Harrison Barnes looks forward to development of Mavs’ ‘promising’ core in 2017-18

Harrison Barnes 2016-2017 Highlights

Check out some of Harrison Barnes’ most memorable highlights from the 2016-17 season!

For years, the Mavs sported one of the oldest rosters in the NBA. Suddenly, though, their well-rounded core is one of the league’s youngest.

There’s Harrison Barnes, who just turned 25. Dallas drafted Dennis Smith Jr. last month, who won’t turn 20 until after Thanksgiving. He’s projected to replace in the starting lineup 24-year-old Yogi Ferrell, who became the first Maverick to make an All-Rookie Team in more than a decade. Seth Curry, 26, more than doubled his career games played total in his first season with the Mavericks, and he’s another half-season away from qualifying as currently the sixth most-accurate 3-point shooter in NBA history (43.2 percent). And restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, whom the Mavs front office said at the end of the season hopes to bring back for the future, just turned 23.

Each of those players started a significant number of games last season, with the exception of the rookie Smith of course. The Mavs’ best starting lineup of the season — Ferrell, Curry, Wesley Matthews, Barnes, and Dirk Nowitzki — went 11-7, and Noel was essentially the “sixth starter” during that time. That young group clearly has potential, and one emerging centerpiece is excited about it.

“It’s very promising,” Barnes said last week at a Mavs Hoop Camp in Plano. “We just have to continue to get better every single day.”

Barnes has stayed out of the public eye this summer, which for him has been a pleasant departure from his regular-season routine, when he talked with the media after every game and most practices. Win or lose, good game or bad, Barnes always did his duty, even on nights when it would take him an hour to finish his post-game routine. He’d often take good-natured jabs at the brave writers who stayed in the locker room long enough to ask him a few questions, asking why we would possibly want to stick around just to talk to him. Nowitzki, Barnes’ locker-room neighbor, often fired back before we could, reminding the young star that it comes with the territory when you want to be the face of a franchise and telling him to get used to it, because the German has done it for 20 years. (Even Nowitzki got some nights off from the media this season, thanks to Barnes.)

So the silent summer has been a welcome one for Barnes, who spent some time in Spain for an NBA event but otherwise has been in the Mavs practice facility oftentimes before the sun rises, working out with Mavs coaches God Shammgod and Jamahl Mosley.

Barnes is similar to Nowitzki in that he takes great pride in the amount of work he puts in. For him it’s about both quality and quantity — the only thing better than a solid workout is an extended solid workout, day after day — and that has sometimes meant doing a late shift at the facility, too. He’s also paid attention to the work his teammates have put in this summer, and one player has stood out to him in that regard: Dennis Smith Jr.

The Mavs might have gotten younger, but they’ve retained their old-school, “show me” approach to leadership. It’s not about talking big, it’s about playing with an edge and working out harder and longer than anyone else. That’s what’s made players like Barnes and Wesley Matthews such good fits alongside Nowitzki: They just get it. And Barnes said Smith, just 19 years old, gets it too.

“He’s trying to do it the right way — by example — as opposed to just coming in and trying to be extremely vocal, but not having the work ethic to back it up,” Barnes said.

No matter how impressive the rookie’s drive is outside of games, though, Smith has still got to literally drive the ball as often as possible on the floor for the Mavs this season. Dallas ranked 21st in drives per game last season, which is one reason why they targeted Smith in the draft. If a guard can get into the lane, the opposing defense is more likely to break down, leading to a good look.

“The sky’s the limit for him,” Barnes said. “He can put it on the floor, great jumping ability, can score. He’s definitely gonna help us a lot next year.”

If Smith can play at anywhere near the level he reached in Summer League — which is, of course, “just” Summer League — the Mavs will have definitely found something. The rookie point guard scored 17.3 points per game in Vegas adding 4.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds. His ability in the pick-and-roll was on full display, and he was constantly getting into the lane and creating shots either for himself or for his teammates.

Dennis Smith Jr. Highlights

Check out some of All-Summer League First Team Dennis Smith Jr.’s best plays from Las Vegas and NC State!

Smith was so effective in Las Vegas that teams often adjusted mid-game to slow him down. Phoenix, for example, moved their high-profile rookie forward Josh Jackson over to Smith in an attempt to counter his athleticism with length, but it didn’t work; Smith scored 25 points on just 14 shots. The Bulls double-teamed him, and the Kings gave just about everyone on the roster a chance, but to no avail. Whether he was guarded by a shorter player or a taller one, someone quicker or slower, someone older or his age, Smith was for the most part able to get to his spots. That will certainly be huge for the Mavs, who ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency last season as injuries and roster moves limited the number of shot creators available on any given night.

“He’ll definitely help us a lot in those moments when you kind of get into a drought,” Barnes said. “Just having another scorer on the floor will definitely help us.”

Smith is a welcome addition to a Mavs core Barnes describes as “promising,” and the fact that the Mavs already have a core relatively in place is key for two reasons. First, this is the first offseason in recent memory that the Dallas roster has remained basically the same from one year to the next. Yes, there have been some moves, namely the losses of A.J. Hammons and Nicolas Brussino and the addition of Josh McRoberts via trade (and Smith via the draft). But the nucleus of this team has remained intact, and that continuity should help them from opening night.

After beginning last season 4-17 due to a combination of injuries and new players growing accustomed to new roles on a new team, the Mavs almost permanently fell out of playoff contention. There won’t be a long acclimation process this fall, and that should hopefully lead to a much stronger start.

“It’ll be good just because we have a foundation which we’re building on,” Barnes said. “It’s not like everyone’s coming back new, trying to figure out where we are. Everyone has an understanding of their identity, their role, what we need to do, what we didn’t do well last season.”

The Mavericks simply can’t afford another 4-17 start if they hope to return the playoffs, and rest assured that’s their goal this season. It was obviously nice to nab Smith at No. 9 in the draft, but I don’t believe the Mavs want to press their luck in the lottery again. They have their sights set on the postseason, and Barnes might have a greater influence on their ability to reach that goal than anyone else on this team.

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