To draft or not to draft: what should happen with the Mavericks' first round pick?

Tom Pennington

Right now it's a tossup as to whether the Mavs will keep or lose their draft pick. Which would be better?

The Mavs are, at the moment, relatively likely to lose their draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder. It's hard to know how to feel about this.

Basically, since draft seeding after the lottery is determined solely by record, and four playoff teams are guaranteed to have a worse record than the Mavericks, the earliest the Mavs could draft would be 19th. But it's at least a little more likely that they'll draft 21st or 22nd, and lose their (top 20) protected pick.

To keep their pick, the Mavericks would have to end up with a worse record than any two of Memphis, Toronto and Chicago. But this is not as easy as it seems, since Toronto and Chicago have the tiebreak over them (the Mavs lost to Toronto the one time they played this season, and Chicago has a better conference record than the Mavericks do) while Memphis has one more game left to play than the Mavericks do. The Mavericks are guaranteed to finish with either 49 or 50 wins, while Chicago and Toronto can only win 49 and Memphis can win 50. If the Mavs win 50, they lose their pick. Because they'll have beaten Memphis to get there.

It is also technically possible, though not particularly likely, that the Golden State Warriors could lose out, the Mavericks could beat Memphis, and Dallas could end up the 6th seed, in which case they'd definitely lose their pick.

I've been trying to find a clear way to put this. Basically, 14 lottery teams + four (Eastern Conference) playoff teams guaranteed to finish with worse records = 18. For the Mavs to lose their pick, two more teams would have to finish with worse records, and Memphis, Chicago or Toronto are the only ones who can. So the possibilities are:

  1. If the Mavericks beat Memphis, they definitely lose their pick. They'll have 50 wins, Memphis will have 49, game over.
  2. If Dallas loses to Memphis, BUT Memphis has beaten Phoenix, Memphis will pass Dallas record-wise. Since Dallas has lost both tiebreaks to Chicago and Toronto, Dallas WILL draft so long as either Toronto OR Chicago end with 49 wins. Since Toronto only has to beat Milwaukee or the Knicks to make this happen, and Chicago only Orlando and Charlotte, that's reasonably likely.
  3. If Dallas loses to Memphis, but Memphis has already lost to Phoenix, Dallas will remain the 7th seed. In this scenario they would only draft if both Toronto and Chicago finish with fewer than 49 wins, which means Toronto losing one and Chicago losing two of their remaining games.

So I'd say it's at this point roughly 50-50 whether the Mavs will draft 19th or 20th, and keep their pick, or 21st or 22nd, and lose it.

I appeal to you, people of Gotham: Which do you think you'd prefer?

Here's basically how I see it. Some experts were predicting a 2003-like draft, now it doesn't feel quite so high wattage. BUT in that kind of draft having a later pick can sometimes be better than having an earlier one. If you look at last year's draft, 19 was a place where you could get Gorgui Dieng or a Plumlee, in 2012 it would be, say, Jared Sullinger or a Plumlee. Probably the 19th pick in this draft will at least have a more impressive resume than those guys.

But draft picks take time. This last draft will probably go down as a pretty weak one, but the only players who have started to make their mark, really, are Victor Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke, of late Gorgui Dieng, and some Plumlee or another. Other guys have been okay, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Giannis, even the Mavs' own Shane Larkin has shown something from time to time.

The thing is, although this is likely to be a pretty bust-y draft (zing!) this isn't what makes them busts. Some guys, like Anthony Davis or Damian Lillard from the 2012 draft, start out strong and keep getting better, but most other guys like, say, Terrence Ross, Kendall Marshal or Jeremy Lamb do just need a little seasoning.

And the Mavs don't actually have time for much seasoning, so they probably should trade the pick if they can get an impact vet for it. They should have been smarter about the draft in the past, but now that they're here, they need help as fast as they can get it and a late first round pick probably does not provide that.

But, as Jonathan Tjarks pointed out to me earlier today, it's not EITHER draft or trade. If the Mavericks get a pick in this draft after all, they can trade it too, say for Omer Asik. In that case, however, they'd still owe Oklahoma City a pick and still be unable to trade future first rounders until they got rid of this one.

In my opinion, as much as I absolutely hate to say it, the Mavs should be thinking trade and not draft, and therefore the question is whether you think being able to trade one, right now, in a supposedly loaded draft, helps you more than being able to trade a bunch from whenever.

Basically, you either get flexibility on this draft day or flexibility at trade deadlines to come. Or, maybe they should keep the pick and draft somebody. What do y'all think? Discuss away in the comments below!

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