The pace of the NBA is relentless. It’s only been a week since the 2022-23 season ended with the Nuggets claiming their first title by defeating the Heat. Now, the next few weeks carry huge significance as they hold the potential to shape the season ahead and beyond. We’re entering a critical period in the NBA calendar, starting with the draft on Thursday and the start of free agency eight days later.
In the grand scheme of things, the ability for the Mavericks’ front office to re-sign Kyrie Irving, the most high-profile free agent in the league entering the offseason, is the deal that matters the most. Especially considering the significant investment made to bring Irving to Dallas back in February – two rotation players and a first-round pick. (It came on the heels of the Jalen Brunson debacle a year ago.) First, however, is the matter of the draft, and the franchise’s decision makers must decide what to do with one of their most valuable assets: the 10th pick in the matter.
After the lottery, I wrote that the best way to take advantage of the pick was to trade it. That’s how I still feel, and nothing has happened in the last six months – ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reporting Luka Doncic’s desire for more help, the Irving trade, the talk that continues to pervade that the front office is heavily interested in moving the pick for immediate contributors — makes me think the Mavs aren’t in win-now mode. There are plenty of holes to fill on the roster and deficiencies to be addressed on defense and in the rebounding and size departments. Therefore, it’s no surprise that signals from the Mavericks’ camp suggest their priorities are improving defense and looking for length and athleticism. It’s also why the trade rumors involving names like John Collins and Buddy Hield don’t make much sense to me, while those involving Clint Capela do.
But let’s say the Mavericks ultimately decide their best bet is to keep the pick. There are some intriguing prospects in the draft that could address some of the needs if they retain the pick or trade down, a more likely scenario. The latter strategy—adding a player who could help now along with a client who would add youth and athleticism—may be the way to reshape a guard- and offense-heavy roster toward a more balanced one, one with more defense and beef in the game. starter. For more than a decade, the Mavericks have lacked an elite defenseman worthy of picking the entire defense, but this year’s draft offers a chance to change that narrative.
But who? To save everyone time sifting through draft reports, I crunched some numbers to identify some of these players based on their advanced stats, including rebounding and block and steal rates, all categories in which the Mavericks ranked near the bottom of the league in the last season. I’ve also contextualized some of these stats alongside NBA players who displayed similar profiles early in their careers to give us a better sense of what these prospects could one day become. Finally, and perhaps most importantly: a barometer of who actually falls to No. 10 versus who you shouldn’t be holding your breath hoping to see in Dallas next season.
Houston’s Jarace Walker would address the Mavericks’ biggest need by adding positional size (his combine measurements came in at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan), athleticism, strength and frontcourt defense. The problem? He is placed in sixth place consensus 2023 draft for large board,and there is only a 6 percent chance he would be available at 10, according to Fanduel odds.
If he somehow drops to 10, he would present a compelling case for the Mavericks to seriously consider keeping the pick.
Could happen, but not likely
I have Taylor Hendricks from Central Florida and Anthony Black from Arkansas here, although both are expected to be gone before the Mavericks make their picks. (Per Fanduel, the odds that Black will be available are 10-11 percent; they’re 21 percent for Hendricks.)
Like Walker, Hendricks is a prospect who would add positional size at the power forward position. He is 6-foot-9 with a nearly 7-foot-1 wingspan. Hendricks’ combination of shooting (three-point frequency and three-point accuracy), defensive versatility and rim protection (block speed) looks like a perfect fit in the modern NBA, especially next to a playmaker like Doncic.
The word, as far as past prospects with similar profiles, isn’t that exciting (Chuma Okeke, Jalen Smith and DJ Wilson come to mind). But the ceiling—the potential of a weak-side rim protector in the form of Chris Boucher or Jonathan Isaac, with better shooting—is what makes Hendricks so appealing.
Black, who starred in high school at Coppell and then Duncanville, is another prospect who provides athleticism, length and a defensive presence. Simply put, playmaking guards (with an assist rate above 20 percent), who can generate turnovers (steals above 2 percent) and have the length and athleticism to block shots (a block rate above 1.5 percent) are not easy to find. Another customer, Cason Wallace, fits that profile. (More on him in a moment.)
With Doncic, Irving (assuming he’s back), Josh Green, Reggie Bullock, Jaden Hardy and Tim Hardaway Jr., the Mavericks already have plenty of guards. So adding another backcourt player, albeit one with a 6-foot-7 frame, making him a versatile and switchable defender, would not be ideal and would require additional roster realignment. As with most other players in this drill, the ability to shoot (Black made just 30 percent of his threes in his one season at Arkansas) is what will likely make or break him as a full-time starter in the NBA. I’ve seen some comparisons of Lonzo Ball and Josh Giddey, but while Black has a high basketball IQ, his assist rate doesn’t suggest he’s at the elite level that fits.
