Over the years that Dirk Nowitzki has been the centerpiece of the Dallas Mavericks, their team building strategy has been geared more towards acquiring dependable veterans in free agency and through trades than in finding and developing young talent out of the draft. As a matter of fact, they have only used 15 first round picks in the past 23 years. Even when the Mavericks did have first rounders, a lot of those players were traded away on draft night or shortly thereafter, sometimes turning into nothing more than second round draft picks. A few of them did stick around in Dallas for a while though, and some that were traded away did bring back some very solid value. As the Mavericks look to the future without Nowitzki, they will probably turn their attention back to building with young pieces rather than adding veterans, and the draft will become more important to them again. But looking back at the previous 15 first round picks, we can see how they may have been able to better take advantage of their selections if they would have valued them more and used them more carefully.
15 Justin Anderson (2015)
Original Pick: Justin Anderson
Although it is probably way too soon to know if Justin Anderson will be a viable player in the NBA, much less a star, somehow he has already helped the Mavericks, even though his career in Dallas is already over. After being selected with the 21st overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft out of Virginia, Anderson played parts of three seasons before they traded him to the Philadelphia 76ers for Nerlens Noel at this year’s trade deadline. Noel is already helping the Mavs as they chase a playoff spot. There were a few potential players who came after Anderson including Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who ended up with the Nets, Larry Nance Jr who is developing with the Lakers, and Montrezl Harrell who is an important piece of the Rockets this year. When all is said and done however, they ended up turning Anderson into a former sixth overall pick in Nerlens Noel who should end up being a key building block of the Post-Dirk Mavericks, so they should stick with Anderson as their choice.
14 Giannis Antetokounmpo (2013)
Original Pick: Kelly Olynyk
In the 2013 NBA Draft the Dallas Mavericks selected Kelly Olynyk with the 13th overall pick out of Gonzaga. They immediately traded Olynyk to the Boston Celtics for Lucas Nogueira and a couple of second round picks. The Mavericks then dished Noqueira to the Hawks for Shane Larkin, who they actually kept for a season before trading him to the Knicks. Ultimately none of the players they acquired with the pick or in trades amounted to much. However, two picks later, the best player in the draft was chosen by the Milwaukee Bucks. If the Mavericks had decided not to wheel and deal so much and just used their pick for a player, they could have grabbed Giannis Antetokounmpo. Who knows what sort of offensive sorcery Giannis and Dirk could have concocted together, but it sure would have been interesting.
13 Draymond Green (2012)
Original Pick: Tyler Zeller
After a four year career at the University of North Carolina where he won a national championship in 2009 and was named second team All-American in 2012, Tyler Zeller was selected by the Mavericks with the 17th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and then sent to the Cavaliers for three players, including Jae Crowder. Crowder lasted three years in Dallas before being traded to the Celtics. Of the players available for Dallas to draft at 17 that year, Crowder was actually the second best one available. The better choice came right after Crowder when the Golden State Warriors took Draymond Green out of Michigan State. The choice the Mavs made was the second best thing they could have done, but taking Draymond would have been even better.
12 Jimmy Butler (2011)
Original Pick: Jordan Hamilton
With their 2011 first round draft pick, the Mavericks acquired a veteran. Choosing 26th overall, Dallas grabbed Jordan Hamilton out of the University of Texas where he was a second team All-American in 2011. Hamilton was quickly moved to the Denver Nuggets where he played for a few years. The Mavs got back Rudy Fernandez who had been playing professionally in Spain for a number of years, and with the Trailblazers for three seasons. They also received the rights to Petteri Koponen. Ultimately none of the players hit the court for the Mavericks . There were two players that have developed into stars that Dallas could have had instead, Isaiah Thomas and Jimmy Butler. Although Thomas is having an amazing season this year, the better option would still probably have been to select Jimmy Butler from Marquette, who was taken four picks later by the Bulls.
