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Players Mavericks fans should watch for the 2018 draft

Because it’s never too early, we look at some of the names to watch next college season.

ACC Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

For basketball junkies, there is no offseason. With draft camps, summer league, off-season training, and access to the year-round development of high school and college players, diehards can find something 24/7/365.

So don’t feel bad if, like us, you woke up last Friday morning and quietly looked at some of those “way-too-early” 2018 mock drafts.

With nearly 12 months until the next NBA draft, players will move up and down draft boards. And with an entire season left to play, a draft order hasn’t even begun to form. But while we’re watching Dennis Smith, Jr. do things like this, here are some players the Mavericks should keep an eye on to fill future needs.

De’Anthony Melton, G, USC

Melton has played mostly as a lead guard for USC, but watching him play, I feel his best position at the next level may be as a swiss army knife shooting guard. He has the athletic ability to be a disruptive defender (I don’t know if a freshman PG has ever had so many spectacular blocks), and he contributes on the offensive boards and as a passer.

As a sophomore, he’ll need to show improvement as a three-point shooter, but his physical tools and feel for the game make him the type of player Dallas tends to love and a unique prospect to keep an eye on.

Bruce Brown, G, Miami

In a similar vein, Bruce Brown is another college holdover who flashed a diverse skill set out of the backcourt. A little on the short side for a two, Brown’s length and athleticism make up for that, helping him stuff the stat sheet and contribute high energy playmaking on both ends. Brown was much better than expected at spotting up this past season, and if he takes another step in that regard, he will shoot up draft boards.

Looking at the roster, I think Dallas would do well to pair Dennis Smith with a player who can defend, spot up, and also take on a portion of the ball handling duties. Finding that guy in a one-and-done isn’t easy; the Mavs may need to look to the established college ranks.

Jaren Jackson, Jr., PF, MSU commit

Jackson is a long, athletic big man with a burgeoning outside game, making him a potentially lethal stretch four who might be ideal to take over for Dirk. He has a funky shooting motion with a low release point, but when you’re 6’11 with a 7’4 wingspan, you can get away with that. As one of the youngest incoming freshmen, Jackson is just scratching the surface of his physical talents, but has the tools to be a force on defense as well, giving him a really strong two-way profile.

The Michigan State commit may end up out of the Mavs’ reach, but in a class loaded with big guys, someone may get pushed down, much in the way Dennis Smith did in this past draft. Jaren’s father played for over a decade in the NBA, most notably with the Spurs.

Rodions Kurucs, F, Barcelona

Kurucs was a favorite of mine before he withdrew from the draft, a puzzling decision, given the near total lack of wings outside the top 10. The 2018 draft will likely feature several intriguing Euro talents with a similar profile, but outside of likely top-three pick Luka Doncic, Kurucs has the best combination of size, athleticism and skill, particularly as a shooter.

How exactly Kurucs would fit next to Harrison Barnes isn’t entirely clear (though Barnes did perform well for brief stretches as a small-ball four), but we would have plenty of time to figure that all out.

Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky

Hamidou Diallo was at the combine and tested the draft waters this year without playing a single college possession. An early enrollee at Kentucky, Diallo had the opportunity to enter the draft with that loophole, but opted to spend one year playing for Calipari. That wasn’t before he put on a show at the combine.

Diallo is an athletic freak, posting a combine-best max vertical of 44.5” with a 3.11s sprint time. At 6’5 and 200 pounds, he has the size and length (6’11 wingspan) to pair with Dennis Smith in a future backcourt. The athleticism would be through the roof. The area that needs to see the most improvement is his shooting. If that grows, he may rise up draft boards and out of the Mavericks’ reach.

Troy Brown, SG, Oregon commit

An Oregon commit out of Nevada, Brown projects as a do-it-all type player who can shift from shooting guard to small forward in three-guard lineups. He has solid size (6’6, 210 pounds, 6’11 wingspan) and the kind of basketball IQ and humility that the Mavs like.

With many key Oregon players exiting this year, Brown will look to be featured for the Ducks. If he can continue to improve his ball handling and hone his perimeter shot, he is the sort of solid workman and two-way player that would pair well with Smith and Barnes. And his versatile defensive abilities could allow Brown to take on every opponent’s top perimeter player, taking some pressure off of Smith.

Justin Jackson, SF, Maryland

Jackson was another player who tested draft waters last month, attending the combine and waiting until the deadline before ultimately heading back to Maryland. He is a small forward (6’7, 220 pounds) with the insane wingspan (7’3) that allows him to guard most of the floor. His numbers during his freshman year at Maryland are impressive, most notably his 15 points and eight rebounds per 40 minutes and his 43 percent from three.

It will be interesting to see if that’s something he can sustain this season. If he continues to shoot like that, he is a versatile, floor-stretching forward who could allow Barnes to transition to the four more consistently.