When your team has a relatively high pick, even sometimes when they don’t, the day of the NBA Draft is an exciting time. Objectively, most draft picks don’t turn into all that much, and they certainly don’t turn into anything quickly. But, it’s reasonable to have some expectations for a top-10 guy and it’s always possible they’ll turn into a great player.
It seemed pretty clear leading up to the draft that the Mavs were indeed locked into getting either Frank Ntilikina or Dennis Smith, Jr., both of whom were widely considered to have star potential. For Frank, it is likely further away, as he remains quite raw. He’s a big PG, which is increasingly popular, and he has been playing against adults, but he also just doesn’t have the track record yet. Smith, on the other hand, is already relatively accomplished across the board. He seems to get a bit lazy on defense, but even there his ability is clear.
Now that the draft is over, and they have Smith, the Mavericks and other NBA teams will turn their attention to free agency. With Smith on board, the fact of the matter is that they don’t desperately need a starter at any position for next year. The starting lineup is very likely to be Smith – Wesley Matthews – Harrison Barnes – Nerlens Noel – and Dirk Nowitzki. However, I would suggest two things: they likely would still like some veteran help at point and they need backups pretty much across the board.
Devin Harris and J.J. Barea are certainly serviceable back-ups, but they’re both quite limited. The Mavs are excited to see what Seth Curry can become, but it is still reasonably likely they’ll trade Wes Matthews during the season and they’ll need depth there. Dorian Finney-Smith is unlikely to survive long in the NBA if he can’t learn how to score a little, Nicolas Brussino isn’t likely to be ready to take big minutes, and none of Salah Mejri, A.J. Hammons, Dwight Powell or Jarrod Uthoff would be getting a lot of burn on a particularly good team.
The free agent name the Mavericks have most prominently been linked with is Jrue Holiday, and the general sense is they are unlikely to spend that much money on Holiday with Smith on the roster. That is plausible, however it is also worth noting that over the last two years, Jrue has increasingly played shooting guard – 34 percent of the time last year and even 65 percent the year before – and still might be interesting to the team. If the Mavs pay Nerlens Noel as expected, and make any kind of offseason splash this year -- and if Seth Curry has a good season -- they may well not be able to afford him next year and I imagine a Smith-Holiday-Barnes-Noel starting four still appeals to them if reasonable.
It is, perhaps, most likely however that they will be looking for front-court depth. Dirk’s minutes should continue to be limited as long as he wants to stick around, and while the Mavs have a lot of forwards, and often play Matthews at the three - 60 percent of the time last year – they rebounded very poorly last year, led by Noel at 6.5 per game, then Dirk at 6.8, and Harrison Barnes at five per game. Mejri might have done more, but his other deficiencies kept him off the court.
In that direction, the market is not overly exciting, especially in terms of possible long term solutions. Paul Millsap is presumably well out of reach, and most of the rest are older guys who wouldn’t clearly be an improvement on what they have. Serge Ibaka is theoretically available, but after him the more interesting names include Patrick Patterson and Nikola Mirotic, or maybe they’d get lucky with someone like Donatas Motiejunas.
For small forwards, I’m sure they’d love to make a play for Otto Porter, with the hope of sliding Barnes over to PF, but he is going to be a very sought-after commodity and it’s not particularly likely. Then, the backup center market is positively anemic: Roy Hibbert, Alex Len, Dewayne Dedmon, Zaza Pachulia and others. They’d probably be interested in somebody like Marreese Speights or even Kelly Olynyk, but probably only at very low prices.
In short, I do not expect the Mavs to improve much through free agency, but then again they likely do not have much money to work with in the first place. With the cap about $9 million lower than some projections, and a big Noel contract likely in the works, they don’t have the space without making a move, and if they make a move, then there’s a lot more that might be possible. I’m sure part of their hesitation about trading Wes Matthews on draft night is that he is probably their best bet to get a more established guy as well.
Anyway, the interesting part of the offseason is finally underway. Teams can start agreeing to verbal deals with players on July 1.