DONUT 1: THE UNOFFICIAL ASSISTANT GM
Dallas Mavericks unofficial assistant GM Dirk Nowitzki did it twice this week.
First, he issued the proclamation on 105.3 The Fan in almost headline-ready form:
"We want a point guard, obviously.’’
Later, in an at-large interview, he expanded on the concept.
“I mean, obviously, we’d love to have a point guard,’’ Dirk said while at the Mavs Basketball Academy’s hoop camp. “I think that’s not a secret. But we’ll just go in and see what’s out there.’’
DONUT 2: THOSE ALL-IMPORTANT 'BUTS'
Ah yes. The “buts.’’ The “buts’’ critically important to the Mavs’ approach to the June 22 NBA Draft … and it’s critically important that Nowitzki himself accept and embrace the “buts.’’
DONUT 3: THE (ALMOST) ENDLESS RESPECT FOR DIRK
Readers of this space are likely fully aware of my positions here:
*Dirk IS the franchise and is due all possible respect when it comes to listening to his opinions.
*Dirk is NOT really the “assistant GM’’ and at this point in his career - quite possibly entering the final season of his brilliant run - cannot be handed decision-making power now because being human, he will naturally lean toward decisions that will help “The Dirk Era’’ more than will help “The Next Era.’’
*While the Mavs have a need at point guard, there is absolutely NOTHING “obvious’’ about having to take one with the ninth overall pick.
I’m hoping Dirk’s use, in both proclamations, of the word “obviously,’’ is the result of The Big German leaning on “obviously’’ as one of his favorite verbal crutches, and not a glimpse into the direction he’ll push once he’s in the Draft Room alongside Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson and Rick Carlisle.
DONUT 4: EARS IN THE DRAFT ROOM
I know Nowitzki has a deep respect for The Triangle of Trust’s devotion to the cause, and a deep respect for how their roles as judges of talent and acquirers of talent differ from his organizational role. (Too often, Nowitzki's loyalty to Dallas is seen as a one-sided hunk of proof of his loyalty and character when in fact, it's the loyalty and character shown by his bosses that at least in part keeps him here. And you'll notice Donnie and Rick aren't exactly looking for escape hatches, either.)
Dirk’s respect is revealed in his funny thoughts on the inner-workings of the Draft Room.
“You know,’’ he said, “I’ve seen Cuban with three phones on his head and Donnie with eight phones, and things happen there so quick.’’
But will that stop Dirk from whispering into one of those ears his personal desire for a pass-first point guard?
DONUT 5: RUNNING THE POINT IN DALLAS
This past season, the Mavericks organization changed point guards almost like Mavs players changed socks. Deron Williams was supposed to be the guy but he was waived in February and freed to go to Cleveland. Sandwiched around D-Will were 10-day’ers Jonathan Gibson and Pierre Jackson and then Yogi Ferrell, who likely won himself a future job (but as a backup, if the Mavs are to truly improve). Veterans J.J. Barea and Devin Harris were, due to injury, in and out of the mix. Combo guard Seth Curry tried his hand at the point. So, in a way, did rookie wing Nico Brussino.
When Mark Cuban talks of desiring a “pass-first point guard,’’ I know he isn’t just echoing Dirk’s personal desires. The club wants that sort of player, on a premier level, to also set up Harrison Barnes, to also orchestrate Carlisle’s Flow offense, to also, some day, in an ideal world, captain this club in a way that mirrors how Jason Kidd once did it.
A lofty goal, yes. But in this point-guard-rich draft, Dallas might as well aim high.
DONUT 6: TAKING SPECIFIC AIM
But where to aim at 9?
Here is one team’s Draft Board (not Dallas’) from two weeks ago, as it relates to point guards:
1 Markelle Fultz
2 De’Aaron Fox
3 Lonzo Ball
4 Dennis Smith Jr.
5 Frank Ntilikina
DONUT 7: THE PG TIERS
On one tier, Fultz is this draft’s top player. That's gone unchanged, in the eyes of the NBA people I talk to, for months. I assume Boston, sitting at No. 1, shares that view.