11 DeMarre Carroll (2009)
Original Pick: Byron Mullens
Although they ultimately ended up with Frenchman Rodrigue Beaubois, who was drafted with the following pick by the Thunder, the Mavericks use their 24th overall selection in 2009 to take Byron Mullen out of Ohio State University. After all was said and done, Beaubois actually spent four seasons in Dallas, topping out at just under nine points per game in 2011-2012. After the one-two pick and swap between the Thunder and Mavericks with the 24th and 25th picks, the next two slots produced legitimate, long time starters who the Mavs could have had instead. Taj Gibson went 26th to the Bulls and DeMarre Carroll went 27th to the Grizzlies. The better choice would probably have been Carroll, for the Mavericks to add a solid defensive stopper who has developed into a guy who can consistently give you around 12 points and around five rebounds per night, which is a great asset to have.
10 Paul Millsap (2006)
Original Pick: Maurice Ager
A star at Michigan State University, Maurcie Ager was the leading scored for the Spartans as they advanced to the Final Four in 2005. The Mavericks selected him with the 28th overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. Ager did not pan out in Dallas, lasting just two years and playing less than 50 total games while averaging fewer than three points per game. This was one of the years where almost anyone could have been a better choice for the Mavericks, although Ager did provide some value as a small part of the multi-player trade that brought Jason Kidd back to Dallas in 2006. One guy who was available, and who would have been a much better choice, was Paul Millsap who was selected by the Jazz with the 47th overall pick and who has become one of the top players in the league over his ten seasons.
9 Josh Howard (2003)
Original Pick: Josh Howard
The legendary 2003 NBA Draft produced nine All-Stars and multiple future Hall of Famers including LeBron James who went first overall. The Mavericks did not get any of the very top players but they did manage to find one of those other All-Stars in Josh Howard who they took with the 29th overall pick. Mo Williams and Kyle Korver were two other All-Stars who were available at 29 but they probably would not have been better choices for the Mavericks. Over his 11 year career, Howard was with the Mavericks for seven seasons and averaged over 15 points and grabbed six rebounds per game while he was there. Although they did not have one of the very high draft picks to grab LeBron, Carmelo, or Wade, the Mavericks still got the best option they could with the last pick of the first round and would do it all the same again.
8 DeShawn Stevenson (2000)
Original Pick: Etan Thomas
Although the Mavericks did not trade him immediately on draft night, and kept him around for most of his rookie seasons, Etan Thomas still never played for Dallas. He was finally shipped in 2001 to the Washington Wizards where was a decent bench guy for seven seasons. There were not a lot of big names drafted in the 2000 NBA Draft, even before the Maverick’s number 12 overall pick, much less later in the draft. One player that they could have selected who actually ended up with the Mavs a few years later and helped them win the NBA championship in 2011 was DeShawn Stevenson. He was taken 11 picks later by the Utah Jazz. Perhaps Stevenson and the Mavericks could have had a bit more success together if they would have grabbed him in 2000.
7 Robert Traylor (1998)
Original Pick: Robert Traylor
In the 1998 NBA Draft the Dallas Mavericks drafted Robert Traylor out of the University of Michigan. It was the best decision the Mavericks ever made in their 37 years of existence. Who is Robert Traylor you ask? He is just some guy who the Milwaukee Bucks thought was going to be a star in the NBA. He never played in Dallas and only lasted two years with the Bucks and seven total seasons in the league. Because the Bucks liked Traylor so much they grabbed Pat Garrity with their 19th pick and a kid out of Germany named Dirk Nowitzki with the ninth and sent them both to Dallas for Traylor. In addition to acquiring their future Hall of Famer, and face of the franchise Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks also turned Garrity into Steve Nash. The Mavericks were soon permanent figures in the playoffs and eventually Dirk led Dallas to one NBA Finals which they lost and another which they won in 2011. The pick is still paying dividends for the Mavs as they are contending for a playoff spot again this year and Dirk just scored his 30,000 point in the NBA.
6 Stephen Jackson (1997)
Original Pick: Kevin Cato
Yet another first round draft pick that eventually turned into a second round pick for the Mavericks was Kevin Cato who they picked up with the 15th overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. The Mavs sent him to the Portland Trailblazers on draft night for Chris Antsey who played two years in Dallas before he was traded for a second round pick to the Bulls. Although 1997 was the year Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady, and Chauncey Billups were drafted, they all went long before the Mavericks had a shot at them. There were not many exciting options that came after their pick either. One player who did have a great career, that was available, was Stephen Jackson. Jackson spent 14 seasons in the NBA with eight teams averaging over 15 points per game during his career with seven seasons averaging over 18 points per game.
