: The Mavericks will return to the practice court before making their first road trip of the preseason, taking on four-time MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday. The game will air at 6:30 p.m. CT on TXA 21.

The Mavs return to Dallas to host the Memphis Grizzlies at American Airlines Center on Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS (6287) or by visiting Mavs.com.

Injury updates presented by Baylor Emergency Medical Centers:
-Monta Ellis, sprained left knee, day-to-day
-Raymond Felton, high right ankle sprain, out at least 10 days