Time is speeding up and slowing down in the year 2020 at a rate that I would believe it’s February or December tomorrow. Yet here we are, somehow, in the midst of a fall NBA Finals and the NBA Draft around the corner for Thanksgiving dinner.
The Mavericks have the 18th and 31st pick in this year’s draft, and they find themselves in an interesting moment of team building. This season showed perhaps they are further along in their development, thanks to the superstardom of Luka Doncic. But it also highlighted areas of great need. While it’s never fun to feel the clock ticking, Doncic’s extension will be just around the corner, so it is on the Mavericks to stock the roster with contributors on affordable deals in preparation.
There is no doubt the draft can be hit or miss. But it can’t be discounted that drafting and player development, especially after a team has found their superstar, is a clear path to filling out the roster with cheap controllable contracts.
So what if the Mavericks went all in this year on the draft? What can the last 15 years tell us they’d be finding with the 18th pick?
Looking to a specific draft slot from the past to determine what you will receive in the future is unreliable. The depth of each draft can swing wildly, and the actions of each team just as unpredictable. But to paint a broad picture, to understand the range and scope of what the Mavericks can acquire, is possible.
The short of it
If the players selected 18th in the last five drafts — Goga Bitadze, Lonnie Walker, T.J. Leaf, Henry Ellinson and Sam Dekker — help clarify the picture, the painting may look grim depending on how you view the longterm of any of these players.
Lonnie Walker’s potential with the San Antonio Spurs is bright, thanks to their player development and his skillset. But as a group, these players in their short NBA careers have averaged just 11 minutes per game with little production (four points, two rebounds, 1.9 Win-Share).
In many ways, this is to be expected. Four of the five were selected to teams squarely in the playoff picture (common when selecting at 18), and young players fighting for true rotation minutes can be difficult. This is to say it would be wise to keep in mind, no matter who the Mavericks add, that selecting a player who will be an immediate contributor to a playoff rotation is less likely. Double down on that thought process when you consider Rick Carlisle's history with non-lottery picks.
The middle years
As the average length of an NBA career is about four and a half years, this second group (drafted between 2010-2014) might highlight the truest form of the 18th pick. The good news is that from this crop is some potential.
There are still moments where I believe that the Mavericks should have taken a flyer on forward Terrence Jones, selected 18th in 2012 by the Houston Rockets. His best four years in the league saw him posting averages of 11 points, six rebound and one block in 25 minutes per game — this before injuries and trades faded him from the league.
The reality check about this group is that the law of averages holds true with only one of the five players still in the league: Eric Bledsoe. The others — Tyler Ennis, Chris Singleton and Shane Larkin (ever heard of him?) — all had brief and rather fruitless stints in the NBA.
As a whole, this group has posted an average of eight points, three rebounds and three assists in 20 minutes per game (13.4 Win-Share), though Bledsoe undoubtedly has carried the water for this group.
The long of it
The final crop of players, drafted 2005-2009, should give MFFLs hope that the Mavericks can find a piece to their puzzle with the 18th pick. The group — Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Marco Bellinelli, Oleksiy Pecherov and Gerald Green — features players that had/have long impactful careers.
As a group they’ve averaged nine points, three rebounds, two assists in 20 minutes per game (25.6 Win-Share), with all but Pecherov spending time as a starter or key reserve.
The generally unspoken part of draft success is not just selecting a player that will pan out, but having the patience and investment in development and team infrastructure. Often when a player “busts” it’s because these two key ingredients are missing. So as the Mavericks select a player (assuming they keep the pick), they would be wise to keep this in mind. It will be tempting to pass on the pick, or lack patience in their development, feeling the Doncic clock ticking. But there is possibility at 18 if they’re willing to invest.
A quick word on players who fell past 18 in the draft: Inevitably players slip through the cracks for injury history, attitude concerns, or fit in the league. Others just come on stronger in the right situation once they find their place in the pros.
So it would only be fair to mention some of those notable selections over the last ten years, guys that in retrospect could have or should have been selected at 18 or well before: Brandon Clarke, Grant Williams, John Collins, OG Anunoby, Caris LeVert, Pascal Siakam, Gary Harris, Clint Capela, Rudy Gobert, Jimmy Butler, and Avery Bradley. This only highlights that there are players to be had outside of the lottery that could develop into contributors for the Mavericks.