Wesley Matthews cleared for basketball activities, plans to pick up the player-option year on his contract

DALLAS – During Sunday’s 10th Annual Festival De Los Mavs at Gilley’s, Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews said he has been cleared to resume regular basketball activities without any restrictions.

Matthews recently had an MRI after sustaining a fracture to his right proximal fibula during the Mavs’ 114-80 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Mar. 10. Asked if he can do whatever he wants in regards to basketball, Matthews said: “Yes I can. Which is a dangerous thing.

“Now I’m going to go try and find a pickup game.”

Matthews has a player-option on his contract that will pay him $18.62 million next season. He said he will pick up that option and return and play next season with the Mavs.

“Obviously that’s something that hasn’t been on my mind,” Matthews said. “That’s what you have an agent for and agencies for.

“Like I said, I don’t plan on being anywhere else. And now it’s just focusing on getting back healthy, which I am now, and getting on this court.”

Matthews’ injury forced him to miss the final 16 games of the season. In all, the nine-year veteran played 63 games this season, which is the fewest in his career besides the 60 games he played during the 2014-’15 campaign when he torn his left Achilles while he was a member of the Portland Trail Blazers.

This past season Matthews led the Mavs in steals (1.21), was second in minutes played (33.8), third in scoring (12.7) and third in 3-point shooting (38.1 percent) while also being the team’s top perimeter defender. For now, as he tries to locate a “pickup game” to his liking, Matthews has been calling rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and second-year forward Dorian Finney-Smith in hopes that they’ve been paying close attention to the current competitive and sometimes combative NBA playoffs.

“I’m watching these playoff games and I’m getting that hunger and I’m calling some of the young guys,” Matthews said. “I’ve been calling (Finney-Smith) and I’ve been calling Dennis and making sure that they’re tuned in watching these games.

“You can feel the passion and the fight on the TV. We’ve got to have that as soon as we can get back playing again from (training) camp. We don’t want to be watching (the playoffs) again.”

One of the reasons Matthews noted that it’s a no-brainer for him to pick up the player-option on his contract and return to the Mavs is because of the positive “personalities” within the organization.

“You don’t find too many places where, top to bottom, everybody gets along with everybody,” Matthews said. “We never turned on each other, we never flaked on each other.

“This is an organization that’s a prideful organization — it’s had a lot of success. This is a very successful championship organization and these past two seasons in not making the playoffs and being in the lottery is not ideal for anybody to be a part of it.”

The Mavs advanced to the playoffs 15 out of 16 seasons from 2001-’16 before unfortunately missing the postseason the past two years. Matthews steadfastly believes the Mavs will be one of the eight Western Conference teams earning a postseason berth next season, and he points to the close bond the team has as Exhibit A.

“A lot of times you see teams and coaching staffs and organizations kind of splinter and point fingers, and we never did that at any point,” Matthews said. “Even when we’re just in the locker room with ourselves, on the bus, on the plane, we never did that. We rallied.

“That’s a special thing. Now we’ve just got to turn that into what we’re capable of being, and that’s in the postseason.”

Wesley Matthews injury update

DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks announced today that guard Wesley Matthews sustained a fracture to his right proximal fibula during the first period of the game vs. Memphis on Friday, March 10.

At this time, there is no timetable for his return.

Wesley Matthews Keeps Folks Warm During Dallas’ Coldest Week

Wesley Matthews’ Winter Warm Up

Wesley Matthews and the Mavs delivered coats and other items to help keep the homeless warm this winter!

DALLAS – Earlier this month before unloading a bus filled with coats and other items to keep the homeless warm this winter, guard Wesley Matthews reflected on the things he wanted to cross off his bucket list when he joined the Dallas Mavericks three summers ago.

“When I signed with Dallas, one of the big things my team and I looked at is how can we make the community better,” Matthews said. “We knew what we were going to bring on the court every single night, giving everything that I have, sacrificing my body trying to win games, leadership.”

“What we didn’t know was how we could impact the city and the community.”

