Last month the NBA Draft Lottery took place in conjunction with the NBA Draft Combine. During that time and soon after Jordan and Ian, MMB’s draft enthusiasts, talked through the options the Dallas Mavericks have in the month ahead. This is part of that conversation.
JORDAN: The Mavericks thankfully held on to their top ten pick. I can’t accurately detail what the vibes would have been like around the team had they forfeited to the Knicks but thank god we don’t have to consider it. What was your gut reaction?
IAN: For me, an obvious relief. I understand that there are downsides. This pushes the Mavs’ pick obligations further down the line, potentially straining their ability to help the roster in a few years when Luka’s unrestricted free agency will be close.
However, a top 10 pick is a pretty major asset, either to use to select a talented rookie(or rookies), or as a trade asset for a veteran. To lose a second top 10 pick in 5 years would have been devastating, and this draft looks a bit better than the last time that happened, in 2019.
My head says the Mavericks will trade the pick, because that’s a very Dallas Mavericks thing to do. My heart is hoping the team will draft somebody, though, because I think that’s the right way to build a winner. This point has been made ad nauseum by now, but having productive players on your team who are on cheap rookie deals is extremely advantageous. The ratio of production to cost only goes down for the majority of players, so having multiple guys under team control is like a cheat code. The ultimate example is probably the Warriors, who built their dynasty with three draft picks and because of Curry’s bargain rookie extension were able to add veterans like Andre Iguodala to help cement the team as a true contender.
JORDAN: The Warriors are the prime example, in that they did what you mentioned above hitting home run after home run and then benefited from a ballooning of the NBA cap. And on the tail end of this dynasty haven’t been that great at drafting. But even still I will almost always push for a team to draft somebody in favor of a draft night deal or trading a package of picks, if there’s any hope for long term success.
And that’s before even getting into the Mavericks’ roster situation, which is a team nearly barren of young talent. So while I understand an impulse to flip the pick for a win now move, I’m weary of the future implications. And there’s a reality where who they pick at 10 is immediately better than, what, a third of the roster?
With the combine going on last month did anything jump out to you from the activity there?
IAN: This is maybe a boring answer, but the thing that most tends to jump out at me about the combine now is how little participation there is. I’m sure the biggest stuff for teams at this stage is the medicals and interviews, but seeing how top prospects compete against one another would be a really useful evaluation tool, which ostensibly the combine is supposed to be. Instead, you have a scrimmage where the top 30-35 propsects aren’t there.
JORDAN: Yeah this trend is disappointing, and it’s while I’ll be watching for the changes in the combine when the new CBA hits.
IAN: As it relates to Dallas and a potential top 10 selection, I don’t think there was anything that would cause serious movement. I thought Taylor Hendricks measured a tad on the shorter side, if your projection for him is as an eventual full-time big. His standing reach is an inch below Bam Adebayo at 8’11. Of course, it seems there a lot of people who see him as more of a 4/3 than a 4/5, and if he’s a combo-forward rather than a 4 who moonlights as a smallball 5, then his measurables are just fine.
JORDAN: I just wrote on Hendricks, and while I went into it liking his potential digging in only confirmed that feeling. He would perfect for the Mavericks, even if he isn’t the 4/5 you were expecting (though I still think he can play some small ball five).
IAN: Outside the top 20, the two guys who most stood out to me were Marquette’s Olivier-Maxence Prosper, and 7-footer Tristan Vukcevik of the Serbian League team Partizan. Prosper scored 21 points in the first scrimmage game, and performed well in athletic testing/measurements, recording a 7’1 wingpsan and 40+ inch vertical. The 6’6 junior was not a huge part of Marquette’s offense, averaging just 12.5 ppg last season, but the combine is where players like Prosper can...well, um, succeed. Meanwhile, Vukcevik — who also scored 21 points in the opening scrimmage game — showed off a skill level few other big men of the non-Wembanyama category can offer, hitting spot threes, attacking closeouts, and making jumpers off the dribble. Both these players fit archetypes Dallas typically pursues. Should they buy their way back into the draft in the late 1st/early 2nd, I’d keep those names in mind.
JORDAN: I don’t want this to happen and won’t ask for specific names, but if the Mavericks were to trade the pick, what kind of player would you want them to target?
IAN: My hesitancy toward a trade I suppose boils down to some skepticism about what they could really fetch for it as a return. Obviously, unusual situations arise, and Dallas has on occasion been opportunistic and benefited from being in the proverbial right place and right time. If there’s a star caliber player who helps the defense and you can acquire him with that 10th pick (and/or probably the ‘27 pick or whichever they are next allowed to trade), then I doubt most rational people will have a problem with that.
I don’t know if that’s very likely, however, and if the grand plan is use the pick as a tool to get off bad salary and create the dreaded ‘cap space’, then consider my skepticism intensified, because the franchise’s history of capitalizing on that as an asset is pretty grim.
My hope would be that if they do trade the pick for a player, it would be a young, defensive minded frontcourt player, ideally one still on a rookie deal. I think I’ve written about Jalen Duren, a player who could be available given the Pistons’ potential logjam at center. If that isn’t feasible, it starts becoming a lot less clear how a trade benefits Dallas more long term, unless you’re trading for a group of rotation players who are all very well suited to defensive/floor spacing roles next to Luka and (hopefully) Kyrie.
My fear here would be that Dallas might would look to try and maximize “instant impact”, getting the type of older veterans who maybe can help the team immediately, but whose career value is much more in the rear view mirror than in front of them. Then you are burning one of the last major assets you’ll have for some time to try and win it all next season. This team won 38 games. Could depth help them get back into the playoffs? Absolutely. But if you want to go further than the play-in, turning this pick into a major talent, in whatever form that takes, is crucial.