Renewed focus this summer has led to Wesley Matthews’ early-season success

DALLAS — Although his numbers across the board have been drowned out by the Dallas Mavericks’ sluggish start to the season, veteran swingman Wesley Matthews says his summer conditioning and renewed focus have manifested onto the court.

Last season, Matthews averaged 13.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists an outing while playing in 73 games. He also connected on just 39.3 percent from the field and 36.3 percent from behind the three-point arc after a lackluster first season with the Mavericks (1-5). He committed to reshaping his body and mind from there this summer with hopes of having a bounce-back year, shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from three-point range through the Mavs’ first six games this season. And with the 6-foot-5 swingman averaging 13.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and a career high-tying 1.5 steals per outing thus far this season, Matthews says he’s willing to continue doing whatever it takes to get the Mavericks on track.

“I’m just playing my game,” Matthews proclaimed after scoring 18 points in Thursday’s 96-91 loss at Memphis. “I’m not trying to press, not trying to put too much pressure on myself and not trying to do too much as far as creating and making plays. I’m just playing my game, relaxing and trying to have fun with basketball again, doing whatever I can to help this team win. We all put a lot of work into this offseason, and we’ve got to make it show for something.”

Swishing in 5-of-9 shooting from three-point range during a season-opening 117-111 loss at home to Atlanta on Oct. 18, Matthews showed that he was ready to provide the Mavericks with consistent perimeter scoring once again. He then bounced back from a 0-for-7 performance the following game against Sacramento, making 12 of 25 from three-point range in his last four outings. Matthews again stepped up after the Mavericks fell behind by 22 Thursday night in Memphis, helping to stage a comeback with four three-pointers on six attempts in the third quarter before eventually falling to a narrow defeat. But according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, Matthews is simply just showcasing the leadership he’s displayed since arriving in Dallas.

“Well, I don’t think there’s really anything different. You know, the team is slightly different with a rookie point guard, and there’s some adjusting going on. But we’re having to do it quickly and it’s necessary, because the games come fast and the teams are really good. But Wes is a constant,” Carlisle explained. “He’s going to give you the competitive attitude, he’s going to give you the leadership, and he’s going to give you the shotmaking. And when things get tough, he’s one of the guys that’s going to be in the front leading the team out of a ditch, and that’s what we need right now.”

Signing a reported four-year deal worth $70 million in July of 2015, Matthews rehabbed his way back from a torn Achilles tendon that ended his ’14-15 season after only 60 games with Portland. He then averaged 12.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 78 appearances for the Mavericks throughout the ’15-16 schedule while battling back from the injury, shooting 38.8 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point range.

Matthews now hopes to lead the Mavericks back to the playoffs after a 33-49 campaign last season. But after his team slipped to 1-5 following Thursday’s loss, the 31-year-old sharpshooter says the Mavs must draw a line in the dirt to decide how they want this season to go.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Matthews matter-of-factly said. “We know what we’re capable of doing. We’ve done it against the elites, and we’ve also shot ourselves in the foot against the elites. So, this season comes down to who do we want to be and who do we commit to being.”

Note: The Mavericks will now return to American Airlines Center on Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. The game will also air in Spanish on KFLC AM 1270. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting Mavs.com, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Devin Harris (personal reasons) — not with the team
Seth Curry (stress reaction, left tibia) — not with the team
Josh McRoberts (lower extremity injury) — not with the team

Pair of stretch big men could fall to Mavs at No. 9 in NBA Draft

DALLAS — It has become a calling card for the Dallas Mavericks during 19 seasons while 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki established himself as the best shooting big man in NBA history. Now, finding a stretch power forward in the mold of Nowitzki may be a priority for the Mavericks in June’s NBA Draft.

