Mavs Donuts: Dallas’ NBA Draft Gameplan On Isaac Vs. Ntilikina

Frank Ntilikina is saying nice things about the Knicks. The Mavericks are saying nice things about Frank … and about Jonathan Isaac. What will Dallas do if both are available? What about a trade? What shuffle could cause the Mavs to hustle to grab a second pick? NBA Draft strategy from inside Mavs HQ, here:

DONUT 1: FRANK AND ISAAC

The Dallas Mavericks think very highly of both Frank Ntilikina and Jonathan Isaac. My impression is that right now — pending Dallas’ desire to bring the 6-11 Florida State forward Isaac to town for a visit — that Ntilikina is just a half-a-notch behind Isaac on the Big Board as we approach June 22.

Image result for Frank Ntilikina vs. Jonathan Isaac

So what are the machinations here?

And what are the options here?

DONUT 2: ‘PENCIL HIM IT’

The Mavs’ interest in Ntilikina (as they pick ninth) is deep. As we write here, Donnie Nelson and top assistants have traveled to Europe at least twice to see the 6-5, 180-pound French point guard, and on Saturday — in a break from Frank helping his French team to advance to the its finals — a vacationing Dallas owner Mark Cuban joined the gang and all enjoyed breakfast in Italy.

Image result for Frank Ntilikina

“Pencil him in at 9?’’ I asked a source close to this situation, and I got a “yes.’’

DONUT 3: A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND

But the New York Knicks (picking eighth) are also intrigued by “French Frank’’ … and the feeling seems mutual.

“The Knicks (have) a good history,’’ he told the New York Post this week. “The game they play – the triangle offense – is close to the game I play in France with my team. A lot of movement. I think to play over there, I would fit with them. It would be great to play for them. … The atmosphere is very good in New York — the way they live over there, I like it a lot. I talked to people there and loved them. To be in that atmosphere, it gave me a lot of motivation to work harder and have my dream.”

Maybe Ntilikina, just 18, is wise enough to whisper sweet nothings in the direction of all his potential new destinations. And maybe New York is wise enough to show grand interest in him … but in also liking 

Kentucky combo guard Malik Monk and N.C. State scoring point guard Dennis Smith Jr. at least as much as they like Ntilikina.

DONUT 4: TAKE ‘EM, KNICKS!

Smith or Monk to NYC would please Dallas. The Mavs think more highly of Ntilikina — his game and his fit into Dallas’ desire for a distributing point guard — than they do of Smith and Monk.

But we cannot yet know what the Knicks will certainly do there. Same with all of the other teams ahead of them … though it is Dallas’ job to know, as much as possible, what those clubs’ plans are.

New York matters there.

Minnesota does, too.

DONUT 5: TRADING WITH THE T’WOLVES

I think it’s time for us to sniff around the idea of a trade-ahead of the Knicks, so Dallas can get the pick from Minnesota at No. 7. 

And this is just one example of where those “machinations’’ and “options’’ come into play.

Can you deal with Mine and involve the acquisition of point guard Ricky Rubio in such a swap? Oh, and don’t worry about acquiring both Rubio and Ntilikina; he’s a project — one source suggests he should probably do some D-League duty in Frisco — and Rubio’s presence would pacify the Help-Dirk-Go-For-It-In-His-Farewell crowd.

Can you do this in a way that allows Minnesota to land big shooter Lauri Markkanen (to whom they’ve long been linked) while also attaining an asset/dumping an asset in the process?

As Minny moving Rubio makes sense on a number of levels, especially as we hear rumors of the T’Wolves’ thoughts on pursuing a free-agent point guard to team with young Kris Dunn, can Dallas be the team that gives them that point guard? (Devin Harris? JJ Barea?) Can Dallas make a move that gets it off a contract? (Wes Matthews or Dwight Powell? The Mavs keep telling us “no’’ on Wes, but we keep hammering away at it. And Dwight? He’s “The Faultless Albatross,’’ as we write here.)

Hey, if you want to be creative about future team-building a cap-building … is this the time and the place to trade away Seth Curry, before you face the summer-of-2018 challenge of re-signing him?

Hey, if you review our exclusive coverage of the Mavs’ pre-Draft visit names. … you sure do see a lot of 2-guards, eh?

