It’s here. The 2020 NBA Draft is upon us, and for better or worse the Dallas Mavericks figure to be a factor in tonight’s proceedings. Dallas will start the evening with the 18th and 31st pick, though there are at least decent odds they will end up not using both or maybe even either of those picks. If you know anything about the Mavericks’ draft history, you know this franchise rarely stands pat. My favorite statistic — and I mean favorite in the way you might have a favorite method of lobotomy — is that between drafting Josh Howard in 2003 and Justin Anderson in 2015, the Dallas Mavericks either traded back or out of their first round pick every year except ONE, when they took Maurice “Mo” Ager in 2006.
So, there are a number of directions the team could go. There have been rumblings from national reporters like Brian Windhorst, Zach Lowe, etc. that the Mavericks are “up to something”, perhaps hinting at a trade up into the lottery. Based on that stat I detailed above, the team might be looking to move back, to gather extra assets. Most likely perhaps, Dallas might be looking to use the 18th pick to trade for an established veteran, to help bolster a roster that looks poised to win right now, led by MVP candidate Luka Doncic.
If we assume for the moment that the Mavs do not trade the 18th pick, here are my top guesses at who the next Maverick will be, ranked from least to most likely.
10.) Theo Maledon, PG, France
Maledon is being mocked mostly in the 20s or even 30s from what I’ve seen, but if the Mavericks have done the work on him and feel comfortable with his fit on the roster, taking him at 18 wouldn’t be a reach. A 6’5 guard who works well passing out of pick and roll, he is a bit of a jack of all trades/master of none prospect. He shot 36% from three in Euroleague action this season, and is a career 82% free throw shooter. His size and length give him plenty of defensive versatility, which is probably his best feature. He isn’t a plus plus athlete and can struggle to finish at the rim, but he fits the Dallas mold as a well-rounded two-way big guard with pick and roll chops.
9.) Leandro Bolmaro, G/F, Argentina
One of several international prospects on this list, which should surprise no one given general manager Donnie Nelson’s resume. Bolmaro is also being mocked mostly outside the top 20, and he may be stashed in Europe for a year, but he’s a 6’7 wing who can really pass, and has both strong basketball IQ and a flair for the game. The most common comparison I’ve seen is Joe Ingles, who despite sloth speed manages to get to his spots at both ends of the court.
8.) Devin Vassell, G, Florida State
It would require a bit of a draft day slide, but I had to include somebody like that in this list, and Vassell seems likelier to drop than, say, Tyrese Haliburton or Killian Hayes. Perhaps some teams will be scared of that workout video that circulated a few weeks ago showing a completely overhauled shooting form (Vassell has since said he was only messing around, but teams have freaked out over less in the past, especially since we’re in the post Markelle Fultz timeline). Vassell might also be a trade up target, since he is the premiere 3-and-D wing in this class, offering great length and anticipation on defense, and a burgeoning offensive game that could eventually make him a little bit more than a pure spot up guy.
7.) Aaron Nesmith, F, Vanderbilt
Nesmith’s draft stock is a little hard to pin down. I’ve seen him as high as 10, and as low as the early 20’s. That certainly puts him in range for Dallas, though I suspect he’ll be gone when the Mavs come on the clock. That being said, I’m not quite as high on Nesmith as others. Nesmith is going to get drafted because he shot over 50% from three in his last college season, but that was in an injury-shortened 14 games, and he shot under 34% the season before. Strong free throw percentage suggest the improvement might be real, and former Maverick and Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse used Nesmith in a variety of different sets. If Nesmith doesn’t shoot at an elite level, I’m not sure what else he really offers, but he should shoot.
6.) Tyrese Maxey, G, Kentucky
There are a few combo guards expected to go in the teens, and Maxey is probably the best fit for Dallas. He’s 6’3 but strong, and is more of a pure scorer than distributor, so he would be an ideal backcourt partner for Luka Doncic. He can defend either guard position, and has a terrific midrange/floater game. Maxey struggled shooting from three in his freshman season with the Wildcats, but I’m optimistic that he’ll do better as a pro, since he’s always demonstrated good touch (good free throw percentage as well) and he shot threes well in the EYBL.
5.) Cole Anthony, G, UNC
Another freshman guard who underperformed in college after a terrific high school career, Anthony seems a little more likely to fall to 18, as he’s had some injury issues, as well. Considered by many to be the top player in the country last fall, Anthony was undone by nagging knee issues and just an absolute disaster of a roster with the Tar Heels. With no spacing and a dearth of ballhandlers, Anthony was asked to shoulder a huge portion of the offensive load, so a team like Dallas would offer a much simpler situation for him. Anthony was a special off-dribble shooter in high school, and showed off more athleticism when healthy. Even if guard isn’t a glaring need for Dallas, the talent value might be too much to pass up.
4.) Alexsej Pokusevski, F, Serbia
I’ve written plenty about Poku already, but to those who still scoff at the idea of taking a rail thin 18-year-old who likely won’t play real NBA minutes for at least a year, I ask you to look around the league. Milwaukee looks poised to retain Giannis after adding several strong pieces to their core, which would officially end the pipe dream of bringing him to Dallas. Even non-All Stars are commanding multiple unprotected picks and pick swaps, which Dallas can’t realistically offer. So what are the avenues available to add top tier talent? The draft. The Mavericks have had plenty of success mining the undrafted free agent market, or finding a reclamation project left on the scrap heap. But the NBA draft is about taking a chance on guys teams like Dallas won’t have a shot at negotiating with later. That’s Poku.
3.) Josh Green, F, Arizona
Green is an Aussie born 6’7 wing who offers an intriguing combination of athleticism and feel, though his game still needs plenty of honing. Green made 36% of his threes and 78% of his free throws last season at Arizona, so there’s definitely some 3-and-D potential, but he really struggled finishing at the rim in halfcourt. On a team that liked to run a lot, I could see Green’s transition game providing value, but Dallas is notoriously slow paced and methodical. On defense, Green’s projection is better, as he’s a good athlete and has an NBA ready body right now. Green is the guy I’d neither jump for joy over, or throw my remote at the TV over, but instead precisely in the middle. That probably means he’s the one Dallas will take.
2.) Saddiq Bey, F, Villanova
Bey isn’t the flashiest player, and as he turns 22 next April he isn’t likely to get much better, but he checks a lot of boxes for what Dallas typically looks for in an NBA prospect. At 6’8 with long arms, he has the body to defend multiple positions, and while he’s not a particularly great athlete, there’s plenty of tape of him swallowing up guards, forwards and even big men at the college level, thanks to good feet and anticipation. He doesn’t generate a lot of steals and blocks, but like DeAndre Hunter last year he figures to be a strong one-on-one defender. Saddiq made 45% of his threes last season, and played in an advanced pro-style offense at Villanova under Jay Wright. Like Jalen Brunson, he’ll come in to the league ready to play and should be an immediate rotation piece. Just don’t expect a star.
1.) Desmond Bane, G, TCU
The Bane cheerleading from Mavs Moneyball has gotten almost embarrassing, but it’s hard not to look at the 6’6 senior and see an ideal fit for this Dallas squad. He’s one of the best shooters in the draft, a terrific team defender, and he even offers some supplementary playmaking. Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. Short arms and B-quality athleticism might keep Bane from being the ultimate stopper, but in every other way Bane is the ideal Mav choice, and it’s hard to see how coach Rick Carlisle wouldn’t immediately fall in love with his intelligence and work ethic. Bane hasn’t been mocked much in the lottery, so the national pundits seem to think he’ll be there when Dallas gets on the clock. Will they pull the trigger?