The Dallas Mavericks are in a difficult position for the 2023 NBA Draft.
Last season ended in what is the NBA’s equivalent of a fiery blaze of glory, falling apart down the stretch of the season to miss out on the playoffs. The icing on the cake was back-to-back losses to the Charlotte Hornets, forcing the hand of Mavericks general manager Nico Harrison and ordering in the tanking brigade. The team punted on its final two games of the season, preserving its draft position with a top-10 protected pick owed to the New York Knicks.
That worked in Dallas’ favor in the end. The Mavericks were awarded the 10th pick in the draft, allowing them the chance to add a lottery pick for the first time since 2018, when they drafted Trae Young and traded the rights for Atlanta’s third pick (Luka Doncic, you might have heard of him).
Doncic led the Mavs to the playoffs in three straight seasons, including a 2022 Western Conference Finals appearance, before the bottom fell out last season. The ramifications of the much-maligned Jalen Brunson saga hung over the team like a stale fart all season, a trade for Kyrie Irving that wreaked of desperation brought false hope and now the team is stuck in the worst possible position, NBA’s purgatory. With Doncic, the team isn’t bad enough to be one of the worst in the league, but it currently isn’t good enough to win the championship. The goal with Luka, of course, is to never pick in the lottery for the foreseeable future, which means the Mavericks have one of the most crucial picks in the draft. Whether they select a rookie or trade the pick for a proven commodity, Dallas has to have an offseason that makes the team more competitive and makes Doncic happy about the situation.
The biggest needs for Dallas are on the defensive side of the ball. While Irving brought some much-needed secondary shot creation to the lineup, the on-ball defense was a major problem with the departure of Dorian Finney-Smith. Reggie Bullock was the only viable defensive player left on the roster and he was stuck in a nearly impossible position as the team’s de facto power forward.
Rebounding and rim protection is also major issues for Dallas. The Mavericks tried to fix the issue last summer by signing JaVale McGee. While fans could call into question the logic of signing a then 34-year-old player who averaged over 20 minutes per game just three times in his 14-year NBA career as “a solution,” the point is that the move didn’t work. Less than a month into the season, grizzled veteran Dwight Powell was back in the starting lineup, still one of the weakest rebounding and rim-protecting centers in basketball.
Beyond that, the Mavericks could use a bit more shooting and tertiary shot creation as well, which leaves them with a lot of different directions they could go in for the draft. Here is the Maverick’s big board for the 2023 NBA Draft.
1. Amen Thompson – One-half of the Thompson twins, Amen is likely to be the first pick after the big three in the 2023 draft (Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, and Brandon Miller).
While Thompson doesn’t apply to any of Dallas’ major holes, he’d be the best player available if he somehow fell to 10. He’s an absolute blur in transition, plus would add some extra shot creation, pace, and skill to the Dallas lineup.
He’s also not a bad defensive player as a 6-foot-6 guard, allowing him to play next to Luka and Kyrie Irving. The only concern for Thompson would be shooting in the halfcourt offense, but I’m sure a creative offensive coach like Jason Kidd can figure that out (kidding).
Need a lot of draft luck
2. Jarace Walker – The ultimate defensive weapon of the 2023 draft. Jarace Walker is the closest thing I’ve seen to Draymond Green.
Slightly undersized for a power forward, Walker uses his large frame, long arms, and basketball IQ to disrupt passing lanes, challenge shots at the rim, and cover a lot of ground on that end.
If he can continue to hit shots at a league-average rate, he could be the perfect player for the Maverick’s needs.
3. Anthony Black – A local DFW product, Black presents elite defensive intangibles for a big guard prospect. Another player with a lot of work left to improve his jump shot, Black still has the shot creation skills that he won’t be a negative on the offensive end either.
4. Ausar Thompson – In the second half of the dynamic twins, Ausar Thompson isn’t quite as good of an athlete as Amen and isn’t quite as good of a passer. However, Ausar is still a high-level defensive prospect with the range to guard multiple positions at an elite level.
Hopeful they’re available
5. Taylor Hendricks – Hendricks has been the darling of Mavericks Twitter so far in the draft process. His game resembles a lot of fan-favorite Finney-Smith, only with even more defensive upside as a shot blocker and better athlete.
Hendricks checks a lot of boxes as a plug-and-play player for Dallas. The only question is if Hendricks has the upside worthy of a top-10 selection.
6. Cam Whitmore – Similar to Hendricks, Whitmore is another player people love in this draft class. While the run of Villanova prospects in the league lately has been positive, Whitmore is a player who could come in and supplant Bullock in the starting lineup right away.
He’s got good size and feel for the position. While his tape on defense was wildly inconsistent, the hope is that he can be a better defensive player with his athletic talent.
Likely available, and makes sense
7. Leonard Miller – Another big wing player for the Mavericks to target, Miller showed great rebounding traits at the G League Ignite at 6-foot-9. He’s not an elite defender for his position and hasn’t shot the ball well from deep (good free throw numbers indicate he can improve), but Miller feels like the kind of wing who could become very valuable with a couple of seasons of work under his belt.
8. Dereck Lively II – One of the most confounding players in the draft, Lively was a former No. 1 overall player in high school who struggled in his one season at Duke on the offensive end. While it’s still a lot of projection on his game, this feels like a perfect fit for solving Maverick’s center issues.
Lively is massive, standing at 7-foot-1, and possesses elite defensive intangibles. For all of the issues Powell gave the Mavericks, the job of a center in Dallas is fairly easy on offense with Luka Doncic and now Kyrie Irving. It’s hard to imagine Lively’s shot blocking couldn’t make him a Mitchell Robinson-like player in Dallas, with perhaps even more offensive upside than he was able to show in college.
