Rick Carlisle knew he needed to make a change to the starting lineup after his team was man-handled by the Sacramento Kings at home last Sunday. The Mavs had lost four out of five games and often looked lifeless out of the gates. Who did he look to for help? Dwight Powell, of course.
Yes, the guy who even after his 25 point, 9 rebound performance in the Mavs’ big 108-93 win over the Lakers on Saturday night is averaging just 5.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game this season.
Still just about 15 months removed from tearing his Achilles, it has not been the prettiest of seasons for the 29-year-old Powell. He’s often looked like a shell of his former self as he struggled to regain his elite skills as a roll man in Rick Carlisle’s offense. Something has changed in the month of April. While his typical counting stats aren’t eye-poppingly better, his impact on the game has been far easier to see with his energy and definitely returning to form when it comes to being a lob-threat with Luka Doncic.
“I mean he’s great. He sets great screens. He rolls great, but the most important thing is he goes hard,” Doncic said on Saturday night. “He deserved it [Powell deserving a big game]. He’s working hard every day. Actually, I think he’s lifting right now. He’s working hard every day. He deserves it and he’s going to keep growing from here I know that.”
Someone who probably believes in Powell more than anyone is his coach Rick Carlisle. He’s the one who has given Powell the opportunity to become a valuable rotation player in the NBA after being just an afterthought when he came over in the Rajon Rondo trade as a rookie way back in December 2014.
“Dwight’s one of the best rollers I’ve ever seen in this league. He has great timing, he has great feel, he has great hands. He’s not super tall but he really gets up. This is also a strong testament to the amount of work he put in over the last year-and-a-half-plus to recover from an injury that is extremely difficult for high-level athletes. But I look out there now and I don’t see any difference now from the Dwight Powell before the injury and that just speaks to an amazing amount of work put in.”
Powell is well-trained in the smart, political answer giving department, but he did provide some strong insight on his road back from the injury.
“It’s a work in process. It’s a tough rehab, it’s kind of something that’s ongoing for me. I’m still locked in on the things I need to do to continue to get better and preventing things from happening down the road as much as I can. The biggest thing for me is staying in the race as far as the rehab goes, as far as getting stronger. The goal is always to get to a new place, not just to get back to where I was, but to improve beyond where I was before I got hurt. That’s the ultimate goal, that’s the mindset I have with this whole rehab.”
It’s going to be impossible for him to get his stats to a point where anyone looks back on his season over the summer or further down the line and says, “Wow what a great year that was for him.” But he could definitely draw a line in the sand and people who watch each Mavs game will know how much better he was down the stretch and possibly even in the playoffs.
It’s always easy to forget that Dallas was without the likes of Powell, Jalen Brunson and Willie-Cauley Stein in the bubble last summer, but it appears like they’ll be around for the postseason this time around and they’ll definitely be a huge factor in them being a tough out in the first round.
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