Yogi’s game experience

DALLAS – Armed with stacks and stacks of infinite memories from the days when he was a youngster, Dallas Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell was recently on another pay-it-forward mission.

As is his custom when he steps outside of his box, Ferrell treated nearly 20 kids ages 4-14 from Project Real L.O.V.E. to a “Mavs Experience.” That included a trip to a Mavs home game against Minnesota, courtside seats to watch the Mavs warm up, and special seats in the Mavs Zone.

To top off the exhilarating evening, after the game against the Timberwolves, the kids got to shoot around and play a few games of Knockout with Ferrell on the Mavs’ practice court. Indeed, it was a memorable night since the overwhelming majority of these kids had never attended a National Basketball Association game before.

“This is huge to the organization and it means a lot to me because my passion is for the youth,” said Charmaine Herron, the executive director of Project Real L.O.V.E. “These are our kids that play basketball and their dreams are to be in the NBA, so coming here and being able to meet Yogi Ferrell and watch him play is great.”

“They even got to go courtside, and some of them were like, ‘Man, it was amazing. We saw Dirk (Nowitzki) and Yogi Ferrell.’ And why we’re sitting back there they’re talking about Yogi Ferrell and how amazing this is and how thankful they are.”

Ferrell, for his part, sounded like he wanted to thank the kids for giving him the privilege to entertain them. As a kid growing up in Indianapolis, Ind., Ferrell recalls going to high school games involving future NBA players Mike Conley Jr., George Hill, Jeff Teague and Greg Oden, and wanting to one day be in their shoes.

For Ferrell, that day arrived 15 months ago when the Mavs signed him off the Long Island Nets’ NBA G League roster. Ever since then, the second-year guard has been in pay-it-forward mode.

“I remember I went to a Lawrence North High School (in Indianapolis) and I watched Greg Oden and Mike Conley play,” Ferrell said. “I got their autographs after the game and I was hyped after I got that.”

“I feel like it all goes hand-in-hand,” Ferrell said. “It’s all about giving back and inspiring the next person.”

Ferrell hopes that inspiration spreads from one kid to the next, and inspires them to be good citizens in their community, and to pay it forward whenever they can.

“This means a lot to me, because I’ve never really seen an NBA player in real life,” said Marcus Vinson, a 13-year old from Duncanville’s Kennemer Middle School. “Plus, I didn’t really have to pay for anything.

“I just came out here to have fun and to play basketball.” Jmaury Davis, a 14-year old from Crowley Middle School, said he’ll have this day etched in his mind for a long, long time.

“It was nice to be able to look up close to a real basketball player, a real NBA player,” Davis said. “It makes me want to do more, practice more and be like (Ferrell) one day. Or be better than him.”

Even Mavs Chief Executive Officer, Cynthia ‘Cynt’ Marshall, got in on the action. Marshall spent a great deal of time dribbling the basketball and playing some lockdown defense with five-year old Imery Lewis.

“I love playing with little Imery , because she was serious,” Marshall said. “I started out just playing with her and you can just tell she has a love for the game.”

“She took off with that basketball, but because I have a love for the game, for a minute I forgot I was playing with a five-year old and I stole that ball from her and took off and she came and got it and we just had a good time together. Shame on me for being competitive like that, but she’s a honey.”

Marshall noted that she’s delighted that Ferrell took time out of his busy schedule to share some life lessons with the youngsters.

“It’s just good to be with these young people and to really see what the Mavericks are doing with young people,” Marshall said. “People don’t always get to see what goes on behind the scenes.

“We are influencing young lives and we are using basketball to teach life lessons and to reach out to the community and show these young people – I call them honeys – just how much we care about them and what basketball and sports can do and teach them in terms of discipline, hard work and practice. So it’s just a way to show them some love, and this particular program in general is trying to teach these kids life skills, so we’re just happy to partner with these folks and teach them some life skills.”

Ferrell said his favorite part of the event was just simply playing with the kids.

