Devin Harris has been impressed by offseason training of Mavs’ young players this summer

DALLAS — Committed to returning to the Dallas Mavericks better next season after battling his way through a right great toe injury early in the 2016-17 campaign, 13-year veteran Devin Harris has been encouraged to see the team’s young contributors in the gym alongside him every day this offseason.

Dropping nine of their final 11 outings to close the season, the Mavericks finished the grueling 82-game schedule with a 33-49 record and on the outside looking into the playoffs. The Mavs also increased the minutes of their young players down the stretch with the postseason no longer in sight, opting to rest veterans to ensure that their first- and second-year players spent more time on the court. But after playing alongside the team’s young players in the Mavericks’ 100-93 season-finale win at Memphis on April 12, Harris says he’s been pleasantly surprised by their offseason training thus far this summer. And with a bevy of returning young players set to compete with the Mavs’ Las Vegas summer-league squad July 7-17, Harris believes fans will see the growth of each player immediately.

“It’s been good. … Working with the young guys that have been here, and I’ve spent a lot of time working with Wes (Matthews) as well,” Harris said while making an appearance last week at Mavs Basketball Academy’s overnight camp. “I think it’s been good. It’s been beneficial for (the young players). They’ve made generous strides over the course of the season, and I think they’re making strides this summer as well. And I think it’s only going to benefit them coming into training camp.”

The Mavericks finished the season with five first-year players seeing time on the court late in the schedule, featuring four undrafted rookies as well. The Mavs also ended the year with nine players on the roster 26 years old or under, forming the franchise’s emerging youth movement.

Ending the ’15-16 season with the second-oldest team in the league behind only San Antonio after sending out a lineup with an average age of 30 years old, Dallas then finished this season with an average of 27.3 years old. And despite missing out on the playoffs for just the second time in the last 17 seasons, Harris is confident the Mavericks can make another run at the postseason by continuing to foster their young talent going into next year.

“You know, we’ve been so good for so long. Obviously, this year kind of caught up with us, but I think we’re not that far off,” Harris admitted. “We still have veteran leadership, and we finally have some young guys to kind of build upon. Hopefully, they can come back and make that next jump with just a few pieces here and there — some more shooting, bigs that can be more aggressive on the rebounds. I think with rebounding we’ve had struggles the last couple of years, but I don’t think we’re that far off.”

Wesley Matthews relished role as mentor for Mavs’ undrafted rookies

2016-17 Exit Interview: Wesley Matthews

Mavs G Wesley Matthews addresses the media for exit interviews.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ricky Ledo is hungry to prove himself entering Year 2

DALLAS — Although he didn’t see much time on the court for the Dallas Mavericks during his rookie campaign, swingman Ricky Ledo says don’t count him out when divvying up minutes in the backcourt this upcoming season.

Ledo appeared in just 11 games for the Mavericks during the 2013-14 season after sitting out a year of basketball at Providence. He averaged just 1.7 points while shooting 35.3 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from three-point range in limited playing time for the Mavs. But, after averaging 13.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 39 appearances for the Mavericks’ NBA Development League affiliate, the Texas Legends, Ledo could be primed and ready for a much more productive season following a strong summer-league showing.

“I think this will be like one of the biggest summers in my career,” Ledo confessed. “I’ve been in the NBA for a year now and I’m not a rookie anymore. So, just to show all the hard work that I’ve done and where it’s going to go. … Show that I can be a great team player and just show what I can do to my best ability.”

Entering the league as the 43rd pick in the 2013 draft, Ledo will come to training camp well aware that he’ll have to impress Mavs coach Rick Carlisle in order to make his way into the rotation. However, after showcasing his all-around skill set at the Las Vegas Summer League, Ledo could immediately see time backing up starting shooting guard Monta Ellis.

Concluding summer-league play by filling up the stat sheet with 15 points, four rebounds and nine assists, Ledo helped lead the Mavericks to a blowout 88-62 win over Phoenix to finish with a 3-2 record. In five games, Ledo averaged 15.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.4 steals a contest, showing he can do a little bit of everything. And although his shot selection is still in doubt after connecting on just 32.4 percent from the field, Ledo’s ability to create for others is certainly not in question.

“I just took what they gave me,” Ledo said of his summer performance. “I slowed it down. The major thing with me is slowing things down and just seeing it, so I slowed down and I saw my teammates. I got to find a lot of my teammates on great passes.”

The Mavs’ backcourt is expected to be crowded thanks to the re-signing of Devin Harris and offseason additions of veterans Raymond Felton and Jameer Nelson to create a logjam at point guard. With that said, Carlisle could look to Ledo to help relieve Ellis at shooting guard this season after the cat-quick veteran averaged the eighth-most minutes in the league last season, sweating out 36.9 minutes a game.

Ledo could also be called upon to step up after former sixth man Vince Carter’s free-agent departure to Memphis, leaving a void in instant offense off the Dallas bench. Either way, the 21-year-old says he’s ready to rise to the occasion in Year 2.

“It’s just a confidence issue,” Ledo explained. “Last year, it was a different feeling. Now, I feel more comfortable and I had a year under my belt to get back to my game shape and get back to form. … I can be a valuable asset to the team. They made a good pick in me.

“Just my overall game. I can pass the ball, I can play one through three and just keep pushing it, being a young person who just keeps working hard. It’s a man’s game and I had to work on my body, get stronger and overall just slow everything down and just take what the defense gives you. Just take what they give you, don’t be in a rush, wait for my screens, wait for my player to get hit and just come off screens aggressive.”

Can Gal Mekel move up Mavs’ loaded depth chart at point guard?

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DALLAS — Hoping not to become the forgot man in the Dallas Mavericks’ backcourt, second-year guard Gal Mekel believes that a summer of basketball will boost his chances of cracking the rotation this upcoming season.