Well, Matthews no longer has to worry about how he’ll be able to impact the city of Dallas and the community.

Through the Winter Warm Up Drive and in partnership with Raising Cane’s, Bedgear (they donated over $100,000 worth of pillows and blankets to Dallas LIFE) and FOX Sports Southwest, Matthews and the Mavs challenged fans to donate new and gently used coats, blankets and other winter items for families in need. The items were collected at various Raising Cane’s restaurants in the Dallas/Fort Worth area from December 1-22, and subsequently delivered to the Dallas LIFE homeless shelter on January 12.

Matthews, the Mavs Dancers, ManiAACs and volunteers from the Mavs, Raising Cane’s, and Bedgear helped unload the bus and delivered the items to Dallas LIFE. They also visited with the shelter’s residents and served them dinner.

It was a very impactful day, according to Bob Sweeney, the executive director of Dallas LIFE.

“I have 370 people – 60-80 kids – staying here each night,” Sweeney said. “But think of the number that move on and others that come in and replace them. So well over 1,000 people will be able to get help from this donation right here.”

“These blankets and the quality of these blankets and the warmth that they provide, it just lets a homeless person know they’re loved. And that’s what we really emphasize here at Dallas LIFE.”

Olivia Vailes said she certainly felt the love coming from Matthews and others who were part of the Winter Warm Up Drive. Especially when Matthews personally delivered blankets to her room.

“When I first came to Dallas LIFE, we couldn’t bring our own blankets in, and I was worried,” Vailes said. “But with Dallas LIFE, through people donating things to the foundation, this is very helpful.”

Vailes said it’s comforting to know that she and her two-year old son, La’Zyrion, will be able to lay down on a nice bed for a change.

“It really means a lot to me and my son,” Vailes said. “Now we can sleep comfortable.”

Ashton Hecker, a managing partner at Raising Cane’s, was delighted that his organization could assist in helping the homeless.

“We’re excited once again to be at Dallas LIFE and partner with Wesley Matthews,” Hecker said. “We had 44 restaurants participate this year and we were able to generate a lot more coats and a lot more material to give away.”

Matthews even went so far as to put the sheets on a bed, and then laid down on it to make sure it was suitable for a comforting night of sleep.

“It’s been extremely cold for Dallas standards,” Matthews said. “A big thank you to the Mavericks and Raising Cane’s and Bedgear for donating, and the people in the Dallas area that really came and put their best foot forward and stepped up and made this possible for Dallas LIFE.”

“We get so caught up in stats and numbers and points and all that kind of stuff. What’s important is humanity and being a good person above anything else.”

Sweeney sure was all smiles as Matthews and the volunteers made their way through Dallas LIFE while enjoying conversations with the residents.

“This is a great day for Dallas LIFE,” Sweeney said. “The partnership we have with the Mavericks is absolutely amazing. The players come out, they give of their heart.”

“We can tell that such a great group of people have gathered here with these warm items, and that within a couple of hours they’ll be on the beds helping a lot of people. So just think of the changed lives that happen because of this committed group of volunteers.”

This is not the first time the Mavs have reached out and extended a helping hand to Dallas LIFE.

“The Mavs gave us a 15-passenger van a number of years back that we continue to use on a regular basis,” Sweeney said. “It just shows a give-back to a community, and the Mavericks really can teach a lot of groups how to do that well.”

Hecker second that emotion.

“We’re excited once again to partner with the Dallas Mavericks – a great organization with great leadership,” Hecker said. “Looking across this room, it’s exciting to see the joy and the happiness it brings these families.”

That joy was definitely felt by Sweeney, who is very appreciative of the shining moments his residents were able to enjoy, thanks to the Mavs and their generous partners.

“I want to thank (Mavs owner) Mark Cuban, and I want to thank the companies,” Sweeney said. “When a group of people work together to get something accomplished the results changes the lives of hundreds of people.”

“We’re stronger as a group, and that’s what Mark Cuban and all of these companies have shown.”

Vailes wholeheartedly agrees.

