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Draft conversation: what are the Mavericks' options at number 21?

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Who could be available for the Mavs at No. 21? Who should they be looking at? And will it matter if Rick Carlisle won't play them regardless? Two of our writers break it all down.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Jonathan Tjarks:

With the NBA Finals in full gear and the draft now only a few weeks away, it's time to really start thinking about what the Mavs' options are with the No. 21 pick. If we go by their history, they will probably just trade down or give the pick away to clear cap space, but I think basically everyone around the franchise is in agreement that they really need to start getting younger and building for a post-Dirk future. There's certainly no reason to think they can't find a good player there -- the last three No. 21 picks were Mitch McGary, Gorgui Dieng and Jared Sullinger.

Who knows who will be available by the time they are on the clock, but the guy I'm most intrigued by is R.J. Hunter from Georgia State. He fits the profile of a guy who could outperform his draft position -- he had to carry a pretty huge offensive load in college and he could theoretically thrive in a smaller role next to better players at the NBA level. You know he can shoot, as he was a career 36 percent shooter from three in college on 8 attempts a game. He's pretty long for a SG (6'10.5 wingspan), he can put the ball on the floor and he had to develop a more all-around game as a first option in college.

You don't see many shooters with an assist-to-turnover ratio of almost 2:1. I look at his skill-set and wonder what he would have done if he was in a position like Devin Booker in college, where he could get a bunch of open shots playing off NBA big men instead of seeing double and triple teams every time he touched the ball. What's your take on Hunter and who do you want the Mavs to take?

Alan Smithee:
We are in total agreement on Hunter. I think he would not only be a great fit for Dallas, but if he lasts to 21 he may represent the best player left on the board as well. To put Hunter next to Chandler Parsons at wing would be a tantalizing prospect, as both players offer great length, shooting and ball handling for their respective positions. That kind of floor-spacing, ball-sharing tandem seems exactly like what Rick Carlisle wants driving his offensive sets (it also seems to be a league-wide paradigm shift). If Hunter is gone when Dallas goes on the clock, then I think the focus could/should shift to taking advantage of the point guard depth in the draft.

Hoping for Cameron Payne to be there might be unrealistic, as rumors loudly circulate that he has a top-15 guarantee. I do expect Delon Wright to be around, however, and he's a prospect I continue to come back to as a multi-talented potential role player. In the current era of point guard dominance, defending that position becomes critical. Regardless of who they take in the draft, it is long past time for Dallas to utilize this invaluable roster building tool. Recent history prevents me from being too hopeful, but I do get the sense that the organization realizes how near the end of the Dirk era is, and how important a younger talent base will be going forward.

Tjarks:
I was really big on Delon Wright when he first made a name for himself at Utah last season. However as I watched him more this season a few red flags jumped out at me. The biggest came in their non-conference opener against San Diego State, which annually fields one of the longest and most athletic perimeter units in the country. SDSU is what an NBA-caliber defense looks like and they ate Wright alive. They attacked his dribble and dared him to beat them one-on-one on the perimeter and he couldn't do it. Wright's got great size for a PG (6'5 180) and a good feel for the game but he's only a decent athlete without a great first step and he can't really shoot the ball from the perimeter. You also have to keep in mind that Wright is already 23 years old and he has been playing against guys who are significantly younger than him in college.

I think there's a place for him in the NBA as a backup guard who can run the second unit and match up with multiple positions on defense but I don't really see him as a starting-caliber player. I want my guards to be able to shoot threes or get the ball to the front of the rim and I'm not sure Wright can do either against NBA defenders. Given the quality of play at the PG position in the modern NBA, I'm not a huge fan of any of the primary ball-handlers who could be there when the Mavs are picking. How would you compare Wright to the other two guards who could be available at that spot in the first round -- Jerian Grant and Tyus Jones?

