Cruising through Mavericks youtube videos I stumbled upon this video of interviews from September when Mavs opened training camp. With Dirk returning soon it seemed relevant to hear him speak on his role this season. There are also some great moments from DeAndre Jordan, Dennis Smith Jr, and Luka Doncic.
Dirk Nowitzki (1:06 minute mark)
With Mavs.com writer, Dwain Price, reporting that Dirk was a full practice participant on Friday it is pretty clear that he is just days away from returning to the court. There is no official word on exactly when he will play, but Rick Carlisle said Friday that Dirk will NOT play against Houston on Saturday at the AAC. The next opportunity will be Monday against Orlando at home. Every game is important but I think it makes sense to bring Dirk back against a mediocre Eastern Conference team rather than a huge divisional game like we have on Saturday with Houston. It is safe to assume that there will be some rust and adjustment time needed for dirk to get re-acclimated and for Carlisle to iron out his rotation, I would rather like to see these growing pains against Orlando than Houston.
As it pertains to this video, the question remains, what position will Dirk play, and will he come off the bench for the first time since his rookie year where he still started 24 of 47 games he played in. Last season, for the 1,900 minutes that Dirk played, he 97% of his minutes at Center position according to basketball-reference. He would get a short run with the starters, be the first one subbed out, then come back in with JJ Barea, Dwight Powell, and Devin Harris to reek havoc on opposing reserve lineups. It will be interesting to see what Carlisle will do when Dirk returns. Will he start Dirk, quickly bringing Wes Matthews off the bench for him, then return him to the court JJ, Powell, Devin, Doe-Doe, and Maxi? Or will he actually have Dirk sit for the start of games and bring him out with JJ around 5 minute mark in the first quarter when we typically see Barea deployed?
I would expect a very strict minutes restriction as Dirk ramps up his activity and I expect just about all of his minutes will be played with pick-and-pop partner, and 6th man of the year candidate, JJ Barea. The Mavs are super deep, they already have 10 players that they play on a nightly basis. With the addition of Dirk to the rotation who is going to have their minutes cut? Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber both play under 20 minutes already but have been extremely effective when on the court. Dorian Finney-Smith is 6th on the team in minutes at 27 per game but he is the glue guy, 3-and-D specialist that does all of the dirty work. It is getting to the point where we have too many good players for our own good, a fun problem to have, but a problem none the less.
DeAndre Jordan (1:06 minute mark)
Even from the preseason somehow DeAndre knew he was going to defy basketball history. Making a 20% jump in free-throw percentage from year to year after already being in the league for 10 seasons is not something that happens. But here is the self proclaimed “Black Dirk” shooting 75.8% on free-throws, 30% higher than his career average of 45.5%. The sudden spike in efficient seems to be attributed to his new free-throw routine where you can see him look to the Mavs player lined up on the block and ask “Hey, who you guarding?” on the next free throw he looks to the other side “Hey, who you guarding?” It seems ridiculous to me that after 10 years of be abysmal from the line, a simple change in routine can have such a drastic effect. Maybe Dirk was able to give him some pointers since he is the 16th best free-throw shooter of all time with a career mark of 88%. Maybe being “back home” in Texas where he went to high school and college is providing a level of comfort and peace that translates to better shooting. Whatever the reason, I hope it continues…
It was also great to hear DeAndre pay homage to one of the best Centers in Mavericks history, Tyson Chandler. Tyson played the perfect role in Rick Carlisle’s offense as rim protector, enforcer, and lob threat. Watching Tyson Chandler film and trying to emulate his style of play would put DeAndre in a great position to help the Mavs make the playoffs this year. The way he could elevate and challange shots without fouling was a major factor in the Mavs Championship run in 2011.
Dennis Smith, Jr. (2:15 minute mark)
When Dennis Smith Jr was asked what he had been working on most in the off-season he mentioned his ball handling and shooting, both of which it appears he has made progress with.
Year over year, to this point in the season, Dennis has significantly approved his shooting percentages across the board with the exception of free throws. I think a lot of the improvement can be attributed to simply taking better shots. As the Mavs struggled and leaned on Dennis a lot last season he was often the one who had to force up late clock jumpers. Now, the Mavs offense is more efficient, Luka has taken over many late clock situations, and DSJ is carrying less of an offensive load, 14.8 shots per game last year compared to 11.6 per game this season. Luka’s playmaking has resulted in more spot up jumpers for DSJ which, to his credit, he has been knocking down. But I have to be honest, that free-throw shooting is an issue. I think the 67% from the line is one of the major reasons Dennis does not drive to the hoop aggressively as much as Mavs fans would like. Luckily, DeAndre Jordan his given me hope that players can drastically improve their free throw shooting, although it is rare. Hopefully DSJ can be another exception.
One Mavs reporter then mentions to DSJ that it looks like he worked on his body in the offseason and appears much stronger. Then, as expected, Dennis gives him a flex and smile. This has become one of the biggest Mavs storylines this year as Dennis has become a defensive force! We already knew he was one of the quickest and most athletic players in the league, but now we see that as he adds strength his game will evolve as well.
The last part of the DSJ portion of the video is him talking about the vision of Luka Doncic and describes a play in practice where Luka hit him with an oop on a fast break. This Dennis/Luka offensive chemistry is not something we have seen too much of yet this season but is an idea that makes this team extremely exciting. Some of it has to do with Dennis learning to play off-ball, something he has not done much in his career, and Luka getting used to playing with someone as athletic and quick as Dennis, something Luka has not done much in his career. I’m sure by year’s end we will have a few Luka/Dennis connections to build a nice highlight mix.
Luka Doncic (3:10 minute mark)
Luka is pretty shy with the media here, especially compared to the flair and enthusiasm he shows on the court. I have often heard that international players are a bit nervous about the quality of their English when they first come to the league. Perhaps this is the case with Luka but his English is actually very good and not something he needs to be self conscious about.
You can tell he was excited to play with Dennis Smith Jr when he smiles and says he thinks opponents are going to have a really hard time trying to guard him this year. EuroLeague is considered to be the second best league in the world but they don’t really have any guards as quick and athletic as DSJ.
When asked about Dirk he keeps it short and sweet as the Mavs GOAT usually does himself. Luka sincerely mentions how honored he was to play with Dirk and how he legendary he is. Although he is only 19 and had only been in the states for a matter of weeks, he already showed he can answer questions like a veteran.