“It’s a blessing to have you guys on our side donating and helping the less fortunate, and I really appreciate it,” Vailes said. “It’s cold and this will keep us warm at night.”

Free2B Bullying Prevention Changes Behaviors

DALLAS – One could hear the deep passion in the voice of Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews as he spoke about the issues of bullying and its impact on kids today.

“Every time I hear something across the country about kids bringing guns or weapons to school or suicides, or just anything that’s harmful to our youth due to a bullying situation, it just really makes my heart hurt,” Matthews said. “We’ve all been to school before, we’ve all witnessed (bullying), we’ve all seen it and we all can probably think back and know a kid who was affected by it. And we can look back at ourselves and see what we did about it or what we didn’t do about it.”

With the help of the Mavs, Matthews jumped feet first into the bullying issue while doing his part to help eradicate something that is seriously affecting kids today.

Earlier this month the Mavs partnered with Life Changing Experiences and brought a Free 2B Bullying Prevention program to middle schools in the Dallas Independent School District. The program is a 3-D interactive, multi-media movie which provides teenagers with the courage and skills to intervene and change bullying behaviors. Matthews and others convened at Sam Tasby Middle School, where they spread the word and challenged students to help put an end to bullying.

“I really like this program,” said Latisha Judie, a seventh grade counselor at Sam Tasby Middle School. “Having Life Changing Experiences, along with the Dallas Mavericks, is an absolutely impactful opportunity for our students.

“The students have really enjoyed this program, it’s very engaging and interactive for the students. So it means a lot for us to have this program out here.”

The bullying program’s awareness has skyrocketed head-first to the forefront because October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Katie Edwards, the director of community relations for the Mavs, hailed the program as a real eye-opener for students.

“It’s a great program where kids actually get to interact with a 3-D movie where they can learn about bullying behaviors and how to stop them, but also learn how to tell a teacher, how to stand up to a bully and how it’s not OK to bully kids in your school,” Edwards said. “I think it’s really important for the Mavs to be involved in something like this as far as a community initiative.”

Jamel Jacobs, the host representing Life Changing Experiences who showed the 3-D movie at Sam Tasby Middle School, was delighted to have the Mavs on board to assist him in getting his point across to the students.

“All week long we’ve teamed up with the Dallas Mavericks to present the program, which we’re highly thankful for,” Jacobs said. “It is also (National) Bullying Prevention Month, so I think it was a good time to be out here to bring forth the message and make it happen in an interactive way.”

As he spoke to the students, Matthews pointed out that the advent of social media outlets has taken bullying soaring through the roof.

“When we were growing up you just had to worry about (bullying) at school,” Matthews said. “Now everybody’s got social media platforms and you can see anything that anyone says about you. It’s just a whole other realm of fear for parents because you can’t do anything about it. The best thing that you can do is to educate the kids to police themselves.”

Judie knows that it helps to bring a person of Matthews’ stature to her campus to help educate her students about the evils of bullying.

“Having a celebrity — especially an athlete on top of that — come to speak to our students is huge,” Judie said. “It’s going to be very powerful coming from somebody that is elite, somebody who is seen as famous to the students, because they really look up to the people that are in the sports arena. So I think for the students they’re going to take that message more to heart.”

Although athletes’ words may be powerful and insightful, Matthews let it known that athletes get bullied, too.

“It’s kind of a double-edge sword being an athlete,” Matthews said. “I’m no better than anybody else in this room, but we have more responsibility by society because of who we are and what we do and that we are looked up to as heroes.”

“One of the definitions of bullying is the idea of imbalance of power, but we’re all made the same, we’re all made evenly. There’s no sense in you bullying anybody in the first place.”

Matthews sharing his thoughts on bullying was paramount to what Edwards and the Mavs were attempting to achieve in the DISD middle schools.

“I think it’s really great that Wes could come out today and talk to the kids about bullying and how it’s not OK,” Edwards said. “When they have someone like that come – their role model and an idol to them – for him to be able to come out and see them here at their school, it just brings excitement to it and really helps them understand the program better. He can talk to them about his experiences and what it was like for him growing up and what kids can do if there’s a bully in their school.”

