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NBA Draft 2023: preparing for the Mavericks to trade back in the draft

Exploring the first round options for the Mavericks on NBA Draft week.

Miami v Duke Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It’s NBA Draft Week! With star-studded trades already in the works across the league rumors are swirling stronger than ever. MMB Draft Nerds, Ian and Jordan, took some time over the weekend to dive into where the Mavericks currently stand and the growing sense that they will be trading the 10th pick in this Thursday’s draft.

JORDAN: It seems increasingly likely that the Mavericks will be moving the 10th pick in the draft. It’s impossible to fully judge how smart or un-smart that is, but I assume we’re on the same page that we’d rather them make the pick instead of trade it, yes?

IAN: Obviously, I would never want to be locked into anything, but my view of it really comes down to the fact that I see the 10th pick as an asset with far more value internally to Dallas than externally to the rest of the league. Strange things happen and it is true that with the new CBA and fears over the financial impact of the “double-apron”, a wild NBA offseason for trades could be looming, but I have a hard time seeing a realistic scenario where Dallas gets a return for the 10th pick that really provides the kind of talent injection the team needs.

This feels especially true given a lot of the reporting about Dallas’ desire to shed salary, and the recent buzz that the Mavs have been working out players projected more in the 20s or even 30s. I very much hope I am wrong, but it feels like the stage is being set for Dallas to use their pick to get off Davis Bertans’ deal, or add depth guys rather than true difference makers. I see this as a terrible use of a top 10 pick. The Mavericks have been in position to draft someone this high only three times in 25 years — a quarter century! — and if you aren’t taking that opportunity to add a potential cornerstone, then I don’t know what you’re doing at all.

JORDAN: We’re on the same page about how awful it would be to package the pick with a bad contract just to shed salary. If that’s the strategy they are doomed. You mention the pick being more valuable internally than externally and I think you’re right. The interesting aspect of that is I could see the value growing in other teams’ eyes if one of the consensus top nine prospects is still on the board when the Mavericks are on the clock. In which case I believe in more so that the Mavericks should make the pick and keep that player.

Arkansas v Kansas Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The scenario I thought about this the most recently was a reported conversation with the Atlanta Hawks, where the Mavericks would send 10 plus Bertans to Atlanta for John Collins and their first round pick. I’d imagine Atlanta would mostly be interested in that deal if someone like Taylor Hendricks or Anthony Black were still on the board. But I’d rather the Mavs just keep Hendricks or Black. Am I off base there or maybe overvaluing this class?

IAN: It is very possible we are both overvaluing this class. If I’m being honest with myself, I suspect perhaps I have a tendency to overvalue the draft in general. After all, the draft (to me) is cool, and represents the unknown future, the possibility of tomorrow. Put less poetically, new is fun! I believe sports fans often have a preference of seeing a young homegrown team develop together, as opposed to a roster of free agents who to the outsider are sort of akin to a group of mercenaries, to use a harsh term.

That all being said, I would still make the case that UCF’s Taylor Hendricks and Arkansas’ Anthony Black are in the tier of prospects outside the top 5 that are worth staying for, unless we’re talking about a true star player coming back as a return. John Collins does not quite earn that distinction, although I do believe he could be very useful as a pick and roll partner for Luka and Kyrie(if he returns). Collins has long been linked to Dallas in trade rumors, but he comes with a rather sizable price tag and is on the heels of his worst season as a pro. Crucially, he also does not do much of anything to fix what most ails this iteration of the Mavericks: their defense, specifically on the interior.

Duke v Tennessee Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Now, to examine it from the standpoint of a scenario where Dallas is wiped out at 10, with Wemby-Scoot-Thompsons1and2-Miller-Whitmore-Walker-Hendricks-Black all gone? Then I’m much more intrigued by the idea of trading back. You would be losing Bertans’ deal, adding a productive frontcourt player with playoff experience, and you would still have the opportunity to grab a prospect at pick #15, perhaps someone like Duke center Dereck Lively, who has become arguably the most popular mock selection for the Mavs. Taking Lively at 10 I must admit makes me a little queasy, but if it’s 15, and you are complimenting his deficiencies with someone like Collins, I can get onboard.

JORDAN: We’re aligned there. But that deal or other, it is time to start getting comfortable with the idea of the Mavericks moving back. Maybe it’s best to start talking about this in two ranges: pick 15-20 and then 25-35. Who are players in that first range (not named Lively) you’re interested in? Or if Lively is the primary target for you in that range, sell me on that idea.

IAN: At a certain point, it becomes pretty hazy in terms of where guys should be ranked or grouped. I’m not sure I have a “primary target” for those ranges. Lively is someone that initially was being mocked in the 20’s, and has slowly risen(at least in the media’s estimation) to being consistently linked with Dallas at 10. I suspect that’s primarily a need-based match, which certainly makes sense, but I felt more comfortable with where Lively had been previously.

Why? To start, because Derek Lively averaged 5.2 points per game last year. That’s not typically a number you associate with a top 10 pick, even a defensive specialist. If you include the preseason, in Lively’s first 20 games at Duke he cracked 20 minutes of action just four times. Part of that was due to a calf injury that slowed his progress, and he did certainly come on by the end of the season — especially in the conference tournament — but even if you include the games where he played a lot more, he did not log a single double-double all season (34 games played).

That speaks to the risk involved in taking Lively so high, I think, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff to like there. Lively is very long, and very athletic, and he looks like he has a better feel for the game than you might expect for someone who got relatively few minutes. He blocks or deters tons of shots, and has the sort of lob radius you can easily imagine Luka taking advantage of. There’s even some signs of blossoming skill, as he had a solid assist-turner ratio and looked surprisingly good finding guys out of the short roll. A mega-prospect coming out of high school, he had shown a little perimeter game for Westtown in PA, but lately that kind of range has been visible only in gym workout videos posted online. If he hits, and he’s a super rim protector who can move the ball and hit the occasional corner three? Well, duh, that’s worth the 10th pick, and is the absolute perfect compliment to the guard-heavy, defensively compromised roster they have at the moment.

Duke v Virginia Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Another guy I’d say I’m intrigued by outside the lottery would be Lively’s teammate, Dariq Whitehead. Also a big time high school prospect who had some rocky moments in college, Whitehead could be a buy-low type, as he’s dealt with multiple injuries, most notably a bone fracture in his foot that required a second surgery last month. Whitehead’s high school tape showcases a noticeably bouncier, more explosive athlete, so the pitch is you might be getting a value pick similar to fellow Duke wing Adrian Griffin Jr. Like AGJ, Whitehead can really shoot, and at 6’7 with a 6’10 wingspan, he has good positional size. If the athletic ability is still there once (and if, though the latest reports suggest he’ll be ready for training camp) he heals properly, there’s real upside, and if you could get him in the 20’s, I think you might be looking at a steal. Does anyone in particular stand out to you?

JORDAN: I think Whiteahead is the right call out. And I think the haziness in identifying one or a handful of prospects that would be ideal fits for the Mavericks in the back half of the first round is what makes me weary of trading back. And maybe why going with Lively, even if I’m hesitant of drafting a center that will have a steep learning curve, makes more sense.