Gil LeBreton

Mavericks finally get their man in NBA Draft

Dennis Smith Jr., in an interview Thursday night at the NBA Draft, should be a good fit with the Mavericks who sorely needed a playmaking point guard.
Dennis Smith Jr., in an interview Thursday night at the NBA Draft, should be a good fit with the Mavericks who sorely needed a playmaking point guard. AP

Coach Rick Carlisle called it “a historic night for us,” and it probably was.

Not that Carlisle and the Dallas Mavericks shook the NBA Draft on Thursday with their first-round selection of point guard Dennis Smith.

What made history, of sorts, was that the Mavericks felt compelled to hold onto their No. 9 overall draft pick, instead of trading him for three beans along with the family cow.

Few NBA franchises had heretofore exhibited such little ardor for the annual draft than the Mavericks. Much of that disdain, admittedly, had to do with the deferred drafting position the franchise has often found themselves in.

Thus, over the years the global-minded Mavericks have used the later rounds and picks to draft the likes of Vassilis Spanoulis, Mladen Sekularac, Renaldas Seibutis, Tanguy Ngombo and Satnam Singh.

They’ve drafted a whole lot of mediocre American-born collegians as well, and that’s been the problem.

The team hit the bottom of the Mark Cuban years this past season, missing the playoffs with a 33-49 record, and the franchise was quasi-rewarded, at long last, with a pick in the single digits.

Hence, history, as Carlisle called it.

We can only imagine Thursday’s confusion in the Mavericks’ draft room. (“How do we do this? Anybody got the commissioner’s phone number?”)

By all mock draft accounts, however, they got it right. Smith is projected to dynamically fill the Mavericks’ need at point guard.

General manager Donnie Nelson described Smith as “an electric young player with tons of potential.”

“This was the guy we were after,” Nelson said. “If we would’ve drafted a lot higher, he was the guy we had circled.”

Maybe so, but four point guards were already whisked from the board by the time the Mavericks selected Smith. As roundly expected, the Philadelphia 76ers took Markelle Fultz with the overall No. 1 pick, and the Los Angeles Lakers followed with Lonzo Ball at No. 2.

The predraft chatter about owner Cuban and his team favoring point guard Frank Ntilikina from France may well have been a ruse.

Or, more believably, Smith is seen as being able to contribute much sooner than Ntilikina.

“He has the ability to have great impact on our team,” Carlisle said. “I would project him at this point in time as a starter. But he’s going to have to earn it. And he understands that.”

As Carlisle elaborated, playmaking in today’s NBA is more important than ever. Teams need players who can create offense, especially teams that finished dead-last in scoring last season, as Carlisle’s team did.

Nelson called Smith a vital building block in the climb back to playoff contention.

“We work all year, scour the earth, and it’s a really intense time,” he said. “This is one we had to get right, and we had to get a little lucky with.

“We feel both those things fell into place.”

Donnie described the celebration in the Mavericks’ draft room when the group — which included Dirk Nowitzki — realized they were getting Smith.

“Highest chest-bump I’ve ever done,” Nelson joked.

The celebration was, well, historic. The Mavericks say they got their man.

And for once, they even got to keep the family cow.

Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram