Countdown to the Draft, Part the Last

June 4, 2012; Westwego, LA, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Arnett Moultrie talks with the media following a pre-draft workout with the New Orleans Hornets at the Alario Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

It's nearly here. The event you've all been waiting for or were barely aware was about to happen.

The 2012 NBA Draft will be televised on ESPN at 7:30 PM ET from the Prudential Center(site of what Mavs fans are hoping was Deron Wiliams' final game as a Net). I will be there representing Mavs Moneyball, and you can follow me on twitter(@SmitheeMMB) for live updates and instant analysis/opinion on the festivities.

A quick refresher course: The Dallas Mavericks are slotted to pick 17th. Barring a trade, Dallas should make their pick sometime around 10 PM ET. Trade rumors are coming fast and furious now, as it appears many teams are shopping picks, and there has been buzz around the NBA water cooler that Dallas may have an interest in trading up, though ultimately I see that as unlikely. Here is what you need to know:

  • Fab Melo was in town working out with Dallas last week, making him the second prominent center prospect to be linked to Mavs workouts in a span of days. So, one can reasonably assume that the center position is, at least, on the radar for Dallas.
  • Arnett Moultrie also reportedly had a private workout, notable primarily because it was his second look for Dallas officials. Now, there have been some that refer to Moultrie as a center, but keep in mind, he weighed in at a little over 230 pounds, and he is not a seven footer, so, in the short term, he projects as a forward. Worth noting also is that he did not block many shots at Mississippi State, despite his size and athletic ability, so he may not be the Tyson Chandler-esque defensive fit for Dirk that many fans appear desperate for.
  • Royce White was reportedly due for a Mavs workout, but this was before White cancelled his remaining workouts, leading to speculation that he has a promise from a team(the most popular guess at this stage is Boston, with one of their two picks at #21 and #22). I don't believe White ever got to Dallas, but we'll keep an eye on that story.
  • According to DB.com, West Virginia's Kevin Jones also had a workout with Dallas. The big man was one of college basketball's most productive players last year, averaging a double-double as a senior, but he is projected as a second round pick due to a perceived lack of projection and athleticism. It will be interesting to see if Dallas plans to actually use their second round pick on a player, instead of a draft-and-stash guy as they have in years past.
  • Breaking the string of big men, Will Barton also has apparently worked out for Dallas. Barton is an intriguing guy, a thin, athletic swingman from Memphis, who is floating a little under the radar at the moment. Since the start of the draft process he has been lumped in around the back-end of the first round, but he may be a guy who could move up on boards late, given the drop off of two-guard talent outside the lottery. At best he is a dark horse pick for Dallas at the moment, but for those who want to see a wing player brought into the fold, he may represent the best reasonable option.
  • As mentioned earlier today, Houston has traded Chase Budinger to Minnesota for their 18th pick. The growing story right now, which might end up overshadowing the entire draft proceedings, is that this is a prelude to a play for Dwight Howard. I think Houston is one of the few teams that would probably have the stones to acquire Howard without assurance of him signing an extension. They have been one of the most unlucky teams in the league, perpetually too good for the lottery but not good enough to make the playoffs(in the West, anyway), and they have a smart, savvy, risk-taking front office. Even if they don't get Howard, bet on them doing everything they can to make a major move this offseason, perhaps on draft night. How does this impact the Mavs' pursuit of Deron Williams? Well, at this stage, we don't know, but probably not much. Dallas will still make its big pitch, and even if Dwight ends up in Houston, since his camp at this point is vehemently opposed to signing an extension, a big part of the Mavs' pitch to Deron can still be the possibility of assembling a Big Three in Big D in 12 months time. Barring a trade to Brooklyn, or perhaps the Lakers, Dwight Howard still seems destined to test the free agent market.
Some final thoughts on the draft. We are just two days away, and more so than any year I can remember there has been a cloud of secrecy over what the Mavs' thinking is. As such, take any predictions you read(mine included) with a grain of salt. Now, that being said, I can't exactly do all this and not throw my two cents out there, can I? Before my prediction, some general points.

