The other day, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle offered up a bit of draft philosophy that matches what I’ve long believed should be the rule of thumb in the NBA and the NFL.
"If you look at our roster, we do have certain needs,’’ Rick said. “But at the same time. if there is a player that can really be a star, there’s an awful lot of merit in just taking him and figuring it out from there.’’
In other words, what I call “B.A.A.’’ (“Best Available Athlete.’’)
Now, obviously, we’re not just talking about athleticism; it’s really “Best Available Player,’’ with little concern, or a lessened concern, about what position he plays and what positional vacancies may exist on the roster.
There’s one more wrinkle in the NBA, where the draftees are now often 19 years old. That’s what Carlisle means when he says, “Can really be a star.’’ He’s talking about the projection of a prospect, how he can grow, what he can be.
This merits deeper examination, but for now, but think of it this way, with this particular prospect: Frank Ntilikina is 18. He projects as a star. (Our Mavs-centric scouting report is here.) But heck, the 6-5 Euro point guard might come to Texas and be best-suited to play a year for the Legends rather than for the Mavs. … which means he may be of little or no use in The Dirk Nowitzki Era.
How much should that matter to the franchise?
Compare Ntlikina to De’Aaron Fox, who, as DallasBasketball.com is reporting, is considered by the scouting staff to be a lottery-worthy point guard who projects as being “special’’ later but could conceivably also be “special’’ immediately, as a pass-first point guard with elite defensive skills and improved shot mechanics, as a rookie. (Our thoughts on Fox and some trade ideas are here.)
In other words: If Fox is somehow a Maverick in 2017-18 (unlikely because Dallas is slotted to draft ninth, a few spots after Fox might go), the 6-4, 187-pound Kentucky standout can be the best point guard on the roster immediately AND be what Carlisle is referring to when he says, “Can really be a star’’ later.
So forget the “certain needs’’ thing. Dallas “needs’’ a point guard, and this draft has plenty of them, so no issue there. (And at the same time, if there is somehow more of a “star’’ at another position, B.A.A. says that’s fine, too.)
Instead, let’s keep an eye out for how the Mavs a) weigh a potential draftee’s star quality, b) the likely timetable for that star quality to emerge, and c) just how in a hurry they are for that stardom to be realized. ... Oh, and there's a d) If you're trying to win NOW at point guard because you're doing it for Dirk (and maybe for the future, too) ... Should the ninth overall pick be used in a trade to acquire a more proven commodity?