When Taking a Shot in the Dark, Aim Up

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 15, 2009 under Commentary | 4 Comments to Read

The Mavs have been linked to the Wizards and their number 5 pick in the draft for sometime now, with Jordan Hill’s name making the rounds.  Most indications point to Hill being a solid basketball player, but he’s hardly bound for stardom; Hill’s strengths are matched by sizeable limitations, indicators that Hill may be a contributor on the next level but won’t sniff the glory his price tag suggests.  If the Mavs can snag Hill for a combination of expiring deals, that’s spectacular.  But with Washington poised to make a run at the playoffs with a healthy Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood, how does that even seem like a remote possibility?  Dumping the contracts of a player like Etan Thomas may seem like an attractive possibility, but does a pure salary dump really make any sense with the Wiz over the cap for the foreseeable future and almost certainly above the luxury tax line?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the incentive from a financial perspective.  For Abe Polin and the Wiz’s ownership, saving a dollar is saving a dollar.  But does it really make sense to sell out the 5th pick for only the slightest of profit margins?  Unless Josh Howard or Jason Terry are involved, a swap for the no. 5 just doesn’t seem to make much sense at all for Washington.

Beyond that, what sense does it even make for the Mavs?  Hill will be able to play immediately, but he can’t be expected to be an especially effective starter.  Playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, and Jason Terry would seem beneficial to any rookie, but we still can’t expect Hill to make a tremendous amount of noise during his rookie campaign.  Maybe the thought process is that he doesn’t have to for the Mavs to be successful.  I wouldn’t be too sure.  If the Mavs move either Terry or Howard for Hill, it’s certainly a step down.  If they move Erick Dampier for Hill, it’s likely a lateral move for the first year at best.  The only exception would be a salary dump deal centered around Jerry Stackhouse, but that seems like an impossibility given the value of such a high pick (even in an off year).  Jordan Hill isn’t the type of talent that’s worth setting the team back, especially during the later stages of Dirk, Kidd, and JET’s careers.  He’s likely not going to turn into an otherworldly force that could justify that commitment and that sacrifice, and trading members of the current core for him would be a pretty big mistake.

All that said, what if Hill really isn’t the apple of the Mavs’ eye?  What if, in a bit of pre-draft shenanigans, the Mavs are insistent upon raising a Jordan Hill smokescreen?

Blake Griffin will be off the board, and Ricky Rubio and Hasheem Thabeet could likely be as well.  The Kings have been linked to Rubio, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Jonny Flynn, and Alf.  So who exactly may be left at 5?  Better players than Jordan Hill, that’s for damn sure.

Personally, I’d like the Mavs (supposing a trade up in the draft can actually be had) to take one of two players.

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

The first is James Harden.  Harden is essentially what the Mavs crave in a shooting guard, but he’s way out of their league pick-wise.  Harden’s a surefire top 5 pick in my eyes, combining a tenacious ability to score from long-range or around the basket with tough, physical defense and good size (6’5”, almost a 6’11” wingspan).  He’s as close to NBA-ready as any prospect in the draft, especially those on the wings, and in my opinion he’d have a seamless plug-in into the starting lineup alongside Kidd and Josh Howard.  He’s not lightning fast and he’s not oversized, but Harden’s style offensively and defensively and his size would make him an ideal candidate for a franchise 2-guard to succeed Terry.

Photo from BrandonJennings.net.

The second, and to me the more intriguing, is Brandon Jennings.  It’s dubious as to whether or not Jennings will even be available at 5 (although the same is true of Harden, who has been linked to the Thunder and even the Grizzlies), but Jennings being gone at 4 means that one of the other top prospects (Rubio, Thabeet, Harden…not Griffin) would have to fall to the 5 spot.  Good news, meet good news.

Jennings is a real deal, fast as hell point guard.  He’s confident, he’s skilled, and he once rocked the high top fade.  He’s bold (even brash) and clearly a willing risk-taker.  Jennings could be exactly the type of athlete that could usher in a new era of Mavs’ success, and I’m not alone in thinking he’ll be something truly special.  He’s got the bravado and the skills to bring some serious star power to the franchise, and it’s time the Mavs start planning for life after Kidd.  Whether or not that life begins this summer or in summers to come is up to the Mavs and Jason to decide, but assuming he can’t keep playing forever, a realistic successor needs to be waiting in the wings.  He has the potential to be one of the league’s best point guards, and a playing style that would make him a killer off the bench in the short-term.  Others may see the risk in Jennings, but from the tape I’ve seen of him, he’s a sure thing.  This guy could be absolutely stellar as a NBA point guard, and I can only hope the Mavs can leap up the draft to nab him.

