As they desperately try to squeeze their way back into the NBA championship picture before Dirk Nowitzki retires, the Dallas Mavericks are a little over a month away from their most important draft in two decades.
When the NBA Draft is held on June 22, the Mavs are all but assured of having their first top 10 pick since 1998. That’s the year the Mavs used the No. 6 overall pick to draft forward Robert “Tractor” Traylor from Michigan, and then, in a prearranged trade with Milwaukee, shipped him to the Bucks for their No. 9 pick, Dirk Nowitzki, a 20-year-old from Germany.
In the 18 drafts since Nowitzki joined the Mavs, this will be the first time they’ll have a top 10 pick. Unless they get terribly, terribly unlucky.
The NBA will hold its Draft Lottery at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in New York. According to the NBA, the Mavs have a 1.7 percent chance at nabbing the No. 1 overall pick, a 2 percent chance at the No. 2 selection, a 2.41 percent at grabbing the No. 3 pick, an 81.31 percent chance at finishing with the ninth draft selection, and a 12.2 percent chance at landing the 10th pick.
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But the Mavs also have a minuscule 0.38 percent chance at winding up with the No. 11 draft pick, and an 0.02 percent chance at finishing with the No. 12 selection.
Since the so-called experts have already declared this a very deep draft, however, the Mavs are guaranteed of winding up with a player who can have an impact on their squad as soon as next season.
“We’re definitely going to get a really, really good player where we’re at,” said Donnie Nelson, the Mavs’ president of basketball operations. “Clearly there are some positional needs.
“But when you get that kind of a pick you’ve got to make sure that it hits the mark. And the tie [as far as who gets drafted] has got to go to a potential star.”
Regardless of the Draft Lottery’s results, this will be the highest draft pick owner Mark Cuban has had since he purchased the Mavs from Ross Perot Jr. on Jan. 4, 2000.
When you get that kind of a pick you’ve got to make sure that it hits the mark. And the tie [as far as who gets drafted] has got to go to a potential star.
Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson
The Mavs’ previous highest draft pick under Cuban came in 2013 when they used the 13th overall selection to pick Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk, who they quickly traded to the Boston Celtics for the rights to 7-foot Brazilian Lucas Nogueira, who has played the past three seasons with Toronto, and a pair of second-round draft picks.
“It’s rare that you’re in that area,” Nelson said, referring to a possible top 10 pick. “Certainly ever since Mark bought the team for 17 years we haven’t been there.
“So it’s not like that end of the first round pick where you can kind of roll the dice. This is something where you absolutely have got to make this fully count.”
The Mavs are expected to re-sign restricted free agent center Nerlens Noel this summer. Add him to Harrison Barnes, Yogi Ferrell, Wesley Matthews, Seth Curry, J.J. Barea, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell, Nicolas Brussino and Nowitzki — and whoever else the Mavs acquire in free agency — and Nelson believes they’ll be able to make some serious noise in the playoffs next season.
“At this stage the West, top to bottom, it’s tough,” Nelson said. “But look, until a few weeks out [of this season] we were in the [playoff] hunt.
“If you can make some headway with free agency and you get a nice young draft pick, you’re definitely moving things in the right direction.”
The Mavs finished this season with a 33-49 record and missed the playoffs for just the second time in the past 17 years. The entire 17-year playoff run was fueled by Nowitzki, who turns 39 on June 19 and may only play two more seasons at best.
“It’s been such an incredible run,” Nelson said. “All the credit goes to [Nowitzki], who has been that original German Mercedes engine since Day One.
“Harrison is the guy that’s going to grab the baton from Dirk and really kind of lead the charge. We’re looking to add some really nice young supporting pieces around him.”
If the Mavs decide they want to acquire a prime-time point guard in the draft, France’s Frank Ntilikina will likely be there when it’s time for them to make their selection.
And if they determine they need a stretch-four power forward in Nowitzki’s mold, Arizona’s 7-foot Lauri Markkanen could become their man.
In the meantime, Nelson remains hopeful that the Mavs can get very lucky and emerge victorious in the Draft Lottery and land the No. 1 overall pick. The only time in their history that they’ve had the No. 1 overall pick was in 1981 when they drafted Mark Aguirre.
“We’re going to be having a rabbit’s foot and four-leaf clovers and the whole nine yards at the Draft Lottery,” Nelson said. “It’s just an exciting, fun time.
“We feel good about the steps that we took to energize and give a little bit more of a youthful overhaul. And this will be the next step of adding to that mix.”
Mavericks in top 10 of draft
The Dallas Mavericks have an 81.31 percent chance at winning the No. 9 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft Lottery, which will be held Tuesday night at 7:30 in New York. The years in their 38-year history that the Mavs have had a Top 10 pick:
All-Star in 1984, ’87, ’88.
All-Star in 1985, ’86, ’87, ‘90
4 NBA seasons, 2 with Mavs
All-Star in ’89
All-Rookie in 1985
Sixth Man of Year in ’88
Career-high 9.7 ppg in ’92-93
5 seasons, 4 with Mavs
25.7 ppg in ’94-95
All-Star in ’03
NBA champ 2011
3 seasons for Mavs
Robert “Tractor” Traylor
Draft Day trade for Dirk Nowitzki
Aguirre won NBA titles in 1989 and ’90 with Detroit
Schrempf was an All-Star with Indiana in 1993 and with Seattle in ’95 and ‘97
Mashburn was an All-Star with New Orleans in 2003
Kidd was an All-Star with the Mavs in 1996 and 2010, with Phoenix in 1998, 2000 and ’01, and with New Jersey in 2002, ’03, ’04, ’07 and ’08
Walker won an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002