If you're looking at the future of this Dallas Mavericks team, three young players stand out — Justin Anderson, Salah Mejri and Dwight Powell. Now, these guys may not become superstars (we'll have to consult Mark Cuban on the proper definition), but successful NBA teams have players that fill unique niches outside of their stars. For the next few weeks, I'll examine each of these three players, where they fit in the future and where they must improve for next season. Today, we conclude with …
Powell was the throw-in from Boston in the Rajon Rondo trade two years ago. At least with Powell we can track his improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 in the NBA, unlike Justin Anderson ('what does Dallas need from' story here) and Salah Mejri ('what does Dallas need from' story here).
In his first season in Boston and Dallas, Powell played 29 games — 24 in Dallas — and averaged 3.1 points per game on just 8.1 minutes per game. He also brought in 1.7 rebounds per game.
Naturally, in his second season, a full one in Dallas, all of Powell's major numbers went up. He averaged 14.4 minutes per game, scored 5.8 points per game, grabbed 4.0 rebounds per game and saw his field-goal percentage go up from 46.3 percent to 49.3 percent.
But I guess the question is how much did you expect Powell to improve in his second season? Had I been writing this piece last summer I don't believe I could have adequately projected Powell's progress because of the lack of playing time. In fact, I think Powell might be the hardest of the three to project (Anderson and Mejri) when you look at next season because, in part, his role seems the least defined.
At 6-foot-10 Powell in some ways fits the mold of an Al-Farouq Aminu, a player Mavs fans are familiar with. Powell can score, squeeze through tight spaces, rebound and run the floor. And sky. He's not a traditional, back-to-the-basket big man. And he's not the defender AFA was. That much is certain. Oh, and entering his third NBA season he's still a bit of a project. ... But as a developing 4? AFA had success here in that way, and Dallas wants the same for the highly-coachable Powell.
Now, his per 36-minute numbers really speak to what a player like Powell can be — 14.3 points per game, 9.5 rebounds per game. But that's a pretty sizeable canyon between where he is now and where he could be down the road.
What is not under dispute is Powell's above-the-rim athleticism. Take a look at his 2016 highlight reel and it shows off Powell's great vertical, along with his uncanny ability to time alley-oop passes and caroms off the rim properly so he can slam it home. He's at his best when he doesn't have the ball in his hands. He has the ability to get lost in traffic, roll to the basket when his defender leaves him to double another player and take off-side passes from driving point guards who draw his defender.
He's got some skills as a potential quintessential clean-up guy. Within five feet of the basket he can get the ball in a variety of ways and actually close the deal. No wonder that last year he attempted 35.8 percent of his shots from within three feet of the basket and made 70.8 percent of them.
He's a deceptively good jump-shooter, too. Last year he made 80 percent of his 10-to-16 foot jumpers, and his percentages from 16 feet to the 3-point line (35 percent) and 3-point range (27.3) are good enough to keep defenders from sagging off of him.
If there's a place to improve its from 3 to 10 feet, where Powell's percentage was zero. Yep, he shot 10 percent of his baskets from that range and made none of them. While he can shoot a fair percentage outside of 10 feet his inability to score consistently in an area where most 6-foot-10 forwards should be able to score consistently is troubling.
Right now he takes feeds from guards and either dunks or drives to the basket in short bursts. By adding a short-range jumper to his game he can influence floor spacing and open the paint a bit more for players like Wesley Matthews and Anderson. It also has the benefit of taking a defensive rebounder out of the equation.
Powell's ability to dunk and get above the rim are nice, but if his shooting improves he becomes a consistent off-the-bench weapon who can give Dirk Nowitzki a nice break for 15-18 minutes a game in 2016-17 — and we've got the latest on Dirk, in his own words, here.