Firstly, looking at the team's current roster of players under contract, and the list of names we know have worked out with Dallas, one thing seems clear: If Dallas uses their pick, they must look for someone who could, theoretically, play right away. A rotation-caliber asset, from day one. So, for those hoping for Moe Harkless, or Quincy Miller, or Tony Wroten, this does not bode well, as those guys are generally viewed as "projects". The same could also be said for Fab Melo and Meyers Leonard, and it is possible they were brought in simply for due diligence in the wake of what may be a gaping hole at the center position(if Brendan Haywood is amnestied).

Secondly, if you were to look at the position in this draft with the greatest abundance of talent, it would unquestionably be power forward. So, from a "best talent available" standpoint, this is probably the likeliest position Dallas will choose from. I know most fans want a center, or a two-guard, but as I mentioned in the Will Barton comment, there is a big dropoff in talent at this position once you get outside the lottery. Most likely, there will be four guards taken before Dallas gets on the clock: Bradley Beal, Jeremy Lamb, Austin Rivers, and Terrence Ross. If, by chance, one of those guys falls, perhaps you'll see Dallas pounce. If things go as currently projected, and they're all gone, do you reach for the next guy at that spot?

At power forward, you have seven players currently projected to be in the mix for the top 15-20 picks. Anthony Davis will, of course, go first, and Thomas Robinson will go fairly shortly after. The next five consists of John Henson, Terrence Jones, Perry Jones III, Jared Sullinger and Arnett Moultrie. It is highly likely at least one of these guys will be there. I have discussed Sullinger before in the comments section. Sufficed to say, I'm a fan. I know he has critics, for his weight, his medical red flags, and the fact that he's not a center. All fair points, but I think there is serious flaw in examining a player for what he isn't, rather than what he is. Even with Dirk, a talented power forward like Sullinger(and some of the other names on that list) can fit in the Mavs rotation. And, the idea here is that you get the best player, not the best position of need. Think about how Carl Landry brought Kevin Martin to Houston, or Jeff Green brought Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City. Draft picks can turn into key trade pieces, even those that aren't core starters. Also, I'm sure I don't need to point out the age of His Dirkness. At some point, grooming a replacement will need to be on the agenda.

So, with that all on the table, a very subjective ranking of draft candidates, from what I believe to be least likely to most. This is NOT a big board, just to be clear:

20) Tony Wroten, Jr.
Reason: Wroten is a big guard with point skills, but a badly, badly broken shot. You love the talent, but we've seen how little Dominique Jones has played, and Jones was a 3-year college player.

19) Marquis Teague
Reason: We've heard point guard mentioned as a possible target, even with the Deron sweepstakes in full swing. Teague is athletic, had good assist-turnover rates for a freshman, and knows what it's like to win. Not the likely pick, but interesting.

18) Doron Lamb
Reason: Teague's teammate is bigger and has one premium skill we know Dallas likes: he can really shoot. If Dallas was picking around where they normally do, in the mid 20's, Lamb would be near the top of this list. As it is he likely doesn't have the kind of helium needed to be considered at #17. If he can play defense at all he'll have a long career.

17) Evan Fournier
Reason: We heard Dallas was interested a while ago. Word on Fournier has been very scarce since. He apparently had some injury issues that forced him to cancel workout trips and this may have hurt him, since the frenchman could have used the exposure. To be honest this is probably the first round pick I know the least about.

16) Quincy Miller
Reason: He has worked out with Dallas, but recent chatter has him falling due to growing worry about his ACL injury that he hasn't fully recovered from. He also is a bit of a tweener. The Hollinger draft rater pegged him as a sleeper; it will be interesting to see if this isn't someone who a lot of people regret passing on.

15) Fab Melo
Reason: He's big, but still very raw. Though he blocked shots and generally appeared stout on defense at Syracuse, the zone system there might hurt him in the eyes of some scouts. On the right team I think he can contribute due to the physical gifts, but Dallas may see him as too much of a developmental guy.