This season, the Mavericks shot 35.5 percent from three-point range as a team, ranking 16th in the league in that department. The Mavs also ranked 30th in the league by producing just 97.9 points an outing and 23rd with an offensive rating of 103.7. That said, the Mavericks may target an offensively-gifted big man in the draft to help relieve the scoring burden on Nowitzki’s and versatile forward Harrison Barnes’ broad shoulders next season. But according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, finding a young big man with the right skillset may be easier said than done.

“There aren’t a lot of high-quality stretch fours in the draft, and so this is an opportunity for us to take a close look,” Carlisle said when grading the position earlier this season.

DraftExpress.com has the Mavericks going in that direction in next month’s draft, targeting Dallas as a potential landing spot for Arizona freshman standout Lauri Markkanen.

The 7-foot Markkanen showed his versatility and all-around skillset during his lone colligate season, averaging 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds in 37 games. The 20-year-old Finland native also showcased his ability to stretch the floor beyond the three-point arc, connecting on 42.3 percent from long range. And after earning All-Pac 12 First Team honors while leading Arizona to the Sweet 16, Markkanen could find himself headed to Dallas with the Mavericks’ top-10 pick.

However, while Markkanen may be an intriguing prospect, HoopsHype.com, NBADraft.net and TheUndefeated.com all have the Mavericks targeting Gonzaga freshman big man Zach Collins instead.

The 7-foot, 230-pound Collins averaged 10.0 points and 5.9 rebounds an outing as Gonzaga sprinted to the national title game and a runner-up finish. He also shot a staggering 47.6 percent from three-point range, demonstrating that he could be a knockdown shooter at the next level. The sites agree that Collins could now benefit from learning from the No. 6 scorer in NBA history, Nowitzki, as he tries to patent his game in a similar fashion. But after spending most of his time on the court as a backup behind Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski, the 19-year-old Collins will likely face a steep learning curve in Year 1.

Added outside shooting should make life easier for Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs owner Mark Cuban says

DALLAS — Although the summer signing of sharpshooter Seth Curry wasn’t the Dallas Mavericks’ most heralded move of the offseason, team owner Mark Cuban says it could prove to be highly beneficial this upcoming season.

Making 44 appearances with the Sacramento Kings last season, Curry averaged 6.8 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 15.7 minutes per outing during his most extensive action in the NBA. Curry increased that productive during his nine starts for the Kings, upping his averages to 14.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 29.9 minutes when featured in the first unit. He also showcased an ability to be a knockdown shooter, connecting on 45.5 percent from the field, 45.0 percent from three-point range and 83.3 percent from the foul line. With that said, it’s Curry’s ability to stretch the floor that Cuban sees making a big impact on the Dallas offense this season while lightening the load on 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki.

“You know, on a dysfunctional team in Sacramento last year at the end of the year, [Curry] played team ball,” Cuban explained in a recent interview with 103.3 FM ESPN. “He struggled some to stick within a dysfunctional system, but when he got the minutes and when he started, he put up great numbers. But more importantly, from a catch-and-shoot perspective, he’s almost automatic from three. And we really didn’t have that. We didn’t have that guy where situationally you just knew, if you can get him open, he was going to hit that open three. And we missed that 42- or 43-percent three-point shooter. We just didn’t have it, and so we think we have that with Seth. I think it will make life a little bit easier with Dirk. You know, it will allow us to push the ball a little bit more, and I think it will make everybody’s life a little bit easier.”

Last season, the Mavericks shot just 34.4 percent as a team from three-point range, ranking 23rd in the league in that department. The short-handed Mavs then saw that number drop to just 29 percent during their first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City after injuries to Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams forced them out of the lineup. And with Parsons departing for Memphis this summer in free agency and taking with him a team-best 41.4 percent shooting from three-point range, the Mavericks will definitely have a big hole to fill.

Going undrafted in 2013, Curry has developed into one of the game’s up-and-coming shooters after spending time in the Development League. As the son of 16-year NBA veteran Dell Curry and the brother of two-time reigning MVP Stephen Curry, the former D-League All-Star and All-NBA D-League First Team selection now hopes to continue in his family’s footsteps as one of the top three-point shooting assassins. And according to Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, the addition of the 6-foot-2, 185-pound combo guard will allow the team to remain competitive in the ever-changing Western Conference.

