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Why the Dallas Mavericks Should Think Very Seriously About Drafting a Center

One thing I’ve noticed, thumbing through mock drafts, is the fact that very few of them—besides the one done here, by our own incomparable Tomkanti, have the Mavericks selecting a center with their 17th pick, in about a month’s time.

I’m not saying they HAVE to draft a center. The Mavericks, thanks to what may yet turn out to be brilliant strategy, have nevertheless sprung leaks at every position but power forward. This is their first decent draft pick in years. They should not handicap themselves by picking for need over getting the most talented, surest bet they can. This draft is not deep in game changing talent, but it is deep in contributing talent, theoretically.

That being said, if you want to know what the epitaph is for a just-over-ten-years span which saw the Mavericks, Spurs, and Lakers win 50 games nearly every year, but also, the Spurs and Lakers winning 9 titles (with possibly a tenth pending) to the Mavericks one it is this : The Mavericks never prioritized the center position.

It is not coincidence, it is the farthest thing from coincidence, that the Mavericks’ two Finals appearances coincided exactly with the arrival of impact centers even if, after the first year of Erick Dampier’s Mavericks tenure (9.2-8.5-1.85 blocks, 55% shooting) he began a slow slide into serious mediocrity that ended with his contract being the most exciting thing about him.

Possibly, Mark Cuban learned the wrong lesson from the Erick Dampier debacle. He saw how springing for an impact center, but not THE impact center, could hurt a team when that guy, say, lost the ability to catch a passed basketball, but he didn’t see that the Mavericks made the Finals with Erick Dampier, and without Steve Nash, in absolute terms obviously the much superior player.

Why a center?

This is exactly like all those years the Rangers had offense and no pitching. Now they have both, and that's why they've made two straight World Series, but after failing to break 80 wins with all those A-Rod, I-Rod, Juan Gone, Palmeiro teams, they won 87 in 2009 with Salty at C, Davis at 1st, and Marlon Byrd, David Murphy and Andruw Jones as everyday outfielders because of pitching. And it wasn't even that good pitching, compared to now. It's exactly like the fact that Tony Romo is, by every statistical measure and just actually, a far superior QB to Eli Manning who has two superbowl rings.

It's easy to overrate offense, which is the flashy stuff. And it's a huge mistake to think you can get by without the other side of the field.

I queried Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm as to why exactly his draft, like many, didn’t include centers for the Mavericks and he told me that he felt Ian Mahinmi was solid and the Mavericks had bigger needs.

This, by the way, is word for word what people were telling themselves when they had to resign themselves to lose Tyson Chandler a year ago. Ian Mahinmi, at 6’11", 230 lbs, is undoubtedly physically solid. Solid at playing center, he is not, despite his decent offensive game.

I could quote you a lot of stats. Ian ranks 330th in points allowed per play, at .9. In Isolation, where a center makes his bones, yon Tyson Chandler allows .59 PPP, good for 18th in the league. Ian Mahimni allows 1.09, good for 314th. His PER of 13.5 is just behind such stalwarts as Greg Stiemsma, Zaza Pachulia and Marreese Speights, good for 33rd among centers. He’s behind Jordan Hill, Jason Thompson, Nikola Vucevic---and yes, before you ask, he is the second best performing Mavericks C in this category, 5 slots ahead of Brendan Haywood who is just behind… Byron Mullens.

Whatever Mark and Rick thought they could get from this front line, they didn’t. And if that weren’t enough, Mahinmi is a free agent right now anyway.

It is not clear to me how people, either fans or the front office, can rationalize this not being a huge problem. Mahimni averaged by far the most minutes of any Mavericks center in the playoffs—17. For this largesse, he rewarded the Mavericks with 7 and 4, becoming the first center ever to have his rebounds per game and fouls committed per game be separated by no more than 1.

Okay, not really, but he did do that (3.3 fouls per).

Brendan Haywood, who all Mavs fans kind of hope is amnestied, but who unfortunately is currently at a much harder position to fill for the Mavericks than Shawn Marion, was an extremely consistent playoff performer, making exactly 1 shot in each game, in his 15.3 minutes per. His marks of 3-3 were, yes, a little bit worse than his season averaged of 5-6, and he’s not the first starting center to be outrebounded by Shawn Marion, but in the old days, Shawn was doing a little bit better than 7.4

Brandan Wright, the sole bright star in the Mavericks’ center constellation…just isn’t a center. His amazing scoring efficiency is great, his energy is great. But he averaged 7 minutes per in the playoffs because he couldn’t handle Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, who aren’t exactly Bynum and Gasol in terms of rebounding.

The Mavericks need a center. It’s always been the difference between them and the other guys, as Kobe has enjoyed Shaq and Bynum in his championship years, and Tim Duncan is a center. It’s even more of a big deal because their best player, their brightest hope, one of the top three players of his generation (Kobe, Duncan)---is a PF, is a poor defender and an increasingly poor rebounder. So they need to overcompensate, not under. They need one.

There’s almost no chance of them getting one in free agency, once, because the unrestricted free agent possibilities are terrible, and two, because they don’t want to spend any money if it’s not on Deron Williams.

They have one promising guy, and he’s not a post defender. They need a center.

They don’t have to get one in the draft. if some stud swingman falls to them, well, they need that too. But they should give it some serious thought.