Why Now?

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 24, 2011 under Commentary, News, Roster Moves, Video | 24 Comments to Read

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The Mavericks have acquired Rudy Fernandez (and the draft rights for 2007 selection Petteri Koponen, a footnote which may or may not have relevance) in exchange for the 26th and 57th picks in yesterday’s draft. As far as draft day trades go, this one isn’t horrible; the Mavs aren’t the Kings, who somehow talked themselves into acquiring John Salmons while losing Beno Udrih and trading down in the draft at the same time. But if you’re looking for the logic in a move like this one, I see little.

It all comes down to what Dallas surrendered. Selected with the 26th pick was Texas sophomore Jordan Hamilton, a player who can functionally perform a lot of the same roles that Fernandez can. He doesn’t come without his own faults (Hamilton looks at the rim almost lustfully with each catch on the perimeter), but Hamilton eclipses Fernandez’s utility while still holding that infinite potential of youth.

In Rudy, the Mavs have acquired a streaky shooter who, for the most part, comes up errant. Fernandez shot 37 percent from the field and 32 percent from three last season, and though 2010-2011 was without question the worst campaign of Fernandez’s three-year NBA career, he doesn’t exactly have a healthy body of work to rule that year as an aberration. We know Fernandez can be better (particularly from three-point range; Rudy connected on 40 percent of his threes during his rookie season), but there should be legitimate concern over whether he’ll be able to return to his previous shooting marks.

Unfortunately, that kind of pessimism is what clouds discussions of Fernandez’s basketball strengths. Offense is supposed to be the side of the ball where Fernandez makes his living, and yet over the last two seasons, his offensive performance has been wholly underwhelming. Things only get worse on the defensive end, where Rudy scrambles plenty without accomplishing much at all. He has a pretty worrisome gambling problem; he’ll abandon good defensive position in a second to chase a pass he has no business chasing — and that’s when he’s even in the right defensive position in the first place. Fernandez isn’t a replacement for DeShawn Stevenson, but an even more limited stopgap, capable of possibly replicating Stevenson’s three-point shooting while falling well short of his defensive performance. Fernandez just isn’t anywhere near the defender that Stevenson is, and though Jordan Hamilton is similarly lacking in defensive ability, he’s 20 years old, long, and athletic. I have more hope for Hamilton finding religion as a defender than Fernandez, and while that hope could ultimately prove to be misplaced, I think the “he is who he is,” perspective on Fernandez is tough to refute.

Plus, Fernandez withered when he wasn’t handed the minutes he expected and was forced to compete for playing time in Portland. Based on Rick Carlisle’s rotational habits, why exactly should we expect any different result in Dallas? Fernandez has a fresh start, but he may find that Carlisle and Nate McMillan share in some particularly inconvenient elements of their coaching philosophy. “Stay ready,” which became the mantra of the Mavs’ role players last season, doesn’t quite seem to fit with Fernandez’s understanding of the team concept.

Maybe Fernandez will find new life in Dallas, but at best he’s an active offensive participant, a three-point threat, and a defensive liability. Couldn’t Hamilton be capable of the same, while giving the Mavs another interesting piece for the future? Dallas is rightfully looking to maximize on their current core, but the drive to acquire veterans has led them to one who holds all of the weaknesses of the prospect they could have had without any of the potential long-term strengths.

They Smell Like the Future: A Sampling

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 23, 2011 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

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Even though this year’s draft isn’t all-important to the Mavs given the strength of their rotation and the number of quality young players already in waiting, their impending decision in tonight’s festivities still deserves a bit of consideration. Here’s a closer look at a few of the more intriguing options likely to fall into Dallas’ draft range.

Davis Bertans
Union Olimpija Ljubljana
6’10”, 210 lbs.
18 years old

Nikola Mirotic
Real Madrid
6’10”, 210 lbs.
20 years old

To those of us who lack the resources to properly evaluate international prospects, Bertans and Mirotic are symbolic of a particular draft strategy more than they are standalone assets. Right now, they mean little to us outside of what we can find in second-hand scouting reports and scrounged video; though DraftExpress and similar sites are invaluable resources, when it comes to Bertans and Mirotic, DX and the like are describing physical realities to the blind. We may be able to conjure what some of the descriptions mean, but we’ll never be able to grasp them in their full context, much less be able to create informed opinions for ourselves.

