Drafting Doncic – The Mavericks’ Future is Bright

The NBA draft was Thursday night, and I’ve been obsessing about it for at least a week. The 2018 draft was considered by many to be very talent-rich compared to other years, and the 2019 draft is apparently supposed to be less robust. So, for my rebuilding Dallas Mavericks, it seemed like this is the year to make a splash. They lucked into Dennis Smith Jr. last year, an explosive point guard with a high upside. And this year, I’d been hoping for European phenom Luka Doncic.

The Mavericks finished with the 3rd worse record in the NBA last season, seemingly putting them in position for a good pick and chance at Doncic. Unfortunately, the NBA draft gods decided to crush the Mavs (as usual), and they fell two spots after the lottery down to the #5 pick. Many draft gurus considered this class to have a top tier of two players; Doncic and Deandre Ayton. With the number 5 pick, I was very disappointed to admit that the Mavs were unlikely to land someone from the top tier. With Dirk Nowitzki at the end of his career, the Mavs desperately needed another playmaker to add to Smith, especially in such a superstar driven league.

Well, fast forward to draft night. Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks General Manager, and owner Mark Cuban pulled off a miracle! Phoenix took Ayton, as expected. But amazingly, Sacramento passed on Doncic to draft an offense-only big who might not even have 3-point range. And then, in a somehow more stunning move, Atlanta agreed to trade their #3 pick for Dallas’ #5 (and a future protected pick)! I am unbelievably excited about this turn of events, and am honestly still somewhat in disbelief days later.

I’m not going to rehash all the reasons Doncic is such an elite prospect; he’s been thoroughly discussed in the media. Overall, he has remarkable court vision and passing, combined with great size and crafty moves around the basket. I will link a couple good articles about him, if you aren’t that familiar with his hype:

The Mavericks’ future now seems very bright indeed. Thinking about best case scenarios (if everyone reaches maximum potential)…you may have a franchise cornerstone, superstar/first-team all-NBA wing in Doncic. And you’ve got either a super athletic co-superstar, or at least a driving second option all-star type. This obviously isn’t precise (or probably even realistic), but in my wildest dreams I imagine a Durant/Westbrook or Harden/Paul dynamic. As an added bonus, now Harrison Barnes can be a strong third option. I’ll be blunt; I really like Barnes, but the Mavs were quite bad when he was the first option. But this can be a playoff team with dual creators in Doncic and Smith leading the way, and Barnes/Wes Matthews playing off the ball as scorers. (Assuming the Mavs add a Center who is at least decent at rebounding and rolling to the basket.)

I felt a huge moment like this deserved some art, so I drew Smith from last year and Doncic from this year (I hope I got the sizes/heights right, I’ve never seen them next to each other):

As an added bonus to acquiring a potentially franchise-altering talent, the Mavericks filled out the rest of their draft well. They selected Jalen Brunson early in the second round, who won two championships and a player of the year award with Villanova. From what I’ve read, Brunson is a good playmaker and shooter with top notch leadership qualities. I heard on a podcast that the Mavs had him on their board as a 1st Rounder. Reddit isn’t exactly a reliable resource, but I found this interesting post about him (removed a few sentences for brevity’s sake):

“He can shoot the midrange jumper. He can drop defenders with his handles. He is an extremely efficient 3 point shooter. Brunson is the best post-scoring point guard I have ever seen play college ball. When they call him unathletic, they mean he can’t run fast or jump high. They ignore that he is strong as a bull. He will bully his defender into the paint, then score with ease with his wide variety of post moves.”

