It would be absurd to give total credit to Yogi Ferrell for the Dallas Mavericks’ back-to-back victories over the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It is curious to note the synergy of his acquisition as it pertains to those results. Plus it would ignore the fact that the Mavs were playing well before Ferrell arrived, having won five out of eight before plucking Ferrell from the D-League.
But in a season in which the Mavericks seem destined for the NBA Lottery, let’s embrace the absurdity for one night, OK?
If Ferrell was surprising against San Antonio, he was revelatory against Cleveland. The Mavs signed him to a 10-day contract on Jan. 28 and four days later he scored 19 points, dished out three assists and grabbed five rebounds in a 104-97 win over the Cavaliers that frankly wasn’t that close. (Game story here, featuring coach Rick Carlisle's "We're a shit team'' classic.)
Tip your hat to the Mavs for finding a potential gem on the NBA scrap heap, and turn a skeptical eye to the Brooklyn Nets’ personnel department.
The Nets had Ferrell for 10 games and then shipped him off to the D-League in Long Island. When the Mavs came calling, Ferrell was in Erie, Pennsylvania, prepping for his next game.
“About five or six hours before (the game), my agent calls me and said the Mavericks are going to sign you to a 10-day,” Ferrell said after Monday night’s game. “They flew me right to Dallas immediately. I got here that same night and had to prep for the game the next night against San Antonio.”
It’s hard enough getting a call like that, heading off to a new city and a team you don’t know and prepare to play back-to-back games against two of the top three teams in the NBA. But then throw in playing point guard for Rick Carlisle? It’s hard enough for some veterans to play for him (see Rondo, Rajon). But Ferrell didn’t look uncomfortable Monday night. In fact, in the third quarter I made this point on Twitter:
Ferrell doesn’t have complete command of the offense and the Mavericks probably adjusted aspects of the offense to help him quickly pick it up. But nothing seemed disjointed Monday. The offense flowed well. Heck, he’s already making the pick-and-roll with Dirk Nowitzki work, and frankly that’s half the battle when it comes to knowing this offense.
Ferrell also defended Kyrie Irving, one night after defending Tony Parker. That’s the equivalent of acceptable rookie hazing.
The Mavs gave Ferrell specific rules for guarding Irving. That’s easier said than done, of course. But Carlisle was happy with the execution, saying Ferrell “followed everything to a T.”
“Be disruptive on him, especially in the pick-and-roll,” Ferrell said. “Fight over screens, make him shoot it and get a late contest. That’s the best you can do on him.”
How did Ferrell do? Well, Irving only scored 18 points and turned the ball over six times. On at least one occasion Ferrell just flat picked Irving’s pocket on a drive to the rim.
In fact, Ferrell’s game Monday was filled with little moments that leads me to believe the Mavs may be onto something here, even though it is a very small sample size. (And remember, he was one of six candidates for this call-up, a signing that came only after Dallas gave deals to point guards Jonathan Gibson and Pierre Jackson.) The 6-0, 178-pounder, who made a pre-Draft visit to Dallas last spring but then went undrafted by the entire NBA, played terrific one-on-one defense on Irving midway through the fourth quarter, turning him several times and forcing him into a missed shot. He showed good court awareness, hitting Harrison Barnes on a cut up the paint for an easy lay-up. He provided drives to the basket that resulted in points, some from his hands and some on kick-outs to others. And, his 3-pointer with 4:24 left helped put the game on ice.
The moment didn’t seem too big for him, and perhaps it wasn’t. Ferrell played four years at Indiana under Tom Crean. (Indiana, of course, is Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s alma mater.) In fact, Ferrell started every game he played at Indiana. Big Ten basketball is no slouch. It’s big venues and big-time players every night and Ferrell was among the best of them for four years. He felt like he just needed the door to open a crack so he could take advantage.
“I played in big places in college with great crowds, and Dallas is another one of those teams with great crowds,” Ferrell said. “So this is nothing new to me.”
If Ferrell’s time in Dallas started with an open crack of an opportunity, the door is wide open now. With Deron Williams and JJ Barea not right physically, Ferrell played 37 minutes Monday, which tied for the team lead. It wasn’t by design, but Carlisle said Ferrell’s young legs are what the Mavs need right now.
“It shows the importance of point guards in this league,” Carlisle said. “Playmaking and energy — positive energy. He’s had two great nights and he deserves this.”
Nowitzki sees it, too.
“He’s been great,” Nowitzki said. “He’s picking up the plays on the fly, making plays at both ends of the floor. He seems fearless. Coming in and having to go against (Tony) Parker and Kyrie (Irving), two of the best back-to-back and holding his own and fighting and making plays is very impressive.”
"Deserve'' is not a word you hear a lot in the NBA when it comes to younger players. What you deserve you earn. Ferrell seems to be aware of that. Look around the Mavs’ locker room and you see engraved nameplates. Ferrell’s was a piece of masking tape. That’s by design. He likes the motivation.
“Growing up I wouldn’t have thought I would get this opportunity, to beat two of the top teams in the league,” Ferrell said. “But, you know I’ve stayed with it and played to my strengths.”
We’ll learn more about Ferrell in the coming days and weeks. I say weeks because I can’t see a scenario that doesn’t keep Ferrell in town the rest of the season. The Mavs need to collect all the youth it can get. And Ferrell is off to a fine start.