“What we’re seeing more and more of these days, if you watch guys like (Stephen) Curry and (Klay) Thompson and (J.J.) Redick, a lot of these guys are running off screens for 26- and 27-foot shots,” Carlisle said when assessing his team’s three-point shooting last season. “We have a lot of improvement to do shooting it and guarding it.”

Mavs know importance of shooting, defending better from three-point range next season

DALLAS — It’s become the great equalizer in the NBA over the last few seasons. Now, the Dallas Mavericks hope to make strides both shooting and defending from behind the three-point line next season.

Shooting just 34.4 percent as a team from three-point range during the 2015-16 season, the Mavericks ranked 23rd in the league in that department. The short-handed Mavs then saw that number drop to just 29 percent during their first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City, falling in five games in the process after injuries to sharpshooters Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams forced them out of the lineup.

Meanwhile, the Dallas defense allowed 36.4 percent shooting on shots from behind the three-point arc during the series. And after seeing his team give up 34.2 percent from three-point range on the defensive end during the season, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle knows there needs to be improvement on both sides of the ball.

“What we’re seeing more and more of these days, if you watch guys like (Stephen) Curry and (Klay) Thompson and (J.J.) Redick, a lot of these guys are running off screens for 26 and 27-foot shots,” Carlisle said when assessing his team’s three-point shooting. “We have a lot of improvement to do shooting it and guarding it.”

Despite Parsons’ team-best 41.4 percent from three-point range this season, the Mavericks ranked near the bottom of the league in outside shooting. The 27-year-old Parsons also finished with a career-high percentage from three-point range, connecting on 47.5 percent from deep during his final 30 games before requiring arthroscopic knee surgery on March 25 to repair a right medial meniscus.

Vice versa, newcomer Wesley Matthews shot a career-low 36 percent from three during the season and only 28.6 percent behind the arc in the playoffs after battling his way back from surgery on a torn Achilles. He now vows to return much better after leaving Portland as the franchise leader with 826 makes from three-point range in five seasons. And with Matthews expected to have a bounce-back ’16-17 season, the Mavericks hope to find more success from long range.

“As time has gone on, with the three becoming a more potent weapon, teams are doing more things defensively to deter it,” Carlisle confessed during the season.

He added: “We have to stay the course. I think it’s a hard-work thing. You work on it and you get better shots when you defend better. … If we keep working on our defense, better shots will come.”

Game 61: Mavs vs. Magic

Magic vs. Mavericks

Wesley Matthews goes off for 21 points with 5 rebounds as the Mavericks beat the Magic 121-108 on Monday night.

With added outside shooting, Mavs believe they can replicate offensive success of ’14-15

DALLAS — After ranking in the top tier of the NBA with one of the league’s most potent offensive attacks during the 2014-15 campaign, the Dallas Mavericks believe that they have the potential be even more lethal this upcoming season.

Last season, the Mavericks ranked third in the NBA in scoring with 105.2 points per game. The Mavs also ranked eighth while dishing out 22.5 assists an outing, showcasing an ability to put the ball in the basket in a variety of ways and with a multitude of scorers.

Much of that offensive success was created by leading scorer Monta Ellis, who produced 459 total points and shot 49 percent on 666 drives to the rim a season ago. Ellis’ relentless attack and 18.9 points per game helped the Mavericks feature the fifth-best offensive rating in the league at 107.2. However, even with Ellis now in Indiana following his departure during free agency, the Mavs don’t expect a drastic dropoff in scoring during the ’15-16 campaign.

With that said, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle will admittedly have a big void to fill on the offensive end while making up for Ellis’ production this season.

