Rookies hoping to begin youth movement in Big D
Earl K. Sneed writes that the additions of rookies Jared Cunningham, Bernard James and Jae Crowder could be the start of a youth movement in Dallas.
Rookies hoping to begin youth movement in Big D
DALLAS -- It appears the time for a resurgence of youth in Big D has come.
Tuesday, first-round acquisition Jared Cunningham and second-rounders Bernard James and Jae Crowder were introduced to the media by Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and president of basketball operations and GM Donnie Nelson. All could play vital roles for the Mavericks this season, after the front office missed out in attempts to land another star to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki in the free agency, in addition to the departures of veterans Jason Kidd to New York and Jason Terry to Boston.
Now, the process of refining their rookie talents begins as the trio embarks on the start of its NBA journey by competing in the Las Vegas Summer League from July 15-22.
“Well, it’s an opportunity to get acquainted with our system,” Carlisle said of the summer experience the three newcomers will receive. “Our system is probably going to change a little bit, depending on what our personnel is exactly going to be, but our core principles are going to be the same offensively and defensively. We’re gonna be a playoff-style defensive team, and offensively our goal every year is to be the best passing team in the NBA, and just guys that are unselfish move the ball and get shots. The Vegas Summer League is the best summer league that I have ever been involved with, because not only are you playing against guys that are NBA-caliber players and you’re against a lot of veterans, you’re in an environment where it’s almost an NBA arena. I mean, they get four or five thousand fans in there. You get NBA officials and you get some real simulation for what it’s gonna be like. And they’ll be playing a lot of guys they’ll play against during the year as well, so it’s real positive.”
Meanwhile, each player will begin their own individual track towards stardom, as Cunningham tries to step into a crowded backcourt with young guards Rodrigue Beaubois and Dominique Jones ahead of him.
Drawing many comparisons to Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook for his skill set, size and athleticism, Cunningham will also try to make the adjustment to learning the point guard position at the next level. And while a nagging hamstring injury suffered in pre-draft workouts might slow him down during summer league action, it hasn’t limited his excitement to contribute to a team that will be two seasons removed from a championship when training camp begins.
“Great history and a great franchise,” Cunningham said while expressing his thoughts after hearing that he would be suiting up for the Mavs. “This is a great city and I’ve never been out here, so it’s a great opportunity for us young players to come in and work hard. … [Playing time] is something I’m gonna have to earn. I’m a rookie coming in with my work ethic and just hard work and just determination. There’s a couple guys ahead of me, so I’m just going in and try to compete every day and try to make myself good.”
“I think he’s a basketball player,” Carlisle said of the young guard. “I think more and more now in the league we’re getting to guys that are playmakers; point guards that can play off the ball, 2-guards that can make plays with the ball. You know, you’ve gotta have guys that make plays offensively and defensively. And so, we see him as a guy that’s got some real dynamic athleticism. He’s got a skill set that has a lot of upside, and we know he’s a hard worker.”
Simultaneously, James and Crowder will try to utilize their physical skills to make an impact on the defensive end of the floor immediately.
James, a 27-year-old big man who spent six years serving as a staff sergeant for the Unties States Air Force -- including three tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and Qatar -- before finishing up his collegiate career at Florida State, is expected to be an enforcer in the middle thanks to his 6-foot-10 frame. And with Mavs defensive coordinator Monte Mathis also serving as head coach for the summer league squad, James will have a chance to show just what he can do before competing for a roster spot this fall in training camp.
“At Florida State, they focus so much on defense; I’ve played multiple schemes, multiple ways to play the pick-and-roll, to play the pick-and-pop. So, anything that we want to do here, I’ll be prepared for it and I’m looking forward to getting in here and really making a difference on defense,” James eagerly explained.
“To me, 27 years old is young, especially with big guys,” Carlisle added. “Big guys’ careers tend to stretch out longer, but we view his age as a positive. I mean, this guy is staff sergeant in the United States Air Force and he’s served in Iraq on multiple occasions. This is a special guy, so we’re excited to have him here. And from a basketball standpoint, we’re honored to have him a part of our organization for what he’s done for us and our country and all those things. That’s a big deal, and you don’t get the opportunity to draft a guy like that every day.”
The same can be said for Crowder, a stat sheet-stuffing swingman that grins when he hears comparisons to the perimeter defense of Lakers forward Metta World Peace.
“Jae is probably viewed as one of the top two or three hardest-playing guys in the draft, just in terms of his energy and how he goes at it,” Carlisle said with high regard for the first-year pro.
The 6-6, 235-pounder relishes defending multiple positions, showing plenty of versatility at Marquette while earning the Big East Player of the Year. And after a senior season in which he posted averages of 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.5 steals per game, Crowder will try to make a good impression with his defensive play.
“You can’t make the ball go in,” Crowder confessed, “but you can control how tough you play and how hard you play on the defensive end. So, that’s something that I hang my hat on for sure. … That’s something I’ve pretty much been doing my whole life. I feel like as a basketball player you can be able to do a lot of different things, and one thing that I have been able to do is guard a lot of different players. So, I just try to hang my hat on that and try to be tough-minded and get the job done by any means. That’s what I live by.”