Mavs Lottery Watch 2.0: Dennis Smith Jr. Rises

By: Josh Clark

DALLAS (105.3 The Fan) – In our first installment of Mavs Lottery Watch, we identified the top prospects the Mavericks would be eyeing in the event that they ended up with a top draft pick.

Over a month has passed since our first story was written and the Mavericks are still on pace to make a top-5 selection.

An injury-filled season has the Mavericks in unfamiliar territory. Dallas has the 5th worst record in the NBA at 15-29.

The team is improving, however, thanks to their injured players getting healthy (and unhealthy again). Since our last piece, Dallas had the worst record in the league at 4-17, so they’ve improved greatly since then by playing at a near .500 clip.

While Dallas may only be 4 games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, they still have to overtake five teams and hold off two others to get to the #8 seed.

The Mavs are at the tail end of the easiest part of their schedule right now and they’ve managed only a 5-5 record in matchups against teams in a similar position they find themselves. In that span, Dallas went 3-3 against the Timberwolves (1-1), Suns (1-1), Lakers (1-0) and Heat (0-1). That simply can’t happen if you’re trying to make a run to the playoffs.

After Dallas hosts the Knicks on Wednesday night, they’ll embark on a trip to murder’s row. Their next three games are at Oklahoma City, at San Antonio and home against Cleveland.

With the Mavericks on pace to win 28 games, all that’s left to figure out is where they’ll finish in the standings. As we noted last time, the worst record in the NBA last season was held by the Philadelphia 76ers at 10 wins. Barring the Brooklyn Nets going 1-37 down the stretch, no team will finish with that low of a win total.

Because the Nets are so poor, it appears as if they are destined to have the greatest odds to land the #1 overall pick. Besides that, it’s wide open. Teams such as Dallas, LAL, Phoenix, Minnesota, Miami, Philadelphia and a few others are neck and neck to finish with the second-best odds in the lottery.

As many basketball insiders have noted … this is the best NBA draft class to come out since the 2003 draft that saw LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh selected with four of the first five picks (Darko Miličić was the other).

What I’ve realized in the past month and a half is that in order for Dallas to assure itself of a top point guard (biggest need) in this draft … they will need to have no worse than the #6 overall pick.

Now if you take into consideration that the first six teams won’t all pick point guards due to the fact that there are other elite talents at other positions … then Dallas could get no worse than say the #9 pick to lock up a starting guard for the future.

With that said, who are those players in contention for picks at the top of the draft? I’ve constructed a list of the players you may want to pay close attention to over the next few months. Sure, the list will change numerous times until the lottery in May and the draft in June, but it gives Mavs fans something to look forward to the rest of the way.

Here are the potential players Dallas could select with their first pick.

The Top 3 Contenders:

SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 07: Markelle Fultz #20 of the Washington Huskies controls a rebound against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 7, 2016 in Spokane, Washington. Gonzaga defeated Washington 98-71. (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)

SPOKANE, WA – DECEMBER 07: Markelle Fultz #20 of the Washington Huskies controls a rebound against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 7, 2016 in Spokane, Washington. Gonzaga defeated Washington 98-71. (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)

1. Markelle Fultz: PG/Washington/6’4”/195 lbs. 

Stats: 23.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 6.1 APG

Upcoming games: Tonight at 10:00 p.m. @ Arizona State. TV: ESPNU,  1/29 at 2:30 p.m. @ Arizona. TV: FOX

Fultz is seen by many as the #1 overall player in the draft. One of the things Dallas desperately needs is a guy that can create his own shot … and that’s Fultz (and Smith Jr.). Fultz can get to the rim and score at will. His range is deep as he knocks down just over 41% of his three pointers. Fultz is 6’4″, which is a great size for a point guard. He’s the ultimate package.

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 23: Dennis Smith Jr. #4 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack reacts during their win against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

DURHAM, NC – JANUARY 23: Dennis Smith Jr. #4 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack reacts during their win against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

2. Dennis Smith Jr.: PG/NC State/6’3”/195 lbs.

Stats: 19.5 PPG, 6.5 APG, 4.4 RPG
Upcoming game: 1/29 at 12:00 p.m. @ Louisville. TV: ACC Network

Dennis Smith Jr. put on a display at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday. Including this dunk below that didn’t count. Smith Jr. blew up for 32 points on 10-18 shooting. The point guard added 6 assists and 4 rebounds. He was 4-6 from 3-pt range. The showing absolutely moved Smith up the board. Not just because he hasn’t been that good this season … he has. But because it was done on the national stage against Duke. Smith has all the intangibles to be an elite point guard. The guy can pass, score at the rim and can shoot it from deep. Smith even declared to Jay Bilas on the ESPN telecast that he still doesn’t fully feel back to 100% from a torn ACL injury he suffered in August of 2015. I can’t imagine how good he’s going to be when he feels completely healthy.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 08: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins looks to pass the ball while being guarded by Robert Cartwright #2 of the Stanford Cardinal during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Pauley Pavilion on January 8, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 08: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins looks to pass the ball while being guarded by Robert Cartwright #2 of the Stanford Cardinal during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Pauley Pavilion on January 8, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

