Mavericks: How did Dwight Powell get so good?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 29: Dwight Powell
NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 29: Dwight Powell /

Dwight Powell is quickly becoming a prime player on the Dallas Mavericks. Let’s take a moment to look at the “how” and the “why”

Things may not be going great for the Dallas Mavericks this season but that doesn’t mean things aren’t going well for some of their individual players. One player who is turning heads is Dallas’ high-flying center.

Nerlens Noel? Naw. It’s Dwight Powell, of course!

What a difference a few months can make. It was just this past summer we were calling Powell the worst contract on the roster. Now he’s a budding star and a perfect fit on this Mavericks team. Today we attempt to explain how and why he’s doing so well this season. More importantly, we discuss whether his play is sustainable.

Dwight Powell, 6’11” 240lbs, is the type of athletic big every team is looking for. The 26-year-old product of Stanford is the perfect blend of athleticism, speed, and hustle that are often required in today’s frontcourt. That’s likely why Dallas signed him to 4-year/$37,268,188 deal in the first place.

The “how and “why”

How and why Dwight Powell is playing so well is pretty simple:

  1. He’s focusing on what he’s good at
  2. and Rick Carlisle is surrounding him with shooters who can perfectly complement his game.

As Andrew Tobolowsky from WFAA pointed out earlier this month, it’s not that Dwight Powell is getting that much better, it’s that he’s doing more of what he’s best at. Specifically, Andrew pointed out that Powell is best around the rim. In 2015-16 he shot 47 percent of his shots from close range and this year he’s taking 57 percent of his attempts pointblank. So instead of forcing the midrange shots, he’s replaced those midrange shots with close range shots. All of which result in a field goal percentage of over 60, which is among the very best in the NBA.

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But it’s not just about getting the ball to Powell down low. No, Powell is not the kind of guy who you feed the ball to in the post and let him go to work with his back to the basket.

Powell is the kind of guy who breaks to the basket without the ball. He’s the pick-and-roll guy who gets the ball on the way to the basket. Dwight’s the guy who puts opponents on the wrong side of the highlight reel.

Not surprisingly, we’ve seen opponents adjust to him as the season has progressed. Defenses are quick to stop his charge to the dish – clearly in fear of getting posterized. But with multiple threats from deep on this Mavericks roster, Powell needs only to kick the ball out in those situations and let his shooters take care of the rest.

It’s that symbiotic relationship between Powell and his three-point-shooters that make this thing work in Dallas.

It flows through Powell, then adapts to the defense, utilizing one of two Dallas strengths: Dwight Powell from pointblank or someone else shooting wide open threes.

Next: Why the Mavs have handled Nerlens Noel, really!

Powell is abnormally quick for a man his size. While he’ll never be a force on the boards, he’s absolutely elite playing in Rick Carlisle’s (pick and roll heavy) flow-offense. As long as he has reliable three-point shooters to kick it out to, he’ll have sustainable success in this offense.