Dwight Powell will be making a tad over $9 million a year for the next four seasons.
Regardless how the contract’s value looks in the escalated salary cap, that’s a lot of money ... and for a restricted free agent, no less.
Either way, the Dallas Mavericks have cemented their faith in the 25-year-old athletic big man. It’s up to Powell to repay the Mavericks by showing some consistency in his game, primarily with his jump shot and his offensive repertoire.
With big money comes big responsibility, and Powell needs to be the key big man off the bench.
Main question: Can Powell do more than leap?
The first obvious change in Powell, other than the number of zeroes in his bank account, is his weight.
Powell bulked up 15 pounds in the offseason and is now sitting at 245 pounds. This was probably the best thing Powell could’ve done. Despite averaging four rebounds in just 14.4 minutes per game last year, Powell was manhandled by larger and craftier bigs. He can’t rely on his athleticism to out-jump opponents on the glass.
Also, per Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News, Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle wants to use Powell more as a small-ball center this year, with the newly-acquired Quincy Acy as the first power forward off the bench behind Dirk Nowitzki in this situation.
"[Powell is] a two-position player who gives us flexibility because he can switch and move his feet and stay in front of little guys, too,” Carlisle said, per Sefko. “He's a player at four and five that is starting to really define our game, the ability to play big and small, to some degree."
Carlisle also pointed out he wants each player, regardless of position, to be able to shoot. That includes Powell, and that means he’ll have to become a much better jump shooter if he wants to be a reliable scorer off the bench. Powell’s shot percentages last season were, shall we say, inconsistent.
Per Basketball Reference, Powell was at his best underneath and around the basket at 47.3 percent. But between three and 15 feet, Powell shot a shade under 10 percent (9.9 percent), which is weird when you consider that he shot 29.4 percent from beyond 16 feet.
Math is not our friend, and neither is the outside shot Powell’s. He shot 68.4 percent around the basket in Dallas’ five-game first-round exit at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, but that’s a small sample size and not necessarily representative, given how the Mavericks were manhandled by the Thunder.
That jump shot is key for how the Mavericks see him going forward.
Powell becomes a staple in Dallas’ second unit and has a career year. This isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Powell has a lot of tools in his game to like. All he needs to do, realistically, is to start draining jumpers.
He can rebound, he can jump and can even block a shot or two. But Powell’s offensive game was underrated at Stanford, and that’s what made him a fun prospect. He needs to get back to that.
"I can't even express how blessed I feel, the opportunity I've been given," Powell said, per Sefko. "I can't imagine a better one. It's a lot of responsibility and I feel very grateful and I need to work even harder. It's motivation to just work as hard as you can. You got to give everything you have and show up every day to work with your hard hat on."
There’s no denying Powell is a hard worker. It’s all about consistency.
Powell doesn’t improve and the Mavericks’ front court depth is still a problem. Acy should improve that department, but the ability to play Powell and Acy together with both playing well would give Carlisle options.
This is a crucial time for Powell. He’s now a rich man, and Dallas has invested a lot of faith in him being some sort of cornerstone in the next few years.
If he doesn’t live up to these expectations, that contract becomes more of a lofty trade chip rather than a Mavs bargain.