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2023 NBA Draft Lottery Team Preview: Dallas Mavericks
Our own Nathan Grubel previews the Dallas Mavericks ahead of the 2023 NBA Draft and what options the organization has with the 10th overall pick.
Just roll back the clocks one year ago, and the Dallas Mavericks were competing for a chance to go to the NBA Finals.
Luka Doncic was showcasing just how bright of a star he is, and was entering conversations as to whether he was the best player in the league.
Fast forward to today, and it’s difficult to come to grips with where the organization sits currently.
A below-average start to the season led to a swing trade at the deadline to bring in Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets after multiple bouts of public frustration that led to Kevin Durant also exiting the team and heading out to the Phoenix Suns in a blockbuster deal.
That move, however, did not move the needle for the Mavericks and save the season. Even when Doncic and Irving were at their peaks offensively, Dallas couldn’t stop a fly defensively. Ultimately, this led to a controversial shut down of its best players to retain the best odds to keep a first-round pick on lottery night.
Now that the Mavericks hold the 10th overall pick, there are plenty of questions as to what the team should do with its draft capital. Is there a move to be had to bring in a few additional pieces for sending the pick out? What about keeping the selection and drafting a prospect who can play a role and grow into something more long term?
Regardless of the direction Dallas goes with its lottery pick, there’s no easy fix to get the Mavericks back into contention for a title. Sure, Irving can be brought back on a long-term deal, but that doesn’t fix the perimeter defensive woes, and who knows where another drama-filled season could leave Doncic in regards to his trust within the organization. Is a four-year deal the answer to getting this team in the playoffs?
If the Mavericks were to exhaust all possible options to open up cap space, it wouldn’t be enough for another max-contract talent, nor would it matter in a projected weak free agent class. Piecing together a few mid-tier free agents in place of Irving could help to balance the roster on both ends, along with a lottery pick.
But all of these pathways are band-aids. The ONLY thing Dallas can do in my mind is to stay the course, bring back Irving on as team friendly of a deal as possible, and keep the 10th pick to make a choice in drafting the best player available on the board. Finding creative trades to dump some larger contracts like Davis Bertans to build around the margins while empowering other young talent to step up like Josh Green and Jaden Hardy could yield interesting results depending on the leaps each could make.
So with that choice in mind, what SHOULD the Mavericks target in a draft pick?
Well, I’ve already mentioned one of the prime characteristics this team needs more of: DEFENSE!
There is little to no defensive identity in place for the Mavericks despite a better-than-expected effort on that end just a year ago. Outside of Green, there are no stoppers on the perimeter, leaving far too much of the burden to be on the shoulders of JaVale McGee and Maxi Kleber on the interior to clean up everyone else’s mistakes. If Doncic were to get in better shape and take a step forward defensively, that could be the type of in-house improvement this team needs on that side of the ball, but there are potentially a few answers on the board to long-term success.
The other factor that needs to be taken into account with this squad is shooting, particularly off the catch. With two creators (possibly three if Hardy takes a leap as a secondary or tertiary option) already in the mix, plus guys like Tim Hardaway Jr. who can either attack a closeout or create a step-back shot, there are a number of players who can open things up for spot-up shooters. The problem is, this team needs DEPTH and CONSISTENCY from its catch-and-shoot threats.
If Christian Wood is back in the mix next year, that’s a start. But Bertans and Bullock have both either regressed in certain areas offensively or are too big of liabilities to have on the floor defensively for extended minutes. Green has become better as a shooter since he came into the league, but he’s not a knockdown guy. So outside of that quartet of Doncic, Irving, Hardaway, and Hardy, the spacing becomes unreliable deeper in big games.
So who are some of the “3-and-D” options that could be available in the range of the 10th overall pick, and is that definitively the answer as to the direction the Mavericks should go?
Let’s at least examine some of the options on the table in that mold, before exploring a few that lay outside that realm to a degree in the short term, but could yield excellent results if the right developmental resources are in place.
Taylor Hendricks, UCF
IF that name were to be Hendricks, Dallas fans would be jumping up and down with excitement.