“When I was younger I was playing with some of the greats that came out of Indiana,” Ferrell said. “So (these kids) just look at me as another one of those guys, and that’s what I want to do is inspire them like others have inspired myself.

“I feel like teaching the next generation about hard work and being a good person and showing good character to people is what’s going to make and drive our world, so I like doing this for the kids.”

The words “L.O.V.E.” in Project Real L.O.V.E. stands for Leadership, Obedience, Victory and Excellence. The program is passionate about empowering young people and wanting them to succeed in life.

“I invited them to the game and I just wanted to show them how hard I work,” Ferrell said. “A lot of them said they want to be basketball players, so they see how I play on the court.

“I just wanted to give them something they could talk about for the rest of the year and give them some motivation to go out and want to be better.”

Marshall is appreciative that Ferrell is all-in when it comes to trying to steer kids in the right direction.

“You know what’s good is that he’s giving them an experience, so it’s not just a game,” Marshall said. “It’s an experience and something that will spark something in them to where they will want to be in a position where they can attend games (when they get older), or they can bring kids to games. “

“You just never know what this means. I know this from growing up — one thing can spark you to greatness.”

That’s what Herron is banking on Yogi Ferrell’s event doing.

“These kids have never even been to a Mavericks game, so being here for them is like a dream come true,” Herron said. “I’m so thankful and so appreciative. Not only did they get to come to a game, but they got to shoot around with a star, and then I got to meet the CEO of the Mavericks. That’s an inspiration for me. I’m just looking forward to more things happening like this with the Mavericks and Real Love and Kevin Ferrell’s Foundation.”

Yogi Ferrell as Long Lost Big Brother to Foster Kids

DALLAS – As he was contemplating how he was going to spread some holiday cheer this year, at the very least Yogi Ferrell wanted to create a watershed moment for some disadvantaged kids.

So the Dallas Mavericks guard developed a very unique concept. He decided to host 15 foster care kids from Methodist Children’s Home and treat them to a special day of decorating cookies and watching a Christmas movie this past Sunday at the luxury Cirque Apartment Homes, which are located across the street from American Airlines Center.

The kids also received a tour of the Mavs’ new AAC locker room, and, in addition, were fortunate enough to play some basketball on the team’s underground practice court. It was a day that even Ferrell treasured.

“I knew I wanted to do something this Christmas,” Ferrell said. “I felt like, especially the platform that I’m on now and being in a great city like Dallas and with the way the fans come out and support us, I just wanted to give back.”

“So I decided to bake cookies with kids, watch a movie and then after that just give them a tour of the arena. I’m trying to just brighten up their day and make memories for them.”

After watching the movie, The Polar Express, and touring the Mavs’ swanky locker room, some of the kids were able to shoot some basketball with Ferrell. While calmly draining one jumper after another, Ferrell smiled and jokingly told 13-year old Nas Glasper that he (Glasper) was “about to go viral.”

Glasper’s response to the friendly trash-talking from Ferrell?

“He thought he could get me, but I was like, ‘I can’t have that happen,’ “ Glasper said. “I did pretty good for my age.”

An eighth grader at Liberty Junior High School in Richardson, Glasper summed up the four-hour experience he and his friends spent hanging out with Ferrell as life-changing.

“It inspired me to do better in basketball so I can live this kind of life,” Glasper said. “I like the court and I like the practice room. I saw where they go and change, and I think it’s pretty cool.”

Karri Luna, a child foster case worker from Methodist Children’s Home, also though it was “pretty cool” for Ferrell to reach out to help those kids who are less fortunate.

“We made some calls to our foster parents and they came through and made sure the kiddos could be here,” Luna said. “The kids were very, very excited and thrilled to be chosen to be able to come here.”

That excitement was evident as the kids interacted with Ferrell as if he was their long lost big brother.

“For the kids this is great,” Luna said. “They don’t get many opportunities to do something like this.”

“These kids just come from hard places and they’ll remember this for the rest of their lives.”
Ferrell’s father, Kevin Ferrell, said Sunday’s entire concept was nearly hatched following an over-night brain-storming session that he had with his popular son.

