Yogi reminisces in Portland
Yogi Ferrell looks back on the last time he played in Portland, where he went off for nine three-pointers!
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Yogi reminisces in Portland
Yogi Ferrell looks back on the last time he played in Portland, where he went off for nine three-pointers!
Nowitzki Knocks Down Three
Wesley Matthews finds Dirk Nowitzki at the top of the arc for the three-point jumper.
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.”
GAME RECAP: Mavericks 99, Magic 96
Rookie, Dennis Smith Jr. leads the Mavericks to a win over the Magic, 99-96.
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|
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.
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|
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.
DALLAS — Although the two will compete for minutes at the point guard position when the Dallas Mavericks begin training camp in late September, second-year standout Yogi Ferrell and rookie first-round draft pick Dennis Smith Jr. could also see time on the court together during the 2017-18 season.
Teaming together to lead the Mavericks during the MGM Resorts Summer League in Las Vegas last month, Ferrell and Smith pushed the Dallas team into the semifinals of the tournament while manning the starting backcourt. Ferrell averaged 13.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.2 steals during the Mavs’ six games, picking up where he left off at last season after earning a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team. Meanwhile, Smith earned a spot on the All-NBA Summer League First Team, averaging 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.2 steals per outing as the Mavericks finished with a 5-1 record. The two cat-quick guards could now continue to find themselves playing together during the ’17-18 campaign. And after seeing success alongside Smith in the backcourt, Ferrell admits that he’s excited to see what the duo could accomplish during the upcoming season.
“I mean, sometimes I don’t have to do everything, so I definitely like that,” Ferrell said of playing alongside Smith during summer-league play. “I can play off the ball a little bit, and I can knock down open shots. You know, I don’t have to go out and kill myself every single play by bringing the ball up when they’re pressuring me, so it’s been good playing with Dennis.”
After going untaken in the last year’s NBA Draft, Ferrell signed as a free agent with the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 9, 2016. The 6-footer then saw action in 10 games with Brooklyn, averaging 5.4 points, 1.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 15.1 minutes per contest before being waived on Dec. 8, 2016. Ferrell then starred with the Long Island Nets of the NBA G-League prior to being called up and signing a 10-day contract with the Mavericks on Jan. 28. Still, after averaging 11.3 points, 4.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 36 games (29 starts) with the Mavs during his rookie campaign, Ferrell doesn’t see the drafting of Smith in the first round as a demotion.
Ferrell was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month during February after scoring a career-high 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting and 9 of 11 from three-point range during a 108-104 win at Portland on Feb. 3. He also become the first undrafted rookie in NBA history to score 30-plus points and also lead his team in assists during that outing, tying the league’s rookie record for three-pointers in a single game. Ferrell now hopes to pass down his knowledge and experience to Smith as the first-year floor general embarks on his rookie season. That said, Ferrell could serve as Smith’s on-the-court mentor as the two try to help the Mavs bounce back from a 33-49 season.
“I’m just trying to tell him to play with pace,” Ferrell explained of his relationship with Smith. “He’s quick and fast just like I am, but he doesn’t have to play fast all the time. He can switch speeds, knowing when to go fast and know when to slow down. So, I’ve just been trying to help him with that so far.
“Everything that I’ve been through has helped,” he added. “That little stint with Brooklyn definitely helped me a lot, knowing the NBA lifestyle. And that made me ready for being with the Mavericks. I was able to show my full potential playing with the Mavericks. They let me play my game, so everything that I went through — the trials and tribulations — got me to this point.”