Angel Perez, a 12-year old six-grader at Sam Tasby Middle School, said he was bullied at school. And the results weren’t pretty.

“I told my friends first,” Perez said, “and it ended up being a group fight.”

Because of the Free2B Bullying Prevention program, Perez now knows that if he’s bullied again, he said he will: “Tell a trusted adult, teacher or counselor.” He also said he learned that “bullying is not cool,” and that he’ll “go get an adult” if he sees someone being bullied.

Mavs guards Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell were also featured in the 3-D interactive multi-media movie which was played at Dallas ISD middle schools during the first week of October. And the visit by Matthews at Sam Tasby Middle School was the crown jewel.

“Wesley Matthews bein
g here today teaming up with Free 2B has brought more awareness and kept the kids more engaged with the message,” Jacobs said. “What we’re trying to do is bring folks an awareness about bullying by wrapping technology around our message. I’ve actually had several students come up to me after the presentation saying how impactful the message was as far their experience with being bullied. I get lots of handshakes and high-fives and thanks for coming out.”

Jacobs acknowledged that those who are bullies as a youngster often grow up to be bullies as an adult, and with devastating results. That’s why, he said, they must reach the students at an early age and actively try to get them to change their bullying ways while they are still young.

“I think it’s a really sad story about what happens every day,” Edwards said. “But there are kids who are bullied either in school or online through social media. And to hear about the really sad stories of suicide and kids who are just not getting through because of bullying, it’s something that can be stopped, something that’s preventable. So we’re really happy to be able to partner on something that can help fix that problem.”

The Mavs are pushing the pace this preseason

The Mavericks played at the second-slowest pace in in the NBA last season. If their style this preseason is any indication of what’s to come when the games start counting, that grinding style will soon be a thing of the past.

Rick Carlisle often mentions the importance of controlling tempo. During the past couple seasons, that meant slowing the game down and turning it into a knock-down, drag-out battle featuring plenty of isolation and other plays that limit the possibility of turning the ball over. Dallas had slower rosters the past two seasons, particularly in the frontcourt, so that style fit the personnel.

This season, however, Dirk Nowitzki is projected as a full-time starting center and Harrison Barnes is the full-time starting power forward. The Mavericks have committed to spreading the floor, and when combined with the addition of 19-year-old point guard Dennis Smith Jr. that lends itself to playing a much faster, more aggressive brand of basketball. Fortunately for Mavs fans, faster basketball is also more exciting to watch.

First, a primer on what exactly this stat is: Pace is the estimation of possessions a team plays per 48 minutes. Last season, the Mavs played at a pace of 94.16 possessions per 48 minutes. Only the Utah Jazz played slower. So far this preseason, however, Dallas is playing above 103 possessions per 48, according to NBA Stats. Playing slower isn’t necessarily bad; Utah and San Antonio both finished bottom-5 in pace last season and both teams won 50+ games. Carlisle’s offensive system, though, works best when the ball is moving and possessions flow.

“Trying to play off play-calls is a difficult way to go in this league now, with the way zones can slough over and scouting is so good,” the coach said.

One of the most obvious ways the goal of increased pace has manifested itself in transition, where there’s no need to call a play or set up anything too complex. Smith has permission from Carlisle to push the ball whenever he sees fit.

“He gave me the green light,” Smith said. “If there’s a lane, he wants me to go as many times as I can.”

In the play above, Smith pretty casually brought the ball up the floor but then saw a driving alley and attacked it decisively. J.J. Barea later made a similar play. These are plays the Mavs just didn’t make very often last season. Dallas ranked last in fast break points per game last season at just 7.8, but so far through two preseason games the Mavs have averaged 13.5 fast break points. Yes, it’s only preseason, but it’s clear the club intends to push the pace, and that begins from the instant someone gathers the rebound.