Hendricks, who is arguably talented enough to be selected as high as six, has a skill set that fits what the Mavericks want to do on both ends. A 6’9” power forward that can cover a ton of ground defensively, offer weak side rim protection, offer some switchability, AND shoot over 40% from three on great volume? What NBA team wouldn’t want that player in its rotation?
The answer isn’t that teams don’t WANT a player in Hendricks’s mold, but more so the question of where he continues to improve his game to reach a star level to warrant such a high pick. Viewed more as a spot-up shooter without high-level creation ability, handle, shake, and passing game to add equity as an off-the-dribble force, Hendricks fills a need as a role player but that’s the outlook currently.
He does get low off quick size ups to attack a closeout, and he did hit some jumpers off the bounce this past season at UCF, so higher-end outcomes aren’t completely off the table. Throw in how he showed flashes as a ball mover in terms of not letting the offense stall when possessions were in his hands, and there’s plenty of room for optimism.
But without the size and frame to warrant utility as a center for longer than short stints, Hendricks slots in long-term as a stretch forward who can provide some intriguing defensive versatility.
What this squad needs is a lights-out corner shooter that can help take the better forward matchup on the opposing team. In time, Hendricks should be able to hold his own against higher-tier creators given how he slides his feet and uses his hips to cover matchups on the perimeter. These traits could provide a safety net for the Mavericks in the long run, while also giving him a defined role that can earn significant minutes next year.
Jarace Walker, Houston
While Jarace Walker doesn’t “quite” fit the mold of “3-and-D” as well as a prospect like Taylor Hendricks, he still is the exact type of utility forward this team desperately needs to take a step forward.
For what Walker doesn’t provide as a shooter immediately (although he was 34.7% from distance on almost three attempts a game), he adds some juice and creativity inside the arc with his very capable handle, strength base, and timely decision-making.
Go back and watch Walker during his days at IMG Academy, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Walker has a number of combination dribbles and moves in his bag to round out a fairly sophisticated handle for someone at his position. Teams would love to profile him as a “power wing” but these skills, along with his slick passing vision, can wreak havoc inside the arc when leveraged with his brute force and physicality.
There were moments at Houston when Walker played up to his size and bullied his way over and through opponents in the paint. That’s the type of scorer Walker should look to be more often, rather than shying away from those opportunities and living on a diet of tough pull-up looks or contested floaters. When Walker resorts to those lesser-quality shots, the results become incredibly mixed. And even though I appreciate how comfortable he is with his touch from those spots on the floor, weaponizing his handle to get all the way to the basket more often will set up windows to utilize his vision and delivery on passes.
Should he continue to round out his post game, become a respectable-above average spot-up shooter, and grow his base as an operator off short rolls and DHO’s, Walker’s path to star-level contributions becomes clear, especially when factoring in his menacing defensive approach.
Walker was a MONSTER shot blocker in college, and he rebounded well given his position and role. It was difficult for opponents to score over him at Houston, and the same is likely to be true in the NBA where he’ll only continue to keep getting stronger. Walker is already close to 250 pounds measuring in at just under 6’8” in shoes, so given his bulk, length, and two-foot leaping ability, he can consistently bother or swat shots inside as well as make it difficult for even other bigs to back him down too far to establish deeper post position.
IF more of the shooting doesn’t come around, and Walker’s feet and dribble aren’t up to the task in terms of taking space to use offensively, his outlook becomes a little murkier on that end. Factor in concerns some scouts have about his stance defensively and how he can get caught off guard and beaten off the bounce away from the basket, and there’s a real concern with taking Walker too high in the draft.
I’ve seen him up close and personal, and side with the more optimistic outlooks on his two-way impact which would help the Mavericks greatly. Playing next to a stretch big like Christian Wood would open up the floor for Walker to operate inside the arc, and the ways in which he could play off and accentuate the games of both Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving would be incredibly fun to watch. Not to mention he could develop the same chemistry with ball handlers like Josh Green and Jaden Hardy who are at their best getting downhill off screens.
