Christmas came early for the Dallas Mavericks. Or maybe it came late, depending on how you view the calendar. Nonetheless, the Mavs are happy with their Santa's haul after trading for Nerlens Noel two weeks ago.
Friday was the fourth games that Noel Suited up with Dallas. It was also his first start with the team. He was supposed to start in the previous game against the Atlanta Hawks but he was 10 minutes late to the plane so Dorian Finney-Smith replaced him in the starting lineup. Rules are rules, after all.
Even after this slight misstep, it was clear head coach Rick Carlisle had no qualms starting Noel. And Friday night he showed why.
Against the Memphis Grizzlies, in a 104-100 Mavs victory, Noel posted 15 points, 17 rebounds, and two highlight reel blocks. Much of this came while on the floor with Marc Gasol, one of the league's best centers. It was by far Noel’s best game as a Maverick, albeit in a very small sample size.
“He did a good job,” head coach Rick Carlisle said after the game. “Very active. It’s very difficult to out-rebound this team and when you got a guy putting up 17, it gives you a chance. He was a big part of that. Offensively he was active around the basket, he got to the free throw line a few times, which was good.”
Dallas out-rebounded Memphis 45-39 and Noel’s teammates took notice of his performance on the glass.
“Rebounding has always been a tough area for us as a team and him coming in here tonight getting those rebounds and providing that inside presence was huge for us,” Harrison Barnes said.
In his four games with the Mavs, Noel is averaging nine points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.3 in 26.6 minutes per game. He played just over 35 minutes against the Grizzlies, something that Carlisle isn’t keen on doing often.
While Friday night showed why the Mavs traded for him, Noel still has a way to go before he’s fully up to speed with Carlisle’s system.
“He’s a lot further along than he was four days ago and even two nights ago,” Carlisle said of Noel’s progression. “He had some things that he just wasn’t understanding. We had a good session yesterday and then this morning before shootaround. He’s getting there. He still doesn’t have all of our stuff. He’s probably got about two thirds of it. We don’t have that much.”
Under Carlisle, the Mavericks don’t run a lot of set plays. Rather, their offense is more free-flowing, based on spacing, the pick and roll, a bit of intuition on the players part, and, of course, the gravity of Dirk Nowitzki. It takes some getting used to but Noel is finding his place.
“Now I think that I’m in a place where I can really know my spots and impact the offensive end as well,” Noel said. “I’m learning the defensive calls. You know, it’s still a learning process but, you know, now I’m at the point where I’m feeling pretty comfortable.”
As Noel continues to get more comfortable, expect a lot of wide eyes on fans, as well as owner Mark Cuban, as they watch him play. He’s not waiting for anyone to unwrap him, Noel is ready to play. And the Mavericks should be thanking the city of Philadelphia for Christmas morning many years to come.