“Someone” is the operative word in that sentence. Carlisle doesn’t only want the point guard to bring the ball up the floor this season. It could be a guard, sure, but it could also be Wesley Matthews or Harrison Barnes. It doesn’t matter who’s pushing the ball, as long as it gets up the floor as soon as possible.

“It allows us to get into the offense quicker, instead of every time finding the guard, going down, getting into the set offense,” Barnes said. “You lose that kind of momentum from that stop.”

Wesley Matthews has been a big beneficiary of that new style. He began playing more small forward last season and will likely almost exclusively play that position this year, which gives him a step against some bigger wings. His assist numbers took a step up once the Mavs went small last season, and that trend has continued so far this exhibition season: In 38 minutes this preseason, he has seven assists.

“The more fulcrums you can have to the offense out there, especially in transition, it just makes it harder to guard,” Carlisle said.

In the play above against Milwaukee coming up the floor after a miss, Matthews and Nowitzki are already in a pick-and-roll just five seconds into the shot clock. Last year that would have been almost unthinkable, as it takes almost that long just to, as Barnes said, locate the point guard after the rebound and wait for everyone to get into position. If you can run a legitimate-but-simple play five seconds into a possession you can put all sorts of pressure on an opposing defense, and when your center can pop out 26 feet from the rim that strains the defense even further. Matthews drove away from the screen and found Barnes open in the corner for a 3-pointer.

It helps, of course, that the starting lineup features five players who can all shoot. With Nowitzki setting ball-screens for every player 1 through 4, the Mavericks can force switches and bend defenses in ways a lot of other teams that start traditional centers simply aren’t able to. That can often result in an easy look early in the shot clock, as teams are reluctant to switch a center on a point guard and defenders are nervous about helping too far off their own man.

In the play above, two defenders followed Smith off Nowitzki’s screen, leaving only Justin Holiday to defend both Dirk and Seth Curry. That’s a tough proposition for the defender, as both players can shoot the 3 at a high level and he can only guard one of them. That’s a great look at the basket 14 seconds into the shot clock. So far this preseason, the Mavs have made a point to shoot their shot if the look is there. As a result, everyone is playing with a little more freedom and confidence, and the offense rarely bogs down.

“We’ve been watching a lot of tape of last year of ruts we got in — good shots, bad shots — and I think it’s really important, especially for us vets but for everyone in general,” Barnes said. “Good shots are contagious, and so are bad shots. If you burp up a bad shot, that can get contagious to the team.”

Again, it’s only preseason, but the seeds to a faster, more exciting offense are there. The Mavericks are attacking the basket, sharing the ball, and playing a more free-flowing style that lends itself to consistently better shots. As the preseason continues and we reach the quickly approaching regular season, we’ll see if they can continue to play this way. That will start tonight against Orlando, but the club will be without a few of its top players. It should be a good test then, especially for Smith, to see how he responds to playing without Nowitzki, Barnes, Matthews, and Noel.

“Pace” was a big buzzword last year and it will continue to be so this season, only this time around it means something totally different.

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.

The ‘other’ side: Appreciating Wesley Matthews’ defense

Offense sells tickets and gets us to tune in on TV. Offense goes viral on Twitter. Offense is beautiful art. For most of Dirk Nowitzki’s career, the Mavericks have played more aesthetically pleasing basketball on that side of the floor than any other team in the NBA.

Basketball fans love to watch offensive highlights. If you’re one of those people, I would tell you there’s no better place to take in all of those Mavs replays than this site.

Too often, though, we forget that there’s another side of the game, and it’s arguably much more important than the part where your favorite team scores its points. Defense matters a whole heck of a lot. I think we all agree on that. But I think we will all also agree that unless you’re a defensive-minded coach, there aren’t many plays made on that end of the floor that will compel you to buy courtside seats or pound the retweet button. Big blocks are great and smooth steals are cool, but most of the very best defensive players in the league won’t make a single highlight-caliber play on any given night. In fact, the only highlights you might see involving those guys will be of the player they’re defending making tough shots on them. You’ve got to remember that even if you play unbelievable defense against LeBron James or Kevin Durant, they’re still probably gonna make at least 10 shots on you.

