Future entrepreneurs shine bright

DALLAS – At the Venture-Entrepreneurial Expedition on Friday, Torrey Cohen tried to present a unique way to increase attendance at his school from 93 percent to 97 percent.

Then the 13-year-old from the Young Men’s Leadership Academy received a “gift” that he certainly didn’t see coming. And it came from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

“I’ll make you an offer. If you get the attendance up to 96 percent,” Cuban told Cohen, “I’ll come back to your school and hang out with you guys for two hours and take the whole school (of 950 students) to a Mavs game.”

That brought a loud roar from the crowd assembled at Balch Spring Middle School, since it was a kind gesture that neither Cohen or anyone else expected.

Cuban, Mavs guard Seth Curry, education technology innovator EVERFI, Inc., the Seth Curry Foundation and presenting sponsor 5miles visited students at Young Women’s STEAM Academy for their first Business Pitch Competition in celebration of students participating in the Venture-Entrepreneurial Expedition. The business pitches were performed in a format similar to the popular TV show Shark Tank, where Cuban is one of the co-hosts.

The Venture-Entrepreneurial Expedition program is a new educational initiative designed to teach students how to think entrepreneurially about business and life.

Three awards were handed out on Friday, and Cohen’s group – Fill In The Cracks – won for the Best Overall Business Pitch For Dallas. Cohen, 13, admitted that it wasn’t easy standing on stage and trying to deliver a message that he hopes would be convincing to others.

“First off, you are presenting to a millionaire and a billionaire, and so I was very nervous,” Cohen said. “My mom told me to talk to them as if it was just a conversation with anyone – I just did that.”

“I got to shake hands with Mr. Cuban and Mr. Curry more than once, and talk to them. It was unbelievable. We worked very hard for this and we got a reward for it.”

Josiah Benson also won an award for having the most creative business pitch, and said his target audience “will be philanthropists like you, Mark Cuban.” Benson wants to donate toys and books to the less fortunate, and got a surprise when 5miles general manager Rick Cantu offered to step in and push his business plan twofold.

“Actually we just got to 14 million (downloads) across the United States, and my offer is this,” Cantu told Benson. “What we want to do, if you want to accelerate your donations, my team can work with you to promote your story.”

“We can stuff your home with books and toys so that you can pay it forward like you want to do.”

With a sheepish smile, Benson said: “I would love to take you up on that offer. And you say it’s been a pleasure meeting me — it’s been a pleasure meeting all of you.”

“To me, when I was smaller I never thought I would be able to do something this big, this huge. This is one of the biggest most gigantic milestones in my lifetime, because where I come from not a lot of children like me get to do this, so thank you all.”

The entrepreneurial program was initiated back in August with local Dallas middle schools learning from the digital course. Friday was the tell-tale time to see the fruits of the students’ labor.

“I didn’t get to learn about a lot of these business practices and how to develop an entrepreneurial mind until I got to college,” Curry said. “So for them to be able to learn this at this age is a great thing and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it.”

“It’s a great program, a great thing to be a part of, and it’s great to follow up now and see how much they’ve learned and how far they’ve come.”

Michelle Guerra-Martinez showed how much she’s learned and how far she’s come. The 13-year old from the Young Women’s STEAM Academy won the award for the most impactful business pitch, and was appreciative that it was so well received by the accompanying judges.

“Just to know that there was someone so important sitting there and listening to me and to recognize my ideas, and to win this award, knowing that someone actually acknowledged my idea, it feels great,” Guerra-Martinez said. “This is my first award ever.”

Delivering one of the winning entrepreneurial presentations, however, didn’t come without some trepidation.

“It was very, very nerve-wracking and I was shaking,” Guerra-Martinez said. “But I did my little prayer and I got up there.”

“The crowd was hyping me up – my classmates, my friends – and that just made me feel special. And I just felt 100 percent better.”

Shelley Baxter, the STEAM coordinator at Young Women’s STEAM Academy, said she didn’t know if even today she would have the courage to stand on stage and do a sales pitch in front of Cuban, Curry and Cantu.

“The students’ ideas and thoughts were excellent, and the fact that two of the participants actually got offers to take their idea even farther, I can’t even find the right words to express how excited I am for them,” Baxter said. “I didn’t know that were going to get an offer, and when the first offer came I’m like, ‘Wow.’ ”

“It took the breath out of me, and then when the second offer came. (Cuban is) willing to take all those kids to the Mavericks game. It just gives them that one last push to get the job done.”

