The Mavericks: Drafting to Bolster the Texas Legends

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, June 30th, 2012

by Scott Rozsa
SENIOR COLUMNIST

We’re going to have a great summer league team this year.” – Head Coach Rick Carlisle in his post-draft press conference.

 

Going in to last Thursday night’s NBA draft, I was actually marginally excited to see what the Mavericks could come up with, as for the first time in seemingly forever, they had a mid-first round pick in a draft that appeared rife with potential impact players. With the majority of last year’s roster likely on the move next week once the free agency free-for-all kicks off, the Mavericks HAD to get something out of this draft that they could immediately plug in to their rotation. Donnie Nelson, Mark Cuban and Carlisle were actually lucky: they didn’t have to worry about deciding whether to draft the best player available versus drafting to fill a need – they have needs EVERYWHERE.

 

Entering the Old Number 7 Club at the AAC to gather with other local media to take in the draft, I expected there to be more of a buzz. It was mostly quiet and reserved. Those who cover the team have become so calloused over the years after puzzling drafting by the Mavericks that they were simply numb to the evening; they knew already that the Mavs were going to somehow screw this thing up.

Four hours later, I think they were right all along. The only rotation that seemed to be bolstered after this draft was that of the Texas Legends, the Mavericks’ D-League affiliate.

 

Granted, grading a draft hours after its completion is an asinine practice, but watching how things unfolded last night, it felt more like a draft to escape salary cap impact than to accrue talent.

 

In drafting North Carolina’s standout center Tyler Zeller with the 17th pick – which meant they passed on Kentucky’s Terrence Jones (the player I wanted most), Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Syracuse’s Fab Melo, Baylor’s Perry Jones III, Michigan State’s Draymond Green, and many other recognizable names that would have satisfied most fans – the Mavs immediately opened the “here they go again grabbing the Big White Stiff” meme.

 

Minutes later, we learned that the pick was actually for Cleveland, and in return, the Mavs collected picks 24, 33 and 34. Ok, fair enough. There probably isn’t that much of a difference between Zeller and pick #24, and heck, they may even still be able to get one of the players I mentioned above at that spot.

 

They took Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham. Who?

 

A quick breakdown of Cunningham from NBA.com:

 

Strengths:
*Length
*Ball-hawk who gets a lot of steals
*Good athlete
*Gets to the free-throw line a ton
*Competes
*Good passer

 

Weaknesses:
*Has to get bigger and stronger
*3-point shot could become more consistent

NBA projection:
Cunningham surprised some pundits by declaring for the draft, but NBA scouts have been intrigued with his athleticism, including speed, an ability to get to the basket and leaping ability.

 

Sounds a lot like current Mavs benchie Dominique Jones to me. However, to be fair, he was First Team All Pac-12 last year, was on the All Defensive Team, finished second in the league in scoring and ended his career with the Beavers tied with Gary Payton for the career steals lead. All nice bullet points. And the first name that Carlisle reluctantly raised to describe Cunningham’s athleticism and talent was Russell Westbrook. If he is ever half the player Westbrook will eventually become, then this pick is a ten-beller.

 

In Carlisle’s post-draft presser, he repeatedly used words like “resourceful”, “high-character”, “combative” and “competitive.” It’s clear the Mavs brass was looking for a specific type of athlete in this draft, and their two second-round picks are personifications of these ideals. At pick #33, they took Florida State’s Bernard James, a 6-10, 240 lb shot blocking center with limited offensive skills, yet who will be a 27-year-old rookie on account of his seven years in the US Air Force that included three tours in the Middle East. He absolutely will command respect, I just hope he can play.

 

The 34th pick, Marquette’s Jae Crowder, oozes perseverance and toughness. He is undersized for the forward position, yet his combination of strength, motor (almost made it all the way through a draft column without using one of Jay Bilas’ top buzz words) and competitiveness enabled him to be an All-American and Big East Player of the Year last season. Of the three picks, Crowder intrigues me the most and I’m hoping he can become the Mavericks’ version of Kawhi Leonard or Kenneth Faried.

 

By the end of Thursday night, I pictured Dirk Nowitzki sitting at home thinking, “Now what? The team essentially padded rotation spots 8-12 in the draft and I’m about to lose all my teammates to free agency. Not only that, but the rumblings out of Brooklyn are that D-Will is staying as well. Maybe I’ll call Chandler and see if he’s sick of ‘Melo and Amar’e yet.”

 

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