“It’s a big void,” Carlisle confessed while speaking on the loss of Ellis in July. “You know, we’re talking about our leading scorer the last two years and a guy that really, to be totally truthful about it, got us back into the playoffs the last couple of years. Without him, I don’t know if we would have been able to do it. He was that important to us. He’s a guy I’ve enjoyed working with tremendously, and we knew that it was a strong possibility that he would exercise his option to opt out and become a free agent.”

Integrating the likes of three-time All-Star point guard Deron Williams and swingman Wesley Matthews, the Mavericks could be in for another big season scoring the ball. But while looking to keep pace with the rest of the top offenses in the league, the team’s offensive approach is also expected to change following the acquisitions of the two newest members of the backcourt.

With Ellis attacking, the Dallas offense ranked No. 1 in the league with 35.6 points per game on drives last season. The Mavs also ranked second in the league to Philadelphia in total drives and points on drives, respectively, tallying 1,620 points off 2,658 total penetrations into the paint.

According to NBA.com, the Mavs took the fourth-most catch-and-shoot strokes from behind the arc last season, averaging 19.4 attempts per game. The team also connected on 36.7 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts from long range as a team, benefitting from Ellis’ ability to draw the defense into the lane on his drives. Those numbers now figure to improve with more proven three-point shooters to help on the perimeter.

Ranking in a tie for 11th in the league while connecting on 35.2 percent as a team from behind the three-point arc last season, the Mavericks are expected to be an improved shooting team after the additions of Matthews — Portland’s franchise leader with 826 made three-pointers — and Williams — a career 35.8-percent shooter from long range. And according to both Carlisle and 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks should also be better equipped to compete with the NBA’s newest trend.

“What we’re seeing more and more of these days, if you watch guys like (Stephen) Curry and (Klay) Thompson and (J.J.) Redick, a lot of these guys are running off screens for 26 and 27-foot shots. We have a lot of improvement to do shooting it and guarding it,” Carlisle confessed when assessing his team’s three-point shooting.

“It’s pretty obvious now that the league goes in a direction where everybody on the floor has to be able to score,” Nowitzki added. “All the good teams can score 110, 120 every night. There’s a lot of small ball now. You can’t have enough athletes, but you need enough shooters.”

Mavs’ depth, quality behind the arc could prove to be key this season

Dirk Forces OT

Monta Ellis finds Dirk Nowitzki who drains the deep 3-pointer to tie the game and force overtime.

The old rule in this league used to be jump-shooting teams don’t win championships. Instead, teams wanting to be successful should work the ball into the paint to either get a closer look or earn a trip to the free-throw line. The Mavericks of the early- and mid-2000s specialized in mid-range and 3-point shooting, and therefore those clubs were greeted with all sorts of criticism. After all, the old-school rules still applied. Big men, not big shooters, won championships.

But that rule, which governed the league for its first 60-plus years in existence, is quickly going extinct. While having quality big men is still absolutely vital to winning a title, no longer is the jump shot — and particularly the 3-point shot — considered taboo. On the contrary, actually: Teams are embracing it like never before.

Last season’s champions, the Golden State Warriors, attempted 27.0 3-pointers per game, ranking fourth in the league. Cleveland, the East champion, shot 27.5 long-range attempts a night. During the 2004-05 season, Golden State would have attempted 2.3 more threes per game than Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns, then considered a revolutionary team. That group shot 2.5 more threes than second-place Seattle. Only five teams that season attempted at least 20 treys per game. Last season, only 11 didn’t.

And as teams continue to take more and more threes per game — last season the Houston Rockets averaged an absurd 32.7 attempts — efficiency also matters more than ever. Hitting threes at an above-average rate used to be a nice luxury to good clubs, but now it’s a necessity. Thirteen of the top-14 teams in 3-point percentage last season made the playoffs, with only the Indiana Pacers missing out. That means, of the 16 worst 3-point shooting teams in the league, only three qualified for the postseason. And eight of the top-10 in attempts per game continued playing beyond the regular season. If you want to make the playoffs, you’ve got to shoot the three-ball, and you’ve got to do so at a high clip.

