Season in Review
Dwight Powell entered this season entrenched as the starting five next to Kristaps Porzingis, after firmly proving over the previous handful of seasons that he is, despite a vocal minority group of fans, good.
Next to Porzingis spacing the floor, Powell would be the hammer to the Mavericks offense, screening and diving for Luka Doncic and opening up the floor for a variety of shooters. That was the plan and the Mavericks executed it beautifully — with Powell on the floor, the Mavericks scored 116.3 points per 100 possessions, a better mark than their season number of 115.9, which ending up being the greatest offensive rating in NBA history.
Powell scored 1.35 points per possession as the roll man in the pick and roll, which would easily be a league-leading number if Powell finished the season without the injury. He shot 78.8 percent in the restricted area, another elite number, while averaging 9.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Basically, Powell was as elite on the offensive end as he was the previous two seasons, proving he can be a capable rotation player on a playoff team and not just a March and April wonder. That was a big step for Powell’s development as the Mavericks invested in him with a three year contract extension last summer. Powell had to be as good as he was on the Mavericks rebuilding teams while also translating those elite offensive numbers into wins. He did and the Mavericks were good with him in the lineup next to Porzingis. The five-man starting lineup of Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith and Powell scored a blistering 120.3 points per 100 possessions and had a net-rating of 11.
Unfortunately, Powell’s injury was cut short. He suffered a brutal Achilles tear on Jan. 21, forcing him to miss the rest of the season and the playoffs. Dallas missed the vertical spacing he provided in the playoffs as a short-handed Mavericks team lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in six games.
Powell had a better scoring game in a win against the Wolves back in December (24 points on 9-of-9 shooting), but I’m going to give it to the game against the 76ers, where Powell scored 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed 12 rebounds in a double-digit thumping of a playoff team. This game sort of showcased everything that Powell can bring to the table — good screen setting, hard rim runs, solid rebounding and a bouncy off-the-dribble game. The Mavericks were floating entering the third quarter and Powell’s energy and movement blew things open. That’s perhaps Powell’s best trait: he never stops moving. For a team that can sometimes get enamored with watching Doncic do his thing, that’s extremely valuable to this team’s offense.
Powell finished up the final year of his 4-year, $37 million deal this season and next season his three year extension kicks in. It’s worth a little over $33 million, with an averaging salary of $11 million. Powell doesn’t become a free agent again until the 2023 off-season.
There were two interesting things that happened after Powell’s injury.
The first was that the Mavericks had to revamp their starting lineup and rotation, centered around Porzingis at the five. Dallas rarely played two bigs at once after the Powell injury, instead going to Porzingis and Kleber as the sole big men on the floor surrounded by four perimeter players, save for the occasional times when some extra beef was required. That lineup, with Porzingis at center, was great. It scored 119.8 points per 100 possessions and had a net-rating of 8.4 With Porzingis at the five, his game was unlocked as instead of being more of a spot-up bystander next to Powell, he was the primary pick and roll partner for Doncic. In the 25 games after Powell’s injury, Porzingis averaged 24.8 points per game on 46/37.1/85.2 shooting splits, by far the best stretch of his season. Without Powell, Porzingis set more screens and got more touches that weren’t just shots, allowing him to get more rhythm and comfort in the game.
The second thing was that the Mavericks offense near the basket took a big hit. When Powell was healthy, the Mavericks as a team shot 68.7 percent in the restricted area, second in the NBA behind the Los Angeles Lakers. After Powell’s injury, they shot 65.7 percent in the restricted area, 10th in the league. So still good, but not elite. While the Mavericks offense was great with Porzingis at center, the depth hit really took a toll on the Mavericks. Maxi Kleber had to play more minutes as a solo big instead of next to Powell off the bench and Dallas had to sign Willie Cauley-Stein to compensate. The Mavericks succeeded as a humming house of cards, a sum that is greater than the parts success story with all the role players around Doncic and Porzingis having career seasons. It was great when the Mavericks were healthy, but the injuries exposed the warts. When you have a team that is more than the sum of its parts, missing a crucial part hurts a lot.
Despite Dallas missing that vertical spacing, they still scored well enough in the playoffs against the Clippers, scoring 112 points per 100 possessions in this six games. So it presents a weird question: what do the Mavericks do when Powell returns? Should he slide back into the starting lineup? Should he come off the bench to allow Porzingis to be more involved in the offense (which clearly works for him)? That’s a tough question to answer, but regardless, Powell has proven that no matter what, he deserves to be a key cog on this team, whether that’s in the starting lineup or not.