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Dwight Powell is the unsung hero of the Mavericks

He is everything the team needs him to be.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Powell gets a rap. The Dallas Mavericks’ ninth-year big man out of Stanford frequently draws the ire of fans for one play or another and is often the butt of jokes because he gets hit in the head or face seemingly every game, thanks to his physical play. The hits never stop coming, too—on the court and off.

Powell immediately lost his job when the Mavericks signed JaVale McGee over the summer. He had been the team’s starting center for 71 regular season games and all 18 playoff games in 2021-22. It hasn’t seemed to faze him, though, as Powell has been a consummate professional and teammate.

“You have to stay ready regardless,” Powell said. “At the end of the day, this league is all about winning games, and we are going to try whatever we can to achieve that goal. There are going to be different situations where you have to play different roles. You have to be prepared every night, every day, every practice, every off day to do the best you can to be prepared for whatever the situation may be that is coming your way.”

Powell didn’t play in three of the season’s first four games, a decision made by head coach Jason Kidd. In the other game, he was only on the floor for seven minutes. The Mavericks went 2-2 in those games. Now, Kidd is starting to work Powell back into the regular rotation.

“The minutes that he’s giving us—I would put him and Josh [Green] in that category of giving us the energy we need,” Kidd said of Powell. “We’re flat to start the game. We’re one of the worst teams in the first quarter on the defensive end. So, we got to address that, but DP’s been great, Josh has been great, Maxi [Kleber] has been great.”

The numbers don’t lie. Powell was a team-high plus-25 off the bench in 18 minutes for the Mavs as they came back from a 14-point deficit against the Utah Jazz Wednesday night to notch a 103-100 win and climb above .500 for the first time this season. Powell finished the game with nine points, five rebounds, a steal, and a block.

More broadly, Powell is seeing more time on the floor with the starters—Luka Doncic, Spencer Dinwiddie, Reggie Bullock, and Dorian Finney-Smith. He’s played 26 minutes with them over three games, and while it’s still a small sample size, the Mavericks are reaping the rewards.

That unit has an offensive rating of 122.6 and a defensive rating of 88.0. For comparison, the lineup that starts the game with McGee at the center has an offensive rating of 100.8 and a defensive rating of 116.4. They’ve played 59 minutes together.

Why Kidd chose to go away from what worked so well last season and preemptively award the starting spot to McGee is anyone’s guess. Kidd isn’t willing to say whether he plans to make any changes to the starting lineup yet, but he’s at least open to having that conversation.

“If I can start six [players], yeah,” Kidd said about the possibility of starting Powell. “I’ll take the ‘T.’ I’ll pay the fine. He deserves it. That will be something that we talk about, so we’ll see.”

Powell will remain in limbo for at least a while longer. Yet, as he says, he’ll stay ready and accept whatever role the team needs him to play because that’s who he is. He’s what they need him to be.

Dinwiddie understands the value that Powell brings to the team. He spoke at length—you could call it a soliloquy—after the game Wednesday, praising Powell for everything he does. He understands that Powell is an unsung player but is also at the heart of everything the Mavericks do well on and off the court.

Dinwiddie’s full quote:

Dwight, being a guy who started on a Western Conference Finals team [and] lost his job, is the first, second or third man in the gym every single day. [He] lifts after every game, eats right, takes care of his body, doesn’t drink [alcohol], does all of the things that you should do as an ultimate pro. [He] cheers the hardest for the people that play over him. JaVale [McGee] gets a dunk [and] he’s one of the first people off the bench. It’s an extreme credit to his character.

It is the hardest role to have in this league to know that you can play, to have started and had success, and to be relegated to the bench not playing at all—staying ready, staying focused, and then when they call your number, to have extreme success whether it’s [on the] stat sheet or not. Sometimes, he doesn’t score or get a bunch of rebounds or whatever.

I know Mavs fans give him a lot of flak for fouling a lot or falling on the ground or things like that. But the things that he does in terms of rolling every single time, regardless of whether he gets the ball—getting hit, getting hurt, getting knocked in the face and all that other stuff—that is a glory-less job. [It] allows guys like Luka and myself to be able to make plays because his rim pressure is what then gets the weak side to pull in so we can pass to Reggie and Dorian so they can hit corner threes, where there is a lot of capability or putting decisions in the big’s mindset of ‘we can’t give up layups.’

So, in a lot of ways, he’s like that great left guard for a football team where Tom Brady is getting all the accolades and endorsements, but if that dude isn’t protecting his blindside and isn’t doing it every single time, Tom Brady is getting his head knocked off.

DP is the ultimate pro. I have the utmost respect for him, and I hope every single Mavs fan listens to this monologue and has a different respect level for DP because everybody is not going to get to shoot 20 times and score 30 points and do all of the flashy stuff and dunk and stuff. You need guys that do things like that and are ready every single time, every single day. He’s probably in there lifting right now, to be honest. You know what I’m saying? I’m going home. He’s lifting. So, like, that’s DP.