Season in the Tank Complete, It's Now Up to the Pingpong Balls for the Mavs

Give us Luka Doncic, or give us death.
Give us Luka Doncic, or give us death. Wiki Commons
The Mavericks accomplished what they set out to accomplish this season. As hard as it might to be explain to your 8-year-old nephew — who still thinks sports are about, you know, winning — losing more than 55 games and locking up a bottom-five record was exactly what the Mavs, in transition from the greatest era in their history, needed.

2017-18 was the Mavericks' worst season in two decades, just beating out 2016-17, the Mavs second-worst season since going 20-62 in 1997-98. Depending on the whims of the draft lottery, Dallas appears set to receive a top-five draft pick for the first time since the team drafted Jason Kidd with the second pick of the 1994 draft.

Kidd was only one of the best point guards of the last quarter-century. This time around, the Mavericks will be looking to fill in one of the blanks in a developing young core. Dennis Smith Jr., the spoils of last year's 33-49 unit, proved himself an athletic, often spectacular presence at point guard this season. Despite his frequent highlight-reel appearances, however, he's not ready to be the first option on a playoff team, at least not yet.

Same goes for Harrison Barnes, who's been a steady presence on the wing for the Mavs but is never going to be an All-Star. Smith and Barnes are good pieces, but neither is the lead dog the Mavericks need to take them into the Dirk Nowitzki-less future, which could start as soon as the 2019-20 season.

Depending on the outcome of Wednesday night's Wizards-Magic game, the 24-58 Mavericks will finish no better than third-worst in the league. Either spot will give them a better than 10-percent chance of winning the first overall pick in the lottery and an almost 40-percent chance of picking inside the top three. They can pick no lower than eighth.

By losing 12 out of its last 14 games, Dallas is going to get a shot at one of the premiere players in a draft stacked with talent. If the Mavs get lucky in the lottery and land a top-three pick, Duke big man Marvin Bagley III could give the team its most intimidating inside presence since Tyson Chandler helped the Mavs to a championship in 2011. Lower down the board, Mo Bamba, the University of Texas' stalwart rim-protector, could be available.

The most interesting option for the Mavs — and the most interesting player in the draft — is Slovenian 19-year-old Luka Doncic. Doncic stars for Real Madrid in Spain's Liga ACB, generally considered the second-best basketball league in the world, and was the subject of a glowing profile in ESPN the Magazine this week.

Doncic is 6-foot-7 and a great scorer, rebounder and passer. He's a natural small forward but excels off the dribble, posting up or running the offense. He's the best European player to enter the draft since Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis and has the skills to be a superstar. If he's available when the Mavs are on the clock, all the losing over the past two years will be worth it; Doncic has the franchise player potential for which teams tank.

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young