Smithee:
Delon Wright isn't the most explosive guy, or a great shooter, and that indeed might limit his offensive ceiling in the NBA. To his credit, though, he did manage to get into the lane a fair amount at Utah, especially on pick and roll plays with Jacob Poeltl. He was efficient, productive, drew fouls -- mostly through guile and craft -- and if nothing else I think in certain match-ups he'll be able to use his size advantage to get some easy looks. He's had success against big time programs, such as a 23-point performance against Kansas, and he held his own in quality conference match-ups like UCLA and Arizona (who often threw Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at him). He has great hesitation moves and shot fakes, and a good coach might try to develop a post look or two for him. When picking in the 20s, a good third guard who can pass, defend, rebound, and offers positional flexibility isn't be the worst haul. I believe Wright does enough things well to affect a game without having to score a lot of points.

Tyus Jones, by contrast, is going to have a really tough time contributing at the NBA level if he isn't making outside shots. He's small, and an average athlete (at best), and the game of basketball kind of places an emphasis on those two qualities. I realize he was the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four, but I still question if his shooting/passing is really good enough to make him a difference maker. The Shane Larkin experiment did not go well in Dallas, and Trey Burke has already played himself out of the starting lineup in Utah. I see more similarities to those players in Jones than any other recent point guard prospect. I'm sure a team will give him a chance in the first round, but I must admit I am hoping it won't be Dallas.

Jerian Grant would appear to have a bit in common with Wright, actually. Both are big point guards at 6'4/'6'5 with NBA bloodlines who are projected somewhere in the 15-30 range, and both will be 23 years old by the team next season begins. Although Wright shot a little bit better from the college three this past season, Grant has the much better looking jumper, and he might be a slightly better athlete as well. Grant can look a little stiff with his dribble, but on paper he seems to possess all the tools you like in a modern NBA combo guard. There are some things holding me back, however. Grant's finishing ability was largely dormant until his senior season, and he struggled taking care of the ball early in his college career, too. His jump shot wasn't always there for him, and that might have something to do with questionable shot selection. I also look at the shooters Notre Dame had, and question if his assist rate wasn't a little inflated by the offensive system Mike Brey ran. Finally, while Wright showed up both as an on and off-ball defender, I question Grant's mindset on that end.

Even if my subjective preference would be to see Wright over Grant, I think I could get on board with Grant's selection. Both have traits you like in a backup point guard. However, if Dallas doesn't go guard at all, I wonder if their man might be one of the trio of talented power forwards currently projected in that range: Trey Lyles, Kevon Looney, and Bobby Portis. How do you rate that group, and do you think a potential replacement for Dirk Nowitzki could be there for Dallas at 21?

Tjarks:
Either Lyles or Portis would be a huge steal. I think at a minimum you're looking at the type of value the Rockets got with Terrence Jones in a similar spot in the 2012 draft. I'd be comfortable with either one of those guys as the starting PF of the future, although Dwight Powell should get a chance to throw his name in that derby. My guess is Lyles ends up moving up most mocks - he's already been linked to the Knicks as a possible target if they trade down from 4. Lyles might be the most underrated player in the draft -- he was forced to play out of position all season at Kentucky as a SF instead of a PF. He's 6'10 240 with a 7'2 wingspan and he can handle and move like a guard.

Portis might have a chance to fall to the Mavs because of how deep the PF position is in this year's draft. He's the prototype big man for the modern NBA -- he's got size, athleticism and shooting ability and he can play either interior position in the NBA. His biggest selling point is versatility, as he can play as a small-ball 5 and drag slower big men out on the perimeter or he can play as a bigger 4 and score over the top of smaller defenders in the post. You could draft him and be comfortable sliding him into a role as a third big man for 20-25 minutes a night as a rookie and play him with either Dirk or Tyson.

I'm not as high on Looney as I am with the two SEC PFs. He's a string bean who doesn't have the same type of bulk and he's not a great athlete -- he gets by mostly on his prodigious wingspan (7'3). And while he's a decent shooter with a little shake off the bounce, he's still not very comfortable creating his own offense. The length should make him a good defender but he can't post anyone up and his face-up game is still a work in progress. I think he's got a way to reach his ceiling and I don't think his ceiling is that high. I'd probably take both PFs from LSU -- Jarrell Martin and Jordan Mickey -- over Looney. In terms of one-on-one battles upfront, the SEC had some of the best basketball in the country.

