“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony that once existed between man and the universe.” — Anatole France
Deep in the recesses of my quarantine thoughts, sitting on day fifty-leven trying to do my part — alongside my wife and four-month old — to flatten the curve...I’ve allowed my mind to return to the original harmony with the universe.
We haven’t watched Mavericks basketball for two months. And while we still will have plenty of time to reflect on what could be a turnaround season cut short, it’s sometimes nice to gaze at the ceiling and ponder “what if”.
For me and my draft-obsessed heart, I didn’t have to wander too far back. The Mavericks were on course to have their best regular season finish in five years, and getting there took two very important NBA Drafts. One has already shown to be a no-brainer-you-do-this-100-times-out-of-100 move. But the other? What if the Mavericks didn’t draft Dennis Smith Jr.?
The road to Luka Doncic, in retrospect, feels like an obvious one. I mean, of course Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban were going to get their guy when they needed him no matter what. But all it takes is jumping 12 months before to see it wasn’t so clear, otherwise they probably don’t take DSJ in the 2017 NBA Draft, and opt instead for a logical compliment for their soon to be superstar.
Dennis Smith Jr., for most of his stint in Dallas, was beloved. The organization and fans had rallied around the idea of a true rebuild. Even after skepticism from critics, Rick Carlisle really did put his trust in DSJ for his rookie season. There was a path behind Smith Jr. (even if it might have been a long and winding one).
But once Doncic arrived, even on nights when everything clicked, there was a sense that connection might be forced. There are ways to make DSJ’s athleticism and Doncic’s methodical wizardry work...but the Mavericks (and Smith) didn’t have the patience, and therefore the time.
Not him, then who?
So it all begs the question: who would have been the ideal option with the ninth pick in the 2017 draft, had they known Wonderboy was on the way? Last season I spent some off nights watching Lauri Markkanen drain jumpers, rip down rebounds and take guys off the dribble and wonder what he’d look like in a two-man game next to Doncic. But even in this hypothetical world we need to cling to some kind of reality, and the forward from Finland was off the board ahead of the Mavericks’ pick.
Many will point to the 13th pick Donovan Mitchell as the logical choice. Spida was no doubt the standout from the class in their rookie campaign, and has made the Utah Jazz not only look like geniuses but kept them relevant. And as the current leader in the class in Games Played, Minutes and Points, it’s worth consideration.
However, I think Mitchell’s numbers (and volume) will be looked at differently five or so years from now. And there’s reality that Rick Carlisle would not have given him the free reign he’s had in Salt Lake.
So who else? Do you take: Jarrett Allen’s blocks and boards, OG Anunoby’s defense and ceiling, John Collins’ athleticism, Kyle Kuzma’s......hair?, Justin Jackson’s (JUSTIN JACKSON HOW DID YOU GET HERE)?
You can have them all. Give me Bam Adebayo! The 14th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Bam has made his name and presence known on both ends of the floor for the Miami Heat. As a 6’9 255-pound versatile big man, Adebayo was in the midst of a breakout year putting up averages of 16 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, with over one block and one steal in 34 minutes per game. Not bad for a 22 year old fringe lottery pick in his third season.
It’s understandable to want to pair Luka longterm with a wing that can knockdown threes and cover for Doncic defensively along the perimeter. The reality is that talent doesn’t really exist from this draft in picks two through sixty.
If him, then KP too?
Whether the Mavericks landed on DSJ or Bam or Kuzma’s hair, one thing is certain: they would have been near the top of the lottery in position to select Luka Doncic. But considering the destiny that Dennis Smith Jr. had in Dallas, would Bam or anyone else put the Mavericks in position to trade for Kristaps Porzingis like they did in January 2019?
The New York Knicks are who they are, and it’s conceivable that Dallas could have convinced them to cough up KP for Wesley Matthews, DeAndre Jordan and Dirk Nowitzki’s right sock. But taking this a step further, with someone like Adebayo in tow, do the Mavericks even need to go after Porzingis?
Now take a breath and hear me out. I’m not saying Bam has the ceiling of The Unicorn (though he might be more versatile). But in the longterm, having a player with Bam’s durability (he’s only missed 13 games in three seasons) that compliments Luka in all the right ways, AND you get to keep your two first rounds picks? Now you’re loading up your future, with plenty flexibility and you cap situation well under control.
The Mavericks undoubtedly have a bright future, and must be considered one of the more dangerous young teams in the league. But it’s okay every once in awhile, especially in these long days, to sit back and daydream about the different paths that could have been. The best part of all this is you can still wake up and the reality of the Mavericks we do have is still so exciting.