This Thursday is the NBA draft. As the Dallas Mavericks prepare for their highest pick since 2004 – their second highest since 1998 – it’s worth noting what they’ve tended to do, and how it has tended to turn out.
Generally, it’s a little difficult to write about how past drafts turned out because of the archaic way the NBA does business in this respect. There is no meaningful way, for example, that the Mavericks drafted Kelly Olynyk or Tyler Zeller, as they presumably would have done things differently had they been drafting for themselves and not for Boston or Cleveland specifically. And, “officially,” they didn’t draft Dirk either, but instead Robert “Tractor” Traylor, gaining Dirk on a draft night trade.
Real GM, however, has a helpful tool for this, scrolling down to the second large table here, which tells you more or less who the Mavs ended up with on draft night. Of course, by any measure, the Mavericks have not done well at all.
In fact, just how poorly they’ve done is absolutely remarkable. Sticking with “draft rights acquisitions,” as the more honest reflection of what the Mavs have done on draft night, the only guy the Mavs have on their roster drafted by them in the new millennium is Devin Harris who, of course, spent much of his career elsewhere before returning. But even that is not as depressing a fact as this: besides Devin and Jae Crowder, the Mavs didn’t draft a player between 2000 and 2014 who is still in the NBA. Of recent picks, it’s still unclear whether Justin Anderson or A.J. Hammons will have a career.
And that’s really not even the worst part of this. Take, say, Jared Cunningham, their first-round pick in 2012 after they traded down from 13: the Mavs traded him and the No. 16 pick in 2013 for picks Nos. 18 and 44 – that’s right, they traded down to get rid of him after one year.
Crowder, their one good draft pick of the decade, is in Boston because of the terrible Rondo trade, but still worse in my opinion is the trade that got them Tyson Chandler. The Mavs could have just signed Chandler after winning the championship but decided to strike out for greener pastures. Then, in order to get him back in the last year of the same contract they refused to sign they traded, in 2014, their 2013 draft pick Shane Larkin and the two second round picks that were the only picks they had that year.
Not to mention that they’d notoriously traded down from 13th, in the ’14 draft, to 18th, missing Giannis Antetokounmpo and Dennis Schroder in the process. In other words they turned a very valuable first-round pick, and two second-round picks, into a guy they could have just signed on the last and most expensive year of the same deal — Who they then let go again in a year.
However, it is the start of a new era. We may not be able to forgive or forget entirely what has happened up until now – no team in the NBA has done so much without the benefit of even one useful draft pick – but we can acknowledge that the Mavs were, first of all, frequently drafting late in the first round, and second, that they are, for the first time in a long time, not really in “win now” mode. So this pick, their highest in thirteen years, is not intended to be someone who will help Dirk win a championship, it is intended to be a major part in the next era of Mavericks basketball.
Indeed, the Mavs have already rewritten their draft history a little bit, signing Harrison Barnes, 2012’s 7th pick, and trading for Nerlens Noel, 2013’s 6th pick, to be major parts of that new core. 2012’s 7th, 2013’s 6th, and 2017’s 9th seems like a perfectly reasonable draft history and it barely cost them any assets, other than cap space, to assemble. And so on Thursday, the Mavericks will be making a decision with big ramifications for what happens next. They’re out of practice finding good players in the draft, but it’s certainly fair to say they’re due.
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