Why the Mavs' 2012 Draft Class Could Be Much Better Than It Looks

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Why the Mavs' 2012 Draft Class Could Be Much Better Than It Looks
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Rick Carlisle hates stupid mistakes and a lack of consistency and effort on defense. Did that dictate the direction of this year's draft?

Maverick fans were largely despondent after draft night 2012.  The Mavs had entered the draft with rumours flying that they would trade up from No. 17 to No. 11 or so and end up with a collegiate "name" like Terrence Ross, Austin Rivers, or Jeremy Lamb who could step right into Jet Terry's soon-to-be vacant spot.

Well, an early run on guards pushed down some players and apparently scuttled that plan.

So the Mavs traded down with Cleveland, grabbing three slightly lesser picks (the No. 24, No. 33, & No. 34.)  They picked Oregon State Guard Jared Cunningham, Florida State Center Bernard James, and Marquette Forward Jae Crowder.

The howling from Mav fans comes from the very statistically supportable argument that most players taken that late in the NBA draft do not have talent to have NBA careers.

I think that is an oversimplification on why draftees fail in the NBA that misses many factors.  It isn't just a talent question. It is a question of opportunity far more often.  Is it there or not?  Luck plays a huge role. 

One major reason players taken that late do not make NBA rosters is that most have to do serious work on one or more aspects of their games.  NBA teams are ridiculously short-sighted about young player development.

Generally the player more or less has to figure it out on his own.  Most don't.

Playing time and player development

Unlike playing at US Colleges, playing in Europe or the minor leagues are not great places for player development either.  You aren't going to learn how to expand your game in most of those leagues.

 

But that doesn't mean a pick this late is destined to fail; really, a late pick needs a team that has a good deal of desperation to see him succeed.  He needs a team that will put him on the floor in a role that his skills suggest he can handle and will give him fairly consistent playing time.

Dallas under Carlisle has not been that kind of situation for guys like Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones and other Mavs players over the last few years.  Carlisle is loathed to take veterans who understand the game and generally can be convinced to play reasonable defense off the court in order to play rookies and young players who make mistakes and sometimes do not play defense.

I think the Mavs have actually drafted well in the recent past with Beaubois and Jones.  They have done what you want your team to do—draft the best player available.  That is, "isolate the 3-5 best remaining talents on the board and take the one you believe in."

Beaubois flashed some star potential early on and the Jones pick was widely praised after the draft as a very good value.  There is little to suggest they weren't among the best players available when taken at their spots.

The problem has been that Beaubois is not a point guard.  That has created pressure on him and Jones to develop new skills to get on the floor, not just use the skills they have as they would on a weaker team. 

That combined with a deep roster of veterans and a coach who doesn't like playing young players makes "drafting the best player available" a strategy that was likely to yield the kind of disappointing returns we have seen recently.

 

It isn't like Donnie Nelson suddenly forgot how to draft. 

Remember, he had quite a better reputation in that regard 5 years ago. 

Does anyone remember Nelson finding Josh Howard?

Mav fans are taking out the Carlisle factor on Nelson's drafting reputation.

But there are other factors that appear to have steered the draft philosophy for the Mavs down a more fruitful direction this year.

Salary Cap concerns

The new luxury tax is brutal.  Matching overages dollar for dollar was not an overwhelming penalty for super rich owners like Mark Cuban.  This new luxury Tax seems to have found Mark Cuban's pain threshold.  It looks like he isn't going there.

The new Luxury Tax may mean money may now be "an issue" for Cuban.

I believe the Mav braintrust recognize the change the new luxury tax will bring.  As they did under the old rules, I think they are now setting the new standard for managing the cap under the new rules.  I think we might see the Mavs keep a lot more of their young draftees on the roster than they have in the past, freeing up a few more dollars under the Luxury Tax threshold for elite players.

I think drafting this trio suggests the Mavs appear to be toying with the idea of cutting salary from the bottom of their bench.

I think this is a big change in strategy that is revealing itself in this draft.  These draftees may be given quite a good shot to make this roster.

 

Lesson of Lamar Odom

After Cuban decided to let Tyson Chandler walk, in some ways the acquisition of Lamar Odom was the best thing to happen to the Mavs.   It appears to have opened the eyes of Mavericks management to the problem with just bringing talent to Carlisle.

It made the braintrust look at how the best player available strategy mixed with the Carlisle way.

No one would have argued that Lamar Odom was the best player the Mavs could have added with their big asset last year.  On paper, Odom should have made Dallas at least a dark horse title contender last year.

But as anyone who watched the first 5 years of his career could have told you, Odom had some dog in him.  In LA in their recent run, Odom was often a third or fourth option, free to pass up shots and let others make plays.  That really suited him and his skillset.  When he didn't play defense, Phil Jackson or Kobe Bryant would get in his ear and he'd pick it up a little.

In Dallas, Carlisle demanded more aggressiveness and accountability and Odom cracked like an egg.  When The Lakers came to town last year, Kobe stated very bluntly that that Mavs were not using Odom correctly.  He said that Dallas should be running their offense through Odom allowing him to set up others.

I happen to think that was a very sensible, honest, and valid point.  That might have helped Odom fit in, but does anyone think Rick Carlisle is going to put that much faith into a player who Carlisle doesn't beleive in?  Is he going to run the offense through a player Carlisle feels he may have to pull from the floor at any moment over loafing?

