While most of the buzz surrounding tomorrow’s NBA Draft right now has to do with what the Boston Celtics will do with the No. 3 overall pick — whether they’ll trade it for a young player or use it on a top prospect is still in question — the Mavs might be paying careful attention to what Boston will do at No. 16.
That’s the pick Dallas ultimately sacrificed to the Celtics, along with three players and a second-round pick, for Dwight Powell and Rajon Rondo during the 2014-15 season. Had the Mavs found a way to make the deal without surrendering the pick, they’d be able to use that pick on a rising prospect. Instead, Dallas must wait until the second round, pick No. 46, to make a selection.
In most years, the second round is top-heavy. This year, however, it’s deeper than it’s been in some time.
It seems age is the biggest thing separating most players projected to fall to the second round from those who will be taken later in the first round. Many players in this draft with a second-round grade are 21 or 22, while it feels like more and more underclassmen are declaring for the draft year-by-year. While it’s nice to acquire a 19-year-old prospect with a high ceiling, the Mavs will instead be drafting a polished prospect with years of college experience, though generally those players have lower ceilings due to their advanced age.
One advantage when drafting older, and later: Players have been coached at a high level for longer, and they understand they must work incredibly hard in order to stay in this league, giving them a built-in hunger to get better. Think of guys the Mavs have drafted in the second round in recent seasons — Jae Crowder and Bernard James — and you’ll see that they have in common a selflessness and relentless work ethic, and that matters to a head coach like Rick Carlisle. Dallas struck gold last year by drafting Justin Anderson, a first-round talent with three years’ experience at the D-I level and the work ethic of a desperate second-rounder. That’s quite the package. Now it’s up to the Mavs to make it happen once again, albeit more than 20 picks later.
Of course, none of this means the Mavericks will stay at 46. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have already hinted they are interested in trying to move up, perhaps even as far as into the back end of the first round, if the price is right. There’s also the chance Dallas could buy a pick in the second round, or also trade back or even sell their own if the players they want in that range have already been taken. They could even draft-and-stash a player who plans to spend another couple years in Europe refining his game. The second round is absolutely wild in most drafts, and given the depth of this one, it could be even crazier than in a typical year.
But for the sake of this exercise, let’s assume the Mavericks will stay at No. 46. Who will they take? Who will be around? While we don’t know the answer for sure, we can turn to the experts around the country to see who they project the Mavs will target in tomorrow night’s draft.
Robert Carter Jr. – PF, Maryland (Junior)
Carter is a very interesting prospect in that he represents how difficult playing power forward is in this era of the NBA. He averaged 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds during his junior season with Maryland and was top-10 in the Big Ten in rebounds per game, blocks per game, true shooting percentage, defensive rating, and PER. That’s an impressive stat line for sure, but 4s these days must be able to knock down the 3-point shot. While he shot 33.3 percent from beyond the arc in his junior season, he’s got to prove to NBA teams that he can further improve from deep. If he can do that, he’s got the chance to become a very solid rotation player.
Carter stands a shade under 6-foot-9 and weighs 251 pounds, an ideal size for a small-ball power forward, and his 7-foot-3 wingspan will help him both on the glass and when defending taller players. He’s got the physical makeup and he’s got the interior offensive talent. All that’s missing is a reliable outside jumper, but the Mavericks have been known in the past to unlock young players’ 3-point shooting ability. Carter would be a very intriguing prospect.
CBS Sports (Sam Vecenie)
A.J. Hammons – C, Purdue (Senior)
This would be a pick the Mavs would have to feel happy about. Based on talent alone, Hammons is a first-round-caliber player. However, he’s 23 years old and played for a Purdue team which underperformed in the postseason, getting upset in the opening round. The center averaged 15.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game for the Boilermakers last season, completely overwhelming his opponents physically with his 7-foot, 278-pound frame and 7-foot-3 wingspan. He led the Big Ten in PER last season as a result. More promising is how efficiently he scored, shooting 59.2 percent from the field while constantly remaining the center of every opponent’s attention defensively. He also hit 6 of 11 3-point attempts which, although a very limited sample size, suggests he has the potential to expand his range in the pros. His 70.9 free throw percentage is solid for a big man and backs up that notion. With coaching and dedication, he could become a rangy 278-pounder.
