The Atlanta Hawks entered the season with the possibility of having six draft picks in the 2019 NBA draft. At this point, it looks like the most likely outcome will be the team having five draft picks, assuming no other transactions take place that impact the draft after the end of this season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers owe the Hawks a first round draft pick as a result of the Kyle Korver trade, but the pick will be retained by Cleveland if it falls within the top ten selections. To put it plainly, it would now take a miracle from this point in time for that to not happen.
The Dallas Mavericks owe Atlanta their draft pick as a results of a trade they made on draft night last year (you might have heard a bit about that). This pick, however, is only protected if it falls within the top five selections. That seems unlikely to happen but it would not require a crazy scenario (like it would for the Cavaliers pick) for Dallas to own this pick on draft night.
The Mavericks were probably the most active team before last week’s trade deadline. We are not going to revisit every transaction, but let’s take a look at the players of significance that were moved to or from the team in the last few weeks.
Lost: DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes
Added: Kristaps Porzingis (not expected to play this season), Zach Randolph (since waived by the team), Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr., Justin Jackson, Trey Burke
To analyze where the Mavericks’ record might end up at the end of the season and, as such, where their draft pick is likely to land, there are several factors to take into consideration.
Do the Mavs want to retain the pick and thus be motivated to lose games during the remainder of the season? Do they think they can chase a playoff spot?
Dallas ended play on Sunday evening four games out of the No. 8 seed in a crowded Western Conference. It’s also important to consider that they would need to surpass three teams by the end of the season to secure even the last spot in the playoffs, and it’s widely presumed that the reward for securing the No. 8 seed would be a likely four-game sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.
Most, if not all, of the reporting near the team indicates that they will chase as many wins as they can.
Mavs are adamant they aren’t tanking despite trading 4 of 5 starters and owing Atlanta a top-5-protected pick. Related: Old lineup was minus-58 this season, worst among any NBA starting five. Excitement about Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith and Jalen Brunson getting more minutes— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) February 9, 2019
The motivation of the franchise could obviously change depending upon how many wins they can pick up over first several weeks after the All-Star break, but another factor might warrant consideration as well.
With the possibility of future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki potentially being in the final season of his career and with rookie Luke Doncic being the clear front runner for the NBA Rookie of the Year award, the Mavericks may prioritize showcasing the rookie as positively as possible, if only as an attempt to drive revenue and interest for next season and beyond. And it’s easier to do that in the context of a competitive team than otherwise.
Note that, to date, only James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Mike Conley have produced more points in clutch time among guards in the league. And he has the second best field goal percentage among that group. And, as mentioned, he is a rookie and is still a teenager for a few more weeks.
My analysis of this is that it seems clear the Mavericks will pursue being as competitive as they can be at least until the last week or two of the season. As such, it appears to be unlikely they will play themselves into a group of the bottom six or so teams in the league. Getting to the seventh-worst record would not be impossible, but if Dallas does seek to play competitively, it also seems unlikely.
So, let’s take a look at what the more respected projection systems forecast for them when accounting for the current make up of the roster, remaining schedule, etc.
Prior to play on Sunday, ESPN’s BPI model projected the Mavericks to win 38 games and finish tied for the ninth-worst record, tied with four other teams. Two of those four teams would qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs if the season ended today, which would eliminate those two teams from the draft lottery. That’s too many variations to to try to breakdown in terms of tie-breakers, coin tosses, etc., but, in this scenario, they would land somewhere between the 11th- and 13th-worst record among teams missing the playoffs.
The model used by FiveThirtyEight to project records forecasts the Mavericks to win 37 games after the end of play on Sunday. Their model suggests Dallas would only be tied with the Detroit Pistons, who project to secure the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. This projection would land Dallas with the tenth-worst record in the league.
And, of course, there are the random nature of those critical ping pong balls used on the night of the NBA draft lottery.
So, given all of this, what should Atlanta’s fans be rooting for? Firstly, it seems appropriate to offer a word of consideration that the talent the Hawks will presumably get with the Mavericks pick, likely in the 2019 draft, will heavily be impacted by the evaluation of the players eligible to be drafted. With that said, the best path for that draft pick conveying and it being as favorable as possible is rooting for a handful of Dallas victories in the immediate weeks following the All-Star break as to reinforce their intent to be competitive followed by more frequent losses during the final weeks of the season.
Having said that, the schedule does not look like that’s a reliable path for which to root. Dallas’ first four games after the break will be against the Nuggets, Jazz, Clippers and Pacers. It would be a bit unexpected to see them go 3-1 or better in those games.
Also, the Mavericks’ final five games of the season are against Minnesota, Memphis (twice), Phoenix and San Antonio. Three, if not all four, of those teams will have very little to play for in terms of playoff eligibility by that point. So, even if they are chasing losses at that point, it’s not necessarily going to be easy to secure them.
The bottom line is that it’s likely that the Hawks retain the pick, but the road to where that pick lands will be bumpy, and Dallas is going to have a chance (of some kind) to jump into the top-four on lottery night if the projected outcome comes to fruition and the Mavericks miss the playoffs. My encouragement is to enjoy the ride.
After all, sports are supposed to be fun... some say.