The 2014 NBA Draft will be held on Thursday, June 26th, which you might have noticed is less than two weeks away.
With the NBA Finals going a little later into the month of June than usual, media attention has not yet switched from LeBron and Duncan to Wiggins and Embiid, but for NBA front offices, draft-fever is already in full swing.
The Dallas Mavericks do not own a first-round pick this year, as the Mavericks played just well enough to send their top-20 protected pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder (it's complicated, but the pick was initially sent to the Lakers as part of the Lamar Odom deal, before going to Houston and then finally OKC). However, by many accounts this is expected to be a deep draft, and with an early second rounder from Boston, Dallas has a chance to add a quality piece to their roster.
Of course, the Mavericks are known as wheelers and dealers, and especially on draft night. You have to go back to 2006 to find the last time the Mavericks stayed at their actual draft spot and simply picked someone (poor Mo Ager). Since then we've seen Dallas:
1) trade their picks for established veterans like Jason Kidd and Erick Dampier
2) trade back for extra selections like they've done the last two years
3) buy a first round pick(Dominique Jones)
4) whatever you'd call their strategy in 2011, when they traded their pick for Rudy Fernandez then immediately decided they didn't want Fernandez and traded him (and Corey Brewer) to Denver for basically nothing.
In the middle part of the 2000s, when Dallas boasted quality young draftees like Devin Harris and Josh Howard, as well as undrafted gems like Marquise Daniels and J.J. Barea, I was a defender of the Maverick draft resume. That position has become increasingly more difficult to occupy. To put it bluntly, Dallas has made some pretty strange moves related to their draft picks recently.
I mentioned the Rudy Fernandez whirlwind maneuvering, but perhaps most embarrassingly last year Dallas traded back in the draft, and included Jared Cunningham (12 months removed from being Dallas' first round selection) just for the right to do so. Think about that for a moment. I can't personally recall too many teams trading their previous years' first rounder to move back in the draft.
Peculiarities aside, I doubt anyone would care when or how Dallas selected players if the players actually selected were contributors. On this front, Dallas also has fallen greatly from the mid-aughts. Dallas has drafted four first round "point guards" in the last five years. Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Jared Cunningham and Shane Larkin. Only Larkin remains in Dallas, and even more telling, Larkin may be the only one with an NBA job next year. That's really bad.
Dallas' best draft pick in the last eight or nine years is probably second rounder Jae Crowder, which may induce nausea for some of you. While it would be easy to blame this solely on scouting incompetence, I fear the problem may be even greater than that. It seems that the Mavericks do not highly value the draft. We have seen quotes referring to the process as "a crap shoot", and that attitude is certainly reflected in the teams' approach, which could be aptly described as "punting". In the new landscape of the NBA that requires smaller market clubs to spend wisely, draft picks are more highly valued around the league than ever, which makes it all the more strange to see Dallas wading upstream, against the current.
Now, this pattern can be easily broken, and as the Dirk era winds down, I certainly hope it will. Good young players are so critical for winning teams because they are cheap and they can remain under team control for a really long time. As the Spurs finish off their dismantling of the Heat, think about where they'd be without Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter.
I'll break down some names worth keeping your eye on, for now. Though they are mostly projected second rounders, my lengthy preamble should serve as a reminder that with Dallas and the draft, anything can happen, so take all this with a grain of salt. Later in the week I will take a look at some possible mid-to-late first rounders that might be trade-up candidates.
Jordan Adams, Sophomore SG, UCLA
For now this is a player that seems to be projected as a late first or early second rounder, but that could change. Jordan Adams had initially stated he would return to UCLA for his junior season, only to reverse course soon after. Depending on where he ends up being drafted, this may not have been the right move, but I must confess Adams is one of my favorite players in this draft.
Adams led a talented Bruins squad in scoring this past season, building on a strong freshman campaign in which he surprised more than a few people. Adams is not the most impressive player to look at. A 6-foot-4 guard with a dumpy body and an offensive game based more on angles and know-how than explosiveness, Adams is productive thanks to a well-rounded game and great basketball IQ.
Adams best assets physically are his long arms and strength, which allow him to get to the basket (despite average speed) and finish (despite average leaping ability), or get fouled. Those arms also help him corral offensive rebounds as well as any shooting guard prospect, and rack up steals on defense. A streaky shooter, Adams does better in catch and shoot situations than creating off the dribble.
This is probably way too high praise for Adams but he reminds me a little of James Harden. Harden came out of college with a rep as a B-grade athlete, but in truth I think Harden is significantly more athletic than most give him credit for, and probably a lot more explosive than Adams. Still, you see a similar body type, size and skillset. A more practical comparison might be Dion Waiters. How both those guys went top 5, while Adams is currently being mentioned as a late first round pick, I don't know.
Isaiah Austin, Sophomore PF/C, Baylor
(editor's note: since the writing of this article, Isaiah Austin has discovered a genetic condition that has forced him to end his NBA career.)
Isaiah Austin arrived at Baylor as one of country's most highly recruited players, but like Perry Jones before him, Austin had two years of middling production before declaring for the draft, and remains an alluring but frustrating mix of size, skill and athleticism.
Austin is a legitimate 7-footer, with a 7-foot-4.5 wingspan (the largest measured at the combine this year). Though he shot under 30 percent from three this season, he has a good-looking stroke and appears more comfortable out on the perimeter than playing inside. He handles the ball as well as any college player his size -- maybe ever -- and in time could be a stretch four or stretch five candidate.
Now the problems: Austin has never played up to his talent level (at least not consistently), and what's worse is that he looks like he's taken steps back rather than steps forward. His shooting and scoring declined both in percentages and raw totals. His rebounding, which was solid if unspectacular as a freshman, dropped to embarrassing levels for someone his size as a sophomore. At 220 pounds, Austin is rail thin and gets pushed around far too easily at both ends. There was one area in which Austin clearly improved in year two, however and that's as a shot blocker. While Austin isn't the most physical guy, his outstanding length helped him to block over three shots per game. Also worth noting: Austin is legally blind in his right eye.
If he can add strength, Austin has the physical tools to be a very good defender, and that combined with his guard-like skillset on offense makes him one of the most unique prospects in the draft. He's a serious project, but Austin does have a lot of attributes that you just can't teach.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Junior SG, Colorado
Jarnell Stokes, Junior PF, Tennessee