PF is a very deep in this draft but I'm pretty happy with Dwight Powell so that isn't the first position I'd look to upgrade with this pick. I think after Hunter and Rondae-Hollis Jefferson (who could be a fascinating gamble), the guard position in the latter part of the first round isn't great either. I'm with you on Tyus Jones -- I don't like taking chances on smaller PGs without elite athleticism or scoring ability. If I had to go between Jerian Grant and Delon Wright, I guess I'd go with Grant because his 3-point shot has a better chance of translating. He might be best in a Matthew Dellavedova role as a bigger backup PG.

That brings me to the C position, where the Mavs could take a chance on Robert Upshaw, a 7'0 with lottery type talent who is sliding towards the end of the first round because he got kicked out of two different schools. Would you roll the dice on Upshaw? And do you think there's any chance Dallas would ignore the character issues to gamble on his talent? I feel like if you aren't going to value the draft anyway you might as well take a chance on the highest possible upside guy at this point in the first round.

Smithee:
Upshaw has to be the biggest boom or bust guy in the draft, assuming you can use that term to describe a player taken outside the lottery. On the one hand he is a massive individual (his standing reach is one of the tallest ever recorded at the combine) who moves fairly well for his size and could be an elite rim protector. On the other hand, there are some pretty serious red flags on his ledger, and it seems entirely possible that his career could go off the rails before it even starts. The biggest concern is well documented: he was kicked off not one but two different teams, and the exact circumstances behind his dismissal(s) hasn't fully come to light. Ultimately, that makes it hard to really say whether or not I'd take him at 21.

Dallas would have be diligent in finding out as much as they could about his personal habits and whether or not he has the mental makeup to handle a professional work routine and the lifestyle that accompanies it. There are plenty of NBA stars out there who aren't boy scouts, but drug/alcohol abuse has undone mega-talents like Michael Beasley, Vin Baker, etc. On the court, Upshaw has obvious potential, but I think he has a long ways to go before he's ready to really contribute. He largely coasted on his extraordinary size and length in college; his fundamentals and effort both leave a lot to be desired at this point. Defensively, he was able to recover in many situations despite poor positioning and lazy approach, and he won't be able to do that nearly as often in the NBA. He has big hands and flashed some nice touch around the basket, but his post-game is predictably very raw, with no counter move to speak of and basically no feel for passing out when doubled.

The easy comparison to make with Upshaw is DeAndre Jordan. I would say Jordan is pretty clearly the better athlete (he's quicker and I think was much more explosive coming out of Texas A&M), but Jordan's rebound and block rates were a tier below Upshaw's, and he didn't have the touch around the basket Upshaw seems to. Of course, Jordan was 19, not 21, and in both cases the sample size isn't tremendous. I think Upshaw is a little more of a throwback big man, the lumbering type rather than a Jordan/Drummond thoroughbred, but it's hard to deny that his shot-blocking ability wouldn't make him an asset in any era. If Upshaw lasted until the second round like Jordan did, I would take him in a heartbeat. At 21, Upshaw probably ranks as third or fourth on my list of guys projected in that range that I'd take, simply because there seems to be a decent chance he'll be nothing at all.

Assuming you got your arms around his character during the interview process, then he absolutely should be in the discussion, because he's the type of talent than if you hit on he's a franchise player. Does that mean Dallas would take him? It's much easier for me to make that gamble when it's not my job. Dallas really desperately needs to get a rotation player from this draft, and even if Upshaw is that guy, I'm not sure how quickly it happens. How much patience would Rick Carlisle have with him?

Tjarks:
I'm not sure Dallas has to get a rotation player in this draft for the simple fact that I really doubt Rick Carlisle has much (if any) interest in playing a rookie big minutes right away, especially for a team with a mandate to win now. It would be one thing if this team was trying to rebuild but Carlisle has won a lot of plaudits for getting something out of nothing over the last few seasons and one of the key tenets of his philosophy seems to be not running young players out on the court unless he absolutely trusts them. I'm not necessarily sure this is the right approach given the Mavs situation but that's where we are.

