Dwight Powell entered the 2016-17 season with a freshly inked 4 year, $37 million contract. Not bad for a 25-year-old player entering his third season, especially one who is barely a rotation player for the team that offered the contract.
For a player who plays just over a quarter a game, Powell sure does evoke some intense feelings among the fanbase. The believers see an exceptionally athletic, smart player with the ability (in theory) to guard some threes, most fours, and some fives, depending on the matchup. They see a guy with a pretty shooting stroke who boasts impressive per-minute rebounding numbers. Detractors, on the other hand, see a less effective version of Brandan Wright on a contract that doesn’t make any sense for a player getting so few minutes on a bad team, even with the explosion of the salary cap.
So who was right this season?
That really depends on one’s expectations. Powell played in all but 5 games, averaged 17 minutes per game and chipped in 6.7 points and 4 rebounds. That’s just fine from a broad perspective. The Mavericks needed someone to soak up backup minutes at both the four and the five, and Powell filled that need. But in a season where players like Harrison Barnes, Dorian Finney-Smith, Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell all seized opportunities and become better players, Dwight Powell remains essentially the same player he was when the Mavericks acquired him in 2014.
Powell really faded into the background after the team’s acquisition of Nerlens Noel. In the 26 games after all-star break, Powell played in only 21 and averaged just 14 minutes per contest. And even those meager figures is only as high as they are because Powell played 25 minutes or more in four of the last six games.
The Mavericks have Powell on the books for the next three years and owe him $28,893,270. The last year is a player option, if that somehow makes sense to you. Regardless, Dallas is playing Powell a ton of cash to play 14 minute a game.
For context (eye-opening, head-shaking context), he’s taking up 9.4 percent of the salary cap in 2017-18.
It’s challenging to assess Powell’s role without knowing much about the Mavericks’ offseason plans. If Dallas drafts a guard, Powell very much has a spot in the rotation due to sheer necessity. If the Mavericks draft someone like Jonathan Isaac, things become dicey.
Powell certainly hasn’t been bad, but he really doesn’t seem to have a role. His contract is movable, all are, but Dallas runs a system that should allow Powell to succeed. While he isn’t bad, he doesn’t really stand out at all either. He simply lacks the defensive presence or otherworldly athleticism that would really help him excel in his only viable roll in the NBA: roll man and rim-protector.
So where Powell goes from here is really out of his hands. He’s a hard worker, but at a certain point players are who they are in the NBA. And a back up big man pulling down eight figures is a pretty good gig if you can get one—and hold onto it.