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Basketball

The Mavericks Secured Their Lottery Pick. Now They Should Trade It.

The 10th overall pick could yield a player with a huge ceiling down the road. But it's too late in Luka Doncic's timeline for Dallas to roll the dice.
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Luka Doncic needs more immediate help than a lottery pick would likely provide. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison couldn’t hide the sense of relief: his team finally got a lucky break after a season in which there weren’t many. The Mavericks walked out of Tuesday’s NBA Draft lottery with the 10th overall pick, avoiding the unlikely (but very real) chance that it would convey to the New York Knicks to complete the Kristaps Porzingis trade from 2019. Securing that pick was a crucial first step for a team bereft of assets to begin overhauling with after a disastrous 2022-2023 season.  Now they have to figure out what to do with it

Building through the draft has never been the Mavericks’ modus operandi. Prior to Luka Doncic signing his $207 million supermax extension in 2021, Josh Howard was the last player drafted by Dallas to make an All-Star Game or sign an extension with the team; both happened almost 20 years ago, in the 2006-07 season. But Dallas is on something of a hot streak lately, nabbing Doncic (a generational talent) and Jalen Brunson (we won’t go there) in 2018, Josh Green (a young building block) in 2020, and Jaden Hardy (coming off an exciting rookie season) last year. Understandably, then, part of the fan base exuded frustration when rumors about the Mavericks trading the pick began percolating immediately after the lottery results. 

And one can see the appeal. The draft is all about potential. Excitement for the unknown. Optimism about the best possible outcome. Comparisons for the prospects falling in the 8-to-13 range in The Ringer’s draft guide are studs like Larry Johnson, Tyrese Maxey, Jrue Holiday, Reggie Miller, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Bradley Beal. The guide leaves no trace of mention for figures like Johnny Davis, Zaire Williams, Jalen Smith, or Cam Reddish—those who held the honor of being selected 10th in the past four NBA drafts.

Reality more often falls in line with the latter group. Since 1990, players who were drafted 10th posted career averages of 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. DraftExpress—which predicted draft outcomes until 2019, when its founder, Jonathan Givony, joined ESPN—estimated players selected from 6 to 10 had roughly a 50-50 chance of becoming All-Stars (14 percent) or starters (34 percent). The overall probability decreased to less than one-third for players selected from 11 to 15: 9 percent All-Stars, 22 percent starters.

I did some digging of my own, and the results were even less rosy. Based on my analysis, around 40 percent of previous No. 10 picks hit:

None of this is to say you can’t discover a star; Paul George, Paul Pierce, and Joe Johnson all made the All-Star team at least seven times. Closer to home, Jason Terry (whose 1,410 career games played are the most of any No. 10 pick) and Caron Butler (a two-time All-Star) both played on the Mavs’ 2011 title team and enjoyed long NBA careers. Defensive stalwarts like Brook Lopez and Mikal Bridges (the last really impactful 10th overall pick, back in 2018) are the types of players the Mavericks desperately need to shore up their defense.

Even a solid starter on a rookie-scale contract would be an enormous help. Players who enter the draft after multiple productive college seasons often outperform their selection spots, with Memphis’ Desmond Bane, New Orleans’ Herb Jones, and Oklahoma City’s Jalen Williams are among the most successful recent examples of this archetype.

But here is the problem for the “keep the pick” crowd. Two problems, actually.

First, the Mavericks are not in position to take more risks with a roster this thin, and things didn’t work out the last time the Mavericks took their chances in this draft range—unless you’re still glad they selected Dennis Smith Jr. with the ninth overall pick in 2017 instead of future All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo. 

And as short as they are on talent, they’re even shorter on time. The Mavericks are all-in on the Doncic timeline; trading for Kyrie Irving removed any trace of doubt about that. They likely have no more than a year to prove to their superstar that they’re capable of constructing a team capable of returning to the conference finals. After that, they enter the back-end of Doncic’s contract, where things could get dicey. 

Immediate impact should be the imperative for the front office. They must find dependable rotation players who can promptly address their primary concerns of defense and rebounding, which rookies drafted in this range rarely provide out of the gate. For that matter, 10th overall picks, no matter their skill set, often need at least one developmental season; Bridges and CJ McCollum, another success story, certainly did. And the Mavericks already have two promising young players who need playing time to further develop their games in Green and Hardy. 

No matter their draft position, young players who receive extended minutes are predominantly found on rebuilding teams. 76ers guard (and Garland native) Tyrese Maxey stands out as a rare non-top-five draft pick age 21 or younger who played a notable role on a playoff team over the past three seasons.

There aren’t many recent draft-day trades for picks in the Mavericks’ range to gauge the market. But we’ve seen teams acquire valuable rotation pieces for first-round picks that were or will be much lower than that. Jerami Grant and Jakob Poeltl were each traded for a first plus two seconds (and additional swaps, in Poeltl’s case). The Celtics acquired two key rotation pieces in Malcolm Brodgon and Derrick White in deals centered on a late first-round pick plus salary filler. The Nuggets got Aaron Gordon for a late first-rounder (Little Elm’s own R.J. Hampton) and Gary Harris. None of those players have the ceiling of the 10th overall pick on the off chance it does produce a star-level player. But Gordon, Brogdon, and White all delivered immediate help to conference-final teams. 

And if the Mavericks want to hunt bigger game—and, these being the Mavericks, they’ll probably try—the 10th pick plus their 2027 first-rounder and a young player like Green or Hardy might land them something juicy. 

It’s worth remembering that the 10th overall pick isn’t Dallas’ only avenue for improvement this offseason. Other assets at the Mavericks’ disposal on the trade market include the 2027 pick, Green, Hardy, and Tim Hardaway Jr., who is on a declining contract and coming off another strong shooting season. 

But the 10th pick is now Dallas’ crown jewel. They need to get this right. And their best chance for doing just that is to get rid of it.

Author

Iztok Franko

Iztok Franko

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Iztok Franko covers the Mavericks for StrongSide. He is an analyst that uncovers stories hidden in NBA data and basketball…

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