“We were just trying to figure out a way to kind of be a little different,” Kevin Ferrell said. “We wanted to do something that we thought might touch the hearts of the kids.”

“We wanted to have something kind of personal and I’m hoping the kids can leave with an experience like no other. Sometimes you fingerprint somebody’s brain and it stays there forever.”

Additionally, Kevin Ferrell pointed out something that didn’t go unnoticed. And that is, Yogi Ferrell – graciously listed on the Mavs’ roster as six feet tall – isn’t much taller than some of the kids he was hosting on Sunday.

“Being a small guard, and the kids are small as well, Yogi is relatable,” Kevin Ferrell said. “Maybe they can walk away with an experience and say: ‘If Yogi can do it, I can do it, too.’ “

“This is just an opportunity, and they can walk away with the experience of meeting somebody like-minded and take a good experience away with them.”

For his part, Yogi Ferrell simply wanted to use his celebrity status to influence a group of kids in a positive way. He wanted to help shape the lives of some kids who are at a disadvantage.

“This didn’t have to be extravagant and it didn’t have to have a lot of kids,” Yogi Ferrell said. “It’s all about just trying to reach individuals’ hearts.”

“I feel like something like this will teach kids to just have good character. And I feel like they’re going to want to help other people just as we’re putting on this event for them so they can go out and do good deeds in the world.”

Certainly, Luna is very appreciative of the good deed Yogi Ferrell did for a group of kids who haven’t gotten a fair shake at life. Indeed, all of their struggles were put on the backburner for four glorious hours this past Sunday – thanks to Yogi Ferrell.

“For the kids that are interacting with (Yogi), they’ll never forget this,” Luna said. “They’ll have this memory and it’ll hopefully impact them in some positive ways.”

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.

Yogi Ferrell named to All-Rookie Second Team

Mavs point guard Yogi Ferrell was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team today.

Ferrell, who went undrafted out of Indiana, averaged 10.0 points and 3.7 assists in 46 games during his rookie campaign. He spent 10 of those games with the Brooklyn Nets before being waived. Ferrell eventually signed a 10-day deal with the Mavericks and put together one of the best 10-day performances in recent memory before earning a multi-year deal. He capped off the 10-day by hitting a rookie-record-tying nine 3-pointers in a win at Portland.

With Dallas, Ferrell averaged 11.3 points, 4.3 assists, and 1.1 steals in 36 games, including 29 starts. He shot 41.2 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from beyond the arc. Of the 24 rookies who attempted at least 100 3s this season, Ferrell finished fifth in 3-point percentage, at 38.6. Ferrell took home Rookie of the Month honors for the month of February.

Every other player on the All-Rookie Second Team was drafted in the lottery. Ferrell is the only player on either team to have gone undrafted.

Ferrell is the first Maverick to land a spot on either All-Rookie team since Marquis Daniels and Josh Howard shared Second-Team honors for the 2003-04 season.

Marquis Daniels – 2003-04 (Second Team)
Josh Howard – 2003-04 (Second Team)
Jason Kidd – 1994-95 (First Team)
Jamal Mashburn – 1993-94 (First Team)
Roy Tarpley – 1986-87 (First Team)
Sam Perkins – 1984-85 (First Team)
Jay Vincent – 1981-82 (First Team)

Yogi Ferrell only has one thing on his mind ahead of second season

On the heels of his first NBA season, Yogi Ferrell is out to prove that he’s much more than a flash in the pan.

Ferrell immediately took the league by storm upon signing a 10-day deal with the Mavericks in January, when in a week he went from unemployed and considering offers in Europe to tying the rookie record for most 3s made in a game.

The point guard struck out with the Brooklyn Nets, which seems almost absurd now in retrospect. In his first four games in Dallas, he averaged 17.8 points and 5.0 assists, eventually taking home February’s Western Conference Rookie of the Month Award. He ended the season with averages of 11.3 points, 4.3 assists, and 1.1 steals in 36 games for Dallas, including 29 starts. Among rookies, only Buddy Hield made more 3s per game, and only four first-year players shot it better from deep.

