LAS VEGAS — After his game was all over the map last season, Jae Crowder needs to show some improvements this upcoming season in the eyes of the Dallas Mavericks.And that starts with his performance in the Las Vegas Summer League.The Mavs know that what Crowder is able to accomplish in the summer likely will transfer into training camp and into the regular season. That’s why they’re monitoring the second-year small forward’s progress.“I think it’s a big summer for him,” Mavs summer league head coach Monte Mathis said. “Just working on his game, working on what he needs to get better at, working on his 3-point shot, because Jae is what he is.”Last season, Crowder averaged five points, 2.4 rebounds and 17.3 minutes while starting 16 of the 78 games he played. But he shot just 38.4 percent from the field, including only 32.8 percent from 3-point range — numbers the Mavs expect him to improve on this season.The Mavs also anticipate Crowder making rapid improvements at the defensive end of the floor, especially considering some of the NBA’s best sharpshooters are small forwards.“The way Jae’s staying in this league is with his defense, his energy and his hard play,” Mathis said. “And he’s going to have to be a guy that becomes a stopper for us and helps us defend the Carmelo Anthonys, the LeBron Jameses and all those great players, and I think he’s getting better and better at that. He’s studying film through the summer to learn their different tendencies and counteract attacks on how guys are coming at him.”In the Mavs’ first two summer league games, Crowder is averaging 16 points, five rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals and four turnovers. He is also 13 of 28 from the field and 3 of 13 from beyond the three-point arc.Crowder hopes to improve on those statistics when the Mavs (1-1) play the NBA D-League team at 9:30 Tuesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.“I’ve been working this off-season so I’ll be ready to come into training camp this season ready to play basketball,” Crowder said. “It starts with my physicality in the post, and I’ll try to get my post game ready.”During preseason games last year, Crowder put on such an impressive show that he had folks talking prematurely about him being a Rookie of the Year candidate. But when the season started, Crowder became inconsistent.In the Mavs’ first 16 games last season in October and November, Crowder scored 102 points, grabbed 36 rebounds and was 39 of 82 from the field. In the 15 games in December he had 67 points and 37 rebounds and was only 21 of 80 from the field.Mathis has a theory that explains the abrupt slide.“People talk about the rookie wall, and whether that’s true or not, guys that are coming out of college, they’ve played a whole college season,” Mathis said. “Then they go into all the draft workouts, all the workouts in preseason and the summer with the team that drafted them, and then they’re going into the season. So that’s a lot of basketball.”While that theory is true in principle, Mathis knows all rookies are operating under the same premise. And it’s up to that player to make the necessary adjustments.“Jae bounces right back,” Mathis said. “All you have to do is have a talk with Jae. He understands it and he gets right back in the action.”Great expectationsBefore the Mavs even left Dallas last Friday to fly to Las Vegas for the summer league, coach Rick Carlisle had a candid talk with second-year center Bernard James.“He did a great job in our mini-training camp leading up to this,” Carlisle said. “I said, ‘Hey, you know now is your time to really establish yourself in this league and you should be the guy that rules the inside.’ He should dominate this league on the inside; he should dominate in the paint. He’s going to have blocks because that’s what he does, and he should get a lot of rebounds.”James had nine rebounds and three blocks in the Mavs’ first summer league game — a 76-73 victory over Sacramento on Saturday. However, he missed Sunday’s 86-80 loss to Charlotte with an illness but should be ready for Tuesday night’s contest against the Mavs’ NBA D-League team.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @dwainprice