Playing in 31 games as a 25-year-old rookie during the 2013-14 campaign, Mekel averaged just 2.4 points and 2.0 assists before undergoing surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee on Jan. 17 that ended his season. The two-time Israeli MVP also struggled with his perimeter shooting before sustaining the injury, connecting on only 34.9 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from behind the arc in his first year.

Still, after looking comfortable in his second summer running the Mavs’ system while helping to lead Dallas’ summer-league squad before competing with the Israeli national team, Mekel believes that he will see much more success in Year 2.

“I didn’t play for a long time because of my injury, and that’s the first time that I’m going to play five-on-five after a long time. I’m going to have a long summer with summer league and then the national team in Israel, so I’m looking forward to this summer to get back in the groove,” Mekel said.

He added: “I took three weeks off in the summer and got a lot of treatment, and I can say that I’m feeling good. … [Outside shooting] is what me and the coaches are talking about, especially the three-point shots. If I’m going to make them consistently and a good percentage, I can really help our team during the season. And this is what I want to work on.”

Leaving Las Vegas with his best performance coming in the Mavericks’ fourth of five summer-league contests, Mekel showcased his all-around skills while scoring 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting, grabbing down five rebounds and dishing out six assists in a last-second 82-81 loss to Charlotte on July 16. He now hopes to help his home country qualify for EuroBasket 2015.

But, upon returning stateside, Mekel will face a far different challenge when the Mavericks begin training camp after the team stockpiled at the point guard position during the offseason.

Trading away last season’s starting lead guard, Jose Calderon, to New York in the six-player deal that brought back center Tyson Chandler to Dallas, the Mavericks landed veteran Raymond Felton to help fill the void. The Mavs re-signed Devin Harris and inked former All-Star Jameer Nelson as well during free agency, giving coach Rick Carlisle three veteran floor generals at his disposal.

Now, Mekel will once again have to compete for time on the court while showing that he’s elevated his play from a season ago. With that said, don’t be surprised if Mekel makes his way onto the hardwood next season following a summer of hard work.

“Well, he’s worked hard,” Carlisle said of Mekel’s progression entering his second season. “You know, he’s had to overcome an injury situation, which has been challenging. But it looks like he’s gotten to a point where he is good with his knee. You know, he just needs to get out there and play. His shooting has gotten better, he’s a good ball handler, he knows how to run a team and he’s got a real knack for getting in the paint and making things happen.”

Rick Carlisle was encouraged by development of Mavs’ young players

DALLAS — Boosted by a veteran-laden roster, the Dallas Mavericks made a strong push to close the regular season while returning the franchise back to the playoffs.

Leaning on their experience, the Mavericks finished strong while ending the 82-game campaign with a 49-33 record. The Mavs’ veteran core then pushed the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to the brink of elimination before falling in seven games of their first-round series. However, with veteran leaders Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter all set to enter free agency on July 1, the Mavericks may go into next season needing more from their younger contributors.

“Our younger guys we’re excited about,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle simply said while turning the page on the 2013-14 season.

Led by second-year standout Jae Crowder, 23, the Mavs got a glimpse into what the future may hold for the team’s 26-and-under supporting cast. Despite seeing his scoring production take a slight dip from Year 1 to Year 2, Crowder began to show that he’s capable of developing into a mold of Marion as a two-way player.

Often giving Marion a breather and defending the other team’s best perimeter player, Crowder also upped his shooting percentage from 38.4 percent as a rookie to 43.9 percent this season. The 34th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft also improved his free-throw shooting from 64.4 percent to 75.4 percent, in addition to starting eight of his 78 outings. But it may have been his back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder early in the season that may have given the Mavs’ front office a reason to be encouraged, after Crowder followed up a career-high 18-point outing on Nov. 5 with 17 points the following night.

Meanwhile, Crowder’s development may have kept newcomer Wayne Ellington off the court for stretches this season.

Joining fellow new addition DeJuan Blair and big man Brandan Wright as the team’s young veterans on the verge of hitting their prime, Ellington came to the Mavs after splitting his time with Memphis and Cleveland last season. He then hoped to pick up where he left off at when he finished the final 38 games of the ’12-13 season with the Cavaliers, starting 17 outings while averaging 10.4 points on 43.9 percent shooting from the field and 37.1 percent from 3-point range.

But Ellington would quickly find himself in a crowded rotation in Dallas, despite connecting on a career-best 42.4 percent from behind the 3-point arc. Still, even after playing a career-low 45 games this season, the fifth-year sharpshooter left a good impression on Carlisle.

The same could be said for rookie first-rounder Shane Larkin.

After fracturing his right ankle in the last practice before the Mavs’ summer-league squad headed to Las Vegas, Larkin would be sidelined while rehabbing during training camp. The cat-quick guard then made up for lost time in his long-awaited season debut during the Mavericks’ 97-94 win over Philadelphia on Nov. 18, filling up the stat sheet with three points, three assists and three steals in his nine minutes of work off the bench.

The 21-year-old Larkin then showcased just how much he figures to help the Mavs in future seasons when he scored a season-high 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting and dished out five assists in 27 minutes of action during Dallas’ 110-107 win at Phoenix on Jan. 17. But he, like Ellington, would soon be shoved to the end of the bench as the Mavs made their playoff push, giving Carlisle encouragement as the former Miami standout gets set to lead this year’s summer squad.

“You know, I think Crowder is going to keep getting better,” Carlisle said while praising his young contributors. “I really like Ellington, even though he didn’t get a chance to play much this year. And Larkin showed that he’s a guy that can be a factor in this league as a point guard. So, you know, we’ll look at everything and keep working with these guys. … You’ve got to have a system where younger guys are getting better.”