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Where Does Dwight Powell Fit in With the Dallas Mavericks?

Mar 28, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Dwight Powell (7) defends against Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center. The Mavericks defeated the Nuggets 97-88. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 28, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Dwight Powell (7) defends against Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center. The Mavericks defeated the Nuggets 97-88. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /
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Restricted free agent Dwight Powell agreed to a $35 million deal to stay with the Dallas Mavericks for four more seasons. Where does Powell have to improve to carve out more than a niche-role on the roster?

Powell averaged 5.8 points on 49 percent shooting and 4.0 rebounds in 14.4 minutes per game during the 2015-2016 campaign. In general, Powell had a good sophomore year in the NBA. His PER rating was above average with a score of 16.87 – impressive for a role player – while his real-plus minus of 0.10 ranked him 33 among 99 power forwards.

Towards the second half of the season, David Lee joined the Mavs and Powell fell out of the rotation. But with $35 million committed to Powell, the Mavericks are banking on improvement from the Canadian. What can Dallas expect from the Toronto-native next season and what areas should Rick Carlisle and the coaching staff ask the 6-foot-11 Powell to address in the summer?

Assuming that Dirk Nowitzki starts at power forward and Salah Mejri and A.J. Hammons back up the center spot behind newly acquired Andrew Bogut, Powell will probably get most of his minutes as a backup power forward and some as a small-ball five.

According to Nylon Calculus, he spent 313 minutes (or 31.3 percent) at the center spot last season and 684 minutes (68.5 percent) as a power forward. Per 48 minutes, his net rating is far better as a four (0.3) than as a five-man (-8.9).

At the same time, his true shooting percentage of 60 percent at center is nearly six percentage points up from his score at power forward, which leads us to the crucial point in Powell’s development. During the 2015-16 season, Powell was really effective as a finisher near the basket and in the pick and roll, but could barely hit an outside shot.

If Powell improves his shot, he will probably end up as a back up stretch-four for the Mavericks, if he doesn’t, he will only see limited minutes as a small-ball five with Bogut and Mejri probably ahead of him in the rotation and Hammons also on the roster.

Whether he can improve his shot though, that remains the big question mark. 

Between 0 and 3 feet, Powell hit a terrific 70 percent (or 108 of 153) of his shots, but beyond that distance, his numbers look atrocious. Between 3 and 10 feet he made just 8 of 33 shots (24 percent), further out between 10 and 6 feet he made 7 of 21 attempts (33 percent) and between 16 feet and the three-point-line he hit 30 of 91 (33 percent).

There is no doubt that Powell can play above the rim on offense…

… but with Harrison Barnes – who played 54 percent of his minutes as a power forward for the Warriors last season –  also on the Mavericks, Powell will have to make his shots or he will be out of the power forward rotation.

At the five, Powell can work against small-ball opponents. As evidenced by his numbers close to the basket and in the pick and roll, he is terrific as a finishing five on offense, but his physical limitations challenge him on the defensive end as a center.

Even though he has decent size for the center position in today’s NBA at 6-foot-11, his wingspan of 7-feet and his 8-foot-9 reach are barely average for the power forward spot, which is probably why the Mavericks couldn’t get away with playing Powell at that spot last year.

The soon-to-be 25-year old is a sub-par shot-blocker (0.3 blocks per game las season) and while he finished the season with an allowed rim field goal percentage of 49.1 during his 989 minutes – a slightly better rate than Nerlens Noels’ 49.4 – that percentage isn’t close to good enough compared to the league’s elite rim protectors such as Rudy Gobert (41 percent), Festus Ezeli (44), Andrew Bogut (45.1) or Bismack Biyombo (45.4).

Additionally, Powell’s 240-pound frame and especially his lower body are not strong enough to withstand the stronger centers who can back him down in the post (although these low-post threats have become rarer in the NBA).

The limits that inhibit Powell as a center on defense, don’t work against him as a power forward or in small-ball lineups. Powell is a fluid athlete, quick enough to stick with his opponent on the perimeter and retreat back into the paint if he has to. His defensive real-plus minus of 2.22 ranked him 12th among all power forwards last season.

With that said, Powell’s success as a role-player for the Mavericks still hinges on his shot-making. He doesn’t even have to extend his range out to the three-point line, a serviceable mid-range shot would be enough.

The Miami Heat’s Udonis Haslem perfected the baseline 15-footer early in his career and made nearly all of his contributions on offense with that shot, hustle, dunks and offensive rebounds. If Dwight Powell can improve on that shot during the offseason, Carlisle can certainly work the 24-year-old into the Mavs flow offense.

And there is hope for the young Canadian forward. During his NBA career (only 98 games so far), Powell has been a 74 percent free-throw shooter and his form from above the hips looks decent enough. In summer league in Las Vegas last summer, Powell was 22 of 49 from three-point range, unfortunately that shot-making failed to translate to the regular season as he was just 2 of 17 from beyond the arc.

With an annual salary of just over 9 million for the next four years, the Mavericks are probably hopeful that Powell can translate the pick-and-pop game that he showed in summer league last year to the NBA for next season.

Next: Dallas, Dirk Agree to Two Year Deal

Here’s to Powell having a prominent role on the Mavericks next season.

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