There isn’t a more important position in the NBA than point guard. The four teams that reached the conference finals this season did so with All-Star point guards.
The Dallas Mavericks don’t have an All-Star point guard. Yogi Ferrell flashed promise for the Mavericks down the stretch and has a future with the team, but he isn’t keeping them out of the point guard market.
This year’s NBA draft is flush with point guards, and the Mavericks could be tempted to go in that direction with the ninth overall pick on Thursday night. A name to watch is France’s Frank Ntilikina (pronounced Nee-lee-KEE-na), a 6-foot-5 guard who turns 19 next month.
Most mock drafts expect Ntilikina to be available when the Mavericks select and signs continue to link the two. An ESPN report stated that Ntilikina’s coach at Strasbourg, Vincent Collet, would coach with the Mavericks’ Orlando summer league team.
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Heck, even owner Mark Cuban has visited him in Europe.
“He’s worthy of a [top-10 pick],” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said. “He’s a point guard who has got good size and he’s very, very talented. I don’t rank him among the top-10 prospects, but [fellow ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla] may differ on that.”
Fraschilla, who studies European players more closely than Bilas, believes the long-term projection for Ntilikina is “very good.”
Fraschilla saw Ntilikina knock down 27 of 30 NBA 3-point attempts at a workout last summer, and Ntilikina carried that into this season by making more than 40 percent from the international 3-point line in France.
“He can make decisions well. He shoots it well. He’s athletic. He could be a good defender,” Fraschilla said. “And you’re also looking at a kid who’s still 18 years old. His long-term potential as an NBA player is very good.”
The Mavericks could be rolling the dice, though, by taking what many believe is the fifth-best point guard in the draft.
Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball are widely projected to go 1-2, and Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox should be a top-five pick. NC State’s Dennis Smith is also in the mix to be a top-10 pick, along with Ntilikina.
“He doesn’t have the polish of a Fultz or Ball or the speed and athleticism or raw athleticism of Fox or Smith,” Fraschilla said. “But he has the look and feel of an NBA guard when he grows up.”
Dallas has done plenty of homework on him, as stated. And not many could criticize the organization if they opt for a guy they feel will become their point guard of the future.
And, even though Bilas doesn’t have Ntilikina as a top-10 talent, he feels this draft has higher-end talent in the backcourt rather than the frontcourt early on.
“There are some really good big guys in the draft, but they’re more in the second half of the first round,” Bilas said.
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The Mavericks, who have only one pick in this year’s draft, know there is talent available at the No. 9 slot, too. A guy by the name of Dirk Nowitzki was taken ninth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998, and then promptly traded to the Mavericks.
That ended up pretty well. Other notable No. 9 selections include Tracy McGrady, Charles Oakley, Amar’e Stoudemire and Gordon Hayward.
But nothing is guaranteed in the draft.
“It always happens. The one thing you know is you have 30 first-round picks and they’re not all going to be stars,” Bilas said. “They’re not going to bump out the best player on the team they’re going to. That’s not going to happen. Some of them are going to fail.
“It’s just the way the numbers work, but that’s what makes it kind of exciting to me is to try to figure out who is going to hit. Especially when the players are so young because you’re looking not at what they are, but looking at what they’re going to be. There are going to be mistakes.
“But I think the NBA front offices do a remarkable job of getting this right. If you were to contrast and compare the NBA draft successes with the NFL draft successes in the first two rounds, I think you’d see similar hits and misses. In the NFL, they have four years, sometimes five, to look at these players. The NBA has one.”
6 p.m. Thursday, ESPN
Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.,
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