In sports, it’s really easy on the outside looking in to grow impatient. You want new acquisitions to pop off right away, returning players to look like themselves. Sometimes that happens, and it’s great! Sometimes it doesn’t. That doesn’t always mean something is Wrong™, it just takes time. Dwight Powell is proof of that.
About 15 months ago, Powell tore his Achillies. It’s one of the worst injuries in basketball, sometimes a career-ender. At the very least, you’re usually not the same player after the injury that you were before. Things are starting to change with advancements in medicine and physical therapy, but it’s still a bleak injury. Powell returned from his injury 11 months later and when you watched him on the court in training camp, preseason and the early games, he looked OK, but you knew he wasn’t OK.
That’s sort of how it is with one of the worst injuries in basketball. Recovering from an Achillies injury doesn’t stop when you step on the floor. You’re back, but you’re not actually back. It’s a grueling process. It was easy to see with Powell early on — he shot around 40 percent from the floor in the first two months of 2021 and the Mavericks lacked a consistent rim-running threat that Powell used to provide. The juice Powell gave the Mavericks offense was gone, zapped by a brutal injury and recovery process. That didn’t necessarily mean it was gone forever though. We’re starting to see that right now.
The Mavericks just beat the Los Angeles Lakers in two straight games. Granted, it was a Lakers team without LeBron James and a rusty Anthony Davis, but still two fairly impressive wins nonetheless when you consider how much the Mavericks struggled at times in April. Powell had his fingerprints all over these games, especially Saturday night where he scored 25 points on 11-of-12 shooting. After Saturday night, it’s starting to shift into focus: Dwight Powell is good, again.
By far the biggest difference Saturday night and the past few weeks has been Powell regaining his touch and explosiveness near the rim. Before his injury, Powell was regularly a monster finishing in the restricted area, shooting above 70 percent. In the first few months of the season, Powell was in the low 60s, clearly not himself.
Against the Lakers, he was able to finish in a variety of situations at the rim. He wasn’t just flushing wide open dunks, but making smart plays and finishing through contact.
When Powell is really going well, he starts opening things up just be going hard to the rim. In the play below, Dorian Finney-Smith is wide open in the corner, which leads to him attacking the closeout and finding Powell at the rim for another easy basket. It looks simple, but again, this is something no other big on the Mavericks roster does consistently.
It’s a refreshing sight to see a Mavericks big making these plays. Dallas has missed this dynamic on the roster for most of the season and Powell finally looks to be coming around. The Lakers doubled Luka Doncic shamelessly all night and without Kristaps Porzingis, a lot of the Mavericks role players in the first half had a deer in the headlights look with the ball in their hands. Thankfully in the second half things got better and that was mostly due to Powell being assertive with his dives to the basket and finally making the Lakers pay for doubling Doncic.
Dallas hasn’t had a reliable roller all season and whenever the Mavericks offense looks gummed up, it’s easy to notice. Despite his slow start, Powell is now scoring 1.24 points per possession as the roll-man in the pick and roll, good for 70 percentile in the league and the best marks for any of the Mavericks big men in roll man possessions. Again, that’s for the season, accounting for Powell’s rough start as he was still recovering. If you really want to know how much Powell has regained his form, consider this: remember the part about Powell starting the season shooting in the low 60s in the restricted area? For the season he’s now at 70 percent. Post All-Star break? 81 percent. In the month of April? Powell is shooting a staggering 85.4 percent in the restricted area.
Dare I say it, but Dwight Powell is looking like he’s back to his good self again and it’s coming at the perfect time for the Mavericks.