Fifth is not a death sentence. It’s not the end of the world. Five still gives the Mavericks a solid, maybe even great, player. You will breathe. You WILL bounce back. In fact, why are you talking to yourself like this — it doesn’t actually affect you as a human being. Get off the floor and stop screaming.
These were the sort of things I had to remind myself around 7:45 Tuesday night as Assistant Vice President of Basketball Operations Michael Finley walked off the stage in downtown Chicago with none of the good fortune MFFLs everywhere were hoping for. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, three months ago, the news that the Mavericks would have the fifth pick would’ve probably led fans to breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, obviously, of course it would have been ideal if the Dallas Mavericks had waltzed out of the ballroom at the Palmer House with a top three pick in their possession. But the Mavs are talent starved and still have an opportunity to grab one more critical piece of the puzzle for the next era.
So what now? First, as a refresher, the order is as follows:
So much can change over the next 35 days. We’ll hear plenty of chatter about picks being traded, private workouts imploding, players turning down invitations to workout with no-good-very-bad teams... the list goes on. But to get a sense of who the Mavericks will be considering while they’re on the clock the night of June 21st, you have to first project who will be off the table.
Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton feel obvious. Though Sacramento is the wild card of the group, these two players remain the top tier of the class and whichever Phoenix passes on will very likely end up with the Kings. After that, it really comes down to team preference. But from a bird’s eye view, Jaren Jackson Jr. seems to fit best next to Atlanta Hawks rookie John Collins (though I’ve seen two separate reports already that Atlanta is high on Marvin Bagley III or wants to trade back... so let the fun begin). The final pick before the Mavericks goes to Memphis, a team that (with two leaders in their prime) can draft for need more than the rest. Though he isn’t a perfect fit next to Marc Gasol, Marvin Bagley is the best value in that spot. Bottom line, it is reasonable to expect that Ayton, Doncic and Bagley will all be gone before the Mavericks pick.
Narrowing the options
The logical pick: Mo Bamba
This year’s draft has always been about big men, and if Mohamed Bamba is the consolation prize for dropping to fifth, the Mavs could be in a worse position. It’s no secret that Captain Mark “Ahab” Cuban has long been after a big fish at center. Striking out in perpetuity has left the Mavericks filling the void at the position with serviceable, if underwhelming, vets. This will be a major opportunity for Dallas to take a very raw, young, center under their wing and mold him to what they’ve always wanted.
The 7-foot big man with an otherworldly wingspan has plenty of work to do to be that cornerstone the Mavs are looking for. But the framework is there. After videos of him in private workouts started floating around a few weeks ago, #MavsTwitter was buzzing, making all of this feel a bit like destiny. Questions about Bamba’s assertiveness, offensive ceiling, and even how Rick Carlisle would handle another young center are all valid. But he seems to be a great personality fit in Dallas and should impress in private workouts and interviews. A guy who could be a perennial defensive player of the year candidate for his entire prime is a pretty solid value at the fifth pick.
The floor pick: Mikal Bridges
If we were ranking lottery prospects based on Day One NBA-Readiness, Mikal Bridges would probably be top two or three. Alas, that’s not how the game is played. The typical MO is to focus on projections, looking for the player with the highest ceiling at any given pick. And at five? The consensus on Bridges seems to be that he’s not going to go that high. Ultimately, that has little to do with who he is as a player, and more to do with the potential ceilings of the players who are likely to still be on the board at that point.
But the junior wing, fresh off of helping lead Villanova to a title, is the most Carlisle prospect of the class. He is fundamentally sound across the board, has perfected a lethal outside shot over the last three seasons, and does all the little things that contribute to winning. The real questions for Bridges are about how much higher his ceiling is, and whether Dallas couldn’t get him with a lower pick if they traded down. But if the Mavs are calling his name on the 21st, it will be because his floor is higher than any other player in this tier.
The swing-for-the-fences pick: Michael Porter Jr.
It’s been covered and re-covered, but back in the fall, everyone looked to MPJ as an obvious top-three pick. But a brutal injury that he quietly battled through his teen years came to light and completely changed his trajectory. These next four weeks mean more for Michael Porter Jr. than any other player in the top ten. Porter controls who looks at his medicals, and this could help his camp steer him to whatever team(s) he’d like to consider him. But MPJ has a lot to prove to teams.
This injury and surgery have a long history of changing players permanently. In some ways, Porter is fortunate he’s dealing with this so young. But for a player that is best suited to playing the four at the next level, the physical toll is no joke — just ask Harrison Barnes.
Beyond physical concerns, knowing whether MPJ is an organizational fit is paramount. Questions about his willingness to play in a team system, and his work ethic, might cause Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson to hesitate. But if after all those questions and concerns are addressed, MPJ comes out the other side with his pre-injury game, the Mavs would have a home-run pick to help build their future.
Many factors, some of which are still unknown, will affect the draft order. One major consideration will be how participating players perform at the NBA Combine this week in Chicago (be on the look out for full coverage here at MMB; we’ll do deep dives on all the players the Mavs should be considering).
But for now, MFFLs can take a breath and know there is still plenty to be excited about in June, as our own Nick Angstadt reminds us:
Players Drafted at #5— Nick Angstadt (@NickVanExit) May 16, 2018
2010 Demarcus Cousins
2008 Kevin Love
2004 Devin Harris
2003 Dwyane Wade
1998 Vince Carter
1996 Ray Allen
1995 Kevin Garnett