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This season Yogi Ferrell must solidify his role

He burst on to the scene in January, now this season is about making sure he sticks.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

I remember spending the final days of January and the first few days of February laughing. I remember standing in my living room, hands over my head, whisper-screaming with 19 seconds left in the February 3 game against Portland.

The Mavericks had entered the week a stomach churning 16-30, facing a tough stretch of games with a turnstile rotation of filler point guards.

Ultimately, maybe we have Pierre Jackson’s hamstring to thank.

Stories like Yogi Ferrell’s happen so rarely in the NBA, so he should be celebrated as long as possible. Though Zach Lowe was referencing Jusuf Nurkic’s resurgence in Portland in his recent player preview, the same applies to Yogi:

From day one Ferrell fit perfectly in to the system and culture that Rick Carlisle has cultivated. It didn’t work for him in Brooklyn, and heck, maybe he wouldn’t have worked on 20 of the 30 teams in the league. Now, as he enters his second (and first full) season as a pro, he needs to prove he has staying power.

*Click here to listen to Locked On Mavericks: Yogi Ferrell Season Preview

Biggest question: how much can you spend on a second young point guard?

A lot of the contract talk this summer focused on how the Mavericks will spend their money next offseason, specifically on players like Nerlens Noel, Seth Curry, and any other top-tier free agent available. But low key, Yogi should demand some attention.

The undersized point guard will be a restricted free agent next summer (yes, more restricted free agency talk), so the Mavericks will have the option of signing him to a deal or matching any offer that Ferrell may sign in the open market. But that doesn’t mean that the Mavericks won’t have decisions to make.

The 2018 point guard free agency market has some marquee names, with the possibility of Russell Westbrook and guys like Chris Paul, Isaiah Thomas, Tony Parker, and **cough** Rajon Rondo. I’m also required by NBA law to mention that Derrick Rose will be a free agent. Yogi won’t be competing for contracts with these players.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

But some other restricted free agent guards — Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton — could be moving around, leaving space open on other teams. And those players aside, there are about four or five teams on which I’d start Yogi over the player they’ll be running with this season. All of this is to say the Mavericks may have to do some work to keep him, if he has a solid year.

So how much do you spend on a young point guard when you have Dennis Smith Jr., and possibly Seth Curry, signed long term? That can only be answered by first determining what role Ferrell will have on this season’s team.

Best-case scenario: Yogi as lethal bench leader

Last season, Yogi found himself in a unique position for an undrafted rookie on a ten-day contract. With the Mavericks, Ferrell averaged right at 29 minutes per game in 36 games. He will not get that luxury this year.

From revelations during media day, lineups are far from set, but there is a decent possibility that Yogi Ferrell will be the first guard off the bench. As a backup point guard, you don’t get the extra minutes to work in to the flow of the game.

Take J.J. Barea as the example; their games and skill sets mirror each other in many ways. In his 11 seasons in the league, Barea has never averaged more than 25 minutes per game. But as the spark plug off the bench, he matches the pace of play, brings energy, and is efficient with the basketball, creating offense for himself and others.

If Yogi is to take the next step in his development, patterning his game after Barea is ideal. Ferrell could do a better job as a distributor in the pick and roll. He is lethal as a scorer, exploiting mismatches and creating separation. But, he struggled at times last season finding the rolling big (Dirk). It’s something that just requires time to expand his feel and chemistry on the floor. Few do this better than Barea.

Additionally, Yogi will need to be efficient as a scorer. It’s a small sample size, but he showed in his single season that he might be a better pure shooter than Barea, posting a true shooting percentage of 54.1 percent (Barea’s best season in that category was in 2015-16 at 53.6 percent). Rhythm is important for shooters, but volume isn’t a luxury most bench players get. He’ll need to come ready with the hot hand.

Lastly, as with any Carlisle bench player, Ferrell needs to be locked in defensively. Hustle is king, and disrupting opponents the moment you step on the floor matters to Rick Carlisle. Though Barea has statistically always been a minus defender (-1.7 in his best season), he never backs down from mixing it up. Yogi has that same fire. He was nearly even in defensive box plus/minus and averaged just over a steal per game. Proving that he is reliable defensively will lock him in to the rotation.

This season, Yogi will have plenty of opportunity to grow into his role. Knowing Carlisle, he should see some spot starts and will push Dennis Smith Jr. to play at a high level. If Yogi can play efficiently in the pick and roll and as a shooter, and be a defensive leader on the perimeter, playing between 20 and 25 minutes per game, he’ll be looking at a legitimate contract next July.

Worst-case scenario: Yogi lost in a sea of guards

It’s no secret that the roster is full of guards. And undersized guards at that. For whatever reason, the Mavericks have run out plenty of small playmakers over the last several seasons. No matter the size, it can be a tough situation for a young gun to establish himself in a new role when it’s a crowded position.

And then Dennis Smith Jr. was drafted. Yogi was lucky to have the time on the floor he did his rookie season, but when a talent like Smith Jr. comes along, everything changes. And that can be difficult for young players. Justin Anderson found himself in a similar circumstance at the start of last season in Dallas: Dorian Finney-Smith is not on the talent level of Dennis Smith Jr., but he hustled his way to playing time, and Anderson got lost in the shuffle.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Washington Wizards Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

It should be stated: Yogi is not Justin Anderson. He possesses a different basketball IQ and tenacity. But it’s not uncommon for young players to have a second year dip in production. And with Carlisle security blankets J.J. Barea and Devin Harris still around, if Yogi doesn’t continue to fuel his own fire, he could find himself on the bench for stretches.

For any of this worst-case scenario to take place, the Yogi Ferrell that we know and love would have to fade away. He would have to back down from the challenges this season will present on a personal and team level. And there are no signs of that happening. But if he can’t find the consistency and reliability needed to be the first guard off the bench, there will be more questions than answers next summer.

As the Mavericks continue to rebuild, evaluating which players are worth long-term investment, Yogi will get plenty of run. Seizing this moment could set the course for an exciting young career that no one saw coming.