When the NBA Draft begins on June 25 in Brooklyn, Dallas will have the 21st pick in the draft. The number 21 isn't associated with many things, except blackjack, which is popular in Las Vegas, which is home to UNLV. Basically, I'm telling you that the stars have aligned for either Christian Wood or Rashad Vaughn to be a Dallas Maverick in two weeks.
OK, maybe it's not that easy.
Dallas is in a unique spot with the 21st pick, though. The Mavericks have specific needs (most notably a point guard), but most mock drafts have Tyus Jones and Cameron Payne — the likely top targets on Dallas' draft board — gone much earlier. The best players available at 21 could be Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Justin Anderson, Montrezl Harrell and the two UNLV guys, Wood and Vaughn.
Many probably haven't seen Wood or Vaughn play. I covered UNLV Basketball the last three and a half years for the student newspaper, so I was able to get a close look at these two guys last year. As of Wednesday, DraftExpress had the Mavericks taking Vaughn with the 21st pick as a potential replacement for Monta Ellis, and Wood to as far as 29th to the Brooklyn Nets.
In the event Dallas takes one of these two, it's important to know what the Mavericks could be getting themselves into.
- Power Forward/Center
- 6-foot-11, 7-foot-3 wingspan
- Averaged 15.7 points, 10 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 33 games last season
One of UNLV's strengths the last couple of years was athleticism in the front court. Two seasons ago, Khem Birch won his second straight Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year award. He questionably entered the NBA Draft in 2014, went undrafted, but was a D-League All-Star this season. Birch was a project that year, and still is.
It's almost going to be the same situation with Wood. Whatever team drafts him is doing it for upside only. He's an athletic freak of nature. When he is engaged on the court, the sky's the limit for him. Look no further than Dec. 23, in UNLV's biggest win of the year over then-No. 2 Arizona. Wood scored 24 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and was a dominant force in the second half.
That's the kind of player Wood can be. In a big game, he performs at a high level. Despite losing to San Diego State in the conference quarterfinals, Wood scored 21 points and had eight rebounds. In his last 15 games, Wood averaged 17.7 points and 10.4 rebounds. He was even on the watch list for the Karl Malone Award, given to the best power forward in the country.
By the way, Wood had the best quote of the year leading up to the tournament game against San Diego State.
He's confident, has amazing potential and is not afraid to speak his mind. So, what could possibly be wrong with him? Wood's problems come in two key areas.
First, he doesn't know what kind of player he wants to be. Wood shot 5-of-12 and scored 12 points in a January loss to Boise State, missing five threes. This was the game where Wood began to frustrate head coach Dave Rice and his teammates. His feel for the game is nonexistent. His basketball IQ is inconsistent, and he takes unnecessary shots very early in the shot clock. He needs to figure out whether he wants to be the next Kevin Durant or actually play like a big man.
Second is his skinny frame. He weighs 220 pounds when most guys at his position are 40-50 pounds heavier. Wood isn't strong enough to go against bigger NBA bodies, at least not yet. Those two areas are crucial for Wood to develop into this high-upside player that many scouts peg him to be. It's hard to see the Mavericks drafting Wood, just because he brings no immediate value.
- Shooting Guard
- 6-foot-4, 200 pounds
- Mountain West Freshman of the Year, averaged 17.8 points and 4.8 rebounds
- Missed final nine games with a torn meniscus in his left knee
Vaughn was supposed to be the one to bring UNLV hope last year. Well, one of three people. The Rebels had a top recruiting class, highlighted by Vaughn. As soon as he stepped onto the Thomas & Mack Center floor, Vaughn asserted himself as the No. 1 option for a Rebels team that couldn't score at all.
He's a guard who needs the ball in his hands and isn't afraid to put a team on his back, hence the reputation of being a high-volume shooter. But think of it like a LeBron James situation right now — he has to take all the shots. Vaughn had to take all the shots for UNLV. He shot 43 percent from the floor, but the 39 percent from 3-point range is what jumps out at you.
No, Rashad Vaughn isn't the second coming of LeBron James. But the way he played for UNLV was almost what LeBron is going through right now. A lot of iso plays were run for Vaughn at the top of the key, with the only options being drive to the basket or pull up for a jumper. Eight times out of 10, running an iso for Vaughn worked. That scoring threat gives him great ability to attack the basket and draw fouls.
The torn meniscus is a major red flag, however. Vaughn also dealt with right knee issues before the season even began. Before he went down, Vaughn was averaging 20 points per game in the last five games. But those knee troubles are alarming for any team that drafts him. Fortunately for the Mavericks, their wonderful training staff headed by Casey Smith would monitor Vaughn's knees. If the Mavs draft him, they would have to be confident that Vaughn is healthy and ready to go by training camp.
Vaughn would also solve a need for Dallas as it enters free agency. If Monta Ellis opts out of his contract, the Mavericks draft a shooting guard with the capability to score from anywhere on the floor, and can work the pick-and-roll very well, because he'll be forced to. Plus, the $8.7 million Monta would get compared to about $1.3 million for Vaughn on a rookie deal is night and day in the eyes of Dallas.
Dallas will be in position to draft either one of these Vegas guys, but drafting either one is a gamble. One thing about the Mavericks and drafts though, is that they haven't seemed to shy away from gambles.