The Case for Jusuf Nurkic in a Mavericks uniform

Mike Stobe

Nurkic, a center prospect from Bosnia, could be a steal for the Mavericks if they're willing to trade up in the draft to get him.

The Mavericks have not drafted well in the last fifteen years or so.They've had some good moments, but really, since picking Dirk Nowitzki in 1998, the Mavericks have consistently devalued the draft and have failed to pick up any young cheap talent; a problem in today's NBA that values youth and cost-efficient production.

If there was any year for the Mavericks to not devalue the draft, it would be this year, with probably the best draft class since 2008. Unfortunately, it also happens to be the first year in a while where Dallas does not pick in the first round, as a result of their draft pick being sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder as a part of the Lamar Odom deal from 2011.

Nevertheless, if there was ever a time to make a move to add some young talent, it's now. When weighted for who was playing the most minutes on each team, the Mavericks were the oldest team in the NBA last season, and only Miami and San Antonio came close.

This draft presents an opportunity for starter-quality, young, draftable talent to be had for relatively cheap, as excellent players will fall lower in the draft due to the sheer depth of talent coming into the league this offseason.

Enter, then, Jusuf Nurkic.

For those who don't know, Nurkic is a 19 year old highly skilled Center prospect from Bosnia with an impeccable pick and roll game and post skills. His timing at cutting to the rim after screening on pick and rolls is exceptional, as is his knowledge of how to move into open space, and execute within that space. Similarly, his massive frame (he's 6'11" with shoes and 280 mammoth pounds with a 7'2" wingspan) allows him to bang well in the post.

What's most interesting about Nurkic to me is how much of an NBA ready game he appears to have at only 19 years old.

His knowledge of spacing is intricate for a center, his understanding of when and how to set picks at any given moment is impressive, and his ability to navigate within the space he's created is similarly great. He has iffy hands, but a great sense for when and how the ball is coming his way.

He scores 160 points per 100 possessions on pick and rolls in a European league that perhaps relies on the PnR even more than the NBA (160!!!), which is probably the best sign for his ability to thrive in the NBA, among many other very good signs.

His post game is less refined, though again, he knows how to get the most leverage out of what he has. He's a big body, and he has an almost Marc Gasol-ish offensive game in the low post. His footwork isn't complex, but his knowledge of his own game there is solid. It's effective, if not particularly complex.

He has a great jump hook, and he scores an excellent 109 points per 100 possessions on post ups, per DraftExpress.

That number won't hold up in the more athletic, larger NBA, but it's also an enormously high mark on an inefficient play type.

He has a lot of room to grow as a defender, but he's not bad either, and he could potentially be excellent. The same instincts that allow him to move impeccably in space on offense allow him to read the floor well on defense and be in the right place at the right time. A big body in the way of a play is always a good sign. He does, though, often get lost on the third or fourth defensive rotation in a slower league than the NBA.

All of this probably sounds good, but it should sounds really, really great given that he's only 19.

He really only has two major weaknesses in his relative inability to space the floor and his difficulty in staying on the court.

Nurkic isn't a shooter at all, firing only 37 shots from the midrange last season and hitting only 29% of them. There's potential, there, as indicated by his 80% free throw shooting, but shooting improvement from him is probably not worth staking any money on.

More concerning is his enormous foul rate that limited him to only 16.6 minutes per game in the Adriatic League.

Here's the second thing, though: I've talked to lots of people about, and listened to a lot of other people talk about, Nurkic, and have yet to be given a convincing explanation for why he's shouldn't be a top 10 pick.

Everyone glows about how advanced his game is for his age and how exceptional his instincts are, but when it's suggested that he should go higher than the 15th pick or so, everyone balks. But no one, still, has given me a particularly good reason to balk, beyond, "well, he can't stay on the court," or "he just shouldn't." I don't buy it.

Why is a super-young player with an NBA-ready game and instincts with completely off-the-charts statistics (44 PER and per 40 minutes he logs 33 points, 14 rebounds, 4.1 steals, 1.9 blocks, and 11 Free Throw Attempts on only an average usage rate; the steal rate, free throw attempt rate, and sky high PER are particularly strongly correlated with a skillset that translates to the NBA) continually looked down upon as just a "fine" prospect?

My personal theory is that, a) he would be a much bigger prospect in any other draft, b) he wasn't hyped before the season began, unlike a lot of the other prospects, which limits his ceiling as a pick, and c) people still feel like they know the international game less intricately than the college game, which inherently hurts an international player's stock.

This is a good thing though, because it might mean that the Mavericks could steal Nurkic with a fairly low pick.

DraftExpress has Jusuf Nurkic going 15th to the Hawks, but more mock drafts around the web have Nurkic going below 20th than have him going above 15. Chad Ford also has Nurkic going 15th, but most of the CBS drafts have him going past 20 -- including the Draft Machine, which takes Nurkic 26th -- and the (admittedly insane) Hardwood Paroxysm draft didn't take him until 23.

The Mavericks are in desperate need for a skilled center and a young player, while they also have a glut of veteran talent. How hard would it really be for the Mavericks to wrest a late pick from Phoenix (at 18), Chicago (at 19), or Toronto (at 20), if Nurkic is still available?

All of those teams are looking for another piece to add to push them over into some kind of contention. Is it really much of a stretch to think that a package along the lines of Wright, Ellington and a second rounder wouldn't be enough to convince one of those teams to part with their pick if Nurkic is still undrafted at that point?

I don't think it is, and I think Nurkic is exactly what the Mavericks need going forward; he potentially answers a lot of problems.

It's possible, too, that someone reaches for Nurkic earlier than expected after the Joel Embiid injury news, but I think it's just as likely that his stock falls as teams get enamored with all of the college prospects whose stocks are rising and falling due to workouts.

It's probably not likely that it happens, but the Mavericks really should strongly consider trading up if Nurkic is available. He could be just what Dallas needs.

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