“There were a lot of ups and downs in my first professional season, but I’m just proud of the way I stuck with it and made the most of my opportunity,” Ferrell said last week. “But now it’s just being able to build off that opportunity into something that can be a great success story for myself.”

Indeed, there were low moments. The Nets cut Ferrell after just 10 games and he was relegated to the D-League, where he averaged 18.7 points and 5.8 assists in 18 appearances for the Long Island Nets. But NBA interest simply didn’t come. Ferrell admitted his agent was fielding offers from Europe, and had the Mavs called only a couple days later, they’d have needed to dial long-distance, because the 6-foot floor general was about to strike a deal to play in Russia.

Then, on the same night he was recognized as Rookie of the Month, his 14-game run as a starter came to an end. After setting the Indiana University record for games started, that understandably could have come as a shock to Ferrell. “No good deed goes unpunished,” head coach Rick Carlisle joked at the time.

Kia Western Conference Rookie Of The Month: Yogi Ferrell

Yogi Ferrell of the Dallas Mavericks is your Kia Western Conference rookie of the month.

Carlisle has very high standards when it comes to point guard play. It might not always appear this way given how simple it looks at times, but the Mavs run one of the most sophisticated offenses in the NBA. Ferrell arrived to the team when it was at a crossroads: Already on the outside of the playoff race but looking to claw back into it, the club was looking for a spark plug anywhere they could find one, and Ferrell became that guy. He played well enough to allow the Mavericks to feel more comfortable parting ways with veteran Deron Williams, who eventually signed with the Cavaliers, which speaks volumes about the immediate impact the rookie made.

But as the season wore on and the Mavs’ playoff hopes faded Carlisle didn’t lower his expectations, even for the younger players. That holds especially true for Ferrell. Carlisle never committed to calling Ferrell a starter, and at this point it’s not clear who will open the season running point. The coach did, however, give his young point guard some homework this summer.

“The biggest thing he said, which happened right after the season ended, is vision on the court,” Ferrell said. “Being able to read all different kinds of reads in the pick-and-roll. That’s the biggest thing. He knows I can shoot it and I can score, but he just said that I’ve got to focus on my vision. That comes with experience, time, and just being in and working on it in a live setting in practice.”

Fortunately for Ferrell, there have been plenty of chances to work with teammates in live settings. Several Mavs have lived in the gym since the season ended, an effort led by Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews, who sometimes arrive as early as 6 a.m. and who I’ve seen in the facility as late as 7 p.m. That’s a slight change of pace for the Mavericks, who in recent seasons have only had a handful of players under contract for the following season. This summer, however, the only player whose future isn’t under the Mavs’ control — either with a guaranteed season or a team option — is Nerlens Noel, who’s entering the summer as a restricted free agent. More players under contract means more guys to work out with, which can only help Ferrell.

Additionally, he might get live-game experience at the Las Vegas Summer League. Nothing is official until the roster is actually released, but the Mavs front office has suggested that any or all of the first- and second-year players from last year’s roster could make appearances in the desert next month: Ferrell, Dorian Finney-Smith, A.J. Hammons, Nicolas Brussino, and Jarrod Uthoff might all play. Ferrell averaged 8.8 points and 1.8 assists for the Nets in Vegas last summer, so perhaps he can improve upon those numbers if he receives another opportunity to play there with the Mavericks.

Among the other Mavericks in Vegas, however, might be a highly touted player at Ferrell’s position. Dallas holds the ninth pick in the June 22 NBA Draft, and there’s a very, very good chance that the club’s selection will play for the Las Vegas team as well. Many mock drafts have the Mavs drafting a point guard, and Dirk Nowitzki himself also said last week that Dallas is probably leaning that direction. That could mean Ferrell will have to compete with another young player for minutes. Does that bother him?

“I have no thoughts,” Ferrell said. “What I’ve learned from the NBA is that things can change from one hour to the next, and people can have different opinions about stuff. But I know whoever we bring in is gonna be someone that’s a winner and wants to compete.”

