DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks head into a new season determined to play with a new sense of urgency. Not an urgency as in making a playoff push, which figures to be an uphill battle in the stacked Western Conference, but urgency with the ball.
The Mavericks were one of the more deliberate teams in the NBA offensively last year, finishing 29th out of the 30 teams in possessions per game. In other words, they played slow.
That promises to change with the keys to the offense now in the hands of rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. The first-round pick from North Carolina State, touted by owner Mark Cuban as the fastest player in the league, plays in a gear that should pressure the opposition.
"In this league, I've got to attack first and then make my reads from there," said Smith, the ninth overall pick. "It's tough for defenders to stay in front of me. If I can beat my man and make the defense collapse, I'm smart enough to make the right read out of that."
Smith makes his much-anticipated debut at home as the Mavericks open the season Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks at American Airlines Center.
Dallas is coming off its worst season in the Cuban era, finishing 33-49 and missing the playoffs for only the second time since 2000. The rare trip into the lottery did land Smith, who arrives as the franchise's most-heralded rookie since Dirk Nowitzki two decades ago.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle anointed Smith a starter on draft night. The 19-year-old native of Fayetteville, N.C., starred in the summer league and continued to pile up the highlights during the preseason.
Carlisle is notoriously hard on rookies, and especially point guards, but he installed an offense that plays to Smith's strengths.
"We want to push it every single time, even if there's a score," Carlisle said. "The quicker you get it over half-court, the greater chance you have to make an early vertical attack on the basket, and it conserves more time to finish out a possession."
Smith won't be asked to do it alone. Franchise cornerstone Nowitzki is back for his 20th season, which ties him with retired Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant for the most with one franchise. Harrison Barnes led the Mavs in scoring last season in his first year with the club.
After having the best record in the East in 2014-15, the Hawks saw their win total drop the last two seasons. Atlanta is in a clear rebuild mode under new general manager Travis Schlenk, who was hired away from the Golden State Warriors' front office.
The Hawks are being built around point guard Dennis Schroder, who starts this season under of cloud of uncertainty. Schlenk announced Monday that Schroder faces an undisclosed disciplinary action stemming from his arrest last month on misdemeanor battery charges.
"Dennis has accepted responsibility for his actions," Schlenk said in a statement released by the team. "He looks forward to learning from this incident and focusing on the season."
Much like Carlisle, Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer would like his team to play faster this season. Making that a reality requires keeping bodies fresh and going deeper into the bench, perhaps using as many as 11 players in the rotation.
"The old NBA it used to be nine or eight," Budenholzer said of player rotations. "Some teams or coaches are still eight or nine. We've probably been at 10. I would say we are open to adding an 11th guy to the rotation."
The Mavericks will be without shooting guard Seth Curry (stress reaction/left leg) for at least the first week of the season. Hawks guard Marco Belinelli (Achilles tendon) is expected to play Wednesday.