You can get him, but you should move down to get him
Assuming none of the aforementioned three players slide to 10, Dallas’ best move may be to acquire a reliable player for the rotation, a la Marc Stein‘s report on a potential trade involving the Mavericks and Hawks swapping the 10th and 15th picks, with Atlanta throwing in a veteran player as a makeweight. If the Mavericks do that while getting their hands on Wallace or Dereck Lively II, that would be a home run. It won’t be easy, as the consensus draft for both is in the 12-to-13 range, with Lively climbing as high as 10 in some recent mock drafts.
Wallace (my personal favorite) is another option with the potential to be an elite defenseman. Despite standing just 6-foot-3, he has long arms with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, which is an inch longer than Black’s. The Richardson High alum is an outstanding defensive guard who possesses strength and remarkable hands, as evidenced by his high steal rate compared to other players in my analysis. He could become a disruptive point-of-attack defender, a crucial piece the Mavericks badly need. While he’s not a lethal shooter, he was a bit better than Black at converting on spot-up opportunities in his lone season at Kentucky. However, he would fall into the same bucket as Black as another guard on a roster full of them, and the offensive fit probably wouldn’t be as smooth as Black’s either.
Among all the prospects I analyzed, Lively stands out as the most intriguing, the best center prospect in the draft after Victor Wembanyama. Standing at 7-foot-1, he possesses a lanky physique reminiscent of a young JaVale McGee, with an extraordinary 7-foot-7 wingspan second only to Mohamed Bamba among players in my analysis.
After a slow start at Duke last season, Lively established himself as the most influential defender in college basketball, leading all players in defense box plus/minus. Shot blocking is a skill that translates well from college to the NBA; five players with similar profiles in my comparison (Walker Kessler, Isaiah Jackson, Nicolas Claxton, Christian Koloko, Myles Turner) ranked in the top 10 in the NBA in block percentage last season.
Statistically, his closest comparison is another former Mavericks center, Willie Cauley-Stein, who isn’t exactly what you’re going for. Similar to Cauley-Stein when he entered the league, he is raw offensively, as evidenced by the lowest usage and scoring (points per 36 minutes) of any center in this drill. But Lively is also mobile enough to be more than a drop-back big protecting the rim. He’s a project that will take time to develop, but if he does, the 19-year-old could become the long-term rim-protecting solution the Mavericks thought they got in the 35-year-old McGee last season. The question is whether the Mavericks can afford to be patient.
Bilal Coulibaly has moved up the draft rankings and is currently projected to be selected anywhere from ninth to 17th. Which is to say, he could be off the board before Dallas gets on the clock, or he could be in the sweet spot of prospects that could be available if the Mavericks move back to try to pick up another asset. Your guess is as good as mine.
What is certain is that Coulibaly is a specimen, standing 6-foot-8 with an impressive 7-foot-2 wingspan. He’s also as high-risk, high-reward as it gets. Like Lively, he is raw offensively; he has the lowest usage rate among similar players drafted out of the French league. Another Maverick, Frank Ntilikina, was the only French prospect in my analysis with lower scoring numbers per game. 36 minutes. Again, not what you’re going for.
The track record of defensive-minded French wing players selected in the NBA draft has not been particularly impressive either. Ntilikina, Sekou Doumbouya (picked 15th by the Pistons in 2019) and Guerschon Yabusele (16th by the Celtics in 2016) struggled to establish themselves due to shot limitations. This is not to suggest that Coulibaly will not work; rather, it is a reminder of the risk involved in undertaking such a project. On the flip side, Coulibaly probably has better physical tools than all of them and, at 18, has shown glimpses of being a disruptive defender in the French league. Coulibaly ranked third in the league in opponent points per game. possession for players who defended more than 100 possessions. Opponents shot minus-0.21 below expectation on 118 balls defended by Coulibaly, based on the Synergy SSM metric.
According to the international scouts I spoke with, the consensus is that Coulibaly will require ample time and developmental minutes to thrive in the NBA. Unfortunately, if the Mavericks don’t have the luxury of waiting with Lively, they certainly don’t with Coulibaly.
These are not the only names, mind you. If the Mavericks trade further down in the first round, other players who fit the profile of a long and athletic prospect could be available. G League prospect Leonard Miller, a 6-foot-10 forward with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, has the tools to develop into a long defender, while Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin’s stock has shot up in the past month and compared good in the defensive measurements in my analysis. Noah Clowney, out of Alabama, is another long (6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan) and potentially versatile defender. Ryan Rupert, who played last season in Australia’s NBL, is another athletic, long-armed (7-foot-3 wingspan) Frenchman who excels on defense but has a raw offensive game.
The bottom line is that the Mavericks have options. And as my colleague Brian Dameris wrote, tons of combinations are up for grabs for the front office to evaluate and explore in the offseason. Thursday evening provides the first look. Whatever they decide, the Mavericks must take the first step toward reconstructing a more balanced roster.
Iztok Franko covers Mavericks for StrongSide. He is an analyst who uncovers stories hidden in NBA data and basketball…