14) Royce White
Reason: An enigma in a draft full of them. As I said above, White reportedly has a promise, but who from? Initially I was worried about the off-court issues, but I'll admit: White seems pretty charming and relatable in interviews. Don't think he's a future Mav but where-ever he goes, good luck to him. Big guys who can pass are fun to watch.

13) Will Barton
Reason: I have to go by what the information out there dictates, and it says Barton at #17 is too high. I have liked him for months, and think he may end up being better than some of the wings taken before him. If Dallas was picking in the 20-ish range, he would probably be at the top of my list.

12) Moe Harkless
Reason: Or it would be this guy. Harkless seems to have some late movement up draft boards. He might now be in play with one of Houston's picks(he went #16 in Chad Ford's recent mock). My gut says he probably goes after Dallas picks. While the athletic ability is very promising, I think Dallas may view him as another project. Think Trevor Ariza, who was not much of an NBA contributor until year 3.

11) Perry Jones III
Reason: He could go anywhere between 7th to...18th? 19th? I'll take the mean and say he goes in the 13-14 range. If he's there when Dallas picks, do they pull the trigger? Don't be so sure. For all the talent I think being an occasional wallflower is maybe one of the Mavs' biggest turnoffs.

10) John Henson
Reason: Probably gone, and, if he isn't, the skinny frame is maybe too similar to Brandan Wright. But, you have to at least consider a clear lottery talent if he's there at #17, right?

9) Meyers Leonard
Reason: He's raw, but if there's a project I think Dallas would most likely consider, it's Leonard. His kind of size and skill is simply too rare. Alas, someone's probably going to call his name in late lottery.

8) Jeremy Lamb
Reason: A wing who, this minute, seems likely to go in the top 15, but I think there's a chance he slips. If he does the defensive potential is immense, and he's had no problem scoring at the college level.

7) Austin Rivers
Reason: He seems to have a promise from someone, but no-one is sure yet who. Much like Lamb, this is a guy who will probably be gone, but is the type of talent you jump on if he falls.

6) Tyler Zeller
Reason: My SB Nation Mock Draft pick, though it was made under the restriction of there being no trades allowed. Zeller isn't sexy, but he's productive, and a center. The feeling seems to be that Meyers Leonard has passed him as the second rated center, after Andre Drummond, and that might be enough to get him to fall, though historically centers with his pedigree don't last to pick #17.

5) Jared Sullinger
Reason: We'll find out on draft night just exactly how scared teams were of the medical reports. It could be enough to drop Sullinger right into the Mavs' lap; it could be enough to drop him even farther. At the risk of being bullish, I ask you: how many guys have dominated a major college conference from Day 1, and bombed at the next level? Are you still not interested in Jared Sullinger, then?

4) Terrence Ross
Reason: If those PF's end up all going, Ross is one of guys who is maybe most likely to get pushed out. I think he'll be gone, but if he isn't he might be too tempting to pass up, due to his athletic and shotmaking potential. This would be a need pick, since Ross might be good enough to start right away.

3) Terrence Jones
Reason: Big time talent, but there are some questions, and that might end up being enough to make him the odd-man out amongst the top five or six PF's. I've seen some say that he can play the 3, but let's be clear: he's 6'9 250. Only one guy in the NBA plays small forward at that size, and he just won his first ring.

2) Kendall Marshall
Reason: I admit I am not sold on the fit(and, unlike a PF, Marshall might be blocked by two starter-caliber players here, in Deron Williams and Jason Kidd), but there is a lot of noise out there about Dallas liking the kid. Could be as a trade chip, drafting for another team, or as a contingency plan should Deron go somewhere else. Has intangible qualities that Dallas has historically valued immensely.

1) Arnett Moultrie
Reason: As mentioned, he's been to two workouts. He's experienced, he's long, and he can stretch the floor. While he is definitely a 4 at the moment, in time he could maybe add enough weight to be a serviceable 5. I have some doubts, but there is talent here and he's maybe one of the safer picks to at least become a solid pro in the P.J Brown mold/A.C Green mold.
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