Dallas Mavericks: Giving Hope to the Undrafted
With much talk surrounding high draft picks, the Dallas Mavericks have a roster full of players who went undrafted.
History in the NBA is often defined by high draft picks. From Michael Jordan to LeBron James, most of the best players in the history of the NBA found themselves being drafted high in the first round, and naturally so.
You also have the other set of stars who found themselves slipping into the bottom of the first round or even hearing their names called in the second round with much to prove. Players such as Dennis Rodman and Draymond Green became staples on championship teams after being drafted in the second round.
Then there’s the undrafted.
In the 1990’s, we saw a kid from Oklahoma State make a New York Knicks team where he would go on to be their starting shooting guard for much of the 90’s, even making the All-Star team in 1994. John Starks, mostly known for his monstrous dunk on Horace Grant in the playoffs, went from undrafted to a main piece on a playoff ready Knicks team led by Patrick Ewing.
In the early 2000’s, it was a defense stopper by the name of Bruce Bowen who led the way for the undrafted basketball family. With San Antonio needing a perimeter defender, they took the chance on Bowen and it was a match made in heaven. The Spurs went on to win three titles with Bowen as their starting small forward and primary defender.
Around the same time of Bowen, an under-sized big man with an afro in Detroit was making noise as an undrafted defensive star. Ben Wallace anchored a Detroit team that went to two consecutive Finals and won the title in 2004. He won the Defensive Player of the Year Award FOUR times and has the record for the most NBA games played by an undrafted player.
Now it’s Wesley Matthews turn to carry the mantle.
After spending four years at Marquette, Matthews found himself signing a free agent deal with the Utah Jazz before signing a long-term deal with the Portland Trail Blazers a year later. Known for his deadly outside shot and perimeter defense beside Damian Lillard, Matthews hit unrestricted free agency last summer as one of the better players on the market.
The once undrafted player out of Marquette found himself signing a four-year, $70 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks that would be the highest paid contract for an undrafted player in the history of the NBA.
Matthews, while recovery from his Achilles injury last summer, will always use the undrafted background for motivation. While wearing his own designed t-shirt that read UNDR2FT3D, Matthews talked to Eddie Sefko about his motivation behind it.
“I was a marketing and advertising major in college. So it’s something that obviously fuels me every single day. It fuels my journey. You never forget where you came from. And you never forget who you do it for and why you do it.
“It’s just a reminder and to let everybody know I’m outward with it. I was undrafted. I was overlooked, absolutely. And I’m going to try to kick your ass every single night, absolutely, and I want you to know that.”
But this wasn’t the first time Dallas has taken the chance on an undrafted player.
After playing all four years at Northeastern University, J.J. Barea went undrafted on draft night but found himself on an NBA roster come that November.
In filling out their roster, Dallas signed the undrafted, 6’0″ guard to a free agent contract in 2006 to come off the bench. As history would tell, Barea would spend the first five years of his career in Dallas that would be capped off with the franchise’s first and only NBA championship in 2011.
Barea averaged 9 points on over 18 minutes a game during the championship run while putting up 17 points in Game 5 of the Finals. From undrafted in 2006 to a key role in the championship run in 2011, Barea made his mark on the league.
Now, the veteran is back in Dallas after leading the Mavs to six straight wins at the end of last season to finish 6th in the Western Conference. In being one of the best (and cheapest) backup point guards in the league, Barea is not just a fan favorite, but a valuable piece to this new look Mavs team.
Then there is the Tunisian Tower.
Back last summer Mavs owner, Mark Cuban, started following on Twitter a big man from Tunisia that had been playing overseas for many years. A short time after, the Dallas Mavericks came to terms on a three-year partial guaranteed deal with Salah Mejri, a 29-year old who had spent the past couple of years playing for Real Madrid.
Coming in on a partial guaranteed deal, Mejri was looked at by many to be a simple training camp filler, but he had other plans. He came into camp and beat out veteran center, Samuel Dalembert for one of the backup front court players.
Fast forwarding an entire season, Mejri found himself as the starting center in the playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder and talking trash while he did it. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, James Harden and more all found themselves on the wrong end of the Mejri highlight reel this season.
From undrafted in Europe, to starting in the NBA playoffs, Dallas gave Salah Mejri the opportunity and he made the very best of it.
Now, Dallas looks to continue the trend by adding a plethora of undrafted players to the roster.
In what could be a steal for Dallas this season, the Mavericks signed the younger brother to Stephen Curry, Seth Curry, to a two-year deal worth around $6 million.
The undrafted Curry came out of Duke where he found himself bouncing around teams on 10-day contracts. After eventually sticking with the Sacramento Kings last year, Curry proved that he belonged in the league.
Curry played in 44 games last year and shot 45% from behind the arc. With him barely tapping into his potential last season, combined with the fact he is just 25-years old, Dallas jumped at the opportunity of adding the youngster with sharpshooting genes.
Could Seth Curry be the next undrafted project to excel in Dallas?
“At this point, 10 out of the 19 players under contract in Dallas were undrafted”
Similar to the Mejri deal last summer, Dallas has handed out partial guaranteed deals to summer league standout Jonathan Gibson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Kyle Collinsworth, Nicolas Brussino, Jameel Warney, and Keith Hornsby…all undrafted. With another camp invite still up for grabs, it’s possible Dallas could add to that number.
At this point, TEN out of the 19 players under contact in Dallas right now were undrafted. When the final 15 man roster is set this fall, there is a good possibility that Dallas will have at least six undrafted players on the roster; with Matthews, Barea, Curry, and Mejri being staples in the rotation.
Next: The Year of Wesley Matthews is Coming
There are many criticisms warranted in Dallas, but getting the most out of undrafted free agents is not one of them.