On the next tier, there are arguments between Fox (a player Dallas adores) and Ball. One of the issues that may help determine the difference here? Ball is an awful interviewee, shy and uncomfortable. Fox is a dynamo, confidence and charismatic and oozing leadership. Unfortunately, that's an issue for the Lakers at No. 2 to decide ... after which, some sharp team might just slide up for Fox -- who himself is so smart he's even saying polite things about landing with the Siberia Kings.
On another tier, there are arguments between Smith (a gifted player but one who comes with some personality questions) and Ntilikina, the 6-5 Frenchman who at 18, is all about future upside. The Mavs know him well after Donnie’s Tour De Europe, detailed here, and there are even rumors of Dallas offering summer employment to one of Ntilikina’s coaches.
DONUT 8: THE GERMAN ON THE FRENCHMAN
Dirk admitted he “doesn’t watch much college ball’’ and his thoughts on Ntilikina are essentially an “admission,’’ too.
“I’ve seen ‘French Frank’ only on Youtube or whatever when we watched some highlights, so I really don’t have an educated opinion, but that’s why we have 50 scouts that we pay on the payroll,” Nowitzki said.
Raise your hand in celebration if, like me, this quote sounds like Dirk is conceding he’s not really qualified to be the assistant GM.
DONUT 9: A PROBLEM WITH THE LIST
The above list, however, is short-sighted, as it skips over potential “gets’’ who don’t play point guard. As as nice as it would be to find a long-term star-caliber solution at Dallas’ greatest position of need, the Mavs are hungry for talent. Any sort of talent. Any height, any weight, any age, any position.
Cuban has hinted that “best player available’’ is the optimal approach. And sources tell DBcom that Dallas, with its plan to re-sign Nerlens Noel, doesn’t want to “double-up’’ on using assets at center. And Dirk very frankly said that while he’s developed a friendship with Arizona 7-0 shooter Lauri Markkanen from Finland, he doesn’t think “that's the route we're going to take."
All of that narrows the candidates. But let’s not make this too narrow, shall we?
If Dallas' Big Board ends up looking the way I think it will, 6-11 forward Jonathan Isaac would be viewed as an incredible value at No. 9. That's not a prediction; I'm assuming he goes ahead of 9. But I believe he's rated by the Mavs scouting department ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. (And also ahead of combo guard Malik Monk, but not necessarily ahead of Ntlikina, a story I'm working on) ... So why should management take a lesser player just because of his position?
DONUT 10: B.A.A.
I like to call the philosophy "B.A.A.'' -- standing for "Best Athlete Available'' -- because "BAAAAA'' is fun to pronounce on the radio. It's not a literal concept (I'm not suggesting Dallas draft Usain Bolt or Bruce Jenner or Dez Bryant) and it's not an inflexible one, because there can be "ties'' in terms of who is "best'' and positional need can be that tiebreaker.
But listen to one of my scout buddies on Isaac:
"He can be the next Harrison Barnes, and if you want to get real dreamy about it, he could develop into a Kevin Durant. He's 6-11 with a 7-0 wingspan, he loves to defend, and the only reason he didn't score at Florida State is because he took only seven shots per game. In a different program, he might've scored 25 points per game.''
Now I don't want to be ridiculous here. "Isaac as KD''? C'mon.
But if you're an owner/GM and your scouting department hands you that report, are you still thinking it's "obvious'' that you must draft a point guard, no matter what?
DONUT 11: DIRK'S WISDOM
Dirk’s greatest wisdom comes when he said, “I think sometimes the philosophy is to draft the best player that’s available at your pick, and some guys draft by position. I think we’ll just have to go and see. I’ve been obviously in the war room a couple times now, and you always have this plan. But if you don’t have the first pick, you know, and things just don’t go as planned, everything and the whole plan is out the window. So, I think you can make all the plans you want, but you have to be spontaneous once you’re in there and react, and hopefully find a player who can play, can contribute and has a bright future. The good thing is the draft is deep, I guess, with a lot of good players, and we’ll see who we end up with.’’
DONUT 12: THE FINAL WORD
Have a plan … but also be ready for anything?
That’s an ideal way for the Dallas Mavericks to approach this point-guard heavy draft.