The long wait of May has come, and the Dallas Mavericks have retained their 2023 first round draft pick, much to the delight of the franchise’s fans and apparently also to the exasperation of those critical of the team’s decision to sit its star players on the final game of the season. The NBA Draft Lottery delivered the ultimate prize to division rival San Antonio — a potentially terrifying scenario down the line — but for Dallas it’s difficult to overstate how important this (statistically expected) outcome was.
A bit of history: since taking Dirk Nowitzki in 1998, the Dallas Mavericks have selected a player in the top 10 of the draft just three times. They took Devin Harris fifth in 2004, Dennis Smith ninth in 2017, and if you’ve followed the team at all recently, you can probably guess the third guy. Luka Doncic went third in 2018, and of course, Dallas gave up the 10th pick in the following draft as part of the deal to acquire him. If this pick had conveyed, it would have been the second lottery pick lost in five years, a frankly devastating omen for the Luka era.
Now the question will be what to do with the pick. Undoubtedly, there will be serious consideration given to using it as a trade piece, probably for an experienced veteran to bolster a roster that the front office is hoping will include Kyrie Irving. Given Mark Cuban’s history as owner, where Dallas has traded either back or out of the first round of the draft altogether 12 of the last 16 years (!!), you might even say this is the likeliest usage of the pick. Is that the right move? My answer would certainly depend on the return. If a young player with upside and still on a cheap rookie deal like Jalen Duren was available, I would be pretty enthusiastic, but the list of realistic names beyond that are slim.
Trading the pick simply because you feel like you have to compete for a championship immediately would be foolish, in my view, and another example of the team attempting to take a short cut to success rather than build for the longterm. The real “cheat code” for NBA teams is getting quality, productive rotation players on cost-controlled deals; it’s what nearly every recent title team has done! Too often Dallas has opted to make things harder on themselves, even when they have chances for success seemingly fall in their laps (the 2018 draft being one great example).
Assuming for the moment an attractive trade offer does not materialize, and instead Dallas elects to draft someone, let’s take a quick look at some of the names that might be available, and how they could possibly fit:
Taylor Hendricks, F/C, UCF
Hendicks was mocked to Dallas in ESPN’s latest post-lottery update, and it’s a name we’ve written about already some at Mavs Moneyball. By no means do I intend to get tunnel vision here, but Hendricks would be an exciting player who I think could fit exceptionally well with the Mavericks. Hendricks is a little undersized at the moment, playing his freshman season at UCF at 213 pounds, but if he can add weight, I think he has sufficient length and athleticism to play some small ball five, where he is the ideal switchable big, capable of staying in front of smaller wings and guards, while also providing weakside rim protection. His offensive game is still a work in progress, but he hit 39.4% of his threes on nearly over 4.5 attempts per game, and he has the vertical pop to be a lob threat. In time, he could blossom into a very effective and versatile screener for Luka.
Jarace Walker, F, Houston
Walker could go top five, but because he’s an unorthodox player, I’ll include him in the list. Like Hendricks, he’s going to get on an NBA floor as a rookie primarily for his defense. Walker is athletic and solidly built at 6’8, and his combination of instincts and high-motor make him a terror on D, able to switch and stay connected, play passing lanes, and even offer some shot blocking. Offensively, he can handle the ball well for a forward and in the right offense, his skill as a passer and ball-mover could be used to great effect. His jumpshot is improving but not yet a serious weapon, and I’m not sure he’s quite a good enough self-creator to get buckets against NBA-quality opponents like he did in the American Athletic Conference. If he falls into the Mavericks range, that would be the likely reason
Cam Whitmore, F, Villanova
I also expect Whitmore to be gone by pick 10, but every year there’s a guy who falls unreasonably far, and if it’s Whitmore, then run that pick to the podium. Whitmore is a powerful, athletic wing who is still very young and is the one name on this list who has primary scorer upside. He entered college with huge expectations and while he had a good year for Villanova, it was a bit more up-and-down than I suspect some scouts were hoping for. He averaged less than an assist per game, and his shooting numbers were solid if unspectacular. Still, Whitmore is a major talent and an incredibly fun guy to watch, using his strength and mega-bounce to attack the rim either on straight drives, or as a cutter/rebounder. I’m bullish on his shooting: I think he’ll shoot well enough to leverage his elite athletic ability.
Anthony Black, G, Arkansas
The Duncanville native is being mocked kind of all over the place, but he definitely feels like the next name in line should all three of the above guys go before 10. You may be noticing a pattern here (and given Dallas’ needs, it’s not a bad one), but Black is another prospect who projects as a quality defender, but who still needs some refinement before his offensive role becomes clear. You may hear Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd as a possible comp for Black, who is 6’6/6’7 and has great feet and great feel for the game, though he was too often a bystander on offense who we didn’t get to see create with the ball as much as we should have. Whether this is more coaching/gameplan or evidence of passivity will be a question draft rooms will have to answer, along with what to do with his awkward shooting motion. While Lonzo was a much better college prospect, Black also reminds me a little of the elder Ball brother as a young NBA player.
Gradey Dick, G/F, Kansas
I usually try to avoid comparisons, because they’re often lazy and uncreative, but that being said Dick reminds me a lot of fellow Jayhawk Christian Braun, only Gradey appears much farther along in his development at the same age. He isn’t necessarily a “sexy” piece, but he has fewer holes in his game than most of the other prospects mocked in this range, and wings who can really shoot tend to make a lot of money in the NBA. This wouldn’t be my preferred target, but Dallas could absolutely use another ace shooter, or at least another well-rounded wing.
Cason Wallace, G, Kentucky
The latest in a long line of John Calipari-coached guards who NBA scouts are thinking might perform better in the NBA than at Lexington. Wallace is a terrific defensive guard who may not be a primary ballhandler at the next level, but looks more than qualified to be a secondary playmaker who can play both on and off the ball. Like a lot of prospects, outside shooting will determine how far he goes as a player, but he checks pretty much every box you look for in a playoff quality starting piece. One thing that will need to be addressed with Wallace is his medical situation, as he’s had some injury issues in the past, which contributed to a subpar season for the Wildcats.