DALLAS — Yogi Ferrell doesn’t typically get a post-game scrum around his locker room. A few reporters occasionally, yes, but not the full-on scrum usually reserved for Dirk Nowitzki, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes and now rookie Dennis Smith Jr.
Leave it to J.J. Barea to interject.
“Yogi tell ‘em! Yogi tell ‘em!” fellow sub-six footer Barea pipped near the group of reporters surrounding Yogi and his locker while Yogi was in the middle of answering a question. “We get rebounds! We get the rebounds!”
Ferrell laughed and reiterated Barea’s point. Somehow Ferrell led the Mavericks in rebounding with eight, and coach Rick Carlisle said after the game that his spark off the bench was the deciding factor. The Mavs were down 9-4 in the first quarter when Carlisle called an early timeout, going to Ferrell and pulling Maxi Kleber to counteract the Magic’s four-out lineup. Orlando only played with one traditional big man the entire game, which meant Ferrell was much needed. He delivered.
“In the first half, he was the one guy that was really battling on the boards for us, the shortest guy out there,” Carlisle said.
The final stat line for Ferrell was one of his best all season: 15 points, eight rebounds, four assists and just one turnover in 33 minutes. He led the team with a plus-29 in those 33 minutes and he was 6-of-9 from the floor.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Ferrell’s big night didn’t have much to do with knocking down threes. It’s been Ferrell’s biggest immediate skill, as he’s knocked down over 40 percent of this threes since he joined the Mavs last season and on a healthy number of attempts. He’s not just soaking up spot-up looks — he’s hitting 40.7 percent of his pull-up threes on 1.3 attempts per game this season, according to NBA.com. Ferrell’s a threat to spring off a jumper wherever he is on the court and wherever he is with his dribble.
Defense can be a challenge, obviously, with his height. Ferrell is built like a 5’11 Superman, though, so he battles about as well as he can. Sometimes, like against Kyrie Irving, players just shoot over him. Against the Magic however, Ferrell was a pest and made good on the boxouts of his bigger teammates, diving into the paint and grabbing rebounds.
“When we do that, that just gets our break started a lot quicker,” Ferrell said.
That’s what changed the game against the Magic in the third quarter, as Ferrell initiated fastbreaks with his rebounds and got into the lane quickly. The Mavs scored 39 points and retook control of the game as Ferrell showed up some nifty finishes that haven’t always been there this season. It wasn’t just the threes this time, though he did hit two from deep.
Changing the game positively has been Ferrell’s trademark all season. He’s one of the few Mavs to have a positive net-rating when he’s on the floor (2.9) and has the biggest disparity between his on-floor, off-floor numbers — the Mavericks’ net-rating tumbles all the way down to minus-10 when Ferrell is on the bench, the worst mark of anyone on the roster.
Ferrell being a second-year player and 24 years old is the cherry on top. The Mavericks found a young player that helps and fits into the modern game. His size may limit his ceiling to spot-starter and sixth-man, but it’s still a good find for a team that needs all the young talent it can get.
Coming off that rookie season splash, Ferrell said the biggest thing he’s been focusing on this season has been learning more of the nuances of the game and the Mavericks’ system, like pick-and-roll reads and where to be on the floor.
“Nobody can teach my effort, I’m going to play hard the entire time,” Ferrell said. “The main thing for me is just being a student of the game.”
That fits right in for Carlisle, even if he hasn’t always known exactly where. When asked about Ferrell during a pre-game radio interview earlier this season, Carlisle admitted heading into training camp he wasn’t sure where Ferrell was going to be in the rotation, thanks to the glut of veteran guards and the drafting of Smith.
Now, that isn’t ever a question.
“He always finds a way to fit in because he goes hard and he maximizes his minutes,” Carlisle said. “Tonight, we couldn’t have won without him.”