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An early look at the 2018 Draft

With the Mavericks struggling mightily, it’s time to take a (very) early look at what most consider a very strong draft class

High School Basketball: McDonald's All-American Portraits Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Mavericks have fallen to 1-8 after Wednesday’s loss to the Clippers. While they aren’t the only team with just a single victory, no club has as many defeats, putting them at the very bottom of the league standings.

It’s true that Dallas also started slowly out of the gate last season, sinking as low as 2-13 (a 10-win pace over an 82-game schedule), before rebounding to some extent and finishing with 33 wins. However, before we assume a similar trajectory this time around, it’s worth noting there are a few key differences between last year’s club and this version.

For one, they’re healthier. I say “er,” because sharpshooter Seth Curry is still sidelined with the stress reaction that took him off the court during training camp. However, the roster that began the 2016-17 season was missing not just Dirk Nowitzki, but starting point guard Deron Williams, his backup J.J. Barea, and savvy combo guard Devin Harris.

Also, that team didn’t have Nerlens Noel or Yogi Ferrell, a pair of key contributors who helped Dallas climb into the vicinity of respectability. That this Mavs club is struggling with those guys playing (and playing fairly well, I might add) paints a grim picture of what their real upside is going forward this season.

Now, it’s way too early to completely bury the 2017-18 Dallas Mavericks. Especially with Rick Carlisle at the helm. If Dirk rounds into shape, Harrison Barnes gets his groove back, and Carlisle finds some lineups that can be semi-functional at the defensive end (as of this writing, they are dead last in defensive efficiency), maybe the Mavs can play their way out of the lowest levels of cellar-dom.

But, if they can’t, I’m here to bring the good news.

Luka Doncic could be a perfect fit with Dallas’ young core

The start of the college basketball season is a little over a week away, but 18-year-old wunderkind Luka Doncic has already started to make his case for being the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft.

Already a well established prospect prior to this year, the Slovenian born Doncic has taken the reins of EuroLeague powerhouse Real Madrid, and he’s been sensational so far. At 6’7/6’8, Doncic has point guard skills in a wing’s body, and his shooting has improved steadily already in his young career, allowing him to fit (in theory) both on and off ball in virtually any offense. That kind of versatility would do wonders to help take some of the load off Dennis Smith Jr. down the line.

Doncic may not go first overall, and if he doesn’t, it will likely come down to the old debate of “skills vs. tools.” Doncic can really pass, and shoot, and he displays a high basketball IQ, but his measurables don’t necessarily leap off the page. He isn’t an elite athlete, and while his size is just fine for a wing, historically, premium draft picks from overseas have been bigs, a la Dirk Nowitzki, Kristaps Porzingis, etc.

At this stage, my thought is that Doncic’s apparent shortcomings would be less problematic with a team like Dallas, who already has big-time athletes in Smith, Noel, and to a lesser extent, Barnes. Doncic wouldn’t be asked to break down defenders one on one, because that’s DSJ’s job. He wouldn’t be asked to be a rim protector, because that’s Noel’s job. Meanwhile, he’d be a luxury of a secondary ball handler, and he has the versatility to play three -- maybe even four -- positions, which surely would make Rick Carlisle happy.

If Dallas has to replace Nerlens Noel, this is probably the draft to do it

I know I talk about Noel in the above paragraph like I’m assuming he’s going to be in Dallas longterm, but let’s address the elephant in the room: Dallas has not treated Nerlens like they expect him to be a major part of their future.

Things can change, and to be perfectly honest, I hope they do, but with Noel set to be an unrestricted free agent, there is a real chance Dallas will lose him, even if they make a better offer than the one they pulled last summer. Noel was removed from the starting lineup again for Wednesday’s matchup, and even when he has started, he’s rarely exceeding 20 minutes of game action.

Painful as it is to think about, some consideration should be made about how Dallas might intend on replacing the 23-year old center, and as luck would have it, this appears to be a draft loaded with big men. Much in the way last year’s superb depth at point guard pushed Dennis Smith Jr. to Dallas, so too could this class help Dallas get their big man of the future (you know, one who’ll play more than 19 minutes a game).

Here’s an early cheat sheet:

1) Marvin Bagley III, Duke

The first guy to look at is probably Marvin Bagley III. Bagley reclassified a few months ago to make himself eligible to play college basketball a season early, and chose Duke, joining Grayson Allen to make the Blue Devils No. 1 in the AP’s Preseason Poll. Bagley is the perfect player for the modern NBA. At 6’11, with long arms, explosive athleticism, and most impressive, legitimate face-up skills, Bagley could fill almost any role for a team (meaning he could definitely play next to Nerlens Noel, too, if it so happened), and really the only question is how good does Bagley want to be.

2) DeAndre Ayton, Arizona

Next, Arizona commit DeAndre Ayton. Ayton has some of Bagley’s perimeter skills, but is even bigger than Bagley, at 7’0 with a 7’6 wingspan. Ayton has flashed real jump shooting skill so far, and since he’s a very strong athlete as well, Ayton could be an unstoppable player in pick-and-roll/pop situations. What has kept Ayton a hair behind Bagley in most scouting circles so far is the nagging concern that Ayton isn’t in love with the game, or at least doesn’t have the passion required to be truly great against the highest competition. Seeing how he fares against college opponents will go a long way toward getting a clearer picture of what Ayton’s future might be, but the talent is undoubtedly there.

3) Mohamed Bamba, Texas

The crown jewel of Shaka Smart’s tenure thus far in Austin, Bamba is the third mega-touted big man of this season’s freshman class. Unlike Bagley and Ayton, Bamba has the profile of more of a traditional center, but at 7’0 with a jaw-dropping 7’9 wingpsan and guard-like movement skills, Bamba is arguably the best physical specimen of the three. Expect him to be a dominant force on the defensive end from day one, and while his offensive game is still very much a work in progress, if Bamba shows improvement there, he will be taken very seriously as a candidate for the No. 1 pick.