The Dallas Mavericks aren't known for developing young talent. In past years, the team looked upon the draft flippantly, preferring to sign veteran free agents. A known talent was better than a gamble. Even Rick Carlisle has gained a reputation for not playing young players.
However, the old way of doing things appears to be changing. Be it out of a shifting mentality or out of necessity, the Mavericks are looking to build upon their young talent.
"We have to develop young players here," Carlisle said recently before the Mavs played the Los Angeles Lakers.
This season, both Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell have contributed significant minutes to the team. Though both are still learning, going forward their roles will continue to grow.
Of the two, Anderson, a rookie selected in the first round, is facing the biggest learning curve.
"In the preseason he was learning to play more of a free-flowing style which is challenging when you've been in a very structured system in college," Carlisle said of Anderson. "He was trying some things that weren't quite his game. He's learned, he's adapted -- learning to adapt, I should say, to what we're doing."
Anderson has appeared in all but two games this season. His minutes have been sporadic, playing as few as 42 seconds and as many as 18, but when he has seen extended playing time, the results have been mostly positive. In the four games Anderson has seen 10 or more minutes, he's averaging 6.5 points on 61 percent shooting and three rebounds.
Though it wasn't his highest scoring output, Anderson's best game so far came against the Los Angeles Clippers in Dallas. He scored seven points, making all three of his field goal attempts. Late in the game he recorded a highlight reel block on Lance Stephenson, solidifying his impact.
"The other night he just did a really solid job," Carlisle said of Anderson's performance against the Clippers. "That's a game the other night where there's just zero margin for error and he didn't make any errors. He made all his shots. And really, it's not about shot making he just was in good position all night long."
His positioning, though, isn't always good. It's the reason he has played four or fewer minutes in his six other appearances. Anderson can get caught ball-watching at times. He's also let his man sneak backdoor along the baseline more than once. But despite his lapses, Carlisle is still showing confidence in Anderson.
"Gradually over time you just see improvement," Carlisle said.
It's the same with Powell. In his second season, Powell has become a staple of the Mavericks' rotation. He's averaging 10.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game in 22 minutes off the bench.
Offensively, Powell looked shaky at the start of the season finishing at the rim. He seems to have worked those issues out, though, as he is converting just over 75 percent of his attempts. Carlisle praised Powell's ability to get to the rim with a direct drive game, something that his continued success from the midrange is only helping set up.
While he hasn't taken a 3-pointer this season, Powell is stretching the defense out to the arc, knocking down jump shots. However, this is an area where he certainly needs to improve as he's shooting just 35 percent on jumpers.
He does have the range to extend his shot beyond the arc, though. In Summer League, Powell was asked to be a stretch 4, working mostly around the perimeter and shooting 3-pointers. However, as the de facto backup center on the team, Powell's role has shifted dramatically since Las Vegas.
Now, he's guarding centers and power forwards while patrolling the paint looking to grab rebounds and challenge shots. This shift means that he has faced some of the league's premier players including Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin.
As a result of guarding some of the game's elite, Powell can pick up fouls in a hurry. Carlisle has said that he can't play him for long stretches because he becomes more susceptible to committing fouls.
Nonetheless, Powell's his quick emergence surely caught many by surprise. Not Carlisle.
"There's no big shocks to me," Carlisle said earlier this season. "He's a hard-playing guy who's getting experience and getting better."
One thing that can be attributed to Powell's success is his work ethic. During Summer League, Mark Cuban gushed about it.
"Dwight is the hardest working man in showbiz," Cuban said. "There's just no question about it ... He works so hard that he's just going to keep getting better."
Recently, those sentiments were echoed by Dirk Nowitzki.
"The kid basically sleeps in the gym," Nowitzki said before the Mavericks took on the Celtics, Powell's former team, in Boston. "He never goes home. It seems like every time I come, he's in there working."
Given time and continued hard work, both Anderson and Powell could grow into successful role players for Dallas. Carlisle will give them the opportunity, they just have to prove that they deserve the minutes. Right now they are doing that and have helped the Mavericks to a fast start. Beyond that, though, they are players that the team can potentially build around for years to come. That's welcome news as it's something the Mavs haven't done in a long time.