DONUT 6: SIT WITH SACTO

While Minnesota may be the “pivot’’ team for Dallas, I want the Mavs on the phone with the Kings, too.

The Kings pick at Nos. 5 and 10. As we’ve reported, they’ve had a difficult time getting all the agents and all their clients to play nice with them.

Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox is not among those Negative Nancies.

That’s unfortunate for the Mavs, who love Fox even more than they like Isaac and Ntilikina. Go with Markelle Fultz to Boston and Lonzo Ball to the Lakers. (Well, unless Josh Jackson's extended visit this week with LA changes that.) The Sixers pick at 3 and the Suns at 4 and along with Monk as a factor in Philly you have to imagine Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson being gone around there.

Put Fox at 5 to the Kings. Man, if I’m Dallas, I’m triple-checking to make sure Fox is as comfy with the idea as he claims. But fine. Fox at 5.

We keep hearing Dennis Smith Jr. (who Dallas wants to bring in for an invite but who I believe is telling the Mavs he prefer they go to him for a workout) being connected to Orlando at 6.

Then, at we note above at 7, it gets interesting with Minny. Markkanen over Isaac? Really? And is there a Tatum/Jackson push-down here?

If the Knicks take Monk at 8, the Mavs have their biggest and best Big Board argument: Isaac vs. Ntilikina.

As I’ve said before in this space, that’s not a prediction. But it sure would be fun.

Now … both guys on the board. ... the Kings picking next at 10, having already taken a point guard in Fox. So between Frank and Isaac, they obviously want Dallas to take the point guard so they can take the forward.

And you call the Kings. And you they them you’re taking Isaac at 10 … leaving them arguably empty-handed … and you work a trade to acquire No. 10.

Ya’ll want Wes, who you once liked? You want Curry, who you once mistakenly didn’t like enough? Future picks? How can I help you?

A pipedream to get Ntilikina AND Isaac? Sure. But remember Dirk Nowitzki’s words here on Draft Room preparedness:

“You know, I’ve seen Cuban with three phones on his head and Donnie with eight phones, and things happen there so quick. … 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.’’

I just want the Mavs to have all those phones on all those ears. And, hey, maybe ready to find TWO players who have bright futures.

DONUT 7: ACQUIRING MORE PICKS

This is a fun debate, led by our David Lord on DBcom Boards, on just how valuable it is to grab an extra pick. D-Lord’s not so sure it should be a major focus. I think this year, as much as ever, with the depth of the draft and the add of the 16-17 Men, it’s critical.

I also think the list of the guys Dallas has examined and featured as pre-Draft visitors establishes that they think it’s critical, too. Look at all the names I’ve assembled of either guys who have visited or who are on Dallas’ visit wish list that qualify as (once you get behind the first few) as “lesser lights”:

On one level, the high-profile wish list, from the story we broke here:

Jonathan Isaac

Malik Monk

Dennis Smith Jr.

Donovan Mitchell

Zack Collins

Luke Kennard

Justin Jackson (UNC)

On another level, from mid-round to UDFA, from our exclusive info here and here:

Tony Bradley (UNC)

Davon Reed (Miami)

LJ Peak (Georgetown)

Bronson Koenig (Wisconsin)

Peter Jok (Iowa)

Reggie Upshaw (Middle Tennessee)

Nik Slavica (Croatia)

Eric Mika (BYU)

Luke Fischer (Marquette)

Jacob Wiley (E. Washington)

Jalen Moore (Utah St.)

JaCorey Williams (Middle Tennessee)

Deonte Burton (Iowa St.)

Malcolm Hill (Illinois)

Zak Irvin (Michigan)

Andrew White (Syracuse)

Wesley Alves Da Silva (Brazil)

Jeremy Senglin (Weber St.)

Paris Lee (Illinois St.)

DeWayne Russell (Grand Canyon)

Zach LeDay (Virginia Tech)

Jamel Artis (PITT)

Michael Young (PITT)

Kris Jenkins (Villanova)

Scoochie Smith (Dayton)

And yet, did they get treated like “lesser lights’’? Not by Mavs management and not by the Mavs vets, either. I talked to Scoochie about his experience in Dallas and he noted that the night before the workout, he and the other kids were invited to go to the movies to see “Baby Driver.’’