If the Mavs do go point guard, that player better be ready to battle for every second of playing time. Ferrell had to fight his way into the league as an undrafted free agent, and he had to fight his way back after getting cut. He had to work hard to impress his coach, and then had to work even harder to gain his trust after temporarily being removed from the starting lineup. Now, he might have to beat out a top-10 pick for playing time.

But if that’s the case, he’ll be ready to fight. He doesn’t know any other way.

On the Inside: Yogi Ferrell

2016-17 Exit Interview: Yogi Ferrell

Mavs G Yogi Ferrell addresses the media for exit interviews.

Over the next several weeks, we will publish end-of-season breakdowns for some of the key Mavericks as part of our “On the Inside” series. Imagine never having seen the players before, and this is the scouting report. Read all of them here.

The modern basketball revolution which has quickly swept across the NBA has left in its wake a few very important questions. Does an inability to shoot the 3-pointer disqualify a big man from playing power forward? Is there really such a thing as “shooting guard” anymore? And, most important of them all, what exactly is a point guard supposed to be these days?

It used to be that point guards simply didn’t shoot the ball. John Stockton never took even 12 shots per game in a single season. Steve Nash never attempted more than 13.6. Jason Kidd took more than 14 attempts just twice in 19 seasons. There are exceptions, of course — before Russell Westbrook averaged 30 and 10, Nate Archibald did it way back in 1973, and Oscar Robertson is 12th on the all-time scoring list. But, generally speaking, point guard has not been a scoring position — until now, that is.

Even three years ago, the thought was that a team could not win a championship with a point guard as its best player and best scorer. Stephen Curry put that notion to bed, and one year ago Kyrie Irving outdueled Curry by averaging 27.1 points in the Finals and hit the game-winner in Game 7. Westbrook averaged 31 points and a triple-double this season, and the MVP will probably go either to him or James Harden, who averaged 29 and 11 running point for the Rockets.

In this new NBA, the point guard position has experienced perhaps the most dramatic evolution of them all. The term “pass-first” point guard has suddenly left the lexicon, outside of Mark Cuban’s tongue-in-cheek description of Tony Romo before he joined the Mavs for the home finale. The closest example is probably Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio, who averaged just 8.7 shots per game, which still tops seven of Stockton’s seasons.

So what, then, is a pure point guard? Is it one who strictly hunts for shots? Is it someone 6-foot-5 or shorter who can handle the ball? Is it someone who can excel in the pick-and-roll? I don’t believe it’s any one of those things, specifically. It’s all of those things, together, and then some.

“We want him to remain aggressive looking to score but just make the meat-and-potatoes plays,” Devin Harris said about Seth Curry late in the season, when the Mavs gave him some run at the 1. “If you see a guy, feed him. Get us in our offense and remain aggressive. It’s not easy for a young guy. But we’re better when he’s scoring.”

In the Mavericks’ offense, a point guard must simply run the offense. That’s a fairly vague responsibility, but at its core, running an offense means the ball-handler has the power to make the right play. Shoot it if you’re open or pass it if someone else is. Play with command, play under control, and keep the ball moving. Think the game, see the game, and make a play. It sounds easy, but it really isn’t: NBA point guards carry more responsibility now than perhaps ever before.

Harris was referring to Seth Curry in the above quote, but he easily could have said the same thing about Yogi Ferrell, as well.

Kia Western Conference Rookie Of The Month: Yogi Ferrell

Yogi Ferrell of the Dallas Mavericks is your Kia Western Conference rookie of the month.

Ferrell, who will turn 24 in May, just completed his first pro season after spending four years at Indiana. Think of how much the NBA game changed while he was in school: During his freshman season, only eight NBA point guards attempted at least 15 shots per game. This season, 13 did. Ferrell himself attempted 11.9 shots per 36 minutes with the Mavericks, which is more than Stockton ever attempted any season in his entire career.

