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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wesley Matthews relished role as mentor for Mavs’ undrafted rookies

2016-17 Exit Interview: Wesley Matthews

Mavs G Wesley Matthews addresses the media for exit interviews.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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