 

Carlisle sat Odom a lot over loafing last year and that should tell you everything you need to know about the Carlisle way.  He would rather play less skilled players who hustle and play defense than a very skilled player who loafs, sometimes doesn't play defense, and loses focus.

The Odom situations was an extreme example of the same hurdles facing Jones and Beaubois.  Beaubois has been pigeon holed in Dallas as a point guard prospect.  (I happen to think he would transition quicker into an NBA starter as Jet Terry's replacement.) He makes a lot of extra mistakes at the point than annoy Carlisle and undermine Roddy B's confidence.  And Beaubois' defense has not been anything like advertised when he was a drafted.

Jones is likewise held back a bit by the question of where to play Beaubois.  Beaubois's mistakes probably also make Carlisle even less enthusiastic about playing another youngster.  The consistency of his play is also not up to Carlisle standards.

Acquiring Lamar Odom really spelled out the problem with Maverick draft philosophy over the last few years.

If Carlisle doesn't trust the players the brain trust acquire, they aren't going to play.

Looking at this draft under that lens.

That is why this draft makes sense. 

These guys do not look like projects to me.  They look like situational backups that Carlisle might tolerate.

 

First of all, all of these guys are mature.  In an era where teams are drafting knucklehead kids after a year of college, the value of drafting men instead of boys is recognized by a lot of the better NBA teams.

It's fine to draft kids if you are years away from competing, but if you fancy yourself as a contender, you need pieces who can eat some minutes in the playoffs in the next few years.  You need players who understand how to prepare, how to play, how to stay out of trouble, etc.

For a playoff team drafting outside the lottery, experienced players pushed down 10-20 spots in favor of flashy younger dunkers represent the value in the draft.

For a team coached by Rick Carlisle, players have to be mature to get on the court.

Cunningham comes in as a college junior, but he played a huge role on his team the last two years. He has a pretty good amount of experience playing heavy minutes and playing at a high level in college.  He carried a lot of responsibility well. He was counted on to deliver consistently.

Cunningham is a smart, hard working kid.  He earned an academic All-American status in high school.  You don't get that for just being smart—you have to consistently do the school work too.  You have to cross your T's and dot your I's.

James and Crowder arrive after their senior seasons. 

After serving in the Air Force, James enters the NBA as a 27-year-old rookie.

 

In the 1980s, the standard thinking with scouts about drafting big men was that unless they were drafting a star collegiate big man at the top of the draft, big men would take four years to develop and mature after you draft them. Those were guys who played 3-5 years in college and entered the NBA at 21-23 years of age.

Drafting a very mature-minded 27-year-old center could actually make for a quick transition.

His height at 6'10" isn't really a negative. Remember, the draft rules have effectively prevented the development of top prospects in college and erased a generation of big centers from the league. 

(It is sad for me to think of what the league would look like if Johnathan Bender, Stromile Swift, Joel Pryzbilla, Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, DeSagana Diop, Steven Hunter, Samuel Dalembert, Chris Wilcox, Jamal Sampson, Kendrick Perkins, Robert Swift, Andrew Bynum, Spencer Hawes, Robin and Brook Lopez, JaVale McGhee, Kosta Koufos, Hasheem Thabeet, Byron Mullens,  and Daniel Orton had gotten at least three years of college training and conditioning before going to the NBA.  Most of those guys probably lost at least half of their NBA earning potential by jumping too early.)

It may not be a huge surprise to see the much more mature James carve out a job in the NBA with fairly solid mobility, good physical defense, and shot blocking.

There is a second bit of longstanding thought in the NBA that might apply here. It states teams win titles when their core of players are between 28-32—basically old enough to get what they need to do but young enough to still be at their athletic peak. 

Delonte West is the only current Mav in that window. James will soon be.

 

Crowder is a young 21, but he also appears to be very mature. He is a hard nosed player who lead his JUCO team to a national title, winning the 2009-2010 NJCAA Player of the Year award. He was the Big East player of the year in his senior year.

Carlisle Guys

These picks appear to be "Carlisle guys".  

Reports on draft day were that Carlisle absolutely loved Cunningham during the pre-draft days. 

Cunningham is a small shooting guard with athleticism that reminds scouts of Russell Westbrook's.  He is a little short and too light for the 2 sport today at 188 pounds and needs to develop a reliable 3 from a few spots, but he penetrates, draws fouls, and is a willing defender. He was a two time member of the Pac all-defensive team, leading the conference in steals both years.

The Mavs see him as a guy who may be able to play both guard spots.

James and Crowder played with aggressiveness in top basketball conferences in college. They are tough guys.  Both willingly play defense.

James made the ACC all defensive team as a senior and averaged 2.4 blocks per game in his two year ACC career.  While his rebounding looks to be average to below average in the NBA, he is a very good defender and a fairly accomplished shot blocker who understands how to play the position defensively.  He was a big part of Florida State leading the nation in defensive FG percentage in 2011 (36.3 percent) and their fifth place finish in that stat in 2012 (38.1 percent.)

 

If Crowder makes the team, he should be able to eat minutes vs. the more physical small forwards, keeping Shawn Marion fresher (and maybe even healthier) for the playoffs.

No guarantees

While there is no guarantee of any of these three players making the team, given the the changes to the cap rules, Carlisle's love of defense and toughness, Mav team needs, and the scoring ability and athleticism of the Western Conference Champion Oklahoma City Thunder, I think all three players have an excellent shot to make the roster and eat some minutes.

And that would be a pretty good draft.

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