In the past few years, the Dallas Mavericks have consistently ranked near the oldest based on average age. This season, they were ranked 31st out of 32 NBA teams with an average age of 29.7 years old. Of course, age is not necessarily correlated with team performance. Two of the title contenders this year, the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers, were ranked 32nd and 30th in average age respectively. However, in contrast to those two teams, the Dallas Mavericks are not currently a title contender. Although they surpassed expectations by making the playoffs, they were far from matching the high level of the Western Conference’s powerhouse teams. Thus, this old average age may lead to a more arduous rebuilding process when the legendary and franchise cornerstone Dirk Nowitzki retires.
With the exception of the 2012-13 season, the Dallas Mavericks have consistently made the playoffs, which has in turn led to lower draft picks. While he is certainly one of the top coaches in the league, Rick Carlisle is not exactly known for developing young players. Many of these picks are often given very little playing time. Instead, veterans are given the bulk of the minutes in order for the Mavericks to win in the short term. With that said, it is important to analyze some of the Maverick’s draft picks since their championship season in 2011-12, and the team’s long-term rebuilding process.
In 2012, the Dallas Mavericks had the 17th pick and the 55th pick. They traded the 55th pick to the Lakers for cash considerations. With the 17th pick, they chose Tyler Zeller, and then promptly traded him along with Kelenne Azubuike for 24th pick Jared Cunningham, 33rd pick Bernard James and 34th pick Jae Crowder. Jared Cunningham turned out to be a bust, but Bernard James, though now out of the league, did a decent job filling in as center at times for the rebounding-starved Dallas Mavericks. Jae Crowder has done a good job as a starter for the Boston Celtics, and has excelled as a defender. On the Mavericks, Crowder received extremely inconsistent minutes due to the surplus of veterans such as Vince Carter and Shawn Marion at his position. Despite Jared Cunningham and Bernard James not even becoming role players, the initial trade was decent given that Jae Crowder probably has more value right now than Tyler Zeller. However, the Dallas Mavericks did an extremely poor job developing Jae Crowder, and traded him away to the Celtics where he has filled in admirably. It is worth noting that Mavericks and many other teams missed out on Festus Ezeli, Draymond Green, and Khris Middleton, who were picked up with the 30th, 35th, and 39th picks respectively.
In 2013, with the 13th pick, the Dallas Mavericks selected Kelly Olynyk, and then traded him for 16th pick Lucas Nogueira and two future second round draft picks. They then traded Lucas, 2012 24th draft pick Jared Cunningham, and the 44th pick Mike Muscala for the 18th pick Shane Larkin. Overall, this draft was not a success. None of Lucas Nogueria, Jared Cunningham, and Mike Muscala play consistent minutes, but the undersized Shane Larkin had a very brief stint in Dallas. At the time, the point guard position was one of concern for the Mavericks, but Shane Larkin wasn’t the answer. It didn’t help that he received very little playing time. Keeping Kelly Olynyk, who has turned out to be a solid rotational player for the Celtics, may have been a better choice.
In 2014, the Dallas Mavericks had no draft picks. In 2015, they selected Justin Anderson and Satnam Singh Bhamara with the 21st and 52nd picks respectively. Given that Satnam Singh Bhamara was the 52nd pick, he was a long shot, and he received little playing time even as a member of the Texas Legends, the D-League affiliate of the Mavericks. Justin Anderson, however, has been the first Mavericks draft pick since Jae Crowder to show potential. Once Rick Carlisle had a bit more trust in him later in the season, he was often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s most explosive player. If he can continue to work on his shot and accrue game experience, he has a good chance of playing meaningful minutes in the future. It is also worth noting that the Mavericks picked up Salah Mejri prior to the beginning of the season, who played solid minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder in an attempt to counter their dominant frontcourt in the paint.
In the next few years, the Dallas Mavericks will certainly continue to try to compete for a championship as long as Dirk Nowitzki continues to play. But afterwards, the Dallas Mavericks will face an unclear future. If the Mavericks continue to finish in the middle of the pack, this dilemma may only grow worse. They aren’t good enough to contend for a championship in the short term, but also are just good enough such that they won’t have the necessary high draft picks to develop for the future.
The Dallas Mavericks have two potentially valuable assets in Justin Anderson and Salah Mejri, but other than that, they haven’t hit on a draft pick who remains on the team, which is understandable given that all have been late first round and second round picks rather than high lottery picks. Of course, the Dallas Mavericks could immediately become title contenders if they convince a young superstar to join the team during free agency. But because the Mavericks have few attractive assets and due to the dearth of such superstars, this scenario remains a mere pipe dream. The other strategy would be to tank a few seasons like the Philadelphia 76ers and hope to hit on the next Dirk Nowitzki. This strategy would be boring for the fans and run counter to the Maverick’s development of a winning culture. Furthermore, given Rick Carlisle’s history of developing draft picks and his strategy of giving rookies very little playing time, Dallas Mavericks’ fans could be in for a long ride.