So, should David Stern announce that with the 26th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Dallas Mavericks select David Bertans (or Nikola Mirotic), we’ll know little more than the Mavs’ immediate plans to keep a player developing overseas while the current core runs its course. Dallas doesn’t need a rookie to step in immediately, and even if that were for some reason preferred, I’m not sure where in the rotation a rook would even be able to squeeze in. The D-League and Europe are the two most practical solutions for grooming whichever player the Mavs end up taking, and while it would be nice to develop that prospect under the watchful eyes of Nancy Lieberman and her staff in Frisco, playing competitive ball for a few years in a good European league is a suitable alternative.

Josh Selby
6’3”, 195 lbs.
20 years old

Selby is a pretty natural scorer, and could make a lot of sense for Dallas as a third or fourth guard in a post-J.J. Barea world. Securing Barea’s services for next season is hardly a given, even if both parties want to see a deal completed; Dallas won’t be in a position to offer Barea what he could probably make on the open market, and for a player who hasn’t seen any kind of exorbitant riches in his pro career, that kind of money could be rather enticing. Regardless, Selby figures to fill a similar role. He’s quick, a bit reckless, and a natural scorer. He has a lot to learn about running an offense (much like Barea did when the Mavs first found him, and much like Barea still does, in a way), but his aptitude as a scorer is obvious.

The biggest question is if Dallas really has room for another guard, particularly with Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Caron Butler, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, and possibly Barea and DeShawn Stevenson on the roster. Selby’s athleticism makes him worth a look, but his inefficiency and positional redundancy are understandable concerns. There’s not much to like in Selby’s shooting percentages, and his shot selection seems largely to blame. That will have to change; Selby won’t have a ton of room for error in his efforts to carve out a place for himself in the league, and though his aggressive scoring is one of his more attractive qualities as a player, he’ll need to find that happy place where he can score sufficiently without derailing the entire offense.

Other People:

Marc Spears, Yahoo Sports: “A year ago, Rivals.com viewed the former McDonald’s All-American as the top college prospect in the Class of 2010 over the likes of Kyrie Irving, Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger. The 20-year-old had a tough freshman season that included a suspension and injuries.

An NBA scout’s take: ‘He was one of the top three players coming out of high school in his class. He can be a sleeper in the right system.’”

Kevin Pelton, Basketball Prospectus, on his statistical system’s comparison to Keyon Dooling: “Of the college players in this year’s draft, Selby has the lowest similarity score. His Kansas stats don’t appear telling about his NBA potential, either positively or negatively.”

Supplementary Materials:

Justin Harper
6’9”, 230 lbs.
21 years old

Harper will likely be overlooked by many as a four-year college player who attended a mid-major, but he has a versatile offensive game that should translate fairly well to the next level. He’s known primarily for his work on the perimeter — Harper shot 44.8 percent from the college three in his senior season and is an effective cutter — but he’s also a competent rebounder and has the ability to create with his back to the basket. Harper isn’t a remarkable athlete, a fact which will undoubtedly work against him as a pro. Perimeter defense, in particular, is a bit of a concern, particularly when considering the variety of roles that Harper will likely be asked to fill in the NBA. He isn’t just a big or a wing or a power forward or a small forward; Harper will have to do a bit of everything, but without the physical tools that have allowed players like Shawn Marion to succeed. That limits his ceiling, but I still see good things for Harper — in the right system, he has the talent and skill necessary to become a regular NBA contributor.

The problem is that Harper doesn’t have much potential to be more than that. He has all the makings of a serviceable rotation player, but little more. For all of his offensive versatility, it’s hard to imagine Harper becoming a highly productive NBA player. He seems quite capable of having a successful pro career, but only if that success is evaluated on relative terms; Harper is a role player, and so long as he isn’t deemed to be more than he is, he should be a good value pick for a team late in the first round.

