Draft night is the one time a year where NBA teams truly gamble.
Free agency is a logistical goat rodeo, but team’s know what kind of player they’re acquiring. Whether it works out or not is a little more complicated, but it’s usually a pretty safe bet.
On the other hand, utilizing the draft to acquire talent is flat-out hard. You can watch all the film, conduct all the interviews, host all the workouts, and still downright miss.
The draft is like a high-risk stock. Sometimes you are going to score big and earn a great return on your investment. Sometimes you are going to earn a profit, but not nearly as much as you would’ve liked. Sometimes you are going to lose all of your investment and be at a financial disadvantage for years to come.
There are two ways teams tend to draft: you either draft the most talented guy still on the board, or you draft for a team need.
No one is asking why the Pelicans drafted Zion Williamson when they already had Derrick Favors. They drafted the most talented guy on the board.
No one asked why the Mavericks drafted Dennis Smith Jr. in 2017. A 32 year old Deron Williams was the starting point guard for the majority of the season before. They needed a point guard.
Regardless of what the Mavericks choose to do in the 2020 Draft (if they even draft), they’ll have to decide how they want to draft.
Question: Do they roll the dice and chase a high-ceiling, or play it safe a take a high-floor?
High-ceiling players are those that have the ability to become All-Stars, the cornerstone of your franchise or high-level starters. But these players involve quite a bit of risk, because there’s typically something that needs to happen for the players to reach their peak.
Think Stephen Curry. Curry was undoubtedly college basketball’s best scorer the season before his draft declaration. Unfortunately for Curry, he was severely undersized, hadn’t really played point guard and often looked like he was playing defense with his eyes closed. Those factors caused him to fall to the seventh overall pick, and we all know how that ended.
Then, you have your high-floor guys. These are (mostly) guys who will never make the All-Star game, never lead the league in a stat category or change the face of your franchise. But what they do offer is immediate, reliable contribution to help your team win.
Think Donte Divincenzo, who was 22 by the time he laced ‘em up for his first NBA game. Milwaukee knew what they would get from him. Nothing flashy, just reliable three-point shooting and good defense. He fell to the 17th overall pick and is growing comfortably into the Bucks rotation.
Answer: I’m glad I don’t have to decide.
This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you that the Mavericks are screwed if they don’t do exactly what I want. I usually love this part. In fact when I decided to write this, it was to convince you of an opinion I had.
I believed if the Mavericks chased a high-ceiling prospect and got burnt, they’d risk sending themselves backwards on the championship timeline, ruining their golden cap room situation and pissing off a competitive Luka Doncic, giving him every reason to walk.
Doomful, over-exaggerated, and negative; typically my style.
But today, I have a new opinion:
I have no idea what I think the Mavericks should do.
It’s admittedly a less fun side-of-the-fence to be on, but I truly don’t know.
I can already Desmond Bane pulling up from Lovers Lane and knocking down threes. He is everything there is to love about a guard draft prospect, besides the fact that he likely isn’t going to get much better.
He can improve his layups and ball-handling, but that won’t turn him into a superstar. He’s 22. He’s eight months and three days older than Luka Doncic. What we’ve seen is likely what we’ll get.
Then there’s Aleksej Pokusevski, who is in every way possible the biggest dice roll of this draft. If everything goes right, he could be one of the strangest anomalies we’ve ever seen on the basketball court. A seven-footer with the ability to facilitate your offense and play on the wing.
Unfortunately, the “everything” that needs to goes right involves gaining enough weight to not get bullied by anyone that weighs more than 200 pounds (also known as damn near the entire NBA, especially). He could be a transcendent player for the league, or he could be Dragan Bender and cause total agony for a fanbase as a completely wasted pick.
My answer of I don’t know is unsatisfactory for you and me both, but it’s also likely the answer the Mavericks have as well.
I’ll have an answer once the clock starts ticking for the 18th overall pick on November 18.