As a reminder to MFFLs everywhere, birthday wishes are in order today for the greatest player in Dallas Mavericks history. Dirk Nowitzki, No. 41 in your game program, turns 39 as he prepares for his 20th NBA season.
A fitting birthday present this week for Nowitzki, as well as his teammates and Mavericks fans, would be a home-run selection when Dallas exercises the No. 9 overall pick in Thursday’s first round of the NBA Draft. Or when the Mavericks trade up in the draft order (unlikely, but not impossible).
Between now and Thursday, you’ll read endless speculation about what the Mavericks must/should/can do to position themselves to draft one of the three most coveted players in this draft in the estimation of NBA scouts: point guard Markelle Fultz (Washington), point guard Lonzo Ball (UCLA) or forward Josh Jackson (Kansas).
But here’s a reality check: The top three selections become clear-cut if Sunday’s report about a pick-swapping deal in principle between Philadelphia and Boston is finalized. The move would lock in Fultz to the 76ers with the No. 1 pick, with Ball (Lakers) and Jackson (Celtics) following in short order.
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The rebuilding Mavericks do not have the trade pieces to offer to elevate themselves into the top three selections on Thursday night. But things could get interesting from the fourth pick on down, depending on how the Mavericks slot their wish list and how things begin unfolding with the No. 4 pick in a deep draft that lacks an obvious franchise player.
Here’s a six-pack of potential draftees that should make MFFLs happy, and would give Nowitzki a nice, belated 39th birthday present Thursday night:
De’Aaron Fox, point guard: The Kentucky product averaged 16.7 points and 4.6 assists per game in his lone college season and has the size (6 foot 3) and defensive intensity to be effective at the next level. Dallas probably would need to trade up to select him.
Jayson Tatum, forward: The 6-8 Duke product averaged 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season and projects to be a prolific scorer at the next level. Another prospect that Dallas probably must trade up to select.
Jonathan Isaac, forward: Unusually mobile for a 6-10 player, Isaac flashed his versatility last season at Florida State. He averaged 12 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while making 78 percent of his free throws.
Dennis Smith Jr., point guard: The intriguing prospect from North Carolina State has ample size (6-3) and filled up the stat sheet last season: 18.1 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. But he played for a 15-17 team.
Lauri Markkanen, forward: The 7-footer from Finland shined in his first season at Arizona, averaging 15.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while showing an ability to score from the inside or outside (42.3 shooting percentage from 3-point range). The Nowitzki comparisons are inevitable, including Markkanen’s skill as a free-throw shooter for a big man (83.5 percent).
Frank Ntilikina, point guard: A teenager who played professionally in France last season, Ntilikina did not accumulate the type of stats to wow casual fans (5.2 points, 1.4 assists per game last season). But NBA scouts love his upside, at 18, and his gritty defensive mindset. He’s considered one of the top five point guard prospects in a draft that is deep at the position.
NBA Draft order
Thursday, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
8. New York Knicks
9. Dallas Mavericks
21. Oklahoma City
28. Los Angeles Lakers
29. San Antonio
40. New Orleans
44. New York Knicks
58. New York Knicks
59. San Antonio