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Justin Anderson could represent a shift in the Mavericks drafting culture

When the Mavericks selected the Virginia forward with the 21st pick on Thursday night, it signaled perhaps a much-wanted change in the Mavs front-office views of the draft.

Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Anderson is not Rodrigue Beaubois.

He's not Dominique Jones or Jared Cunningham. He's not Maurice Ager. He's not Ricky Ledo. He's not Jae Crowder.

Thank God.

I mean, just look at that highlight reel. It has been over 10 years since a Mavs draft pick has looked that impressive in college physically, doing things against actual, real college teams. The Mavs haven't drafted a forward like Justin Anderson since they took Josh Howard way back at the end of the first round of the 2003 draft -- and Josh wasn't even close to Anderson's bulk.

★ Every Mavericks rumor all in one place.

That in of itself is a big deal. For the first time in what feels like a forever, the Mavericks brain trust of Rick Carlisle, Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban stepped up to the podium and talked about a guy they were thankful to get -- not a guy they felt like they had to defend.

"Anderson is a beast," Mark Cuban said on Thursday night once the Mavs were done for the draft. "For a guy who weighs 230 pounds and has a 43-inch vertical, he moves really well, is aggressive. He doesn't back down from anybody."

There was no "well he's really raw but we like his upside" or "he has a lot of areas he needs to improve but he has a good work ethic." Nope. The Mavericks didn't have to talk about why trading down made sense financially or any of that other bullshit. For the first time in years the Mavs stayed put and took a badass. They didn't go off the beaten path. They didn't try to look like the smartest guys in the room -- instead they just acted like them.

Now, Anderson isn't a savior. But he represents a shift in the Mavs' drafting culture that we've been begging for -- ready to play, good upside guys that come from legit programs and are a legit size for their position. Too often the Mavs tried to draft square pegs into round holes for no reason other than trying to cash in on a one-in-a-million lottery ticket.

Anderson doesn't have those excuses. He's a big dude (6'6'' to 6'7''), he weighs 230 pounds, he can jump out of the gym and he likes to bulldoze people. For a Mavs team that got pushed around defensively against the Rockets earlier this year, that's a godsend.

"The wingspan has become a more important thing to look at analytically at prospects in the draft," Rick Carlisle said on Thursday night. "The guys with significant wingspan beyond their height, they get great consideration."

How nice is that to hear? Sure, there were some sexier picks in R.J. Hunter and Bobby Portis left on the board and they would have been great. But, baby steps -- the Mavericks have seemingly drafted a useful basketball player!

For a team that looked so overmatched at times last year defensively and athletically, Anderson fits right in. He'll provide insurance in case Al-Farouq Aminu's free agency goes south or just add some much needed perimeter depth on a team that was on life-support on the wing during this year's playoffs.

He has a NBA-ready skill: defense. Virginia's program has built a defensive reputation in the last couple of years and Anderson helped them tremendously on that side of the ball for his three-year college career. He guarded twos, threes and some fours. He's versatile, which is a big buzzword around the league after watching Cleveland and Golden State throw out interchangeable parts during the Finals.

The Warriors have thrived on dudes that can guard multiple positions and provide some sort of threat on offense as well, whether it's shooting, driving or passing. With this pick, the Mavs are at least showing that they're paying attention to where the league is going."

"The league is going the direction of guys with flexibility that can guard multiple positions," Carlisle said. "Switching has become a bigger part of the game defensively. [Anderson has] the foot speed to guard smaller guys and he's got the strength to hang with bigger guys around the basket.

"He's got a lot of tools you look for in the NBA. He's a quality kid."

Are there holes? Of course. Late first rounders aren't sure things and Anderson isn't going to carry an offensive burden anytime soon. He was a 3-and-D-and-dunks guy in college, and while that's absolutely perfect for a cheap role player to fill out a roster around pricey stars (Chandler Parsons, Dirk, DeAndre Jordan? LaMarcus Aldridge?) it won't help if the Mavs fail to bring in some playmaking to replace Monta Ellis. Anderson rarely made plays off the dribble at Virginia.

He also had a crazy uptick in his shooting. He went from a 29 percent shooter from deep his sophomore season to a 45 percent shooter this past season. That's what primarily boosted him up the draft boards -- if Anderson kept to his shooting averages from his early years in college, he'd be a second rounder or even undrafted.

I was a little shaky on Anderon's sudden arrival as a three-point shooter. Our own Alan Smithee had doubts as well, especially as Anderson shot poorly toward the end of this season. Was that a regression toward the mean?

Maybe. I asked Cuban directly on Thursday about how Anderson shot so much better over the course of one year and if he thinks it's sustainable at the next level. While of course you wouldn't expect the front office to say anything else ("Nah, he'll probably go back to being lousy") the Mavs have some reason for confidence in Anderson's shot.

Hell, Anderson even used Dirk Nowitzki's methods to fix his shot.

"It was a large enough sample size and he went through and specifically changed his shooting mechanics," Cuban said. "If you go back and watch his first two years and watch them now, he would fade, the shot was kind of funky. Now he's got a straight elbow and goes straight up and down. He changed dramatically.

"He got hurt, and then he got appendicitis, so he struggled towards the end of the season. We didn't think that was the sample size that was relevant. He was putting up five or six threes on a team that scored 55 points a game, so they obviously had a lot of confidence in his shooting, as well."

Anderson isn't perfect but he isn't dead on arrival. If he plays any minutes in the fall on 2016 for the Mavs he'll be their best draft pick in over a decade -- so granted, the bar is low. But it also hasn't moved in ages. Baby steps.

"When you have a guy that's fast, agile, 230, 7-foot wingspan and a 43-inch vertical, there's a lot you can do if he's got any basketball skill," Cuban said, "and he's got a lot of basketball skill."