Cuban told the students that he sold garbage bags as a kid, and wanted to be the best garbage bag salesman out there. He also doesn’t want them to have a fear of failure.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart since as long as I can remember, so I know all the fears and all the excitement that goes into being a kid starting a business,” Cuban said. “So when I kind of pushed Seth to include me on this, it gives me a chance to encourage them in a way that hopefully will help them go out there and be the future of this country and start the businesses that make a difference.”

“This is the future of our country, and obviously Seth and I are big believers in the American dream. And trying to encourage kids and give them a little bit of experience is always a good thing.”

Curry was excited just to see the passion the students brought to their business presentations.

“As you grow, I encourage all of you to find what you love to do,” Curry said, “and find the difference you want to make in this world and put all your efforts into it and work hard no matter how many times you fail or get cut from your team or if your business plan isn’t right the first time.”

“Just continue to work at it and as long as you have that effort and that passion, that hard work will pay off for you in the long run.”

In all, there were six groups of students who gave business pitches to the judges. Cuban’s advice was for them to just be themselves.

“What I always tell people, if you look around you, somebody came up with the idea for everything that we see, and there’s nothing to prevent you from being the next person that comes up with the next great idea,” Cuban said. “The only person that can stop you is you.”

“I just try to encourage them and I also try to tell people it doesn’t matter how many times you fail, you only need to be right one time and then everybody tells you you’re an overnight success. To get them started and failing early and learning and succeeding and going through the whole process, I think that’s how the future stars, the future Elon Musk and the future Bill Gates, are born.”

Seth Curry provides update on his status

Over the weekend Mavs guard Seth Curry was ruled out indefinitely with a stress reaction of his left tibia. Curry will be reevaluated weekly, and while no timetable is set for his return, Rick Carlisle suggested the guard could be ready as early as the Oct. 18 home opener.

The guard gave an update himself for the first time before Monday’s preseason game against the Orlando Magic.

“Right now it’s just about getting rest, getting off of it for a week or however long, and then seeing how it progresses from there,” Curry said. “It’s just one of those tricky things that can get worse the more pounding I put on it.”

Curry was named a starter last week, starting at shooting guard in each of the Mavs’ first three preseason games. But he said somewhere in the middle of training camp he began to felt some pain in his left shin, and he “knew something wasn’t right about it.”

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “You work so hard in the summer to get ready and then you have this injury, and then all of a sudden you’ve got to completely get off of it and rest.”

Curry said he won’t play again until there’s no further risk of the stress reaction developing into something worse.

“It’s a matter of jumping on it early and letting it heal up so I won’t have to let it bother me for a while,” he said. “That’s not smart. It’s about getting back out there when I’m fully healthy and contributing to the team.”

Second-year guard Yogi Ferrell is expected to start in Curry’s place. Ferrell earned a spot on the All-Rookie Second Team last season for the Mavericks.

Curry averaged 12.8 points and 2.7 assists per game in 2016-17 on 48.1 percent shooting from the field and 42.5 percent from beyond the arc. He averaged 8.5 points per game through three preseason contests.

Christmas Comes Early at Readers 2 Leaders

DALLAS – Time and time again, Norma Nelson took stock of the computers and chairs in the Computer Lab at Readers 2 Leaders reading instruction school and knew some changes desperately needed to be made.

The computers were outdated, the software was slow and the chairs were falling apart. And those three components at the West Dallas school made the lab less conducive to learning.

So Nelson applied for a grant from the Mavs Foundation – the foundation arm of the Dallas Mavericks. And the next thing she knew, the Mavs equipped Readers 2 Leaders with a new Reading & Learning Center, a separate Computer Lab, 15 brand new computers, chairs and computer desks.

“The kids walked in and I thought, ‘Well, I walked into a room full of happiness,’ ‘’ said Nelson, the executive director at Readers 2 Leaders. “I walked in and was surrounded by the kids all with smiles on their face who were excited to see the change.”

The urgent changes came with more space for the kids to learn, and up-to-date computers and software for them to keep pace with their contemporaries. Not to mention a warm environment to study and play while sitting in some user-friendly chairs.

