It's a common refrain from many Mavericks fans around draft time -- why would the team bother drafting players since the coach hates rookies anyway? In his seven seasons in Dallas, Coach Rick Carlisle has been labeled by many as a poor developer of young talent.
But over the last week and a half, the play of Dwight Powell, initially an afterthought in the mid-season Rajon Rondo trade, has served as a reminder that anyone can earn minutes in Carlisle's rotation. Powell's first serious minutes came in a road game against Denver in which the Mavs sat Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo and played Monta Ellis only sparingly.
The game might have been dominated by the likes of Charlie Villanueva and Greg Smith, two reserve big men who have both experienced up-and-down play with bigger roles since Brandan Wright was shipped to Boston. Instead, it was Powell's coming out party. Since that game, he's played at least at least 14 minutes in every game and appears to have leapfrogged the other backup bigs in the rotation.
Powell is now averaging 9.5 minutes per game on the season. In January, he's averaging 11 minutes per game--about the same as Rodrigue Beaubois got in his rookie year and the most since Jae Crowder got 17 minutes a night on a Frankenstein Mavs team that finished with 41 wins in 2013.
|Rodrigue Beaubois (25th pick)
|Dominique Jones (25th pick)
|Jae Crowder (34th pick)
|Bernard James (33rd pick)
|Jared Cunningham (24th pick)
|Shane Larkin (18th pick)
|Gal Mekel (free agent)
|Ricky Ledo (43rd pick)
|Dwight Powell (40th pick/trade)
Shane Larkin is the only other Mavs rookie to average at least 10 minutes per game under Carlisle, which was partly a result of injuries in the backcourt rotation. But that shouldn't be an indictment of the coach. During his tenure the Mavs have gone without a first round pick twice, traded out of the first round on draft night another year and traded back in the first round two other times to save cap space. It's hard to accumulate serious talent on rookie contracts that way.
Carlisle has had a lot more success signing young veterans with draft lottery pedigree like Wright who have yet to find success in the league before coming to Dallas. Some Mavericks fans seem to want Powell fill the role that Wright did before being shipped to Boston.
But the best facsimile to Powell's role on this team so far might be the most productive player drafted by the team under Carlisle -- Crowder, a second round pick who was acquired as a result of one of those draft night trades.
Whereas Wright was a highly rated prospect who initially struggled to find a role in the league, Crowder carved out a niche as a glue guy who never put up big numbers. The same is true for Powell, another 23-year-old second round pick who has earned playing time without gaudy stats.
Like Crowder, Powell's size and athleticism don't jump out at you for a player at his position. But they both compete hard enough to catch the coach's attention. Crowder, it has been observed frequently, never put up impressive numbers but reserve lineups were effective with him on the floor. Since he began getting double digit minutes over the last four games, Powell has only averaged six points and a little more than four rebounds per game. But he's earned Carlisle's trust by not hurting the team when he is on the floor.
As noted elsewhere on this site, Powell has a kind of jack-of-all trades skill set. He's not the outside shooter that Villanueva is but he's been more consistent hitting open shots in January.
A lot of coaches (looking at you, Doc Rivers) seem to fall in love with older veterans whose best play is behind them but are decent at a lot things on the court. Carlisle has managed to work two second-round rookies into that role now. There's no guarantee Powell has such a prominent role in the rotation all season, especially if Jermaine O'Neal joins the team at some point. But Crowder's Mavericks tenure shows Powell will likely continue to get his chances.