For so many kids that grow up dribbling a basketball, hearing their name on the night of the NBA draft is something that only happens when they close their eyes and let their dreams go wild. Blood, sweat and tears go into making that dream a reality, but it only happens for 60 players each year.
It’s something that a significant part of the Mavericks core this season never got to experience.
Wesley Matthews, Seth Curry, J.J. Barea, Dorian Finney-Smith and Yogi Ferrell have all played major roles in the revival of the Mavericks as they chase the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Perhaps more importantly, whether it’s young talent or veteran leadership, they’re a big reason why there is optimism for the Mavericks going forward.
However, when teams had their chances to select these guys on draft night, they passed.
Matthews is the lone member of this list that had established himself in the NBA prior to putting on a Mavericks jersey. After a stint with the Utah Jazz, he showed he belonged in the NBA during his time in Portland, which ultimately landed him a four-year, $70 million contract with the Mavericks in the summer of 2015. Despite all of that, his emotions from draft night in 2009 linger.
“Every negative emotion that you can think of,” Matthews recalled. “Pissed off, angry. Just everything.”
Matthews said that going undrafted may have had some positives as a byproduct, such as the structure of his first contract and an additional chip on his shoulder but his demeanor would’ve stayed the same regardless.
Barea, who went undrafted in 2006, played an intricate role in bringing the Mavericks a championship in 2011. When the team was down 2-1 against the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, head coach Rick Carlisle inserted Barea into the starting lineup. The Mavericks didn’t lose another game in that series.
“It definitely gives you a little more motivation to prove people wrong,” Barea said.
Curry’s road to stardom has been a long one. He went undrafted in 2013 and though he said he was anxious that night, he knew the circumstances were stacked against him as he came off of surgery. Despite enjoying success this year with the Mavericks in his first extended opportunity, it’s not something he readily reflects on.
“I’m in the moment,” Curry said. “I’m trying to continue to earn my spot, trying to continue to play well. Same work ethic, same mindset. End of the season I’ll think about it and what I’ve accomplished but right now it’s a matter of just staying in the moment and continue to get better.”
Matthews, Barea and Curry have enough tape to shed the stigma of going undrafted. Guys like Finney-Smith and Ferrell are less than a year removed from being draft hopefuls, but both have shown signs they’ll be key cogs for the future of the franchise.
Finney-Smith said being in a locker room with players that share similar backgrounds has definitely helped his development.
“We kind of all brushed on it,” Finney-Smith said. “Guys telling you they’ve been in your shoes and how they overcame it, so all of them helped me. When I first got here, Wes told me playing hard and playing defense was going to get me on the team and I just kept doing it.”
Ferrell, who recently collected his Kia Western Conference Rookie of the Month hardware, said while the undrafted tag will never change, he’s focused on capitalizing on the opportunity he has now.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Ferrell said. “Play well, make the most of our opportunity and that’s just it.”
Head coach Rick Carlisle said there are a couple of factors that play into the success of the undrafted players in the Mavericks locker room. One of the biggest is being around players like Dirk Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes, consummate professionals with an extraordinary work ethic.
The plethora of injuries veteran Mavericks suffered early in the season also presented opportunities for the likes of Curry, Finney-Smith and Ferrell. Their prosperity is not an accident.
“Our people do a really good job of finding guys that not only have a skillset that can be an NBA skillset but also a level of desire and tenacity,” Carlisle said.
For his part, Carlisle puts the players in the best position possible to be successful.
“I think it’s important to be open-minded and to do what you can to enable guys to have success,” Carlisle said.
Despite being deemed unworthy of a pick on draft night, these five players have combined to play over 6,500 minutes for the Mavericks. They’ve proven they belong in this league and give Mavs fans something to be excited about for years to come.
“Once you’re an NBA player, you’re an NBA player,” Curry said. “No matter where you were drafted or not drafted.”