Mavericks need Crowder, James to blossom in summer league

When the Dallas Mavericks compete in the Las Vegas Summer League starting this weekend, the focus will undoubtedly be on the newcomers — Gal Mekel, Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo.

But coaches will also be gauging the progress of second-year veterans Jae Crowder and Bernard James.

Crowder, a 6-foot-6 small forward, started 16 of the 78 games he played as a rookie and averaged five points and 2.4 rebounds in 17.3 minutes per game. He shot just 38.4 percent from the field, including 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

James, a 6-10 center, started 11 games and played in 46. He was on the court for 9.9 minutes per game, averaging 2.8 points and 2.8 rebounds, while also proving to be an effective shot-blocker.

Coach Rick Carlisle is looking for Crowder and James to set the pace for a group of 13 players who are assured of playing at least five games during the stay in Las Vegas.

“Crowder and James have both been around here during June and, of course, now,” Carlisle said. “They’ve worked hard, they’re great kids, and we love what they’re about in terms of character.

“And we like their basketball ability, too. With a year under their belt, we look for those two guys to be the leaders of this group.”

Crowder believes he’ll thrive in that role.

“I first want to help my teammates and help the young guys try to get acclimated to the NBA professional level,” he said.

Crowder said he needs to work on his shot selection while continuing to play with a high level of energy. He has lost 15 pounds, which Carlisle believes should help his mobility.

“He played three positions for us last year, and we see him as being able to bump around all those positions again,” Carlisle said. “He’s a real important guy for the versatility of our team.”

James showed a lot of promise when he was on the floor, but he got lost too many times on defense, which limited his minutes. Carlisle said he is working with James on his midrange jumper.

“He’s one of those persistence guys, and he’s a great rebounder and a great defender, and there’s a place for him in our system,” he said.

Mekel, the second player from Israel to play in the NBA (following Omri Casspi), was shadowed Wednesday by several media members from his country.

“I’m a true point guard and I like to get everybody involved, and I try to make my teammates better and help the team in every aspect,” Mekel said. “If it’s passing, defense, points — everything that will help my team win.

“It’s a great club, a great organization, great people, which is really important to me. To me it’s the best choice.”

Ledo, a 6-6 shooting guard with a shooting style similar to Kevin Durant’s, was academically ineligible in 2012-13, his freshman season at Providence. So he knows he has some catching up to do, and the summer league will provide the perfect platform.

The Mavs will play their first game at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Cox Pavilion. Larkin is excited to work with Carlisle once training camp starts in October.

“He’s a very good coach, obviously,” Larkin said. “He doesn’t have to be here right now.

“It’s summer league, but he still comes down after practice and just tries to give me a few pointers on my shot. He rebounds, so it’s not like he feels he’s too big to help anybody out.”

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