For a player as unassuming and under the radar as Dwight Powell, he seems to be a somewhat controversial figure within Mavericks fandom. On one side he is seen as the beacon of the Mavericks stagnant roster mediocrity, the result and representation of countless failed trades and free agency pursuits. On the other, he is an analytics darling, an unsung hero and underrated rotation player.
The funny thing about Powell is that he can be both of these things at the same time, but at the end of the day, he still is useful, no matter how many angry twitter users type into the void. This season will be no exception.
Now well over a year removed from a devastating Achilles surgery, Powell enters a season healthy and without extensive rehab, much like his frontcourt partner Kristaps Porzingis. And just like his frontcourt partner, Powell has some higher expectations due to the distance between himself and that injury. Make no mistake, an Achilles injury to a basketball player can be a fatal blow to a career, but we’ve seen over the past few seasons that players can reclaim what they once were to some degree, so long as at least a year or so has passed.
Powell begins what will probably be the final “stable” season of his Mavericks tenure — next season will be the last of his current deal, making him a useful, weighty expiring contract. Regardless of how the Mavericks feel about Powell’s future, it would behoove both parties for Powell to be as effective as possible, both for the Mavericks to be as good of a team as they think they can be and so that Powell’s contract feels less like dead weight on the Mavericks cap sheet but a valuable asset to potential bidders. Thankfully, there are signs of Powell meeting and exceeding expectations.
Can Powell and Porzingis survive and thrive as a frontcourt duo? Back in the 2019-2020 season, before Powell’s injury, the two produced splendid results for the Mavericks. When Powell and Porzingis shared the floor that season, the Mavericks scored 117.1 points per 100 possessions and only allowed 105.3. That 11.9 net-rating was sparkling, a result of how the two mesh together so well — Powell the athletic vertical threat, running to the rim while Porzingis spaces the floor at the three point line.
Despite what you might think, that snug fit extended to the defensive end, where Porzingis patrolled the paint as a traditional center and Powell, always a broom handle with arms when tasked with guarding the rim, was allowed to use his quickness and agility to guard more perimeter focused fours that Porzingis would be best to not chase around the floor.
This is the part of the article where we deliver the bad news: last season, as Powell recovered from his Achilles injury and Porzingis from meniscus surgery, the duo was a disaster. In the 120 minutes they shared the floor together, the Mavericks gave up 132.2 points per 100 possessions, which is why then Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle started Maxi Kleber next to Porzingis for most of last season instead.
Thankfully, both Powell and Porzingis look much healthier so far this preseason, and an offseason not filled with grueling rehab should do wonders for the two to get them back to that pre-injury level of play. The ability for them to do so will be a crucial question the Mavericks must answer.
Best Case Scenario
Powell, looking much more like his springy self, continues his dominance as one of the league’s premier pick and roll rim runners. With Porzingis flanking him from the perimeter and both in far better shape, the duo continue to put up ridiculous offensive numbers while the defense gets back on track, allowing the Mavericks to preserve Porzingis from playing center full time to give his body less stress throughout the season.
In the second half of last season, Powell was a monster as he regained his speed and strength. Despite how lousy last season started for him, Powell finished the season scoring 1.38 points per possession as the role man in the pick and roll, good for 90.8 percentile. He carries that over into this season and thanks to Porzingis’ health, the two are able to coexist without Porzingis being a bystander on offense, which he often was in the 2019-2020 season, despite the good team results.
Worst Case Scenario
Even in a worst-case scenario, it’s hard to imagine Powell not being an effective rim-runner, as he still finished last season strong despite how horrid he looked coming back from his Achilles injury. Despite that, the defense looks lost as Powell’s inability to do anything to protect the paint clashes with Porzingis’ ability to remain healthy.
The Mavericks can’t stop a teams from scoring at will while the two play together, forcing Powell to the bench. Without Powell’s movement and rim running, the Mavericks offense becomes stagnant and one of the worst problems of the past five years for Dallas rears its head — a lack of reliable two-way lineups.
New coach Jason Kidd struggles to balance Powell’s positive offensive boost with his negative defensive one and Dallas flip flops between a high scoring team that gives it up just as much on the other end or a defensive focused team gasping for air on the offensive end. Powell is once again the odd man out in the playoff rotation, as the Mavericks offense yearns for more movement and vertical spacing, but cannot afford the defensive slippage.
Despite the obvious cons to Powell’s game, it’s hard to deny how effective he is as an offensive hammer to Luka Doncic’s nail. Powell’s vertical spacing is hard to replace on this roster, despite the Mavericks having a number of athletic five men.
The promise of how Powell finished the season, combined with his preseason numbers (he’s shooting over 83 percent!) give hope that he and the Mavericks can turn things around. They need to, or Powell once again becomes a costly reminder of the Mavericks unfortunate roster stagnation.