He arrived to the NBA able to score the ball, there was no doubt about that: He finished top-6 in the Big Ten in scoring each of his last three years at Indiana, and he was averaging 18.7 points per game for the D-League’s Long Island Nets before receiving a 10-day offer from the Mavericks. He also demonstrated in four years with the Hoosiers that he was a high-IQ kind of player who could play within a system and keep his teammates involved. He could both score and pass, and the Mavericks asked him to do both right off the bat, and a month later he was the full-time starting point guard and the Western Conference Rookie of the Month.

Ferrell took many strides this season as a developing player, but perhaps his most important improvement came in the closing weeks of the season, when all of a sudden it looked like something clicked and he gained command of the offense. That quality — “command” — is almost purely a theoretical concept. There’s no real way to measure it, but you know it when you see it, and if you watched closely in March and April you saw that Ferrell had it.

Taking command of the offense

Command is more than just handing out assists and playing like a quarterback, but Ferrell did that to a large degree this season. In his 36 appearances for Dallas, the Mavericks were 12-8 when he dished out 5+ assists, per Basketball-Reference. Dallas was 17-19 when he turned it over three or fewer times, but 16-13 when he gave it away twice or less, and a very respectable 10-7 when he made just one or fewer turnovers. But it’s about more than mere numbers in a box score.

Command is about bringing everything together — speed, athleticism, vision, smarts, deception — to put yourself and your teammates in positions to be successful. It’s being in total control. Here’s how Ferrell got there.

There was never a question that Ferrell had next-level quickness. He arrived to the NBA with an explosive first step and above-average straight-line speed which, when used in combination, allow him to get to the rim against pretty much anyone. That gives him the ability to make spectacular plays look kind of easy.

But the NBA is full of players who are at least as nearly as fast as Ferrell, and there are big men and wings who can sniff out smaller, quicker guys who play at one speed. Their anticipation can result in crowded lanes, forced jump passes, active hands in passing lanes, and — especially if the point guard is playing faster than his teammates — icky turnovers.

Ferrell can’t always control where his teammates are or what they’re doing, but it’s his job as a point guard to read the floor and create a good opportunity, even if that means slowing down so that he can take full advantage of a screen, or so the big man can dive to the basket. Not long ago a point guard was the symphony’s conductor, but in today’s NBA he’s the first-chair violin, floating on top of the supporting players. His sound must soar above everyone else’s, but he’s still got to stay in time with the tubas. It’s not an easy job.

Very early in his time with the Mavericks, you could see the gears spinning as he’d make reads. You knew he was trying to make plays — that he was trying not only to look for his own shots, but to set up his teammates for easy shots — but at the highest level of competition in the world, you can’t afford to over-think. You can’t make an early pass to a big man 15 feet from the basket just because his man takes one step toward you.

Now, to be sure, the “right basketball play” is ultimately to send a pass to Dwight Powell. And, to be fair, this was only Ferrell’s second game as a Maverick, just 48 hours after he signed a 10-day contract. But the pass simply arrived too early, forcing the big man into a situation where he had to collect a pass on the move, take a dribble, and put up a contested shot. (Ferrell scored 19 that night in a Mavericks win.) As the season progressed, and as he gained more experience, he learned mixing in a hesitation dribble and simply slowing down by a step or two can open things up so much more.

This is the same exact play run two months later. Watch as Ferrell takes a slight hesitation dribble and one more step into the lane to lull the defenders to sleep only for a fraction of a second. That quick herky-jerky move gave Nerlens Noel all the time he needed to get to the rim, and by that time both defenders had already committed to Ferrell.

Ferrell has lethal speed, but super-quick players don’t always need to get into the teeth of the defense to make a play. Sometimes, using the threat of a blow-by is enough to draw the center from the basket and gain the upper hand. That’s command.

Command is about manipulation, changing speeds, and using a combination of patience, cleverness, and aggression to complement your physical gifts. It’s when your brain, not your foot speed or your vertical leap, beats opponents. It’s when you move from the passenger’s seat into the driver’s seat.