Walker, like Hendricks, would be a dream scenario for Mavericks fans if he was still on the board at 10.
Jordan Hawkins, UConn
I’m sure some are out there questioning a choice like Jordan Hawkins because he doesn’t cover any gaps at either forward position. He’s a bigger guard given how he measured at the combine, but is unlikely to offer value playing up in lineups.
So why would the Mavericks possibly target another guard for its rotation? Because Hawkins does add meaningful depth as a shooter, particularly in his movement shooting.
There is no better player in this draft class in terms of moving without the ball. Hawkins projects as a similar type of shooter as a JJ Redick, someone who will make a living just gassing defenders because he’s in great shape. Not only is Hawkins well conditioned, but he understands HOW to move off the ball to relocate.
Between running off multiple screens, weaving in and out of traffic, and timing his cuts and movements to throw defenses off, Hawkins realizes the type of gravity he possesses as a shooter and uses it to his advantage better than any of his peers.
Put simply, Dallas has NO ONE on the roster right now quite like Hawkins. Jaden Hardy and Tim Hardaway Jr. are spot-up shooters, Josh Green is at his best getting downhill, and even guys like Davis Bertans and Reggie Bullock are at their best operating from the corners. Hawkins covers all of those gaps and provides utility in that regard in the backcourt. Having a player like him to run and create space naturally for ball handlers like Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving to go to work would continue to open up spread pick-and-roll opportunities for days.
Defensively, Hawkins has value as a team defender who loves to play passing lanes and force turnovers. The timing on his traps and digs to use his quick hands to pry the ball away is awesome, and it came up a bunch during UConn’s championship run. It’s one thing to have the tools to steal the basketball and make life difficult for opposing drivers, but it’s another to understand HOW to use those tools effectively without putting oneself in foul trouble.
Yes, there are questions about what value Hawkins adds as a driver, finisher, and playmaker. But during the NCAA Tournament, Hawkins came alive as someone who figured out how to turn the corner working off screens and explode to the basket with his underrated quickness and burst. As long as he’s put in positions to make quick decisions and reads with the intent to score and shoot, I trust Hawkins to make the right reads and ultimately put the ball in the basket.
There’s an argument to be made that going for a player like Hawkins could be a reach depending on others who could be available. Gradey Dick would also figure to be a popular name in this archetype, and he’s 6’8” with room to keep filling out and sure up physical concerns in the same trouble spots. Ultimately, I have Dick one spot ahead of Hawkins on my personal board but he’s too similar to what Dallas already has.
Adding a player like Hawkins brings something this team needs with more of a twist; another layer into how defenses need to gameplan around its stars based on what they can gain from having a player like Hawkins on the floor.
Dereck Lively II, Duke
Dereck Lively II, one of my favorite late-season risers, has nearly solidified himself as a lottery lock on draft night with impressive pro day and combine workouts in front of numerous scouts and executives.
His shooting display in these settings in particular has opened the eyes of many and has shot his name up consensus boards and mock drafts. Given that Lively was a more comfortable shooter in high school than the attempts at Duke would suggest, there’s a stronger belief that he’s going to figure out how to space the floor in multiple capacities, both from the elbows and eventually from three.
Even if the spacing element to his game never fully materializes to the extent his workouts suggest, there’s still a lot to like about the 7’1” true center.
Lively is a freaking pogo stick. How he effortlessly gets up off one or two feet at his size is beyond me. Lively explodes off two for offensive rebounds and blocks, and is a constant lob threat both off rolls and in transition. Few players even in the NBA can get up as high as Lively can and disrupt his catch and block radius.
Having that level of athletic injection in the frontcourt would be a welcome addition for the Mavericks, who THOUGHT they were getting that PLUS more defensive intensity in the right setting from Christian Wood. Even if there are parts to his game that could take some time to mature as they needed in college, there’s no “projection” when it comes to what Lively’s value will be defensively.
And what better addition for a team that ranked in the bottom sixth of the league in overall block percentage than one of the highest-rated rim protectors in this draft class.