We need to admit that defense isn’t necessarily as “fun” to watch as offense. Defense is disruptive by nature; the point is to make things look bad. It’s also not as easy to understand as offense. We all know what it means when Dirk pulls off a one-legged fadeaway, but unless you’re sitting in on the gameplan meeting, none of us really knows who’s supposed to do what when defending against the pick-and-roll. Playing defense requires five players to be on the same page, so it’s not as easy to shine the spotlight on one player the way you can on offense. Some guys, however — the lockdown guys — play a ton of one-on-one defense, and that’s where, if you pay enough attention, you’ll see some real highlight plays.

The Mavs’ lockdown guy is Wesley Matthews. After watching him scratch, claw, and battle through every possession for two full seasons, I feel comfortable saying there might not be another player in the NBA who so obviously tries as hard as he does on defense. It’s not always pretty (defense never is), but if you really pay attention, it’s easy to appreciate.

Here’s a series of Matthews defensive plays that put into perspective not only how hard he works, but how effective he is as a perimeter defender.

One of Mark Cuban’s favorite sayings is “the only thing in life you can control is effort.” That resonates when watching Matthews work on the defensive end. He isn’t the fastest or most explosive player at his position, but every night he’s tasked with defending supreme athletes at positions 1-3. He makes up for it with a try-hard attitude and a little physicality.

Because he often guards players who can both score and distribute, Matthews runs through mazes of screens on almost every possession. Not only does he have to worry about contact his own man will create, but he’s also got to keep in mind that 7-foot, 270-pound centers are always sneaking up behind him with the goal of laying him out to clear up some room for their teammate.

That doesn’t prevent him from attacking his man, however. As part of the Mavs’ general defensive plan, Matthews often runs into or over the screen as opposed to under. By doing that, he’s inviting his man to dribble inside the pocket of space between the 3-point line and the Mavs’ center, who stays way below the play near the paint. Dallas willingly creates space for opposing wings to shoot pull-up 20-footers, as those are the most inefficient shots in the game. Those players obviously don’t want to settle for those shots, but by the time they’ve recognized what’s happening, Matthews has already recovered from the screen and is in their face again.

In the play above, Matthews fought through three Robin Lopez screens to stick with Jimmy Butler. The end result is Butler taking an off-balance, contested mid-range J late in the shot clock. This is a masterful defensive possession by Matthews and his big man partner Andrew Bogut, who patiently camped out in the lane instead of lunging out at Butler, risking a blow-by or a foul. Sometimes great defense is more about the shots you don’t allow than the shots you surrender. Butler easily could’ve gotten to the basket or at least to the free throw line, but the Mavericks didn’t allow it.

Matthews was one of only two Mavs last season to average more than one mile traveled per game on the defensive end. That might not seem like much, but when you think of how small a basketball court is, it’s hard to even imagine how covering that much ground would be possible. Then when you watch him play, it’s clear as day. Matthews hustles and keeps hustling until either the play is over or he ends up on the ground.

Matthews ranked 34th in the NBA in total deflections last season, per NBA.com, and tied for 14th in charges drawn. He’s not afraid to sacrifice his body in order to make a play, and it’s that unselfish defensive mindset that makes offensive mistakes easy to forget about.

He also finished seventh in the NBA among players 6-foot-7 or shorter in shots contested per game. Centers typically rank at the top of the list because they challenge a dozen layups a game or more, but smaller players generally only contest shots on the outside. Remember how he invites players to take those pull-up jumpers? Sometimes they’re open looks, but usually they’re not.

The Mavs’ strategy of inviting those pull-up jumpers accomplished two things. First, it led to Dallas allowing the fewest attempts from the restricted area per game in the NBA last season. You don’t want your opponents taking layups, and the Mavericks allowed fewer of them than any other team. Second, it forced opponents to take inefficient jump shots, and Matthews’ motor made those looks even more inefficient. Per Synergy Sports, opponents shot just 34.3 percent on pull-up jump shots against Matthews last season, an unbelievable rate — if you’re the Mavericks, of course. Matthews’ ability (or desire) to fight through screens and still get a hand in his opponent’s face might not directly affect the outcome of the shot, but if anything it’s just a not-so-subtle reminder to his opponent that they haven’t beaten him. It’s a mind game.

