The Mavericks’ draft history is better than you think

DALLAX, TX - JUNE 23: Donnie Nelson, Mark Cuban, Dennis Smith Jr., Rick Carlisle and Michael Finley of the Dallas Mavericks introduce their 2017 draft pick Dennis Smith Jr. during at a press conference on June 23, 2017 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Glen James/NBAE via Getty Images)
DALLAX, TX - JUNE 23: Donnie Nelson, Mark Cuban, Dennis Smith Jr., Rick Carlisle and Michael Finley of the Dallas Mavericks introduce their 2017 draft pick Dennis Smith Jr. during at a press conference on June 23, 2017 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Glen James/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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The general consensus among NBA fans is that the Mavericks aren’t very good at drafting and developing players. But when you look through their former draft picks and compare them to other teams, a different story emerges.

“That can’t be,” you’re probably saying. “The Mavericks haven’t drafted a player that became an all-star since Josh Howard. They suck at drafting.

Well, here’s the thing: you’re right and you’re wrong. Yes, the last draft pick made by the Mavericks that became an all-star was Howard in 2003. He’s the only player picked by the Mavericks to become an all-star since Mark Cuban took over the team in 2000. That sounds bad, but it’s not as terrible as you think.

Let’s take a look at the San Antonio Spurs. The Mavericks’ in-state rivals are known for their drafting prowess. If Dallas could just pick players the way R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich have the last couple of decades, the Mavericks would be a Western Conference powerhouse. Right?

Well…the Spurs have a similar record to the Mavericks when it comes to drafting star players. Since 2000, the Spurs have only drafted two all-stars: Tony Parker and Goran Dragic, the latter of whom they flipped to the Suns almost immediately after picking him. So technically, yes, the Spurs have drafted two all-stars since 2000, but it’s really just one: Parker.

What about the Boston Celtics? Surely Danny Ainge has drafted more than one all-star with one of the 671 draft picks he’s amassed. (Side-note: yes, Ainge wasn’t GM until 2003 and he hasn’t actually had 671 picks. But just go with it. I’m making a point.) Guess what? The Celtics have only drafted one all-star since 2000. Joe Johnson. Yes, that Joe Johnson. Iso Joe. He only played 48 games for Boston before being traded to the Suns (how is Phoenix so bad?).

This could change, of course, if Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum become all-stars, but the point is that it’s hard to draft players that become all-stars. The only team I could find who has drafted more than three all-stars since 2000 was Golden State (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and…Gilbert Arenas). The draft is such a crap shoot. You just never know when or where you’ll find a star.

“Well, the Spurs and Celtics have drafted serviceable rotation players who have good NBA careers,” you’re saying. “That’s where they have the advantage on the Mavericks.”

Again, you’re sort of right and sort of wrong. Yes, the Spurs have drafted quality players who have gone on to have solid careers. They picked players like Luis Scola, Leandro Barbosa, former Maverick Ian Mahinmi, and George Hill. All four have made significant contributions to teams that made deep playoff runs.

The Mavericks haven’t done as well in this regard. But they have drafted players like Kelly Olynyk, Justin Anderson, and Tyler Zeller. They’re not as solid as the Spurs mentioned above, but that’s a little evidence that when the Mavericks put their minds to it, they can draft quality players, no matter where they’re picking. Dallas isn’t bad at drafting. They’ve just chosen to build their team differently.

Dallas doesn’t do the draft and develop game. It’s not that they’re bad at it. It’s just that they refuse to play. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson decided long ago they would improve the team via free agency and trades. You can disagree with that strategy if you want; there are times I do. But just because Dallas has chosen to ship out picks and young players for win-now veterans doesn’t mean they’ve failed at drafting.

Next: NBA mock draft 4.0: Best case scenario

The Mavericks are far from being one of the best scouting and drafting teams in the NBA. They’re not, however, bad. Not like everyone thinks. At worst, they’re about league average. But there’s some evidence that when they want to, the Mavericks can draft as well as anyone. Let’s hope they’re laser-focused on this year’s draft.