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Draft questions: do the Mavericks want to use their two picks on players?

It’s draft season and that’s always a very secretive time for the Dallas Mavericks.

2019 NBA Draft Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

This is the part of the basketball calendar that makes my brain melt.

The regular season is simple: there are games, which means things to analyze, news to cover, and if things go haywire, well, there’s another game just around the corner. The off-season is different. The off-season is perilous for my frame of mind. There’s too much time between events, time to debate trades and free agents, draft picks and schemes.

With the draft coming in about six weeks, there’s a great deal to consider, even if the Dallas front office doesn’t have any time for our opinions. Understanding that, we have a number of questions and our best guesses at answers related to the draft.

Question: Does Dallas want to use the 18th and 31st overall picks on players who will join the 2020-21 Mavericks roster?

This overarching question influences so much of what’s to come for the Mavericks in future years. Much of this depends on where Dallas believes they are on team building cycle.

Do the Mavericks think they are a few roster moves and continued Luka Doncic development away from being an actual title contender? Or does the Maverick front office have concerns about the quality of depth on the roster following the franchise’s first foray into the playoffs in the post-Dirk Nowitzki era?

Consider these facts:

  1. The 18th pick this year is likely the highest the Mavericks will draft for years to come
  2. Dallas owes first round picks to the New York Knicks in 2021 and 2023 for the Kristaps Porzingis trade.

Though the Mavericks have done well finding undrafted players to develop, these two picks are one of the few times that Dallas has to choose cost controlled talent with pedigree. It’s great that Dallas has done well with guys like Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith, but the Mavericks could really use a Josh Howard-type, the player ready to contribute rotation minutes immediately in the way Jalen Brunson has the last two seasons.

The 31st pick is incredibly valuable as well. It gives Dallas the chance to draft a player with a first round grade but missing the pre-determined contract cost of a first round selection.

However, Dallas might believe themselves close to taking the next step in being a contender. If that’s the case, then it’s entirely possible one or both picks get moved in a package, possibly including a current player, in exchange for a veteran or player on a different team unhappy with his situation. There’s also the fact that the Mavericks and Rick Carlisle don’t have a clean history with the draft during the past decade before Luka Doncic, back when the Mavericks were still a playoff team during the latter years of the Dirk Nowitzki era.

“First round draft picks are of very little interest to me,” Carlisle said when asked about trading away a future first to acquire Doncic. “We need to take this group and move forward.”

Sure, Carlisle was talking about Luka’s rookie team, but it’s not hard to connect that statement to the Mavericks history of poor drafts when the team is a contender or at least a solid playoff team.

The Mavericks have 12 players under contract for the 2020-21 season: Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell, Delon Wright, Maxi Kleber, Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith, Boban Marjanovic, Jalen Brunson, Justin Jackson, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Willie Cauley-Stein (assuming the last two opt into their Player Options). There’s not much room for one rookie, let alone two, particularly when factoring in free agency.

Answer: The Dallas Mavericks should use at least one of their two selections.

And not just because we here at Mavs Moneyball want to continue writing about the 2020 NBA Draft.

There’s a middle ground involving using one of the picks to add a possible future rotation player and using the other to move an underperforming player from the most recent roster. This seems the most likely course, given the available information, though neither extreme option (trading both picks, using both picks) would come as much of a surprise.

This question and how the Mavericks answer it next month is the start of their blueprint for building the 2020-21 roster. The draft has not always been a priority for Dallas, past drafting franchise centerpieces, so what happens during the November draft is absolutely worth paying attention to.