The Dallas Mavericks are in a state of limbo. Since winning the NBA title in 2011, they have been hanging around the outer ring of the playoff chase. Dallas finished seventh (twice), eighth, and tenth in the Western Conference the last four years. With Dirk Nowitzki around for only two more seasons, the Mavericks are in transition mode, trying to find the right pieces for the future without going into a full rebuild status. Dwight Powell is one of the players the Mavs will be carefully watching in 2015-16 to see if he fits in their plans.
A forgotten player in the Rajon Rondo trade, Powell has a chance to emerge for Dallas in their quasi-rebuild. Coming out of Stanford in 2014, Powell was lightly regarded, hence his second round draft selection and two subsequent pre-season trades. After landing with the Celtics, the 6’11” forward was the 12th man, playing a grand total of nine minutes in Boston’s first 23 games. When Dallas insisted Powell be included in the Rondo deal, no one gave it a second glance, but executives in Dallas were grinning.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was one of those who was most excited to acquire Powell. “He can shoot threes, he can rebound, he can defend,” Cuban said. “That’s why we wanted him.”
After joining the Mavs, Powell got sent to the D-League and immediately showed the talent that the Mavs knew was there. In his first game with Dallas’ affiliate, the Texas Legends, the power forward scored 26 points with 21 rebounds and two blocks in 38 minutes. On January 14, Powell got his first big break at the NBA level. With Nowitzki being rested on the second day of a back-to-back, the then 23-year-old Powell got a chance to crack the rotation against the Nuggets. In 29 minutes, Powell went 5-for-8 for 11 points, five rebounds, and one block before fouling out. A few games later, he pulled in 10 rebounds against the Timberwolves in under 20 minutes of action.
Powell was proving himself at the NBA level. He was also earning more praise from the Mavs, this time from coach Rick Carlisle: “(Powell is) playing hard, and he’s doing what we’re asking him to do, which is defend, rebound and knock down open shots,” Carlisle said, “… He’s done a good job, and this is a really good opportunity for him to get some experience.”
While Powell struggled to find his way onto the court for Dallas down the stretch last season, he shined when getting a chance to work on his game in the D-League. In his eight games with the Legends, Powell showed his inside-out potential as he averaged 28.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game while hitting 44 percent of his three-point attempts.
Over the Summer, Powell continued to impress. Earning a spot on the All-NBA Summer League Second Team, he put up 18.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Adding onto his Summer League experience this offseason, Powell is spending the remainder of the summer with the Canadian National team as they try to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games. With Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins leading the way, the Canadian squad also features a wealth of NBA talent in Cory Joseph, Kelly Olynyk, Robert Sacre, and Nik Stauskas to go along with Powell. Primarily coming off the bench for the Canadians, Powell has still made a name for himself. Powell has put up 7.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in only 12.1 minutes per game, highlighted by an 18 point and eight rebound game in only 18 minutes versus Brazil.
Powell’s progression this summer has been vital for someone Dallas will count on to be a big part of their rotation this upcoming season. Coach Carlisle confirmed as much saying, “There’s going to be an opportunity for an increased role next year, and that’s not an overstatement. That’s how strongly we feel about his ability to contribute, so we really like him.” The recognition from Carlisle is especially significant due to his aversion to playing young players and dealing with their inevitable growing pains.
As Nowitzki’s career winds down, Dallas will be looking to limit his minutes during the regular season. Expectations are that the Mavericks will keep the 37-year-old’s minutes to under 30 a game, like last year. If that remains true, Powell has an excellent chance of playing 20 minutes per game this year due to the thin frontcourt and a dearth of talent coming off the bench in Big D.
With the minutes there, Powell will be able to shine with the ball in his hands, and Dallas’ offense is the perfect system to showcase his many talents. His range and smooth jump shot will draw opposing big men out to the perimeter where Powell can blow by them using his mobility and quickness. He is also an above-average finisher at the rim, utilizing layups, dunks, and floaters. There is no question he can score, but how long can he stay on the floor?
The big flaw in Powell’s game is his propensity to foul. At every level he has played, Powell was seemingly constantly in foul trouble. In his senior year at Stanford, he was third in the PAC-12 in fouls, at the D-League he averaged 3.6 fouls per game, and in the NBA he averaged a personal foul every 5.9 minutes. His slight frame, 6’11” and 240 pounds, leads to him getting pushed around when defending the post. When opponents back him down, Powell gives up position quickly and resorts to fouling too often.
It is not all negatives for Powell on the defensive end of the floor, however. His versatility makes him a natural defender of the pick-and-roll as he is not too slow to switch onto a guard or quickly jump back onto his own man. Also, in the modern NBA, many teams employ a stretch four, meaning Powell will not see himself continually isolated on the block. He can then utilize his quickness and length to defend from 10′ and beyond. If he can add some bulk and put in the necessary time to learn how to defend NBA offenses, Powell has the athleticism to become a plus defender in the future.
While 2015-16 will be another year of mediocrity, Dallas’ future is not entirely bleak when Nowitzki retires. Between Chandler Parsons, 2015 first-round pick Justin Anderson, and Powell, Dallas is full of prospects and potential.
Powell, in particular, has the potential to emerge as an essential player in the Mavs’ rotation in 2015-16. If Powell can put in the work on defense and learn a few tricks of the trade from the German scoring machine over the next two seasons, the 24-year-old power forward has a bright future in the NBA.