The season is still young, in both the professional and collegiate ranks, but I think it's interesting to look forward to our potential draft picks while we wait to see where we land, and where the prospects end up at the end of the year. After this season, we will have the following under contract:
PG: Calderon, Larkin, Mekel
SG: Ellis, Ledo, Ellington
C: Dalembert (James)
I would imagine Vince and Marion are 50/50 shots to sign an extension; they may also be traded this year depending on the outlook at the time. Regardless, assuming Dirk is the only returning player outside of that list, we have a roster of 4 more to fill out if James is brought back (less likely than Crowder). It's pretty easy to see that our weaknesses are in the Small Forward and Center slots, and those are also the easiest ways to improve on the chance for Dirk and Monta to add additional talent to build a championship competing roster. A premium will be placed on Small Forwards with the athleticism to play great defense and the ability to knock down open jump shots created by the focus on Dirk, Monta and Calderon. An even more important premium will be placed on post defense and rebounding when you look at the Centers, with offensive capability in tow. If you look in free agency, you can find an above average solution at Small Forward (Grainger, Deng, Gay, Garcia, Aminu, Ariza, and a long list including some interesting restricted scenarios like Gordon Hayward) a lot easier than Center (Aldrich, Gasol, Gortat, Okafor). I'd say upgrading at Center is our biggest priority through the draft, if the cards fall the right way. So here are my early targets:
1. Joel Embiid, Kansas: at 7' 240 lbs, he has the size, athleticism, 7'5" wingspan and frame to anchor the defense. His offense is still developing, but he has the ability to score in the paint or hit a jumper. He's a bit raw overall, and would fit in perfectly with Dalembert on board another year to ease the progression from college basketaball to a starting NBA center.
2. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: at 7' 244 lbs, he also has the size, athleticism and frame to anchor the defense. He is a lot more polished offensively than Embiid, but may have a bit lower of a ceiling. He would have a bigger impact in Year 1, and has the potential to push Dalembert to the bench (a la Larry Sanders) sooner. This is my ideal draft pick keeping both Dirk's last years and the future in mind.
3. Isaiah Austin, Baylor: at 7' 220 lbs, he has the height and wingspan to grow into. His offense has great potential, his defense has great potential, and the only things missing at this point are a heavy protein diet, lots of time in the weight room and time on the job. Huge potential here to make a difference on both ends of the court for years to come, but will take longer to get him NBA ready.
4. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: listed at 6'8" but mentioned elsewhere at 6'10", his height doesn't jump out at you - but his 242 lb athletic and powerful frame along with an incredible motor do. He may not be the ideal fit at C for the Mavericks, but he just may get it done. May be best suited as a combo backup PF/C along with Wright in Blair's absence.
5. Adreian Payne, Michigan State: 6'9" doesn't jump out at you. 20 ppg, 9 rpg, 1.4 bpg do, as well as his jump from 215 lbs to 242 lbs. He's another candidate to play more PF than C, but has a strong post game around the basket to go along with great offensive rebounding and a tough defensive presence. Aside from the ideal height, he may be a fit at center.
I did not include those that I consider to be backups (could be very wrong), such as Mitch McGary and Alec Brown; nor longer term projects, such as Jusuf Nerkic, Przemek Karnowski, Mouhammadou Jaiteh, or Wang Zhelin. I'd be thrilled to land Embiid, Cauley-Stein or Austin if we wind up in the 1 to 20 range again (pick to OKC protected if so); and I'd be OK landing Harrell and Payne if our pick is there in the 2nd round. We have two second rounders this year, so taking a flier on one of the project centers in the 2nd round isn't a bad idea at all.