“The computers are very cool,’’ said 11-year old Adrian Riuz, who has been a student at Readers 2 Leaders for four years. “The others were good computers, but they’re not really as good as these.”

Representatives from the Mavs Foundation, the Seth Curry Foundation, Pro Players Foundation and PPG/Glidden were on hand for the unveiling of the Computer Lab and Reading & Learning Center on September 11. Curry also stopped by to offer his support and share some words of encouragement with the students.

“The kids are very excited about the rooms, and I wanted to come in and help put in a computer lab and a reading room for the kids,” Curry said. “Like I was telling them earlier, my parents stressed to me the importance of school work and reading at a young age. So any time I can come in and use some resources that I have to help, it feels good to do that.”

Readers 2 Leaders tutors kids ages three through 12 who need extra assistance in reading so they can grow up and live a productive life. They offer in-school, after-school and summer camp programs, and were taken aback by the Mavs’ generous gifts.

Frank Gonzalez, a Readers 2 Leaders board member, said: “This is something that’s going to exceed everyone’s expectations for sure, especially the kids. Giving them access to having a computer allows them to be able to start thinking differently, and being able to have access to information that probably they didn’t have before is going to expand their horizons in so many different ways.”

Gonzalez applauded the Mavs for stepping into the community and lending a helping hand.

“I think its speaks really highly of the Mavericks’ organization to be able to reach out to the community and to the kids, and really show interest in reaching out and being able to help out and be an outreach to the youths,” Gonzalez said. “All the kids need is an opportunity to be able to better themselves.”

And that opportunity came compliments of the Mavs Foundation.

“We’re just so incredibly grateful for the support of the Mavs Foundation,” Nelson said. “The Computer Lab that we had before was falling apart. So when we found out about this opportunity, we applied thinking it would be a great opportunity for the kids to be able to walk into a lab that was brand new, that was a Dallas Mavericks theme. We applied and we were lucky enough to be selected and it’s just been incredible to see how excited and happy the kids are about this new place.”

Nelson admitted the school’s previous computers and chairs had seen their best days.

“Actually they were used computers that were donated to us,” Nelson said. “The software was kind of running behind and it was hard to update them and keep them current.”

“The chairs that we had were hand-me-downs, and a lot of them were ripped and they had seen some use and they were at the end of their life, so it was just so nice to have brand new furniture and brand new computers. We knew we needed new ones and it’s a big expense, so this was an amazing opportunity.”

An opportunity the Mavs have been doing across the Dallas/Fort Worth area for many years.

“That’s what’s great to see – the look on (the kids’) faces,” Mavs Foundation president Floyd Jahner said. “And the fact that with that excitement they’re going to really use the computers and hopefully keep reading more and be successful in school.

“That’s the end goal: to complete the education and really further the advancement in life.”

Curry noticed the unbridled joy and uncontrollable enthusiasm the students displayed when their teachers finally led them to the Computer Lab and Reading & Learning Center. As the students anxiously walked into the two rooms, it was as if this was Christmas in September.

“They were really genuinely excited,” Curry said. “They came in there and were jumping around and screaming. That was fun to watch. You obviously want the kids to use it and learn from it. But to see them having fun with it at the same time, that’s important, too.”

Creating Happy Summer Memories with Seth Curry

Seth Curry hosts Jr. NBA camp

Check out a recap of a Jr. NBA camp hosted by Seth Curry inside the Mavs' practice facility!

DALLAS – When Seth Curry thought about developing a summer basketball camp for kids, he knew he wanted to challenge them to tap into their mental capacity, not just into their athletic abilities.

Thus, in order to become one of the 100 kids chosen to participate in the free one-day Seth Curry Jr. NBA Camp, the campers had to submit an essay on why they should be the one chosen for this very special camp. Hundreds of applications were filed and read by Curry, who personally hand-picked the final 100 kids.

“I wanted to put on a back-to-school clinic for underprivileged kids to come out here for a free day of basketball to learn from me and the great coaches here,” Curry said. “The kids had to write a short essay on why they wanted to come to the camp, and my team and I read through them and picked out the 100 kids that were going to come.“

“I feel like I have a connection to each one of these kids who came, I know a little bit about their story. Not really by their face, but just reading their essays and knowing what some of the kids are going through and why they wanted to be here and how much they love basketball.”