Defensively, to call him a disruptor would be an understatement. He led the Big Ten in block percentage all four years in college and led the conference in blocks per game and defensive rating during his senior season. He has the size, strength, and ability to compete with the league’s largest players from day one of his rookie season. The reason he could slip this far is he’ll be 24 years old by opening night. Still, that should not detract teams from taking him in the second round.
CBS Sports (Gary Parrish)
Jake Layman – SF, Maryland (Senior)
At 6-foot-9 and 209 pounds, Layman has the size to potentially play as either a small-ball 4 or a traditional small forward in the NBA. He averaged 11.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game last season playing alongside Robert Carter at Maryland, shooting 50.0 percent from the field and 39.6 percent on four 3-point attempts per game. Those are very solid numbers for a perimeter player, and he finished fourth in the Big Ten in true shooting percentage. In a more wide-open offense than the one in which he played at Maryland, he could be a productive, efficient offensive player. Layman and his teammate Rasheed Sulaimon were the only two Terrapins to shoot better than 35 percent from deep on more than one attempt per game, leaving the Maryland perimeter starved for breathing room.
While your first instinct might be to wonder why the Mavericks would draft another wing after selecting Justin Anderson last season, remember that you can never have enough perimeter players in the modern NBA. Size and athleticism in the frontcourt will always help to win games, but winning in the regular season requires depth and versatility on the wing, too. Layman might only be the fourth or fifth option right away, but Carlisle plays more guys than almost any other coach, and shooting and length around the 3-point arc is such an invaluable commodity these days.
Chinanu Onuaku – C, Louisville (Sophomore)
While one of Hammons’ weaknesses is his age, that’s not an issue for Onuaku, who doesn’t turn 20 until November. The sophomore averaged 9.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game for Louisville last season, but didn’t get a chance to shine against top-level talent in any tournaments as the Cardinals self-imposed a postseason ban. That should not take away from what scouts think of Onuaku, however, as he has the strength (245 pounds) and physicality (a 7-foot-3 wingspan and 33.5-inch vertical leap) to become an impact player in this league. In many mock drafts he’s projected to go in the 30s, so it’d be a small surprise if he was still on the board by 46.
If Onuaku stood 7-feet tall, he’d easily be a first-round pick. But the sophomore is only 6-foot-10, and that’s a huge, huge reason why he could potentially fall out of the first round. You’d ideally want a starting center to at least push 7 feet, so Onuaku will have to prove to his organization that he can overcome that issue by becoming stronger and further developing his instincts and motor on the inside. He was a force on the inside at Louisville, shooting 62.0 percent from the field and finishing third in the NCAA in Box Plus/Minus and second in defensive rating. There’s no question he has the skill to play, but he’s going to have to earn it.
Stephen Zimmerman – C, UNLV (Freshman)
Zimmerman is another player who runs counter to the “old players only” narrative among second-round talent. There aren’t many good reasons a player as skilled and young as he is with his build — 7 feet tall, 234 pounds, with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and 35-inch vertical — should fall out of the first round, aside from his team suffering through a down year. On an individual level, Zimmerman was beginning to shine in conference play before a knee sprain sidelined him for a few weeks, limiting him to just 26 games at the collegiate level before the declared for the draft.
But he didn’t fail to impress during that stretch, averaging 10.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks on 47.7 percent shooting for the Runnin’ Rebels. While he was used primarily in the post at the NCAA level, Zimmerman has much more potential as a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop player in the NBA. And while he averaged only 0.8 assists per game with UNLV, many scouts and analysts are high on his floor vision and ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. The problem at UNLV was he was a square peg whom they tried to fit into a round hole. He projects to be much more comfortable in a wide-open offense with space to create for himself and for others.
No matter who the Mavericks draft tomorrow night, that player is going to come with at least one question mark. That’s why they have fallen into the second round to begin with. However, this year’s second round appears to be deeper and more talented than those of years past, thanks in large part to the huge number of underclassmen declaring early for the draft, not to mention a huge influx of overseas talent declaring as well.
There are plenty of solid players to be had at No. 46, so now we all must wait and see what the Mavs will do with their selection when that moment comes.