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Dwight Powell’s injury is devastating in every way imaginable

On the court, off the court — every way you slice it, the Powell injury is a gut punch.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas Mavericks Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

When Dwight Powell went down, my stomach churned.

You could tell, instantly, it was bad. Non-contact, with Powell’s leg seemingly giving out from under him. While the worst hasn’t been confirmed, the Mavericks have already said it’s an Achilles injury. It only feels like a matter of time before the press release hits that it’s torn.

This sucks. It sucks in every possible way. The work Powell has done to transform himself into the player he is now is pretty remarkable when you think about the player he was coming out of college. Now there’s a chance that even though he’ll step on the court, he might never be the same again.

Powell was a second-round pick, a four-year college player. He was a springy big with a decent looking jumper. When he first arrived in Dallas, I thought his future was as a stretch four. Seriously, his jumper looked that good! To go from that to a rim running terror is amazing.

Dwight Powell’s Rim Running Transformation

Season Roll Man PPP Restricted Area FG%
Season Roll Man PPP Restricted Area FG%
2019-2020 1.37 78.8
2018-2019 1.33 77.6
2017-2018 1.41 76
2016-2017 1.16 73.1
2015-2016 0.94 69.4

Powell’s first season and a half in Dallas was mostly him wildly missing layups near the basket and taking lots of elbow jumpers. Seemingly overnight, he transformed himself into a deadly pick and roll player, which is harder than it looks. It’s easy to assume all big men can be good as a finisher in the pick and roll, but it’s a skill that has to be taught and acquired. Powell did so with his tireless work ethic, which he absorbed from the final years of Dirk Nowitzki. He carried on Dirk’s giving to the community as well. It’s hard for us to write about it as most of the events happen during real work hours, but Powell has been huge in the community.

This isn’t just the Luka Doncic effect either — Powell was already one of the NBA’s elites at finishing as a roll man well before Doncic arrived. Dwight Powell, once more, is good!

He has his warts. They’re easy to list off, like his atrocious defense guarding the rim and his affinity for getting pushed around under the basket. I think that’s part of why Powell draws so much ire from a certain segment of the Mavericks fan base. When Powell is really good, he’s sometimes hard to notice. He can go five minutes without touching or shooting the ball and still make a giant impact on the Mavericks offense. However, when he’s bad, he’s real bad — players shooting over and through him at the rim, giving up crucial offensive rebounds. Powell isn’t perfect.

But he doesn’t have to be. He’s paid fairly and never asked to be anything more than the fifth best starter on a team learning how to win and make a playoff push. There’s value in players like Powell, who have one elite skill and are just OK elsewhere. It’s hard to find contributors that impact winning in the NBA and Powell was one of them, even if he gave it back on defense some nights.

He’ll be missed. Powell’s rim running meshed beautifully with Kristaps Porzingis and while Maxi Kleber has improved a lot as a roller, he’s not near the same heads-up off-ball player that Powell is.

Onto the notes.

  • It was really hard for me to care about the game after Powell went down. It’s just a brutal injury for a guy that works so hard to do things for this team. So my notes might not be as observant as normal. I’m still extremely bummed out about the whole thing.
  • Seeing Kristaps Porzingis back after a 10-game absence with a sore right knee was a, well, sight for sore eyes. Porzingis didn’t seem hampered or to be in any visible pain on the court, which is honestly the number one thing I was looking for. He shot terribly, but that was to be expected after the long lay off. Tonight was all about him just moving well and looking normal, which I think was accomplished.
  • Credit to Rick Carlisle for starting J.J. Barea in the second half. It’s likely that Kleber will be the regular starter moving forward, but Barea was much needed to start the second half tonight. The Mavs were likely shell-shocked in the locker room over Powell’s injury and having Barea’s veteran presence to keep things steady to start the third quarter was huge — it didn’t necessarily show up in box score production (three points in eight minutes) but the Mavs started the third quarter with a nice run before things got wonky.
  • Wonky a night it was. The Clippers shot 37.1 percent and won, which is really hard to do. The Mavericks just made too many mistakes against a team this talented: ill-timed turnovers, missed free throws, absent-minded defense. There was a stretch in the fourth quarter where the Clippers could have blown this thing open if they made their open shots. Dallas was lucky to hang around, but credit the team for not folding after Powell’s injury. They fought like hell, just too many brain farts.
  • Let’s go ahead and talk about the Tim Hardaway Jr. shot in the final seconds. First off, hell of a play by Delon Wright to generate the turnover and give the Mavericks a chance. Wright’s season has been weird, at best, so it was nice to see him make a splash play in the clutch. Wright got the ball to Luka, who was a few feet behind the arc with a defender about to close out on him before he shuffled it off to a wide-open Hardaway who missed the tying three. It had a very LeBron-like discourse that followed and I’ll just say this right now: Luka made the right play. Hardaway has been great from deep this season, and Luka has been bad on every type of three point shot: 32.7 on catch and shoots, 32.6 on pull ups. It was absolutely, 100 percent the correct play. I will say this too, though — eventually, and sooner rather than later, that needs to be Luka’s shot. He’s the guy on this team and he had a pretty decent look considering the situation. If the Mavericks want to reach new heights, Luka will need to improve his shooting to the point where the data says Luka should be taking that shot, not a teammate.
  • I said this on the post-game podcast, but the Mavericks just need more from their trio of bench guards. Wright had the steal, but outside of that shot it just two times in 12 minutes for two points. Jalen Brunson was a bit better, but only six points in 14 minutes. Seth Curry hit a late three that was huge, but had just eight points and six shots in 19 minutes. Teams around the league would kill to have just one of these guys on their bench, as it’s really hard to find competent guard play from your bench. Just look at the Lakers! Instead, if feels like these three pass the baton every game on who is going to be the most invisible. On a night where the Mavs bench had to be on their A-game against a great Clippers bench, the Mavericks didn’t get much outside of Boban.
  • Rough timing for Kleber to have only his seventh game this season without a made three-pointer. Only four defensive rebounds as well. Woof.
  • Speaking of rough nights: Dorian Finney-Smith got worked by Kawhi Leonard, which is understandable, but it seemingly trickled into the rest of his game as well. He just didn’t seem great tonight even when he wasn’t on Kawhi, evident on the late Landry Shamet make. Leonard almost lost the ball, picked up his dribble and then Finney-Smith went to double. With the shot-clock winding down and Leonard in no man’s land, it didn’t make a ton of sense. A bad time to gamble.