Dallas Mavericks: Get to Know the Youngsters

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The Young Dallas Mavericks

Young
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY

When the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Championship, they were one of the oldest teams in the league. The next year, they were even older. Since then, they have moved towards getting younger.

The Mavericks have put a focus on pairing seasoned veterans such as Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter with much younger players, such as O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison, last season. While both Mayo and Collison have moved on to other teams, the desire to use a more youthful rotation remains going into the 2013-14 season.

In theory, having this mixture of young and old allows for a blend of athleticism and enthusiasm from the younger players to go with the wise and cool nature that comes with being in the league for an extended number of years. To illustrate the point, the Mavericks have nine players signed for next year who are under the age of 30. Their average age is 24.2. The over-30 players' average age comes to 33.2. That's quite a gulf.

As Dallas gets ready for training camp and the preseason, they will have under contract no less than five players who are either rookies or are coming off completing their rookie season. While their actual age may be older than some of the other players — mostly Bernard James, who is almost 30 — they are still the youngest players on the team in terms of NBA-level experience.

For now, it's a good time for fans to get a closer look at some of the rookies who they might not know much about, or get a refresher on the two second year players that were with the team last year.

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5. Jae Crowder

Jae
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY

Forward Jae Crowder was taken fourth in the second round of last year's draft. The 23-year-old was the Big East Player of the Year after averaging 17.5 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game his senior year at Marquette.

Last year, Crowder quickly became a favorite of Coach Rick Carlisle's. He was a solid rotation player, appearing in 78 games and playing an average of 17.3 minutes per game. However, he never managed to find much consistency, though he did show flashes of being able to take his game to the next level.

For the year, Crowder averaged 5.0 points per game on 38 percent shooting to go with 2.4 rebounds per game. The Mavericks are hoping he can put together more performances like his game at the Milwaukee Bucks, where he scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting with eight rebounds.

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4. Bernard James

James
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY

The jury is still out on whether or not Bernard James has the ability to make a difference in the NBA, but he was a solid defender in his time at Florida State University, where he averaged over eight rebounds and two blocks per game during his last year. He was picked immediately after Crowder in the second round last year.

James, or "Sarge" as he is known by fans, served in the U.S. Air Force for six years before playing basketball in college. He is 28 years old now, though he plays younger than an average 28-year-old in the NBA due to not having the wear and tear of years in the league.

His rookie season was up and down, though there were certainly some positives to take away. There wasn't a huge sample size, but his per-48 numbers were fantastic. He averaged 13.8 points, 13.8 rebounds and an incredible 4.0 blocks per 48 minutes, but he only managed to play 9.9 minutes per game. Part of the reason was his inability to defend without fouling, but perhaps Coach Carlisle will give him more of a chance this year.

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3. Shane Larkin

Larkin
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY

The Mavericks' first-round pick this past year was the electrifying but undersized Shane Larkin. Larkin is just 20 years old, making him the youngest player on the team. He averaged 14.5 points per game on 48 percent shooting and over 40 percent from three-point range during his sophomore year at Miami. He added 4.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds and almost two steals per game.

Larkin is known for his incredible athleticism despite his short stature. The Mavericks are hoping that Larkin can play a similar role to what J.J. Barrea did for them, managing to get dribble penetration and outside shooting, as well as playing a pick-and-roll game with Dirk Nowitzki.

Unfortunately, Dallas didn't get much of a look at Larkin over the summer as he broke his foot. He is recovering and is expected to be ready for training camp, so it should prove to be nothing more than a minor setback.

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2. Ricky Ledo

Ledo
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY

It's almost impossible to predict what the Mavericks will be able to get out of Ricky Ledo. He attended Providence College for just one year before declaring for the NBA Draft. However, he never played a single game in college.

The NCAA declared Ledo ineligible to play in college due to a lack of high school credits. He attended three different high schools, which had something to do with the ineligibility.

Regardless of his past, he has the potential to be the steal of the draft. He is listed at 6-foot-7, which would give him ideal size for a shooting guard. He has the raw potential to be at least a solid player in the NBA, though without even any college experience it will interesting to see if he ever reaches or exceeds his potential.

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1. Gal Mekel

Mekel
Stephen R. Sylvanie

Gal Mekel is as close as there is to an Israeli basketball superstar. He won the MVP award for the Israeli league two out of the last three years. He joins the Mavericks as a rookie free agent.

Mekel is currently slated to be the backup point guard behind veteran Jose Calderon and above Shane Larkin. Mekel is currently a more polished player than Larkin, being that he is 25 years old and has been playing professional basketball for years. He played well over the summer, averaging around 10 points and five assists per game for the Mavericks in the Summer League. If he can carry that kind of production over to the regular season from the backup point guard spot, the Mavericks may have found something in the Israeli star.

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