When the Mavericks season ended in that Game 6 loss to the Clippers over the summer, it was clear what the team needed — wings, and lots of them. During the 2020 NBA Draft, the Mavericks emphatically addressed that weakness in such a way that I wasn’t sure was even possible for the Mavericks to do in one night.
Over the course of a few hours, the Mavericks went from having one true 3-and-D wing on the roster, Dorian Finney-Smith, to potentially four. Dallas added legit wing starter Josh Richardson in a trade with the 76ers and grabbed Josh Green and Tyler Bey in the first and second rounds, respectively. After a season where the Mavericks were flummoxed by big wing scorers constantly, Dallas attacked that weakness with an aggression I’m not sure I was prepared for.
Reminder — things were so bad in regards to the Mavericks wing depth that Rick Carlisle resorted to Maxi Kleber guarding Kawhi Leonard. The Mavericks had to trick themselves into thinking Tim Hardaway Jr.’s increased effort meant he was a quality defender now. They had to have the likes of Seth Curry and Jalen Brunson guard up a spot or two at times. Justin Jackson got minutes throughout the season, simply because he was literally the only perimeter forward on the roster outside of Finney-Smith. Things were bleak with the Mavericks wing depth, despite Luka Doncic’s MVP-level season.
That’s why I’m not shedding too many tears for Seth Curry being shipped to Philadelphia for Richardson and Bey. This is a wing league, a fact that has proven itself year after year since LeBron James and Dwyane Wade terrorized in Miami, since Golden State won with a “small, but not really small ball” lineup and the Raptors zoomed to a title behind Kawhi Leonard and a stable of quality wing defenders and shooters behind him.
This isn’t a small guard league. Curry will be missed, but this was the move the Mavericks had to make to start turning their roster from something fun and unexpected into a true contender. You can’t contend if you only have one player that can guard wings on your roster. There’s just no getting around that. Now the Mavericks have maybe four of those players.
Full disclosure, I was all in on the Mavericks using 18 to draft Desmond Bane, a 6’5 guard built like Superman and can shoot like, well, Seth Curry. I’m still slightly miffed the Mavericks could have had their cake and eat it too, getting a quality shooter and secondary playmaker in Bane and still addressing their wing depth with the trade for Richardson and Bey. But don’t let perfect be the enemy of good — this was a fantastic draft for the Mavericks, one that can boost them to where they want to go with Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
As good as Doncic is, he’ll never be an above average defender. When your best player also isn’t one of your best defenders, that makes things sometimes tough with roster building. It means the guys you surround your star with have to do the dirty work but still need to be able to shoot. This league is predicated on having as many two-way players as possible, guys that won’t get exposed in the playoffs on either side of the ball. With the Mavericks earlier this year, we saw that as Kleber’s defense was negated by his cold shooting or Trey Burke’s spicy run held back by his lack of size on the perimeter. The Mavericks for years have been plagued with too many guys that are really good but only really good on one side of the ball. This draft was a referendum on that.
There are still risks, of course. Green is raw on offense, with his fantastic corner shooting numbers in college partially weighed down by the fact that he can’t really make layups. Bey is a defensive monster, but he only shot 59 threes total in his three seasons in college — his offense will be a major work in progress. Both of these guys need to get minutes to work out their shots and feel on offense.
This is perhaps the biggest danger of the selections, since Rick Carlisle doesn’t always play his rookies when he’s got a contending team. If the Mavericks are in a slump midway through the season and Green isn’t shooting well, will Carlisle trust him, or stick him on the bench for multiple games? How much trust Green and Bey can earn with Carlisle will be the thing to watch.
Josh Richardson is more of a lock, a young, long, athletic wing that can guard, shoot and even pass a little. He’s a career 36 percent shooter from deep, even with his off year last season in Philadelphia where the 76ers funky spacing cramped his game. In his last season in Miami back in 2018-2019, he averaged 4.1 assists and just 1.5 turnovers turnovers per game — there is more to his game that can be unlocked in a better offensive system and next to a star like Doncic. Of the three, Richardson is a sure-fire starter next to Finney-Smith on the wing, but Green and Bey could take some time.
They won’t be guarding Leonard or LeBron James for 25 minutes a night in the 2021 playoffs, but they at least have the potential and that’s more than you can say for anyone else on the current roster. Doncic will soon have his cheap rookie deal turn into a monster second year contract, so having Green and Bey develop into the players the Mavericks hope they can be by then is the deadline. Cheap cost-controlled talent is the name of the game when your young star finally cashes in.
Hell, the Mavericks even did good to replace Curry, selecting Stanford guard Tyrell Terry with the 31st pick, who many considered one of the best shooters in the draft. Despite my qualms with passing on Bane, Dallas still managed to acquire three defensive minded wings and still grab some shooting. Considering the Mavericks were asset-strapped this off-season, with their trade ammo being light and free agency looking quiet, the draft was a massive success. Dallas had a vision and executed it to an alarming degree. It feels good to say that, doesn’t it?
Here’s the post-draft podcast, Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you can’t see the embed below “More from Mavs Moneyball”, click here. And if you haven’t yet, subscribe by searching “Mavs Moneyball podcast” into your favorite podcast app.