The camp, held September 9 at the Dallas Mavericks’ practice facilities, is dear to Curry’s heart. His father, Dell Curry, played in the NBA from 1986-2002 and was known for hosting basketball camps for kids.

“My dad put on a camp for kids like this every year for pretty much his whole 16-year career, so I was able to watch what he did and wanted to have one of these (camps) myself growing up,” Curry said. “I came to camps like these as a kid and it was a lot of fun. They were some of my greatest memories growing up.”

“I’m fortunate to be able to flip the roles and be able to teach these kids.”

Shortly after the camp started, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle popped in and spoke to the kids. He also invited kids to tell the group of campers why they wanted to be a part of Curry’s camp.

“Coach Carlisle was talking to the kids and one kid came up and was explaining how he wanted to come so bad because he wasn’t able to do anything this summer with his family because they had to move and were looking for a house, so they weren’t able to go on vacation,” Curry said. “I was fortunate enough to put on this camp and it’s probably his bright spot of the summer before he goes back to school.”

The importance of the Jr. NBA Camp isn’t lost on Carlisle, who doubles as the president of the NBA Coaches Association.

“The Jr. NBA is a really important initiative in the league office,” Carlisle said. “It’s really important to the Coaches Association and it’s great to see guys like Seth Curry taking the lead and having a camp like this.”

“When I spoke to a few of the kids, their essay topics were wide-ranging, but all very sincere. So it’s a really cool thing.”

Ben Hunt, the manager of camps and community basketball for the Mavs, said it was cool for Curry to be thought-provoking and have the kids create an essay to gain entry into the camp.

“Having a clinic like this with Seth and the Mavs Basketball Academy coaches is just a wonderful opportunity for the kids to be here with us at this world-class practice facility,” Hunt said. “And as part of the Jr. NBA, we can help them develop confidence, team work and have a lot of fun.”

“Each and every one of these kids came in with different experiences. They had to go through the application process, and obviously they did a wonderful job because they’re here. And it was tremendous, too, that Seth took the time to read each and every one of those essays, and now they’re here and they get this opportunity – it’s really special.”

At the camp, the kids learned everything from ball-handling, dribbling and passing skills, to the ideal form utilized to shoot a basketball.

“Another important part of the game now is playing without the basketball, and that’s agility,” Hunt said. “Using their foot work, getting some foot speed and being able to maneuver through defenses and be more comfortable with a ball in their hands when that time comes.”

“We have some kids here who may play the game. We have some kids here who this may be the first time they’ve picked up a basketball. But they love the Mavs and they love Seth Curry and they love what we’re doing.”

Curry loves the fact that he’s touching lives in a positive way, changing attitudes and making a lasting difference in the community.

“First of all, I just wanted them to have fun and have good memories,” Curry said. “You want to teach them drills and you want them to get better at basketball. But they’re at the age where they just want to have fun and just be around the kids and be around NBA players like myself, and have good memories. I just want them to go to school next week and tell their friends they had a good time at this camp, and that will be a success for me.”

Before headed back on the court to work with the kids, Curry mentioned the difficult process of narrowing that list down to 100 campers.

“It was going to be 100 kids no matter how many people applied or tried to come,” he said. “It was just me reading through whichever ones I liked. Some of the kids are going through hard times off the court with their family, some of the kids were explaining how much they love basketball and how bad they want to be here. It just depended on how they wrote it and what message they were trying to give off. There were a lot of great stories from the kids who are at this camp and I’m glad we could create this special day for them.”

Helping Kids DREAM BIG

Seth Curry launches the EverFi program at KIPP Middle School

Check out the EverFi program, an effort launched at KIPP Middle School in Dallas in part by the Seth Curry Foundation to promote the entrepreneurial spirit in local youth!

DALLAS – Jaylee Bradford now knows the value of being an entrepreneur.

Once the Venture Entrepreneurial Expedition program was explained to Bradford, the light bulb seemingly lit-up in the head of the KIPP Destiny Middle School student. The path to financial freedom became much clearer.

Thus, it didn’t take long for Bradford to map out a long-range plan.

“The Venture program is helping me understand how to start a business and it’s explaining to me what I need to do in order to successfully start my business,” Bradford said. “When I grow up I want to become a veterinarian and have my own clinic because I don’t want to have to do what other people tell me to do. I want to be a boss.”