Command is driving into a crowded lane against Giannis Antetokounmpo — perhaps the most physically imposing wing in the NBA — and attracting unbelievable amounts of attention to set up Harrison Barnes for a dunk.

In the play above, Ferrell uses an early Dirk Nowitzki screen to breeze into the lane six seconds into the shot clock. It would’ve been easy for him to launch toward the rim and seek out a foul, but trying to do that against two 7-footers is a risky proposition. Instead, Ferrell hesitates slightly to get Antetokounmpo on his hip, then knifes past Thon Maker and makes a banzai charge directly into Khris Middleton, which opens up Barnes under the rim. That’s a superior basketball play for a guy listed generously as 6 feet tall. There was never a chance that Ferrell was going to shoot the ball: He made that play for the team.

Why is command so important? It’s what separates similarly sized J.J. Barea from most other backup point guards in the NBA. Barea is a guy who is always under complete control of the offense, and that more than anything has helped him overcome his relative size deficiency for a decade. Even if he wasn’t making shots on any given night this season, the Mavericks were usually good when he played. For the third straight year, Dallas had a higher offensive rating with Barea on the floor than without him. Following his return from injury on March 10, the Mavs scored 109.5 points per 100 possessions with Barea on the floor versus just 97.1 points per 100 when he was on the bench. It’s not always reflected so obviously in on-off splits, but that gives you an idea of just how good Barea is at running the show, and Ferrell appears to be developing into that kind of player.

3-point threat

The rookie is quickly evolving into a legit NBA point guard. As he continues to gain command, he’ll be able to show off his most devastating weapon: his 3-point shot. Of the 24 rookies who attempted at least 100 3s this season, Ferrell finished fifth in 3-point percentage, at 38.6. He connected on a solid 40.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot treys. He was terrific at catching and shooting on the move, as well.

The most potent element of his shooting game, though, comes in transition, when he can race up the floor, stop on a dime, and let ’em fly.

You’ve got to be careful throwing around this comparison, but given his size, his shooting form, and his self-confidence, Ferrell is capable of having Westbrook-type flashes on the floor. He’s a point guard whose athleticism and occasionally irrational confidence allow him to make plays other guys his size simply cannot. In the sequence below, he plays a long outlet pass like a defensive back, then gets back down the floor and steps into a straightaway 3, holding his follow-through until it finds the net.

As teams wise up and begin to close out on him harder in the open floor or defend him more tightly in half-court situations, that can free up his driving game. He showed some potential as a finisher around the rim this season, mostly when sharing the floor with Nowitzki to help alleviate some pressure from opposing big men. As teams begin to focus more on him, Ferrell will have to use screens more effectively to create space and get to his spots. But he’s already shown he’s capable of figuring out the hardest part.

The long-range shot is more important than the around-the-rim stuff, though, at least in his immediate future. He came to the NBA with an “NBA skill,” as Rick Carlisle likes to call it. Young players must establish themselves as soon as possible, in any possible way. Ferrell’s nine-trey explosion on a Friday night in Portland gave him a reputation as a dead-eye 3-point shooter, and he backed it up for the rest of the season; he connected on 40.3 percent of his triples for the Mavericks, on 149 attempts. Below is a chart showing the most prolific 3-point shooters among rookies from Jan. 29, the date Ferrell debuted for Dallas.

Player Team 3-Pointers Made 3-Point Percentage
Buddy Hield Pelicans/Kings 74 41.1
Jamal Murray Nuggets 62 35.4
Yogi Ferrell Mavericks 60 40.3
Denzel Valentine Bulls 52 36.9
Dario Saric 76ers 50 28.4

Combined with his pesky full-court defense and ability to dodge screens on defense, Ferrell already has a defined skillset with plenty of room for growth. That’s what you hope to see in any rookie.

His shooting and high basketball IQ earned him a trip to the league, and later a starting job. But whether or not he ever becomes a full-time starter, his command and emerging ability to take control of the offense could make him a productive, valuable point guard in this league for many seasons to come.