One way to track the shot and how it’s becoming the focal point of the game is through following free agency. This summer, players like DeMarre Carroll, Danny Green, and the Mavs’ own Wes Matthews were some of the most sought-after players on the market. What do they all have in common? The ability to hit the 3-point shot. They each also compound that skill with excellent perimeter defense, which certainly helped their case as some of the top free agents out there. But rarely in the history of the league have we seen such time and attention paid to players who couldn’t necessarily excel in “old-school” basketball which, for an off-guard, means the ability to slash to the rim and occasionally perform well in isolation. Those skills have been replaced by shooting and defense atop the wish list of every NBA GM.

And now, with Matthews and Deron Williams entering the fold along with the players Dallas already has on the roster, the Mavs’ trend of taking more threes per game figures to continue into 2015-16. Here’s a look at their 3-point attempt numbers throughout Dirk Nowitzki’s career, spanning back to the 1998-99 season. (All stats courtesy of NBA.com.)

2015-09-03 15_00_32-Microsoft Excel non-commercial use - Mavs 3PT through years

According to the chart, the Mavericks’ number of average attempts has been on a massive increase, almost year-after-year, since Avery Johnson’s first full season as head coach in 2005-06. Dallas peaked last season, attempting a franchise-record 25.4 per game, the fourth consecutive season the club has averaged at least 20 a night. Before the 2010-11 title season, the Mavs had attempted at least 20 per game just three times in 30 years. It’s not just a Mavericks thing, though. Attempts have been on an upward trend across the league after the elimination of the hand-check following the 2003-04 season. (In the years immediately following that rule change, as well as the inception of different illegal defense rules and the advent of basketball analytics, Nash’s Suns were lighting up the league with a style very similar to what most teams play today.)

Factoring Williams and Matthews into an equation which already includes Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, Devin Harris, and Charlie Villanueva, among others, it’s possible Dallas could attempt even more this season. The Mavs’ first-round draft pick, Justin Anderson, shot better than 45 percent from deep at Virginia last season, so the acquisition of the lengthy rookie wing hints the Mavs are placing a higher and higher value on the 3-point shot. The club also acquired John Jenkins this summer, a sharpshooting 2-guard who’s shot 37.5 percent from behind the arc for his career. There is no shortage of shooting on the roster this season.

Obviously that’s important, as successful teams in today’s NBA are the ones who can shoot it well. But at least as it relates to the Mavericks, that trend is not necessarily new. Nowitzki is the original stretch-four, a power forward who can stretch the floor with elite shooting, thereby pulling a large opposing defender further from the rim and creating more space for rim attacks. Now it seems like every team plays four-out basketball, but the Mavs have been doing so for more than 15 years.

Given that past, there’s plenty of history to draw from when it comes to analyzing what has made past Mavs teams successful. And, no surprise, it has a lot to do with 3-point shooting. Here’s the 3-point percentage of every team in the Dirk era, charted against that club’s offensive rating for the season.

2015-09-03 15_00_44-Microsoft Excel non-commercial use - Mavs 3PT through years

While there have been teams with very high offensive ratings but lower 3-point shooting, it’s important to keep in mind which era those teams played in. For example, the 2003-04 Mavericks finished with the highest offensive rating (109.6) in team history but shot just 34.8 percent on threes, the third-lowest mark in Nowitzki’s career. That team also played in a completely different NBA, one that still relied on two-point shots and didn’t feature as much space for offenses because of the hand-check rules. But of the eight Mavs teams during Dirk’s career with an offensive rating of at least 108.0, only that ’03-’04 team hit worse than 35 percent of their threes, and only two others shot worse than 37 percent from behind the arc.

Since the rule changes preceding the ’04-’05 season, seven Mavs teams have hit at least 36 percent of their threes. Only two had an offensive rating worse than 107.5. In other words, good 3-point shooting has generally meant good offense. And that’s a good thing, because this team is sure to shoot lots of them. The Mavs did last season as well, but because Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis weren’t necessarily surefire 3-point threats, teams were able to hone in on defending Nowitzki, Parsons, and the other shooters on the perimeter. More space for them should mean easier looks.