9. Gradey Dick – (Don’t make any jokes, don’t make any jokes, don’t make any jokes.)
Dick is lethal from the perimeter, the kind of shooter you can ride when hot (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). Seriously though, Gradey Dick has the offensive game you want to partner next to a player like Doncic.
In stretches during the Mavericks season, you saw perfectly placed passes fall to the hands of shooters, only for the shot not to go in. That wouldn’t be the case with Dick, who shot 40 percent from 3 last season and projects as one of the best shooters in the class. He could quickly take Bullock’s starting position at small forward and is a better defender than you think (obligatory white man’s scouting report).
10. Jordan Hawkins – Very similar to Dick, Hawkins is an elite jump shooter but a little smaller than Dick and not as versatile defensively. Still, if you’re looking for someone who could be the Klay Thompson of this draft, Hawkins might be that guy after leading UCONN to a national championship. He represents insurance in the case Irving decides to leave and could perhaps play alongside Dallas’ potent backcourt duo.
Swing for the fences
11. GG Jackson – If you wanted to construct a player who could theoretically be the perfect solution to Dallas’ issues, Jackson might be it. He’s terrific defensively, confident with the ball in his hands, and has the size and length to plug in at the power forward position.
He’s also one of the youngest players in the draft, something teams really like. The problem for Jackson is he’s a wildly inconsistent prospect and didn’t showcase much of what you want to see from an offensive player when the ball is not in his hands. He loves to attack players off the dribble but doesn’t always succeed.
Suffice it to say that I have questions about his future. It wouldn’t shock me if GG Jackson is one of the best players from this draft in five years. It also wouldn’t shock me if he’s on his second or third team in five years.
12. Dariq Whitehead – Whitehead was one of the top prospects in the 2022 high school class (No. 3 by 247sports). The only issue is that he played the entire year hurt and is still hurt going into the start of next season. While he believes he will be ready by opening day, I’m not sure how many teams will be willing to take that risk, coupled with the lack of explosiveness he showed in college when he played.
Still, teams will value that pedigree he has. Whitehead still shot the ball over 40 percent from 3 in college, one of the best shooters in the class. If he can bring back the athleticism that made him a special prep player, Whitehead could be the steal of the draft.
13. Bilal Coulibaly – A late bloomer for draft prospects, Coulibaly caught the attention of several people scouting his teammate and future No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama.
Coulibaly looks like an elite defensive wing and has shown some improved shooting numbers, up to 35 percent from 3 and 76 percent from the line. With those traits, he’s an easy fit into the Mavericks rotation.
Awkward fit, but it could work
14. Cason Wallace – Another local product with shades of Jrue Holiday, Cason Wallace projects as an elite defensive guard from this draft class. While it’s not a perfect fit with the Mavericks already having Irving and Doncic in the starting guard spots (with Josh Green and Jaden Hardy on the bench), Wallace’s defensive capabilities could allow Dallas to be a little more creative in their lineups.
Perhaps with Wallace, Dallas can create a lineup similar to the 2020 Oklahoma City Thunder, playing all three guards together and taking advantage of Doncic’s size. In theory, that’s a fun trio to watch with a lot of shot creation and pace, but Wallace would need to continue to improve as a catch-and-shoot jump shooter for it to work.
No fit, but the best players available
All of these players rank high on consensus big boards but don’t make a lot of sense for the Mavericks unless they feel Irving is on his way out. They are all talented shooting guards but not quite the elite defensive or jump-shooting intangibles for it to make sense.
15. Keyonte George – Shoutout for another local product. DFW prep hoops have some great players this year.
16. Nick Smith Jr.
17. Kobe Bufkin
18. Jalen Hood-Schifino
Trade back candidates
19. Jordan Walsh – If Dallas decided to trade back (a personal favorite of mine is Maxi Kleber and pick 10 for Kelly Olynyk and both picks 16 and 28), Walsh is another local product with a lot of defensive versatility shown for Arkansas during the stretch run of the season and in the NCAA tournament.
While Walsh only stands at 6-foot-6, his 7-foot-plus wingspan allows him to seamlessly guard nearly all five positions, getting 57 combined steals and blocks last year. Walsh still has a long way to go on the offensive end but could become a valuable rotation player if taken in the late first or early second round.
20. James Nnaji – Nnaji is slightly undersized for a starting center but has the build and athletic abilities to more than make up for it. You could argue that Nnaji fits in Kidd’s switch-heavy defense better than even Lively would. His lack of offensive upside (poor free throw shooting in particular) and a lack of minutes at Barcelona make him a late first-round target.
21. Jamie Jaquez Jr. – Jaquez is an older prospect, but if Dallas is looking to be better immediately, Jaquez could be the kind of player that fits that mold and is ready to play. He does everything pretty well, even if he isn’t elite at any one particular thing.
Ideally, Jaquez could shoot a little better to play alongside Doncic. His combination of defense, basketball IQ and ball movement could make him an intriguing player that Dallas doesn’t have in its rotation.
Undrafted free agents to target
22. Drew Timme – With the new CBA allowing for additional two-way roster spots, Dallas can look to add even more talent through the undrafted free agent market.
Timme (another local product from nearby Richardson) might be the best offensive center in this draft outside Wembanyama. The problem is his game is archaic. The low post game isn’t utilized in modern basketball, and it’s hard to project exactly what he’d be at the NBA level. Still, if Timme isn’t drafted, he’s worth giving a chance. He’s still an incredibly talented offensive player.
23. Alex Fudge – Fudge is a player the Mavericks have already brought in for a workout. Fudge is coming off a pretty poor sophomore season but is a solid defensive player with a developing jump shot. The team may hope he could be the next Finney-Smith, mainly because they went to the same school. It’s not the most creative pick ever.