Dwight Powell, the promising 6'11" second-year back-up power forward/center, was just a throw-in for Dallas in the trade that netted the Mavericks this awkward press conference (WHERE WERE THE OTHER MICROPHONES?!? HOW COULD THAT FIRST REPORTER NOT UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A FREE AGENCY SIGNING AND A TRADE?!?) and this hilarious in-game exchange just two months later. Now, he is all that remains from a deal that decimated his new team's bench... and ultimately its playoffs.
But I digress. As David Barclay mentioned in his NBA Summer League ex-Cardinal roundup, the 24 year-old Powell became the Farm alum most worth watching over the last few weeks, lapping Lakers rookie Anthony Brown and Warriors hopefuls Chasson Randle and Stefan Nastic (who also played for the Spurs during their Utah Summer League stop). He notched averages of 18.8 points, 9.2 boards, 2.5 assists, 1 steal, 42.9% field goal shooting, 70% free-throw shooting (on 6.7 attempts a game, no less) and 32.3 minutes across six Summer League games for the Mavs, all of them starts. Despite being only the second most-popular Powell of Summer League, Dwight Powell's stat stuffing did not go unnoticed by the league, and he was awarded a spot on the All-NBA Summer League Second Team for his efforts. With the Mavericks once again letting the very efficient Tyson Chandler walk in free agency, only to whiff awkwardly on DeAndre Jordan, there is going to be a real need for front court depth in Big D, behind Dirk Nowitzki and DJ's mediocre replacement, Zaza Pachulia. Mark Cuban must be taking some comfort (cold comfort, sure, but comfort nevertheless) in knowing that Dwight Powell is going to be a real NBA player.
That being said, Powell's Summer League performance was not without its shortcomings. He has trouble guarding traditionally-sized 4's, so a few times this summer, his stellar offensive contributions were off-set by the damage done on the other end. Against Portland on July 12th, fellow All-NBA Summer League Second Teamer Noah Vonleh had a +20 plus-minus to Powell's -7, occasionally bullying Powell until Vonleh got into his preferred spots. Obviously his shooting from the floor left a bit to be desired, although a lot of that 42.9% margin can be attributed to a paltry 26.5% 3-point shooting percentage, on an ill-advised 8.2 trey's launched per game. In the regular season, this would be a ratio of makes-to-attempts, but let's assume Powell was operating on some directive from Dallas's brain trust. Powell did average 45.5% from three during his 2012-13 junior season under Johnny Dawkins, albeit on just 1 3-pointer taken per game, so perhaps Dallas (via Summer League Head Coach Caleb Canales) is exploring his floor-spacing potential. He also shot 46.3% from during his rookie season last year, too -- but only took 11 total 3-pointers in 29 games played (0.4 attempts per game), so that number feels a bit fluky.
The big advantage of being a reliable(ish) stretch-four option would be the ability to drag his front court defenders away from the paint, creating pockets of open space into which Powell can pass or, in this case, slice himself. Plus, you know, Dirk already opens up the floor himself. The Mavericks' projected starting line-up from 1-4 (Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons, Nowitzki) plus a sharp-shooting Powell, were that to indeed happen, could create a host of problems for opponent coverage (Williams is a career 35.8% shooter from deep, a stat that shocked me too, when I saw it). Granted, he had nights of going 1-for-6 and 1-for-9 from long range this summer. During a 2-4 Vegas showing, there were a lot of moments where Powell would scramble around the court until he found himself wide-open from behind the arc, instead of barreling towards the paint and getting ready for easy put-backs. He's not going to average 8.2 attempts in-season, of course. But still -- he's got to figure out just how effective he can be bombing from outside, especially when it takes him out of rebounding position.
Granted, Powell's performance this summer isn't guaranteed to translate to the regular season. We've all seen some great Summer League performances from some horrible NBA players before. And I'm sure we will again. But, hey, playing well in the NBA Summer League always bodes better than, you know, not playing well in the NBA Summer League.
Powell made solid contributions beyond just his scoring. He set smart screens (Powell had a lot of Kevin Garnett-esque moving screens this summer, good work if they don't catch you). He elbowed dudes out of position to secure defensive boards (averaging 7.7 of his 9.2 rebounds on the defensive end, by the way). He stayed with his man on D most of the time, but was able to ration some of his defensive minutes to slide over and help if his teammates were struggling with their covers -- he also hustled in transition on that end of the floor. Finally, Powell showcased some smart passing this summer, leading his squad in assists (5) during Dallas's final SL game. It wasn't uncommon to see him move with the ball at the top of the key, seeking out cutters for little bounce-passes. I guess this is all a long-winded way of saying that Powell does a lot of things well, but no one thing great (outside of defensive rebounding), and is not lacking for effort or hustle. He showed enough potential as a high-energy stretch-4 in just 24 games last season to have tantalized Mavericks believers. Powell will log legitimate back-up time with Dallas now, out of necessity at first; but if his Summer League performance can serves as any kind of benchmark, he will prove he deserves those minutes soon enough.