Mavs may be closing in on Frenchman Frank Ntilikina with No. 9 overall pick in NBA Draft

DALLAS — At the age of 18 years old, French point guard Frank Ntilikina is still considered to be a project as he continues to tap into his full potential. However, after a reported meeting with the Dallas front office, the 6-foot-5 budding star could find himself as a key member of the Mavericks’ future later this month in the NBA Draft.

The Mavericks finished this season ranked 30th while producing just 97.9 points per game as a team. The Mavs also dished only 20.8 assists per game, ranking 27th in that department as the offense sputtered at times this season. Meanwhile, Dallas finished with the 23rd-best offensive rating of 103.7. And according to Mavs owner Mark Cuban, the team is certainly in the market for a point guard to boost its offensive production going into next season.

“Well, we’ve got to get better at point (guard). There’s no question,” Cuban matter-of-factly said near the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. “You know, if we can’t do it in the draft, we’ll look at free agency and see what we can do. … We’ve got to get that one pass-first point guard. That’s what we don’t have. And just playing time and consistency will help, too.

“We can maybe go a little bit more for a project, but we’ll see,” he added. “Every year they say it’s a great draft, and it never turns out to be as great a draft as they say.”

Not turning 19 until July 28, Ntilikina’s physical attributes at his age are what make him an intriguing prospect at the NBA level. His upside is also what has many mock drafts moving the lanky guard up their boards in recent weeks.

Ntilikina averaged just 5.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 18.2 minutes an outing during his 32 appearances this season for Strasbourg in the LNB Pro A, connecting on 43.1 percent from three-point range. However, the Frenchman dominated the European under-18 championship, averaging 22.7 points, 6.7 assists, 3.3 steals and 1.7 blocks while dropping 31 points in the title game against Lithuania. Ntilikina’s 7-foot wingspan and lateral quickness also figure to translate well at the defensive end of the floor immediately. And with needs on both sides of the ball in the backcourt, 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki admits that he expects the Mavericks’ brass to give Ntilikina a serious look prior to the draft on June 22.

“I mean, obviously, we’d love to have a point guard. I think that’s not a secret. But we’ll just go in and see what’s out there,” Nowitzki said while making an appearance at the Mavs Basketball Academy’s hoop camp last week. “I think sometimes the philosophy is to draft the best player that’s available at your pick, and some guys draft by position. I think we’ll just have to go and see. I’ve been obviously in the war room a couple times now, and you always have this plan. But if you don’t have the first pick, you know, and things just don’t go as planned, everything and the whole plan is out the window. You know, I’ve seen Cuban with three phones on his head and [Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson] with eight phones, and things happen there so quick. So, I think you can make all the plans you want, but you have to be spontaneous once you’re in there and react, and hopefully find a player who can play, can contribute and has a bright future. The good thing is the draft is deep, I guess, with a lot of good players, and we’ll see who we end up with.

“I’ve seen ‘French Frank’ only on Youtube or whatever when we watched some highlights, so I really don’t have an educated opinion, but that’s why we have 50 scouts that we pay on the payroll. I’m sure they’ve seen him play plenty and watched him play some, so they probably have a way better clue than I do. You know, you can watch a highlight tape and be like, ‘This kid looks pretty good.’ But you have to see a whole game, or two, or three to see how he reacts in certain situations. Like I said, I don’t know much about him, but we’ll see if he’s the route we take once it gets to the ninth pick. But I have no idea, as of now.”