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Where Dwight Powell has succeeded this year, and how he can still improve

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We take a deep dive into Powell’s seasons, the areas he has been successful and what lies ahead for the big man.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Powell has had an up and down season so far this year with the Mavericks. His minutes have been in flux, and consequently his production has too. Powell hasn’t had the impact on the Mavs’ rotation as many have thought he might up to this point. This being said, Powell has the potential to eventually be a starter in this league. Powell’s hybrid skill-set has helped the Mavs in several offensive and defensive areas. Powell’s high level finishing in pick and roll action and scoring ability when moving without he ball off of cuts has helped the Mavs’ offense. Defensively, Powell has provided the team with strong pick and roll coverage when guarding the roller.

However, in order to resolve the volatility in his minutes and to take the next step in his progression and really help the Mavs, Powell will need to sure up some of the weaknesses in his game. Let’s break down Powell’s game and take a deeper look at how he has performed over the first half of the 2016-2017 season. Let’s also determine in which areas of his game he will need to improve upon.

Statistics: 7.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 53% FG, 78% FT, 22% 3PT (49 Games)

Strengths

Offensive End

Pick and Roll Finishing: One of the strongest parts of Powell’s game is finishing as the roller out of pick and roll action. So far this season, he ranks in the 83rd percentile in the league, averaging 1.4 points per possession. He does a good job driving hard to the rim, while looking for dump and or pocket passes from his guards. He often uses his athleticism to finish above the rim and over defenders on his rolls. He mixes in slips to the rim and pick and pops as well. Watch Powell’s poise off of his hard roll to the basket. He sprints to the basket, jump stops, pump fakes, and waits for Gobert to jump in the air, and with poise, Powell finishes over top of him.

Transition: Powell runs the floor extremely well, and even though transition play only makes up 4% of his total offense play types, when he gets there, he is deadly. So far this season, Powell ranks in the 91st percentile in the league in scoring efficiency. He likes to get all the way to the basket in transition play and has primarily found his production by running the middle lane and filling in as the trailer action. Scoring in transition is something Powell should continue to lean on as he view for more of a role in the rotation.

Cuts Off Ball Scoring: Unlike many bigs around the league, Powell is superb moving without the ball. He ranks in the 72nd percentile in the league in scoring efficiency, averaging 1.4 points per possession. The lion’s share of his production off of the ball comes from basket cuts. On these cuts to the basket, he is shooting 82% and ranks in the 84th percentile in the league. In the below clip, Powell sets a screen, realizes his defender drops too far to the basket, and dives to the rim for an easy basket from Dirk Nowitzki. Powell Has great feel for the game, and one way that it manifests itself is in his knowing when to cut right to the rim for easy an bucket.

Defensive End

Pick and Roll Defense (Roller): In P&R action, Powell is solid when guarding the pop man. He ranks in the 74th percentile in the league, giving up just 16 points on 22 possessions and holding opponents to 37% shooting in these situations. He moves well recovering out of P&R action, which allows him to effectively contest shooters. In the below clip, when Seth Curry forces Langston Galloway to go away from the ball screen. Powell is highly effective containing Galloway on the drive and sprinting out and contesting Anthony Davis’s mid-range attempt.

One-on-One Coverage: In ISOs, Powell is highly effective when his man drives right. He ranks in the 92nd percentile in the league, giving up only .44 points per possession. He is holding the opposition to 29% shooting in these situations. As good as he is guarding right-handed drivers in ISOs, Powell struggles mightily guarding players going left (Discussed in weaknesses).

Pick & Roll Action (Left side): Overall, Powell is only an average P&R defender when guarding the ball handler. However, in left side pick and roll action, Powell excels and does an effective job guarding the ball handler. He ranks in the 68th percentile in the league in this category, giving up 28 points on 32 possessions. He does a good job chasing the defender off of the pick, allowing only 27% shooting in these situations.

Weaknesses

Offensive End

Catch and shoot: In catch and shoot situations, Powell struggles, shooting just 34% from the field and ranking in the 11th percentile in the league. Although Powell has a good looking stroke, at times he appears uncomfortable in catch and shoot opportunities. He rushes some shots and is off balance on others. Improving his mid-range and perimeter shooting ability will go a long way for Powell as he moves through his career.

Mid-Range: Neither Powell’s mid-range, nor his perimeter shooting numbers are very strong. In the mid range (17’ to 3 point arch), Powell is shooting 33%, ranking in the 23rd percentile in the league. Most of his mid-range shots come in the natural flow of the Mavs’ offense or in pick and roll action. Often, Maverick guards will refuse the ball screen with the opposing big helping off on the guard, giving Powell open opportunities.

Pick and Roll (Driver): In ball screen action where Powell pops out and drives it to the rim, he struggles. He ranks in the 14th percentile, scoring 8 points on 11 possessions so far this season. He seems to get to the rim but is off balance and has not finished well in these situations. Gaining more balance on drives and a higher comfort level with his finishes around the rim, Powell could take his game to the next level. As he expands his pick and roll skill-set, his poise on drives, and finishes improve, expect Powell to see his minutes begin to increase, as the Mavs will have an even more dynamic pick and roll big coming off of the bench.

Defensive End

One-on-one defender: Powell is an improving perimeter isolation defender. On the perimeter, often Powell gives his guy too much space to operate, and doesn’t employ adequate ball pressure. Without ample resistance from Powell, the offensive player many times senses this and takes advantage of the space Powell is conceding, driving it all the way to the rim as Thomas Robinson does below. So far this season, Powell ranks in the 28th percentile in the league in this category, allowing opponents 52% shooting from the field.

Spot Up Jumpers: This season Powell has not guarded spot up jumpers well. He ranks in the 4th percentile in the league, allowing 1.3 points per possession and giving up 75 points on 59 possessions. When guarding spot up shooters, Powell doesn’t always close the full distance between himself and the shooter. He will stop short of running a player off of his shot, maybe for fear of allowing dribble penetration. A great example of this is Powell’s soft close out on Al Farouq Aminu below. This area of his game must improve.

Guarding End of Shot Situations: When the clock gets below 4 seconds, Powell has been a magnet for ‘scored’ on situations. He ranks in the 4th percentile in the league in this category, allowing 45 points on 46 possessions. This makes up about 10% of his total defensive points allowed. There are several reasons for this. For one, many times in ball screen action, he will switch onto the guard, who ends up capitalizing on the mismatch. His soft close outs on rhythm jumpers also hurt him at times. Down low, Powell often gives up size and strength to players who end up scoring through or over the top of him. Improving his ability to close out plays for this team is one key area to improve on heading into the second part of the season and could help him gain more consistent playing time as well.

* All statistics are courtesy of Synergy and Basketball-Reference.com and are current as of February 2, 2017.


Jake Rauchbach coached at the collegiate level, founded The MindRight Pro Program and trained numerous professional and Olympic athletes. Now, Rauchbach writes about the NBA and college basketball for Basketball Insiders and serves as the Player Performance Specialist for The Temple University's men's basketball team.