He’s judicious with his challenges, though. He doesn’t just fly at his opponent regardless of the player and the situation, and that makes him an even more valuable defender. For example, in a late-season game at Milwaukee, Matthews was often tasked with defending Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak had a sensational game, pouring in 31 points on 18 shots and adding 15 rebounds and nine assists. He was magnificent. But when they were able to, the Mavericks wanted Antetokounmpo to shoot the long-ball. Check the pictures below.

Notice how Matthews is backed off pretty far. Antetokounmpo is a phenomenal talent but his 3-point shooting is his biggest weakness at this point, as he shot just 27 percent from deep last season. Matthews is still contesting the shot, of course, but he was several feet away at the time Giannis rose for the jumper. In essence, he was OK with allowing that shot, or he at least preferred a 3 to a dribble-drive.

That wasn’t the case later in the game, though. With under a minute left coming off a jump ball and the Mavs up three points, it was clear that the Bucks wanted to tie. When Antetokounmpo rose for the shot this time, Matthews was not nearly as OK with allowing it.

You can see the difference. Matthews got a little closer and jumped much higher to challenge the shot. Did it affect Antetokounmpo’s release, or the outcome? Who can say? But, again, the only thing you can control is effort.

He’s at his best when the referees let the players play and things get a little more physical. Matthews can be a very aggressive, tenacious player in those situations, and he’s unafraid to get up in an opponent’s air space.

In the play above, he forced Brandon Ingram toward the sideline and rode his hip all the way to the basket. All the while, he steered the Lakers rookie into the help defense, which resulted in a Salah Mejri block. Salah gets the spotlight, but Matthews made the play.

This is especially true late in games and late in the shot clock. On 93 attempts last season with four seconds or less remaining on the shot clock, opponents shot just 32.3 percent from the field against Matthews, per Synergy. You don’t want to have to create against him when you’re running out of time.

Everything we’ve seen so far is a factor in the next play, probably Matthews’ most famous as a Maverick. It came at the very end of a game last season at Portland, when it was Damian Lillard one-on-one against Matthews with Dallas up one point and 10 seconds left on the clock.

In this single play, Matthews twice muscled Lillard away from the middle and toward the outside. He didn’t bother dealing with the potential screen, instead shuffling his feet to cut Lillard off again on the wing and forcing a between-the-legs crossover. At that point Lillard had to pick up his dribble and had just three seconds left to create something out of nothing. He likely got away with a travel as he collected himself to shoot, and then launched a heavily contested fallaway. It missed.

The play features effort, aggression, tenacity, smarts, and a shot contest. Matthews demonstrated almost every positive one-on-one defensive trait you could think of in one 10-second sequence. And, yet, the nature of defense means if Lillard had made that shot, almost no one would have remembered anything Matthews did.

Defense is thankless and brutal. The best players still score half the time or more, even if they’re covered perfectly. A player could work his butt off for 23 seconds or 47:59 and still be on the wrong end of a miracle. Matthews has seen plenty of tough shots fall on his watch, yet he still scraps all game long to make sure that the next one won’t go his opponent’s way, knowing all the while that it’s not totally under his control anyway. It’s an exercise in insanity, frankly, but it’s amazing to watch.

I challenge you to pay more attention to defense in general this upcoming season. Between Matthews and Nerlens Noel, the Mavs have two of the more unique defenders in the league. Harrison Barnes showed some really good potential there last season, and Seth Curry grew by leaps and bounds as a defender as well. Defense is definitely not as pretty as a Nowitzki trailing 3, and it might not always work out their way, but the Mavericks are going to dial up the intensity on that side of the ball this season. There will be plenty to appreciate on the “other” end of the floor this year. You can guarantee that Matthews will be the one leading the charge.