After playing a little more than four minutes in total over the final three months of last season, Gal Mekel knew this summer would be crucial to the rest of his NBA career.
Despite the many compliments he received, Mekel failed to establish himself at the Dallas Mavericks last season, in large part due to the surgery he underwent to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee in mid-January.
The 26-year-old dropped so far down the rotation that he was twice sent for short stints to the Mavs’s NBDL affiliate, the Texas Legends, and played no part in Dallas’s first-round playoff loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
However, a trade last month could well play into his hands after the Mavs sent starting point guard Jose Calderon, as well as guards Wayne Ellington and Shane Larkin, to the New York Knicks in return for Raymond Felton and center Tyson Chandler.
Felton is expected to step into Calderon’s shoes as a starter for the Mavs.
However, the 30-year-old’s erratic play and injury struggles in recent seasons could well result in more minutes for Mekel off the bench.
Mekel took the first step in gaining the trust of the coaching staff as a reliable substitute in the Las Vegas Summer League last week.
The guard, who led both Hapoel Gilboa/ Galil and Maccabi Haifa to league titles in Israel, averaged 11.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists over four games in Las Vegas. He finished strongly with 17 points, six assists and five rebounds in his final outing before skipping the team’s last game in the Summer League to return to Israel to join the national team.
Mekel only took part in a total of 31 games in the NBA last season, registering averages of 2.4 points and 2.0 assists per game. Perhaps his biggest weakness was his shooting, with the Israeli averaging just 34.9 percent from the field and 25% from threepoint range. However, the early signs from the Summer League seem to indicate that his hard work has paid off after he averaged 53.1% from the field in Las Vegas, including 40% from 3-point territory.
“I’m excited, because I didn’t play for a long time after the injury, and finally I feel very good. No pain at all and I really feel perfect,” Mekel said before the start of the Summer League. “Outside shooting is what me and the coaches are talking about, especially the three-point shots. If I’m going to make them consistently and at a good percentage, I can really help our team during the season. And this is what I want to work on.”
Mekel returned to Israel last week and rejoined the national team in training ahead of next month’s EuroBasket qualifiers.
Mekel’s decision to forgo Israel’s Euro- Basket campaign last summer so he can focus on his preparations for his rookie season in the NBA caused quite a stir.
However, he always said he would do his utmost to make sure it never happens again and for the first time he will be joining the national team as its undisputed starting point guard.
Mekel has already taken part in European Championships in 2009 and 2011, but in his most recent campaign with Israel two years ago he received very little credit from then-coach Arik Shivek.
He averaged just 2.1 points and 1.0 assists in eight minutes per game, never playing more than 17 minutes and not even entering the court for a single second in two of the 10 qualifiers.
All along while Yogev Ohayon was averaging almost 30 minutes per game.
However, it will be a completely different story this summer.
Ohayon is out due to health reasons, meaning new coach Erez Edelstein will place his trust in Mekel next month when the national team plays six qualifiers over 18 days for a place in Euro- Basket 2015.
A good performance in the qualifiers will do wonders to Mekel’s confidence and will ensure he is as ready as possible for his second season in the NBA.
“I played well in the Summer League and now I need to have a good campaign with the national team to make sure I arrive at the start of the season in top form,” said Mekel upon his return to Israel last week.
“This was the first time I played a proper game since the injury and I’m really pleased. I tired a little faster than expected in the first two games, but all in all I played well.”
Mekel is optimistic he will have a chance to prove his worth in the upcoming season, his second in a guaranteed three-year contract.
“As things currently stand I’m in a very good situation. The team currently has three point guards and doesn’t have a lot of money to spend so I hope it remains this way,” he explained.
“You never know what might happen.
Omri Casspi never expected to be traded so things can always change. I just need to make sure I focus on myself.”
Mekel also received praise from Mavs summer league coach Kaleb Canales.
“Gal has done a great job establishing what we want to do offensively,” said Canales, who is an assistant to Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle. “The big thing with him is keep his turnovers down and decision making. He gets us into our offense and he’s done a good job of that these last two weeks. Now is about competition and he knows he’s going to have to work his tail off to try to get minutes with the big club.”
After adding Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler and Felton to a starting lineup that already included Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, it is clear Dallas has big plans for next season.
However, they will need players to step up off the bench to record any significant success, which is exactly where Mekel hopes to figure.
“I have more experience and I’m playing more calm, not trying to force anything,” said Mekel. “I think I showed last year that I can help the team. I really believe I can help our team this year and I definitely want to fight for minutes.”