What intrigues me most about his game and how he could fit with Dallas is his passing ability. Lively’s passing out of short rolls as well as off of offensive rebounds was a fun development for a Blue Devils squad that had the shooters or drivers to take advantage of those kick out passes. Having Lively to impact the game on the glass, AND create second or third opportunities for ball handlers and spot-up shooters like the Mavericks have means points on the table that this team didn’t come by at a high level previously. Rating dead last in the league last year in offensive rebounding percentage, this would be a VERY welcome addition to Dallas’ attack.
With a set floor as a rim protector, rebounder, transition, and lob threat, Lively’s blend of skills at his size could bring life to a frontcourt that is lacking on multiple key fronts. As he adjusts to the speed of the game, Lively has the footwork to keep up with matchups on the perimeter lending to switchability within multiple defensive schemes. If the jumper comes along, it’s just icing on the cake.
Mavericks fans should want a big man like Lively, and I for one would happily accept choosing him with the 10th pick in the draft.
Bilal Coulibaly, Metropolitans 92
Last but CERTAINLY not least is a player who was not projected to potentially be GONE by the time the Mavericks are making a selection, yet here we are.
I don’t want to spoil a ton of what I’m writing about for Bilal Coulibaly (COMING SOON to No Ceilings), but he has a clear case at this point to be chosen in the mid-late lottery given what he’s done in recent weeks with Metropolitans 92.
Coulibaly hasn’t had a ton of time playing with Victor Wembanyama in Jeep Elite, yet he’s made his presence known in multiple areas on the floor—so much so that Coulibaly played 37 minutes the other day in a series-clinching win over ASVEL to advance to the club’s first championship appearance ever! In that game, Coulibaly had 16 points on efficient shooting to go with four assists and two steals, showcasing his two-way impact at the wing position.
Standing at 6’6” with a reported 7’2” wingspan, Coulibaly has the prototypical size to guard up and down the lineup. He still has plenty of time to fill his frame and add bulk, but he’s underrated in terms of his strength and how he can finish through contact as well as absorb it to hold his ground defensively.
Coulibaly’s footwork, pacing, understanding of when to cut and move on both ends, and finishing package provide a projectable floor as a slashing wing who asserts himself defensively. His ability to navigate through screens, wall off defenders with his hips and lateral mobility, and quick hands to pickpocket opposing ball handlers are all important traits of some of the best stoppers in the game, only adding to the value he could provide an NBA team in the short term.
But what has teams buying into a potential star-level ceiling for Coulibaly is his continued comfort level and willingness to explore the studio space as a primary ball-handler and operator out of pick-and-roll sets.
Particularly in his most recent games in the playoffs, Coulibaly has timed his drives off screens incredibly well, knowing exactly when to burst to the rim to create scoring opportunities. When he gets there, Coulibaly can finish off either shoot at multiple angles. His “goofy” layups are all over recent highlight packages, and they only add to his intrigue as much more than a cutter and dunker on the break.
Should he continue to improve as a spot-up shooter (which he’s made progress across both Espoirs and up in Jeep Elite) and passer on the move, Coulibaly’s upside could be much higher than initially anticipated. Given his defensive playmaking, rebounding, and driving ability, I’ve dubbed him as a weird cross comp between Victor Oladipo and Jerami Grant. He’s in between the two size-wise, yet possesses elements of the best parts of each of their games.
Coulibaly has long had a lottery grade on my personal board, but his stock has soared to the point where, like Dereck Lively, he could be gone before the Mavericks get to choose. But if he’s still available, he could slot right next to Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving while providing more tertiary creation and scoring upside than someone like a Josh Green. If he reaches his ceiling, Coulibaly could emerge as a co-star alongside Doncic and help to take Dallas to another level come postseason time.
That being said though, patience is still the key with Coulibaly’s development. Factoring in that piece may make him a more difficult sell to a team like the Mavericks that’s eager to get right back into the playoffs next season. Drafting is about the long game though, so best prospect options should NOT be off the table under any circumstances, especially given Coulibaly’s plus size as a two-guard while also having tools to play the small forward.
Always bet on two-way wings!