Just to make the draft even better, after Brunson, the Mavericks added a couple of projects in athletic defensive forward Ray Spalding and raw prospect (and Giannis’ brother) Kostas Antetokounmpo. As part of my reveling in such an exciting draft, I was reading everything I could get my hands on about the prospects. I came across an interesting pre-draft statistical analysis called the ESPN Analytics Model. In their projections, they actually had three of the four Mavericks picks as top 30 players, with Antetokounmpo as #31! Really amazing. Here’s the chart from ESPN Analytics, with the guys the Mavs drafted highlighted by me (click the link to read their methodology):

2018 Draft Projections from ESPN

Of course, it’s always wise to take any draft rankings or projections with a grain of salt. Figuring out who is going to be successful often involves luck as much as scouting and statistics. That being said, it’s really incredible to feel like the Mavericks knocked this out of the park. As I said, I think the future is bright in Dallas, and I am more excited about the upcoming Mavs season than I have been in years. The very first post I ever made on this website was about the Mavericks, after they won the championship in 2011. There hasn’t been this level of optimism about the team since that time – I think Doncic is that big of a deal.

Also, this is a good opportunity to thank the sports media personalities who satisfied my addiction to the latest in NBA news/rumors over the last few days. Huge thanks to Mavsmoneyball folks like Rebecca Lawson, Kirk Henderson, Josh BoweIan Miller, etc. I also got a ton of breaking info from Mike Fisher, Marc Stein, and (like anyone who watched the draft) Adrian Wojnarowski. If anyone is on Twitter and wants the latest NBA/Mavericks news, these folks are definitely worth following. Keeping up with rumors through these folks was really fun, and I’ll definitely be back to my Mavsmoneyball Twitter List when free agency starts.

I’ll wrap this long celebratory post with my usual progression .gif of the sketch I did. Here we go:

Doncic and DSJ - Amdall Prog


  • It’s so weird reading this post now. Luka turned into one of the best players in the league! I almost can’t believe that I didn’t overhype him – the man is a legit MVP candidate every year. And Brunson turned out to be a pretty excellent player in his own right…but for the New York Knicks (boooo). And Dennis Smith Jr is on the outside looking in currently, trying to find a roster spot. I’m still rooting for DSJ, I hope he lands somewhere and plays well.

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  • So, the comments section on this post is pretty much just me talking to myself, but there are a couple things I want to add now that we’re 1/4 of the way into the NBA season. First, I think I undersold Harrison Barnes and possibly oversold Dennis Smith Jr (at least at this stage). Harrison Barnes is an excellent shot-creator, and has some nice moves getting to the basket. He showed his scoring ability last year, but I discounted that somewhat because it was a bad team. But this seems to be a better Mavs team, and when the Mavs really need a shot, Barnes can deliver. I shouldn’t have tried to place Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews in the same bucket, because they are very different players. Also, regarding DSJ…he’s very fast and very athletic, but the court vision isn’t all the way there yet. When you watch a veteran like JJ Barea control the point, that becomes more clear. I’m not saying DSJ won’t get there, but point guards can take a few years to develop (see: Kemba Walker).

    And as for Doncic? Despite the hype, he has somehow exceeded expectations. In my opinion, he’s already entering legitimate star player territory, and his rookie averages at this stage of the season are on par with some of the greats. I’m not the only one who thinks this way! Check out this montage of ESPN personalities discussing Doncic at the 1/4 mark of the season: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_92bP48yyQ

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  • It’s been a few weeks since this post, and interestingly enough it has become one of my most viewed of all time on this site. It received a ton of traction via Facebook and Twitter, with the website post itself receiving over 1600 views. It didn’t get a ton of WordPress likes, and no comments (aside from me), but social media activity was a different story. On Twitter, it had 5200 impressions, 1300 engagements, and 30 likes (plus a cool subtweet from Mike Fisher, a Dallas sports reporter). On Facebook, it reached over 18000 people, almost 1300 clicks, and 97 likes!

    For more popular websites, that’s probably no big deal. But for this one, that is pretty major traffic! I guess I’ll have to do more Luka Doncic posts in the future

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  • I am still in complete disbelief that the Mavericks were able to draft Doncic. So much had to happen, so many teams had to pass on him for it to work. Yet here he is, on the Mavs. You never really know how players will turn out, but I think he’s got a good chance to be a star. Or, at the very least, a very good player who makes guys around him better.

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