Other People:

Joey Whelan, DraftExpress: “‘The biggest difference with Justin is he’s doing all of this at 6-10,’ [Richmond head coach Chris] Mooney says. ‘It’s incredible that he has the kind of range and touch that he does at that size, in addition to all the other things he can do. He’s clearly one of the best shooters in the country, and again, it’s so unique given his size.’

And that’s where the tremendous intrigue of Harper’s game comes into focus. While the practice of evaluating international prospects with size and skill is an annual practice among NBA scouts, rare is the American college player that presents this kind of package at the high level that the Richmond senior does. While he certainly isn’t on the same level as Kevin Durant, it’s easy to make the argument that no college player has so closely resembled the current NBA star since he left the University of Texas four years ago.”

Matt Moore, Hardwood Paroxysm: “What do you have when you have everything? Justin Harper. Harper’s going to fit in well with the Mavericks as a versatile big. With Roddy Beaubois and Nique Jones, they don’t need backcourt help, and once Caron Butler gets back they have enough wings. Harper is positioned as a solid prospect that could turn into something special. He’s got good size, length, and frame, a nice elbow turnaround and a solid drop-step off-glass down low. He’ll get lost for a few years while this current core finishes its run, but he could also be part of the rebuilding plan for Dallas. He’ll likely spend time with the Legends.”

Supplementary Materials:

Tyler Honeycutt
6’8”, 190 lbs.
20 years old

It’s hard to read too much into the statistical production of UCLA players, but Honeycutt’s collection of skills piques my interest. His slight frame will likely be made into more of an issue than it really is; Honeycutt is thin and lanky, but he’s also 20 years old. He’s still very able to compete on both ends of the court, and though he would have some initial troubles defending in the post, he likely wouldn’t see the court for Dallas for at least a season or two.

Honeycutt isn’t going to take the NBA by storm, but he has definite sleeper potential. He rebounds quite well, particularly for his positional standards. He can handle the ball in a pinch (though not well enough to really run an offense, despite what his passing ability may have you believe), and potentially alleviate some of he offensive responsibilities of a point-guard-in-training like Rodrigue Beaubois or Dominique Jones. He’s a nice slasher, a smart passer, and an active defender to boot. The Tayshaun Prince comparisons are more than just aesthetic; both players’ offensive skill sets are quite similar, and Honeycutt has the same disruptive defensive potential. Honeycutt is still finding his way as a scorer, though, and hasn’t quite grasped the value of shot discretion. He doesn’t strike me as a particularly selfish player, but one who simply oversteps his bounds on offense. The do-it-all nature of Honeycutt’s game has perhaps pushed him too far into a shot-forcing extreme, and with a slight adjustment in his approach, his efficiency marks should be much more palatable.

Ultimately, I don’t see much that should keep Honeycutt from becoming a really solid NBA player. The biggest question is if Dallas will have a chance to select him at all, given the likelihood that he goes in the early 20s.

Other People:

Derek Bodner, DraftExpress: “Perhaps the most intriguing part of his game, and the part that may not translate immediately to the NBA level, is his passing ability. Honeycutt shows very good court vision for a player of his size, and a willingness – perhaps to a fault – to setup his teammates. The problem is he often forces the issue, making high risk passes that may not be the best option. He’ll need to improve his decision making and ball-handling ability to fully utilize his passing ability at the next level, which may limit a team’s desire to use him in a point forward role initially.

The biggest concern watching Honeycutt over the course of the season is possibly his aggressiveness and consistency. UCLA overall suffered from inconsistent play at the point guard position, and Howland’s system through the years hasn’t always been kind to off the ball perimeter players as it can have a steep learning curve. That being said, Honeycutt often times passed up opportunities and was far too often not aggressive enough for someone of his skill level. He has a reputation amongst scouts for not being particularly tough either mentally or physically, and his passivity clearly doesn’t help in this regard.”