The Dallas Mavericks and the Seth Curry Foundation launched the Venture Entrepreneurial Expedition program – the EverFi program — at KIPP Destiny Middle School in South Oak Cliff. The program is a new educational initiative designed to teach students to think about entrepreneurship when it comes to both business and life.

The program’s digital course uses case studies, personal development activities and interactive business simulations to teach important basic skills. Also, students will develop a personalized plan for their business, in addition to a road map for career and academic success.

KeJuan Weaver, the coach and athletic director at KIPP Destiny Middle School, pinches himself when thinking about the various levels of business the EverFi program has to offer his students.

“We’re really excited to have this program at our school,” Weaver said. “We love having the students able to relate to entrepreneurs in the community and able to practice some of the lessons and see those things come to life within the program.”

“It’s very interactive, they get to play with different models and see different things before they actually happen in real life so that they can have this background and prior knowledge when it comes time for them to do their own thing.”

Curry, a guard with the Mavs, was more than happy to get involved with a project that will help spark a young person’s imagination.

“It’s definitely something I wish I had growing-up myself,” Curry said.

“I took a few business courses and entrepreneurial classes at Duke and I always wanted to give back to the community.”

While speaking at KIPP Destiny Middle School, Curry went to the computers where the students were working, interacted with them and let them explain to him exactly what they were doing.

“You can see how much they’ve invested in it and work hard at it and try to learn as much as possible.”

Nesaa Milligan, one of the students at KIPP Destiny Middle School, has already seen the advantages of the EverFi program.

“The EverFi program is helping me build my standards on how I can be a better leader and how I can be what I want to be when I grow up,” Milligan said. “I want to be a photographer, so I want to own my own business.”

Another KIPP Destiny Middle School student, Antonio Hodges, has analyzed the program on a much more personal level.

“Since I have a disability, this program helps me to make sure that I take care of myself some more,” Hodges said. “I really want to be a singer and I want to inspire everyone that we should really take care of each other and help the world be a better place.”

Curry has been involved with a lot of basketball camps, including one with his brother – Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry — earlier this summer in South Korea. But he wanted to offer kids another slice of life besides basketball.

“I was looking for different things to do in the community,” Curry said. “We were just thinking of ways you can give back and get out there and get invested in the city of Dallas and the kids.”

“I’ve been running the camps now for a couple of years and I felt like we can grow a little bit and do some different things. I had an opportunity to work with the Mavs and with EverFi to do this venture and it just made sense for all of us.”

Rick Nielsen, a member of the Seth Curry Foundation, applauds what Curry is trying to accomplish in South Oak Cliff.

“Right now we want everybody to dream big, especially with what’s going on in the world right now,” Nielsen said. “We really want these kids to focus on their goals and know they can achieve anything.”

Curry wasn’t so sure if he located any future Mark Cubans or Bill Gates among the KIPP Destiny Middle School students.

“I don’t see why not,” Curry said. “They all started somewhere. They’ll learn at a young age that a lot of people don’t learn until they get out of college, or in college. It’s a great way for them to get a jump start on their education.

“Just going by and looking at some of the programs and reading it and having them explain what they were learning, it seemed like they were interested and they’re invested. And like I said, this is a great program and knowledge that you actually need and want growing up. I’m sure it’ll benefit these kids a great amount and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Weaver acknowledged that his students have been very inquisitive when it comes to soaking in all the education pertaining to the EverFi program.

“We’ve been in the program for about a week, and they’ve done really well,” Weaver said. “The only thing I’ve had to do is keep the conversation going once they finish because they’re really excited about it and they have so many questions.

“So my job as an educator is to just be that guide and help them out.”

Curry noted that Cuban has offered a lot of sage advice to him in regards to entrepreneurship. Advice that Curry found to be very productive when he spoke to the KIPP Destiny Middle School students.

“Being around (Cuban) during the season and talking to him about business ventures and entrepreneurial ways and just him telling me about his story, it’s very motivational in itself being around him,” Curry said. “He’s one to talk to you about anything that he went through, so I’m just trying to pass that same knowledge on.”

So what was the overriding message in Curry’s speech to the students?

“Just dream big,’’ he said. “Know what you have a passion for and have a set plan to make it happen, and just never give up.”

“I have a story myself of being an athlete who had many obstacles, so I’ll tell these kids the exact same thing. Off the court and being an entrepreneur, just persevere and do what you want to do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Film Room: Dennis Smith Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.