A good example of that last season is Dwight Powell. You can't convince me he couldn't have helped this team as a third big man more than guys like Amar'e, Charlie V and Greg Smith but it just never really seemed like Carlisle gave him much of a fair shake when it comes to earning a rotation spot. The second Powell made any mistakes he was gone even though Amar'e was making mistakes on defense pretty much every time he stepped on the floor. I kind of see the same thing happening regardless of who the Mavs take at 21 -- Carlisle is going to find some vet to bury the young guy on the end of the bench. Rick Carlisle paid his dues (though he was a really bad NBA player) so everyone else is going to have to as well.

That's why I'm really intrigued by Upshaw, even though he has very little chance of contributing to an NBA rotation right away. If the Mavs are just going to punt their pick (which, let's be honest, is probably what's going to happen regardless) they might as well just take it on a guy whose going to spend the whole season in Frisco trying to get his life back together. Either way I think this draft pick should be made with a 3+ year window in mind because the odds of him making a big contribution on a Rick Carlisle helmed team as a rookie are pretty minimal. So while the Mavs need guards for next season, I'm not necessarily thinking the draft is going to be the place where they find them.

With that in mind, here's what my wish list for the No. 21 pick looks like:

1. R.J. Hunter
2. Bobby Portis
3. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
4. Robert Upshaw
5. Jarrell Martin
6. Jordan Mickey

How about you?

Smithee:
I understand where you're coming from with Carlisle and his well-established reluctance to play young guys. Reluctant or not, though, I think about what this roster will look like if Monta opts out and Dallas spends big to retain or upgrade their frontcourt. There's also the question of how healthy Chandler Parsons will be to start the season. There could be several pretty sizable holes (at off-guard, and at backup 5, etc), and even if Dallas has had some success plugging those holes in the past with minimum salary veterans, it's not exactly a sustainable strategy. The team might not have much choice but to give their kids a shot.

Looking at it objectively, it's not like Carlisle has been given an abundance of enticing options. Gal Mekel, Jae Crowder, Shane Larkin, Dominique Jones...they all got a chance, and did very little with it. Dwight Powell might be a different story, but I must admit I'm not necessarily quite as high on him as others at Mavs Moneyball are. I like his energy and faceup potential, but he's a surprisingly poor rebounder for a 6'11 guy with hops, and after that first week of strong play it seemed like he stalled out a little. From February on he went 9-30 from the field. I'm fine with giving him some more development time, but depending on how the bench fills out I'm not sure if I'd expect him to really be a factor.

The bottom line is that the draft is the best way for teams to find cheap rotation players. The rookie scale contract allows the front office to keep said player under team control for a while, which could give Dallas a chance to transition gracefully into the post-Dirk era, the way San Antonio appears poised to do when Duncan and Ginobili eventually retire. The time to lay the groundwork for that foundation is now. Predicting who will be on the board in the early 20s is always difficult, but realistically my wish list would go something like this (assuming from the players we've discussed that Payne and Lyles are gone):

1. R.J. Hunter - long, skilled wing who can shoot and pass; the former being an area of major need for Dallas
2. Bobby Portis - if Dallas loses out on LaMarcus Aldridge, Portis has a chance to be Aldridge-lite, though I fear he'll be gone
3. Delon Wright - shows up in so many facets of the game that I think he'll help one way or another
4. Robert Upshaw - supreme shotblocker and rebounder with big question marks surrounding him
5. Jerian Grant - not sure he's more than a third guard, but size/skill combo is NBA-quality
6. Kevon Looney - he seems to be sliding but not too long ago he was being talked about as a top-10 guy
7. Michael Frazier - 21 is too rich for him, but if Dallas repeats history and trades back, Frazier is my pick for 3-and-D specialist
8. Cedi Osman - a Euro draft-and-stash combo guard who with some work on his jumper could be what most hoped Rudy Fernandez would be
9. Justin Anderson - he may never be able to create for himself, and I question his recent shooting, but the tools are intriguing
10. Christian Wood - the fact that he was so productive at a young age despite his lack of polish and strength suggests he has real upside.