Well folks, it's that time again. As we bask in the glory of the Mavs' incredible run to the NBA Championship, Donnie and company are already looking ahead to the NBA draft. Over the next few days, I'll be taking a look at a small group of players that I believe the front office is likely to consider (or those I hope they do) when they are on the clock this Thursday.
I would like to begin with an overview of Dallas' likely roster heading into next year, and what positions will be available for drafting. The way I see it, the Mavs will likely resign Stevenson, Butler, Cardinal, and Chandler, while letting Peja and Barea walk (despite our love for JJ, he's going to get overpaid by someone and we need to give his minutes to one of our up-and-coming guards). With JJ gone, I could see the Mavs buying out Nick Calathes' contract and giving him a shot in the U.S., but that's no certainty, so I'll include him in parentheses. Obviously, these roster predictions are all assumptions, but I need a framework to operate with and that's the best we have. Thus the depth chart before free agency will look something like this:
PG - Kidd, Beaubois, (Calathes), Jones
SG - Butler, JET, Stevenson, Jones
SF - Marion, Butler, Brewer, Cardinal
PF - DIRK, Cardinal, Marion
C - Chandler, Haywood, Mahinmi
As we can see, the World Champion Mavs don't have a lot of open slots for player development. I don't see the Mavs adding another player to the crowded guard lineup, and see absolutely no way that they draft a center. Thus, I think the Mavs would do best to draft one of the following:
1. A role-playing PF who can contribute immediately as a 12-minute backup to Dirk
2. A developmental SF who will fight for backup minutes over the next couple of years and hopefully earn a starting spot in 2013-14
3. Anyone who can be stashed overseas and develop without taking up a roster spot
With that being said, let's take a look at today's target: Montenegro's own Nikola Mirotic.
Nikola Mirotic is a player who wasn't really on anyone's draft radar before this year, as he was a bench forward sitting behind a handful of impressive power forwards on Real Madrid. However, this year he fought for minutes and used them incredibly well, eventually blossoming into a star player for his team.
Though he only received significant minutes in the second half of the year, the 6'10", 225-pound power forward ended up with a scoring line of 21 points per 40 minutes, 9.4 rebounds per 40, 1.4 blocks per 40, and 1.6 steals. What is most impressive about these numbers is that fact that he put up these numbers while shooting over 50% from the field, over 40% from the three point line, and over 80% from the charity stripe.
What impresses me most about Mirotic, however, is the well-rounded aspect of his game. His shooting is excellent both inside and outside the arc, with good shot selection and the ability to spot up or create his own shot. He also drives the ball well with either hand and draws a fair number of fouls around the basket. In the low post, he features a variety of moves that should be effective at the NBA level. He is also a capable player in the pick-and-roll. Though he currently plays the 4, he has been projected as a 3, 4, or 5 in the NBA (though I don't see him playing too much at the 5).
Mirotic also earned his reputation as one of Real Madrid's best defenders. At 6'10" with a 7'1" wingspan and good movement, he has defended both the 3 and 4 spots well. Though he would need to add some muscle to defend bigger NBA forwards, his youth and frame suggest that he will be able to do so easily. Doing so would also likely help him on the defensive glass, which has been one of the few areas where he hasn't yet excelled.
While various draft sites have him ranked all over the place (DraftExpress has him 7th on the big board, DraftNet has him 45th), most agree that he would be drafted much higher if not for signability issues. He is about to enter the second-to-last year of his contract with Real, and is expected to stay in Spain for that period unless an NBA team woos him with a ton of cash (unlikely). However, this plays right into the hands of the Mavericks. As the owners of one of the deepest rosters in the NBA, the Mavs do not necessarily need an immediate-impact rookie on their roster next year. Rather, by drafting Mirotic and sticking him in Europe for two (or even three) years, they can develop a promising player without using a precious roster space on him. Once 2013-14 rolls around, the Mavs could bring Mirotic over to pick up minutes behind Dirk and Marion, while the Mavs figure out whether they want him to take Marion's job when he's gone, or to be the heir-apparent to Dirk.
Overall, I like the possibility of selecting Mirotic a lot. It's unfair to compare anyone to the greatness that is Dirk Nowitzki, but in offensive style alone, this guy reminds me of him. My favorite aspect of Dirk's game is his tremendous offensive versatility, and it seems like Mirotic is developing into a similar player (in style, not talent, of course). When I hear of a near-seven-footer with a great shot, ability to drive, low-post game, and solid defense, I start to drool. It's always a risk going with any European player, but I could see Mirotic entering the NBA in two years or so and developing into a very solid player. It also wouldn't hurt to have him come to the US after a couple of years and learn from the greatest 7' shooter of all time.
For more perspective, check out Mirotic's highlight video here.