Interestingly enough, it was the same case for Deron Williams last season with the Brooklyn Nets. Seth Partnow of Nylon Calculus put together a chart listing all 207 qualified 3-point shooters and the volume of their attempts that SportVU considers “open” (a defender more than six feet away) and “wide-open” (10+ feet). Just 32.6 percent of his threes were open and only 5.6 percent were wide-open, per SportVU. His volume of open attempts ranked 141st among the 207 players, while his wide-open volume ranked tied for 154th. That means he had a tough time finding breathing room to get shots off. (Even Stephen Curry, the reigning MVP, took a higher volume of open 3-pointers than Williams, indicating Williams was always faced with a defender.)

Wes Matthews also found it difficult to get wide-open looks last season, as did many of the Mavs’ returning shooters. Here’s a list of new and returning Mavs and their placement on the list.

Shooter 3FG% Open % (Rank) Wide Open % (Rank)
Wes Matthews 38.9% 40.3% (104) 6.1% (T-145)
Chandler Parsons 38.0% 34.6% (133) 7.0% (124)
Dirk Nowitzki 38.0% 38.5% (112) 6.2% (T-142)
Charlie Villanueva 37.6% 47.3% (58) 9.1% (T-92)
Deron Williams 36.7% 32.6% (141) 5.6% (T-154)
Devin Harris 35.7% 41.3% (T-96) 12.0% (50)
J.J. Barea 32.3% 38.3% (113) 9.3% (T-89)

Now, not getting open shots isn’t an indictment of the player, and it isn’t necessarily one of the system they were playing in, either. More likely, the reasoning has to do with who those players were surrounded by and opposing defenses’ level of respect for the shooter. For example, Matthews played in a fairly modern offense in Portland but couldn’t get higher than a league-average number of attempts. Meanwhile, players like Parsons and Williams were never open, and for similar reasons: They weren’t constantly surrounded by numerous 3-point threats.

That’s what makes this Mavs team different than ones in years past. There are shooters all over the place. For maybe the first time in Nowitzki’s career, he will always be playing next to at least three players who can shoot the three at an above-average clip. The starting lineup alone has four players who shot 36.7 percent or better from deep last season, which should create all sorts of problems for opposing defenses. For example, if Williams is attacking the basket, does Matthews’ man slide over to help? Does Nowitzki’s man sink down to contest the shot? There will always be multiple shooters opponents simply cannot afford to leave open. And that means these dead-eye shooters will potentially have even easier looks than they’ve had in years past.

This will help Nowitzki most of all. For so long, Dirk’s gravity — the way he influences opposing defenses simply by being on the floor — has been the Mavs’ biggest offensive weapon, next to his made-for-a-statue one-legged fade. But now, with a roster stocked with shooters, each player will have a certain amount of his own gravity. Rather than opposing defenses acting as a solar system revolving around Dirk and Dirk alone, opposing players will each become a moon revolving around his own assignment. That makes it 1-on-1 all over the court, instead of 5-on-5, and that plays to the offense’s advantage every time.

As opposed to relying on Rondo and Ellis to create offense from the inside out, as was the case last season, Dallas can now create opportunities from the outside, outside-in, and inside-out. With the amount of respect opponents will have to give the Mavs’ new backcourt, Dirk might no longer draw all five sets of eyes on offense, which could result in a higher volume of open and wide-open shots, and that’s easy money.

With potentially more shooting than ever on this team, Dallas is sure to let ’em fly this upcoming season. Does it mean they’ll top the Rockets’ NBA record for attempts in a season? Probably not, but anything could happen. One thing’s for sure, though: This Mavs team can shoot it. And if history is any indication, that means the Mavs could score in bunches this season — and do it efficiently — which could mean big things for a club looking to move forward with a new core.