Dwight Powell: Staying Ready

Dwight Powell finds meaning and impact all over the court.

It’s never easy to settle into a new role at work. Promotions are daunting. Demotions are puzzling. You tend to second guess yourself either way, unsure of the road ahead because, well, you had become accustomed to your safe space. 

It’s also inevitable. Everyone who works will one day experience the feeling of changing their position. As they say “Change is an uncomfortable, but necessary part of life.” 

This is something that Canadian big man, Dallas Mavericks Center Dwight Powell has had to endure this season as the team has gone through several changes, especially at his position. 

“Dwight’s a pro,” said Mavs Head Coach Jason Kidd when I asked him how Powell – off the heels of an impressive summer with Team Canada where he helped the team to a bronze medal–  is adjusting to his new role. 

“Since I’ve been here, he’s been the starter. He’s been asked to come off the bench to sit here for a bit, especially with the changes we’ve made. But I think a lot of the stuff people don’t see is off the court or on the court, as a guy sitting there and cheering his teammates on. He comes in with a lot of energy and positivity and his energy is high. And he’s also an extension of the coaching staff helping the young guys. In this league, we often get guys who get upset about minutes or shots. So he’s always a positive influence to help the younger guys. We’re lucky to have him.” 

Powell is playing fewer minutes this season than he did in his first year with the Mavs back in 2015. He’s started in just 8 games which is the least amount since 2016 and practically all of his counting stats are down as the 32-year-old transitions to a different phase of his career — as a mentor. 

“I think he’s been amazing. He brings a lot of knowledge, a lot of years, a lot of wisdom when it comes to on the court and off the court,” said rookie big man Dereck Lively II – who has supplanted Powell as the starting center in Dallas. “He knows what positioning to be in and he knows what the coaches want, he knows when to do certain things when not to do certain things, and when to use your energy, when not to.” 

“It’s great to have a fellow Canadian in the locker room,” said Mavs rookie and fellow country-men Olivier-Maxence Prosper. “He’s a guy who’s been through it. Been in this league a long time and I look to him to seek guidance.” 

“He’s always the first person to jump off the bench when I get a dunk,” Lively continued. “Just being able to have support like that is amazing because this is our family away from family.” 

What’s that saying about judging a man based on what others say about him? Well, these are about as glowing as reviews can get for a man who is adjusting to a new role as a mentor and bench veteran.

Trust me, not everyone takes so easy to this adjustment. It requires a certain type of individual to be willing and adaptable. When I asked Powell about this pre-game before his Mavs faced off against the Raptors late in February, his answer was telling: he has a unique approach to this all. 

“It’s something I was very fortunate to be taught and to learn to internalize at a pretty young age: to be consistent. And I think being a good teammate is most importantly being what you call maybe “professional”, but I don’t necessarily like that term. I think it’s being a part of this team and trying to contribute to winning, regardless of what that looks like.” 

But still, that’s easier said than done. It takes a level of commitment to excellence that is commonly accepted in professional sports but oftentimes underrated when discussing professional athletes. Players are asked to ‘stay ready’ for when their opportunity comes, but how do you get highly competitive people to remain patient? 

Powell had a profound answer when I asked him: 

“At the end of the day, a lot of things go into winning that don’t come up on the score sheet, they don’t come up in the write-ups or the papers. But that doesn’t make them less valuable. And I think I’ve seen a lot of guys over my career that embody that and I was able to pick up a lot of things from them. And the importance of remaining consistent is huge, it carries over into your whole life. So I’ve been very fortunate to be able to be in a sport where you get to practice every day. Some days might be harder than others, but you have to show up every day and be yourself, and that being yourself has to be what the team needs.” 

It’s that same level of commitment and consistency that he’s brought to Team Canada throughout the years. Powell, alongside Captain Kelly Olynyk, has been a mainstay for Canada over the last half-decade, serving as one-half of their frontcourt through practically every competition – dealing with the highs, the immense lows, and the pressure that comes with leading Canadian Men’s basketball into it’s ‘golden era’. 

“K-O is ‘Mr. Canada’ in so many ways,” Powell chuckled to himself when I asked him about his Canadian teammate. “To be able to share my national team career pretty much in its entirety with him has been huge for my basketball development with the national team and elsewhere. Just as a human being, he’s someone that we’re really on the same page with so many things. I’ve been able to lean on one another in different places. So that’s, that’s been a true blessing to be on this journey with him.”  

That journey amounted to a bronze medal this summer at the 2023 FIBA World Cup and a ticket to the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Powell, overcome with emotions, couldn’t help but cry in the locker room after the medal ceremony. 

“There was a moment when we were celebrating with a couple of guys and you say to yourself ‘Yo, we’re going to the Olympics’” Powell said. “That’s been a dream of mine since I can remember. Since I joined the national team, that’s been something that’s always been at the forefront of our minds, that’s always been the goal, whether we’re playing in friendly tournaments in Vancouver against China, or playing in the World Cup –  it’s, that’s always been the goal… so, in that moment, it was just a lot of memories kind of flashing back and a lot of the hard times in terms of dealing with some of those failures. So it was cool as a human being to experience that kind of emotion.” 

That emotion needs to be harnessed into energy this summer. That commitment to staying ready has to translate in Paris because, like the Mavericks, Canada will need Powell to be the veteran presence, helping everyone stay even-keeled through times of crisis that no doubt will come. But unlike this season with the Mavs – Canada will need him on the court too. 

If there’s one glaring area of weakness for the Canadians, it’s in their frontcourt. Don’t get me wrong, Olynyk, Powell and young college phenom Zach Edey are an intriguing group. But when you have to match up against Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Bam Adebayo, Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert, Victor Wembanyama, and Domantas Sabonis, just to name a few – you’re going to have your hands full. Or, should I say, Powell will have his hands full – and he understands what’s at stake. 

“We’re going to do everything we can to medal, but also be realistic,” Powell said. “Recognizing where we are in our lives, careers, ages, and whatnot. We want to take pride in the fact that this was the beginning of something even bigger than what we’re doing now. So hopefully this is a turning point from which we look back on as a country.” 

As Powell transitions from one stage of his career to another, becoming a mentor and veteran for those who will come after him – he still has to find a way to maintain that competitive itch and stay ready for when his number is called – even if it’s not in Dallas…  

Because Canada will definitely need him this summer.