With either Jennings or Harden likely available, the logic behind picking Jordan Hill doesn’t stick.  If you want an instant contribution, Harden is the man.  He’s a cure-all at the 2, bringing the shooting that Antoine Wright lacks, the defense missing from JET’s game, and the size Barea can never fully compensate for.  If you want star power, Jennings has it in spades.  His game is tremendous, he’ll sell jerseys, and he’ll be your point guard for the next decade.  There’s plenty to like in either candidate, and plenty to prefer over Jordan Hill.  Can Hill be productive in the NBA, and, can he even compete at the center position?  The Mavs already have enough of a minutes problem at the 4 with Dirk and Brandon Bass, and if Hill doesn’t pan out as a good enough interior defender (the evidence, but statistical and anecdotal, doesn’t go in his favor), the Mavs are put in quite a pickle.  It’s one thing if Hill is simply a Brandon Bass insurance policy, safeguarding the team from a compensation-less departure from Bass.  But it’s another entirely if the Mavs plan on making Dirk, Bass, and Hill coexist peacefully in the minutes column and on the defensive end.  Why take that chance when there are better prospects available?  Why force Hill to play out of position when a natural 2-guard and the point guard of the future are right at your fingertips?  The answer lies either in a smokescreen or under layers of psychosis in a Mavs front office deluded into false prophecies of Hill’s success alongside Dirk.  Some of that success may be found, but at what cost?

  • Ryan M

    Keep your eye on Curry. He is going to rise up draft boards in a big way…possibly up to Memphis at #2. When he measured in at almost 6’3″, teams (including Dallas) took notice. He has combo skills and can spell both Kidd/JET. Love this kid if Dallas can get him.

  • http://www.2ndroundreach.com Brendan K.

    I love Harden for the Mavs, and I’m glad that somebody else sees him like I do. Actually, you might be a little higher on him than me. While I certainly see the potential, I like him as sort of a guaranteed investment- I cannot imagine him not being a starter-quality SG at the pro level.

    The only thing that would make high-top fade-era Brandon Jennings cooler is if he played with a PF in goggles. And everybody wears shorter shorts.

  • Crawford

    I commented on the wrong post I guess, but what are y’all’s thoughts on this:

    3-Pronged approach:

    Chad Ford suggested Vince Carter for Wizards #5 and expiring contracts was plausible…could we not send Josh Terry and Barea instead for the same return? Wouldn’t that be better. (Wiz get their veteran 2 guard sharpshooter, + a great bench guy) Mavs get MORE expiring contracts, and a crack at a legit PG (jennings, holiday) or Harden as the new 2.

    Then…Josh Smith for Josh Howard + fillers seems like the PERFECT deal for both teams. Why not?

    Then…We STILL have Dampier’s favorable contract, and Stackhouse’s expiring to piece something else together…if we want to get crazy with Shaq or pry Kaman or Camby away or try to pick up someone via sign and trade.

    I mean this would be a total coup right?

    -Resign Kidd.
    -Keep Bass.
    -Upgrade small forward and get serious defense. Josh for Josh.
    -Get backcourt player of the future (PG or SG) for Terry.
    -Maintain cap flexibilty with expirings, and don’t eliminate any of our chips to try and steal a big man (Chandler, Kaman, Shaq, etc.)

  • Crawford

    What do you guys think about this crazy option:

    Mavs Trade:
    Sign and Trade Kidd (7 million / 3 years)
    Trade Matt Carroll (5.5 million / 4 years!)

    Lakers Trade:
    Sign and Trade Ariza (8 million / 4 years)
    Trade Derek Fisher (4 million / 1 year expiring contract)

    That truly allows us to pursue homeruns with Josh Howard and Jason Terry, because we have our athletic deepshooting wingman. I am a JKidd fan, and will not be disappointed if we re-sign him, his experience makes us contenders now.

    Is there anyone else out there that is ready to run the point for this team. Could Fisher do it for a year, getting the ball to Dirk on the block / Josh Smith in transition / Ariza in the corner …while hitting the big 3′s we need?

    Thoughts?