Royce Young, Daily Thunder: “He’s not really an NBA ready impact player right now. He needs some filling out, needs to improve offensively and needs to get stronger. But there’s a lot of talent there and with a system built in Oklahoma City for development that includes patience with young players — something not too many other organizations have — Honeycutt could be a terrific pick at 24. There’s a lot of people that see the Thunder going the draft-and-stash route (myself included), but OKC could sort of do that with a guy like Honeycutt. Just put him in the D-League. A lot view the D-League as a demotion and somewhere a rookie drafted in the first round should never be, but the Thunder is a franchise that really values it as a developmental tool.”

Patrick Hayes, Piston Powered: “The lesson Eastern Conference teams should learn after playing Miami: you can never have too many long, athletic defenders to throw at Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. The Mavs were able to beat Miami in the Finals primarily because they had a parade of active perimeter guys who were always fresh going at James and Wade. Honeycutt will need to get stronger, but he was extremely versatile for UCLA, a good passer and a long-armed defensive player.”

Supplementary Materials:

Waiting, Willing, Growing

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 22, 2011 under Commentary | 7 Comments to Read

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The Dallas Mavericks have an odd history with the draft, largely due to their needs as a team failing to coincide with their position in the first round. That’s the price paid for being a perennial playoff team always on the brink of contention; Dallas has been very competitive over the last decade or so, but in exchange for that success, they’ve only selected a player earlier than the 21st pick (or acquired a player selected on draft night with a pick higher than No. 21) one time since 2000. It’s tough to find immediate help late in the first round, and though it can certainly be done (Josh Howard and Rodrigue Beaubois are two convenient in-house examples), those success stories will always be the exceptions to the norm.

Beyond the inherent difficulties in finding contributors late in the draft, Dallas has also long been a team without easily rectifiable weaknesses. The Mavericks have never been perfect, but their problems were more complex than mere positional defect; picks in the 20s (or even the late lottery) weren’t likely to produce players better than Devin Harris, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Erick Dampier, or DeSagana Diop with the immediacy needed. The lineup was set, it just hadn’t been quite good enough.

That much has changed with the whole winning the championship thing, but the Mavs, as is the case with any defending champion, still need to find ways to improve. This particular draft is not a sufficient means to achieve that improvement. There are some serviceable players in the bunch (along with a pinch of debatable star power up top), but the 26th pick won’t give Dallas a piece that will amount to anything within the context of their current rotation. So long as free agency isn’t an abject disaster, this 26th pick will be temporarily irrelevant; the Mavs have a chance to draft a player to stash away overseas or to bring along slowly, but the potential for an immediately capable contributor so late in this draft is virtually nonexistent.

Yet Dallas, possibly more than any other champion in NBA history, is ready to improve regardless of any additions to the team. Caron Butler’s return to the court — provided that he re-signs to the Mavs as is expected — is a big reason why; Dallas won the title without their second best scorer and one of their top perimeter defenders playing a single playoff minute, and plugging in his production in place of that of DeShawn Stevenson/Peja Stojakovic should result in a rather significant gain. Beyond Butler, though, Dallas has three capable young players who watched the Mavs’ unbelievable playoff run unfold from their courtside seats. Rodrigue Beaubois remains a prominent piece in the franchise’s future, even if he never could quite find the right gear during his sophomore campaign. Dominique Jones is an effective slasher, a capable ball-handler, and a physical on-ball defender. Corey Brewer is a bundle of energy that simply cannot be contained, and his defensive effort has a funny way of making good things happen for his team, even if his jumper is still a work in progress.

It certainly wouldn’t hurt if Dallas were picking earlier in the draft, but Brewer and Beaubois are studs compared to the talent in this year’s class, while Jones would likely figure in as a late lottery pick. That’s an astounding amount of talent waiting at the kids table, and more versatile as a group than any one particular prospect from this year’s lottery would be.

There’s a lot to celebrate in the wake of winning the NBA title, but Mavs fans have the luxury of not only living in the moment. Sip on that champagne. Rewatch Game 6. Scoop up all of the commemorative memorabilia that your arms can carry. But know that even without the draft, these Dallas Mavericks are in a position to be even better than the team that won the title in 2011.