5 Kobe Bryant (1996)
Original Pick: Samaki Walker
The Mavericks traded down in the draft in 1996 from the sixth slot to number nine. They were not in range anyway for the great early picks like Allen Iverson, Shareef Abdur-Raheem, or Ray Allen so they did not miss out on them. The player they did take at number nine was Samaki Walker who stuck around for three seasons with the Mavericks as a decent rotation guy. There was another group of All-Star players who came just a bit later in the draft who all ended up having fantastic careers as well. From the 13th pick to the 20th, five NBA greats were selected, including Žydrūnas Ilgauskas, Jermaine O’Neal, Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash, and of course one of the best players of all time, Kobe Bryant who would have been the best choice of any of them, who was selected by the Charlotte Hornets four picks after the Mavericks made their selection.
4 Michael Finley (1995)
Original Pick: Cherokee Parks
With their first round pick in 1995, the Mavericks selected Cherokee Parks out of Duke University. Parks had been part of the Blue Devils' national championship team in 1992 as a freshman. After averaging almost 20 points per game as a senior, Parks was selected with the 12th overall pick. Parks only lasted one season in Dallas, averaging less than four points per game. Ultimately he played for nine seasons in the NBA. Nine picks later, the Phoenix Suns selected Michael Finley out of Wisconsin. The Mavericks could have added Finley to their team two years sooner than they ultimately did if they would have taken him instead of Parks. Ultimately Finley was acquired in the trade that sent Jason Kidd to the Suns and he ended up averaging just under 20 points per game and making the All-Star game twice during his nine years with the Mavericks.
3 Grant Hill (1994)
Original Pick: Jason Kidd
With the number two overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft, the Mavericks grabbed a potential future Hall of Famer in Jason Kidd. Unfortunately he only played in Dallas for three years before they moved on from him and traded him to the Suns. He did of course return to the Mavs near the end of his career and helped them win the NBA title in 2011. Despite his great career, you could make a case that they should have chosen someone else. The third pick of the 1994 draft went to the Detroit Pistons who took Grant Hill. Both Hill and Kidd had excellent careers. Hill had a few stretches where injury issues slowed him down, but it wasn’t until his seventh seasons that the injuries really became a problem. If the Mavericks could have gotten that many good years out of Grant Hill, it would have been better than the three years they had of Kidd before he really became a star.
2 Wesley Person (1994)
Original Pick: Tony Dumas
The Mavericks actually had two first round picks in 1994. After taking Jason Kidd with the second overall selection, they grabbed Tony Dumas with the 19th pick. Dumas also stuck around with the Mavericks for only three seasons. He did average over 11 points per game in his second year, but never put up more than five points per game for the remainder of his career. There were not many solid choices after the 19th pick but Dallas could have taken Wesley Person who carved out a solid career after being taken by the Suns with the 23rd overall pick. He also had a few good years with the Cavaliers before bouncing around between five other teams over his final three years in the league. He averaged over 12 points per game through his first eight seasons before falling off in his final three years.
1 Vin Baker (1993)
Original Pick: Jamal Mashburn
In the 1993 NBA Draft the Dallas Mavericks had the fourth overall selection. That means they missed out on Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway. They did end up getting another consensus All-American in Jamal Mashburn who had just finished up a standout career at the University of Kentucky by losing to Chris Webber’s Michigan team in the Final Four. Mashburn had two fantastic years in Dallas to launch his career before injuries derailed him and he was traded away to the Heat in 1997. Mashburn did end up having a pretty solid career when he was able to avoid the injury bug. Unfortunately after his first two seasons with the Mavs he only had three more years with over 70 games played. If the Mavericks did want to try for another player, Vin Baker was taken four picks later by the Milwaukee Bucks and he managed to have seven great seasons before injuries slowed his career down as well.