3. Lonzo Ball: PG/UCLA/6’6”/190 lbs. 

Stats: 14.9 PPG, 8.2 APG, 5.6 RPG

Upcoming game: Tonight at 10:00 p.m. at USC. TV: FS1

Ball is an interesting player. The guy can score from anywhere on the court but he is also the ultimate floor general. Ball can pass and defend with the best of them. He’s best compared to Jason Kidd, although he can shoot a lot better than him. The only problem is that he has a funky release. Will it survive in the NBA? I think so. But it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

The Next Tier:

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 23: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Duke Blue Devils takes a three point shot against the North Carolina State Wolfpack during the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

DURHAM, NC – JANUARY 23: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Duke Blue Devils takes a three point shot against the North Carolina State Wolfpack during the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

4. Jayson Tatum: SF/Duke/6’8”/204 lbs.

Stats: 16.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 APG

Upcoming game: 1/28 at 2:00 p.m. @ Wake Forest. TV: ACC Network

LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 14: Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats drives to the basket against T.J. Dunans #4 of the Auburn Tigers in the first half of the game at Rupp Arena on January 14, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

LEXINGTON, KY – JANUARY 14: Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats drives to the basket against T.J. Dunans #4 of the Auburn Tigers in the first half of the game at Rupp Arena on January 14, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

5. Malik Monk: PG/SG/Kentucky/6’4”/185 lbs.

Stats: 9 games: 21.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.4 APG

Upcoming game: 1/28 at 5:00 p.m. vs Kansas. TV: ESPN

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 14: Jonathan Isaac #1 of the Florida State Seminoles pulls down a rebound against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the game at the Dean Smith Center on January 14, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 96-83. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

CHAPEL HILL, NC – JANUARY 14: Jonathan Isaac #1 of the Florida State Seminoles pulls down a rebound against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the game at the Dean Smith Center on January 14, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 96-83. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

6. Jonathan Isaac: SF/FSU/6’11”/205 lbs.

Stats: 13.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.5 blocks

Upcoming games: Tonight at 6:00 p.m. @ Georgia Tech. TV: ACC Network,  1/28 at 11:00 a.m. @ Syracuse. TV: ESPN2

LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 07: De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball during the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Rupp Arena on January 7, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

LEXINGTON, KY – JANUARY 07: De’Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball during the game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Rupp Arena on January 7, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

7. De’Aaron Fox: PG/Kentucky/6’4”/171 lbs.

Stats: 16.2 PPG, 5.9 APG, 4.6 RPG

Upcoming game: 1/28 at 5:00 p.m. vs Kansas. TV: ESPN

MORGANTOWN, WV - JANUARY 24: Josh Jackson #11 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives to the basket against Esa Ahmad #23 of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second half during the game at WVU Coliseum on January 24, 2017 in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

MORGANTOWN, WV – JANUARY 24: Josh Jackson #11 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives to the basket against Esa Ahmad #23 of the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second half during the game at WVU Coliseum on January 24, 2017 in Morgantown, West Virginia. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

8. Josh Jackson: SF/Kansas/6’8″/203 lbs.

Stats: 15.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.1 APG

Upcoming game: 1/28 at 5:00 p.m. at Kentucky. TV: ESPN

TUCSON, AZ - DECEMBER 20: Lauri Markkanen #10 of the Arizona Wildcats handles the ball ahead of Sam Logwood #20 of the New Mexico Lobos during the first half of the college basketball game at McKale Center on December 20, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TUCSON, AZ – DECEMBER 20: Lauri Markkanen #10 of the Arizona Wildcats handles the ball ahead of Sam Logwood #20 of the New Mexico Lobos during the first half of the college basketball game at McKale Center on December 20, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

9. Lauri Markkanen: PF/Arizona/7’0″/225 lbs.

Stats: 17.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 50.0 3-pt%

Upcoming games: 1/26 at 8:30 p.m. vs Washington State. TV: PAC 12 Network, 1/29 at 2:30 p.m. vs Washington. TV: FOX

France's Frank Ntilikina participates in a Skills Challenge before an All Star Game basketball match of the French Ligue Nationale de Basket (LNB) between a selection of the best international players from the Pro A league against a selection of the best French players, at the AccorHotels Arena, in Paris on December 29, 2016. / AFP / GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT (Photo credit should read GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)

France’s Frank Ntilikina participates in a Skills Challenge before an All Star Game basketball match of the French Ligue Nationale de Basket (LNB) between a selection of the best international players from the Pro A league against a selection of the best French players, at the AccorHotels Arena, in Paris on December 29, 2016. (Credit: GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images)

10. Frank Ntilikina: PG/France/6’5″/170 lbs.

Stats: 5.3 PPG, 1.3 APG, 1.5 RPG in 15.3 MPG

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