The NBA draft lottery was last night. Your Dallas Mavericks went in with the likelihood they’d be drafting ninth, and left with the certainty that’s where they’d be picking. No real surprise. But that’s OK. It’s the highest pick the team has had since it traded up to grab Devin Harris in 2004, and it comes in what is, by all accounts, maybe the most loaded draft since the fabled LeBron James/Dwyane Wade/Carmelo Anthony/Chris Bosh class of 2003. All pretty exciting.
Now the questions are: who will be available when the Mavs’ turn comes up and who should they take?
Flicking through various mock drafts last night in the immediate wake of the draft order’s revelation, one name consistently came up:
Lauri Markkanen. Not this guy. Markkanen is 20, Finnish, 7-feet tall, and has a very damp to occasionally soaking wet jumper, so it’s a little on the nose for the Mavericks to pick him to I guess be Dirk Nowitzki’s eventual heir. And, in my mind, it goes one of two ways: Markkanen comes here, learns from Dirk how to be Dirk, from high-post shooting to awkward celebrations and not taking yourself even remotely seriously, and there is an unbroken line of succession. OR Markkanen comes here, withers under the pressure to be Dirk, and is a Darko Milicic-level failure. I know there is risk with every draft choice — there are maybe only one or two sure things in this draft — but the distance between those paths makes me pretty uncomfortable. The Mavs have only scored once with tall white guys, and have failed A LOT (Uwe Blab, Bill Wennington, Chris Anstey, Pavel Podkolzin, and on and on and on, an army of Pillsbury Doughboy golems). I don’t trust this.
Prior to last night, and as I looked around a little this morning, there is another name:
Frank Ntilikina. He’s young, French, and basically unknown, so it’s a bit like drafting Roddy Beaubois again. Which was OK for about three months. Better than OK: it was intoxicating. And, unfortunately, like being intoxicated, there was a pretty bad hangover. So I don’t know. The Mavs are in sort of a weird spot, timing-wise: they’re not built to win a title next year or even the next, but if everything comes together with their personnel, maybe in three years we’re looking at a mid-50-win team that’s looking to take the next step. Does a project point guard whose best-case scenario is George Hill or Jeremy Lin fit into that? If you click through to that scouting report on The Ringer, his minuses are terrifying, given his position — he’s a bad ballhandler who can’t dribble or pass or run plays. I mean, make him 43 with a bad ankle and that’s me. I do think he’s a hidden gem in terms of weird nickname potential and also sometimes these wildcard guys are absolutely worth a flier. If it’s between him and Markkanen, I’d lean in this direction.
But the draft always has a lot of moving parts. Someone falls unexpectedly as another player rises, because a franchise falls in love after a workout. Markelle Fultz is going first and everything else is fungible. What I would love is for Malik Monk to be there when it all shakes out. The Kentucky freshman is just a little short (6-foot-4) for a shooting guard and certainly untested as a point guard, but he is crazy explosive and gets lava-hot from outside and grades out as a more athletic C.J. McCollum. He fits into the backcourt the Mavs have now and the one they can construct in the future. I’m gonna go light a few dozen candles.