Their hosts? Wesley Matthews, Devin Harris and Harrison Barnes.

DONUT 8: DIRK’S DEAL

Much is about to be written about Nowitzki’s contract and it’ll all be overblown. This was NEVER going to be a two-year, $50-million deal.’’ That was a one-year contract, and by June 29, Dallas will have let pass the deadline to pick up his option, and he’ll be free … and then he’ll return to the team under whatever contract is franchise-helpful. (Room-MLE or more, or less, down to vet’s minimum.)

No, the bigger Dirk issue is about the direction of the team.

As I said above, we can get so caught up in “Doing Right By Dirk’’ that we lose sight of the long-term play.

You want 12 good months? Or 12 good years?

You want both? Fine. Then acquire vets on contracts that go away just in time … and exploit this draft and this moment for all of its depth and all of its promise.

DONUT 9: THE LITTLE PIECES

That means …

*Knowing how and when to trade DeAndre Liggins, as we detail here.

*Executing signings in a particular order, as we detail here in “Four Moving Parts.’’

*Putting all the eggs in ALL the baskets, in a way that can allow you to manipulate the draft in your favor but in a way that can also allow you to manipulate your cap in your favor. You want to pursue Otto Porter or True Holiday? Make sure you combine that with what you do in the draft — the “Anti-Dwight Howard/Greek Freak’’ Approach, basically.

DONUT 10: THE BIG PIECE, AND WHEN

Speaking of spending now via free agency:

Is 2017 the right time to try to eke out some cap room? You’re not getting Hayward or Griffin, and many of the other targets are restricted guys. (The pursuit of whom screws up the order of your ducks in a row, as not only do you have to get Dirk’s room, but you also need to make another money-dump … all for a RFA you might never get.)

Would it be better to save the money move for summer of 2018? Summer of 2019?

Does Cuban have that sort of patience? Do MFFLs? 

Do you?

DONUT 10: IF IT’S NEITHER

What if we get to 9 and somehow Frank and Isaac are gone?

I’m back into the trade game. By that time, the Mavs expect to have a good feel for later-lotto guys like Donovan Mitchell and Zack Collins and Luke Kennard and Justin Jackson. (Read why by searching their names here). But those guys are not worthy of pick No. 9.

I find a team who wants ‘em. And I bail.

This, by the way, is another motivation for making sure I’m talking to Portland (a trio of first-round picks that the Blazers need to relieve themselves of) and Orlando (a high second). We detail those thoughts and plans on moving up and down from No. 9 here.

DONUT 11: IF IT’S NTILIKINA

The Mavs clearly think this is viable.

We’ve got an expansive video scouting report on Ntilikina here. He’s a long, smart, unselfish, personable kid who will need to grow into adulthood in Dallas … and if he does can be a star.

Toss this log on the fire, too: Frank can play off the ball, can play some 2, can shoot well enough to be a combo guy. … even though he’s “pass-first.’’

DONUT 12: IF IT’S ISAAC …

To repeat: I’m not sure Minny really takes Markkanen over Isaac. I’m not sure Isaac really lasts until 9.

But he does, what do the Mavs get? 

My scouts love the 6-11 forward from Florida State. They say he enjoys playing defense and can guard multiple positions, and that only because FSU didn’t feed him the ball did he not score 20 points per. He’s skinny, but that’s the only thing holding him back from a shot at stardom.

DONUT 13: AND THE FINAL WORD TRICKLE-DOWN

If Dallas does not get a pass-first point guard at No. 9 … regardless of a trade made for a vet, the Mavs will try to acquire one later in this draft.

This is a very specific movement from inside Mavs HQ: There will be Mavs execs pushing to get back into the late first/second hoping to get their hands on a name like Jawun Evans, Edmund Summer, Kobi Simmons and a guy I have an affinity for, 6-5 Derrick White of Colorado.

Is all of this specific enough for us as we are just over a week out before the NBA Draft? It’s a good start, I believe, along with my invitation to you to get even more inside info on your Dallas Mavericks by becoming a Premium Mavs Fan … or by joining DBcom Boards, which is free and loaded with the good stuff.

Welcome aboard - and Happy Championship Anniversary, Mavs!


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