We’re barely weeks away from the league’s Fall Festival NBA Draft, and with that, a surge of news and rumors swirling around in preparation. This all is ramping up as the league deals with a lack of clarity in the near future. In fact, the draft is the only off-season date really nailed down — and it’s in two and a half weeks.
The Dallas Mavericks are currently in possession of the 18th and 31st picks, and up to this point it’s been predictably tight-lipped around Mavs basecamp. However, two pieces of recent news may help us take a guess on where their sights are set.
A few days ago Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News reported that the Mavericks are willing to part with anyone on the roster not named Luka Doncic or Kristaps Porzingis, in an effort to move into the NBA Draft Lottery. An additional burning piece of intel is that president and general manager Donnie Nelson and his front office team are feeling the urgency to add a third star, entering win-now mode.
Broader context is news that the league office and team governors are feeling their own sense of urgency when planning the 2021-22 season.
That’s a remarkably quick turnaround for a league that just wrapped up one season, and is navigating the prospect of planning and scheduling around 30 teams, rather than the 22 that played in one location during the NBA Bubble. Especially when most public indication was an aim for an MLK Day start in January.
So how does the Mavericks news connect to this league timetable?
The first sticking point is the Mavericks’ relationship to the draft itself. Over the years, it’s not as if the Mavericks have really had a ‘type’ when it comes to drafting. That’s primarily because they rarely rely on the draft to build out a roster. In the last ten years, how many players the Mavericks drafted NOT named Luka Doncic have turned to to be an immediate contributor on a winning team?
Jalen Brunson, the other guard acquired in the Doncic draft early in the second round, is one of the few that springs to mind. Yes, there are the undrafted open market players like Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber that have outlasted the dark years and turned into key contributors. Even still, the fact that recently there are the same number of drafted and undrafted players that have stuck in Dallas makes the point in and of itself.
Second, we must unpack what the Mavericks have expected from these players in their rookie seasons.
There were other rookies throughout this stretch (we’re looking at YOU), Satnam Singh), but these drafted and draft-adjacent freshman we worth examining. Dennis Smith Jr.’s role and responsibilities are the outlier no doubt, but the numbers paint a picture of the Mavericks and Rick Carlisle’s usage of rookies that aren’t once in a lifetime talents.
This isn’t to say they don’t or didn’t value these rookies, or that some of them didn’t grow into usable players in a playoff setting. They did. They do. But if the Mavericks are aiming for a win-now season, the dots aren’t connecting for them to trade assets or push themselves into the lottery to find that next piece.
So why would they want to move up into the lottery? Look back to the draft history and confirm that of the 14 picks the Mavericks have made since winning the title, they have used eight of them in draft night trades. Sometimes that was swapping other rookies, but usually it was to add established role players or veteran starters.
The Mavericks have often been able to discard draft picks because of a few different important factors: Dirk Nowitzki’s greatness, Dirk’s health, Donnie Nelson’s trade savviness. If it weren’t for that, the Mavericks’ track record of investing less in the draft may have bitten them consistently, and you can argue it did during the twilight of Dirk’s career. The irony shouldn’t be lost that their two franchise cornerstones over the last two decades were through the draft (by trade no less).
It should be emphasized here the hunch that the Mavericks would try to work themselves into the lottery only to package that pick for an established player is just that...a hunch. There isn’t intel to back this up, but the draft history points us here.
Take this into account and pair it with a reality that all 30 NBA teams could face heading into next season: the prospect of just weeks from draft night to opening night. How will NBA teams integrate and develop these rookies on the fly, without the standard timeline of summer league, off-season coaching and traditional training camp?
This more than anything supports a Mavericks draft strategy that has them moving up in the draft to try to make a bigger deal, or finds them staying at 18 and finding a plug and play role player that can contribute quickly — or just moving that pick along for an established veteran. Their affinity for rookies who aren’t just one-and-done prospects, but players with multiple years of college or international experience tell me that’s where our eyes should be focused on November 18.