All things considered, the Mavericks first preseason game was pretty typical. The starters got their work all in the first half, the end of the roster hopefuls got their chance to show off in the fourth quarter. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
Except that second quarter. Oh, that second quarter. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle employed what might have been his masterpiece of a lineup, a bench mob consisting of Yogi Ferrell, J.J. Barea, Devin Harris, Dwight Powell and Nerlens Noel. It was truly glorious. It featured:
- Three point guards, with two under six feet tall and the other at 6’4. When the Mavs go small, they go microscopic.
- The great Dwight Powell at the Four experiment
- Not-that-moody Nerlens Noel roasting bench players.
It was hilarious. As mentioned numerous times before, one of the biggest weaknesses on the Mavs roster is lack of size on the wing. With Harrison Barnes playing so much four, Dallas was really thin on wings to keep the Mavs from being too small — it’s hard to rebound and play defense with so many guards playing up a position, despite the effort.
That’s why the lineup Carlisle rolled out on Monday was so great. To hell with the lack of wings, he just played three point guards instead. With Powell at the four the lineup was simultaneously too small and big at the same time. Just magical stuff.
The best part about the lineup? It was fun as hell.
You’d think with Powell and Noel up front, spacing would be an issue. It was at times, but sheesh, with three point guards on the floor at once the ball was buzzing around the court. Since every perimeter player on the floor was a point guard, every transition opportunity, every kick out, every pick and roll was run at full throttle. The lineup was just so damn fast the poor Bucks reserves had no idea what hit them.
Ferrell and Barea are good three-point shooters and Harris is just good enough so that whichever point guard was speeding down the lane had ample room to drive. With two non-shooters in Powell and Noel on the floor, you’d figured it’d be easier to clog the lane. But with three point guards on the floor, that meant a lot of decisive, quick action.
The Bucks wanted to rotate and help off Powell or Noel, but their bigger guards couldn’t stay in front of the Mavs’ speedsters. Noel is such a threat as a screener that he drew enough attention. He also flashed his good vision again — Noel is a good passer! It helps that Powell is super active on offense, he rarely stands still.
It was really fun to watch Noel and Powell off the ball to make up for their lack of shooting. The two combined for 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting in just 27 minutes. Neither was standing in one spot for more than a second or two, and displayed some nice chemistry for the amount of time they’ve played together since Noel arrived last season. That passing, even if it isn’t much, is key to keeping both of them on the floor. It also helps that Noel and Powell are two of the fastest bigs in the league. Preseason Greg Monroe had no chance.
Now, this was only one game. One preseason game. Carlisle was staggering his lineups so the starters could work together as much as possible in the first half, so who knows if this is what he wants to do when the games actually matter. Then there’s the part about the only way this lineup legit works over an extended period is if Powell actually is a stretch four. He made a three-pointer Monday night and hit 13-of-39 (33 percent) from deep in the final month of last season, so maybe there is something there. If Powell sniffs being an average three-point shooter, it really opens up the Mavs lineup possibilities and gives this oddball grouping a real chance to work.
There’s also the downside of playing three point guards on the other end of the floor, as the Bucks had a huge advantage on the other end. Harris, Barea and Ferrell are all feisty defenders for their size and the lineup was really flying around on both ends. For the first preseason game, it was more than enough.
Long live Rick Carlisle for spicing up an ordinary preseason game and injecting a little chaos into everyone’s expectations.