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Dwight Powell must fight to earn his place

With the addition of several new big men, where does Dwight Powell stack up?

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

When Dwight Powell arrived as a consolation in the Trade Which Must Not Be Named, the Mavs staff liked what they saw. He was a young, athletic player with good shot mechanics and a great motor. He was certainly raw but there was no reason to believe that a player that physically gifted couldn’t bloom under the tender loving care of the Mavs’ development staff.

After two years, Powell has made some significant strides, but still, struggles define his individual game and his role on the team, despite coming to the Mavs at a time when there was plenty of opportunity for minutes at the four and the five. He’s grown into a pretty damn good pick-and-roll player, but the Mavs deployed him in that role in large part because of his inability to consistently knock down jumpers as a stretch four. Mavs fans have plenty of reasons to look forward to this season, but Powell’s future is more uncertain now than ever.

Best-case scenario

Dwight Powell’s game has two holes that prevent him from earning a bigger slice of the rotation and they are interrelated. His consistently poor mid and outside shooting prevents him from playing much as a four, but his lackluster rim protection makes it hard to play him at the five. Plugging either one of those gaps would transform his season.

First, the shooting problem. Over the past two seasons in Dallas Powell has shot 37 percent on shots of 10-16 feet, 31 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line, and an almost unbelievable 20 percent from three. That kind of shooting allows his defender to cheat inside and dare him to shoot, gumming up the works for the rest of the offense. If Powell could consistently knock down a jumper, even from just a single spot on the floor, that would vastly improve his chances of staying on the floor. His release looks fine and after some serious summer work, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t make some improvements.

But assuming that, like in the past two seasons, Powell doesn’t turn into a knock-down shooter over one offseason, he could still vastly improve his value to the team by shoring up his defense. His athleticism and ability to finish above the rim would make him an ideal pick-and-roll partner for Dennis Smith Jr. — my God, imagine the dunks those two could create for each other — but in order to do that, Powell needs to play better D. If he could improve his one-on-one defense and protect the rim better in late clock situations, he could find a role as a small-ball five.

Worst-case scenario

Nerlens Noel, Josh McRoberts, Jeff Whithey, Brandon Ashley, Jonathan Motley, and Max Kleber.

That is a list of players signed in just the last year who will compete with Powell for playing time. Now he’ll probably still sit ahead of Kleber, Ashley and Motley in the pecking order but the addition of cheap veterans like McRoberts and Whithey show that the Mavs organization may be losing faith in Powell’s ability to progress. He’s still paid too much to give up on, but the worst case scenario for both Powell and the Mavs would be to see his shooting and defense continue to sputter while McBob, Whithey and the young guns eat up more and more of his minutes.

Dwight Powell at his worst is a spork, enough of a hybrid to lose all the benefits and inherit all the flaws of both sides. His poor shooting can make him a liability at the four, but his defensive insecurities and size issues make him ineffective as a five. Without improving one of those areas, Powell will continue to struggle to iron out a role in this league.