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Should the Mavericks replace Dennis Smith Jr. in this year’s draft?

Today we take a look at Collin Sexton and Trae Young and discuss whether the Mavericks should take a point guard with their first pick.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

In the midst of all the excitement that March brings to the college basketball world, Mavs Moneyball has been busy tracking the progress of all the players expected to enter this summer’s NBA draft. Trae Young and Oklahoma were knocked out of the Big 12 tournament earlier this week. They now await the fate of Selection Sunday. As for the only other point guard prospect in the lottery, Collin Sexton is wowing scouts in St. Louis in the SEC tournament.

His performances against Texas A&M (27 points, three rebounds, five assists) and Auburn (31 points, seven rebounds, one assist) prompted us to ask:

What is Collin Sexton’s outlook? And will he get drafted before Trae Young?

Jordan Brodess (@jbrodess): Draft positioning will be sorted out in the next two-and-a-half months. Sexton entered the season the best point guard prospect for a reason. He has a better NBA body than Young, he’s very athletic and brings a ton of energy and leadership to the floor. He’s sometimes out of control, and doesn’t shoot great from outside, but he’s solid off the dribble. He can also defend both guard positions.

That being said, I think Young’s ceiling is probably higher, and I assume a team would rather take that risk. Young will probably get eaten up on defense a lot. But if he can battle NBA length on the pick and roll, he could end up being a franchise changer. He’s not obviously ahead of Sexton now, like he was maybe a month ago. If Sexton can have a good tournament stretch (whichever tourney it ends up being) and solid workouts, it’s conceivable he moves past Young. He looked great today against Auburn.

Ian Miller (@SmitheeMMB): I’m one of the few that’s been more skeptical of Young from the start than Sexton, but both really cooled off from earlier in the season. I like Sexton more, but I’d understand why Young might go first. I thought Young’s shot selection and decision making generally were way too extreme, even when the results were much better.

JB: The one thing that I think is impossible to gauge is how Young will work when he has better pieces and better spacing around him. His game works much better in space, as a passer and shooter. In some ways, Sexton is probably the safer pick because of his two-way versatility. But I still think Young will go first.

IM: I’m just trying to figure out what an NBA coach is going to do with a player who regularly shoots 40 footers and averages over five turnovers per game. I’ve said this before, but my belief is nine out of ten guys who try to play like Steph Curry fail badly, at which point they either make serious adjustments or play in China.

JB: Young is Curry. Sexton is Westbrook. Ultimately it’s easier to replicate Westbrook than Curry. But the possibility of Curry I’m sure has a lot of GMs weighing the risk.

IM: It’s likely that both are ultra lite versions. Still, Young’s production has been unbelievable, even with decline in efficiency. Now the pertinent question could be:

Would you take either over Dennis Smith Jr.?

JB: I’m positive I wouldn’t take Young over him.

IM: Smith’s season has been an up and down one, with flashes of greatness and some very forgettable performances as well, but overall I still see enough to confidently say I’d rather have DSJ over either Trae Young or Collin Sexton. Comparing Smith to Young first, Smith’s athletic advantage is obvious (a gulf, really), but Smith also had the better assist-turnover ratio as a freshman, and that tends to be more predictive of how passing ability translates at the next level than pure volume. While nobody was pegging Smith as a surefire All-Defense member someday, his quickness at least gives him a chance to be an effective on-ball defender. If Young is another Steve Nash, you’ll live with his defense, but that really puts the onus on him to produce points.

JB: I think Young’s shot selection would force Rick Carlisle in to early retirement. If I’m being honest, Smith’s advanced shooting numbers have concerned me some. I think this year has been good to him in a lot of ways, and he’s having to learn how to restructure much of his game now, dealing with NBA length and athleticism. But even if he isn’t setting a net on fire like Young can, his game is more well rounded and balanced on both ends of the floor. I think it’s clear that he desperately needs some younger guys to play with that can match his athleticism and compliment him. Give him some wings, Cuban!

IM: Sexton, meanwhile, is closer to Smith’s profile athletically, but it’s worth noting that Sexton’s rebound and steal rate are very pedestrian (as a point of reference, so were Westbrook’s coming out of college), and Smith’s weren’t. Sexton clearly focuses mostly on putting the ball in the bucket himself and not much else. I’m actually not super worried about his shot when he’s playing off-ball — he makes his free throws and shoots a high volume of both free throws and threes, and there’s nothing horrendous about his mechanics that I can see — but he takes sort of a set shot and clearly is less comfortable firing off the bounce. I think he’ll really need a backcourt partner who can share the distributing duties or he’ll have trouble excelling in an NBA offense.

JB: Sexton is an interesting prospect for me. I like his energy and confidence, as well as his defense and length. But I don’t like his outside shot. I get why a lot of people think he’d make sense with a team like the Knicks. I think he’d pair really well with Frank Ntilikina. That would be a stout defensive backcourt, and they’d compliment each other well. Sexton is electric on the floor — I remember feeling it all the way up in the nosebleeds of the All-American game last year. Still, I think Smith makes more sense for the direction Dallas seems to be moving. And he and Carlisle seem to work together well, and I don’t think that can be taken for granted.