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A.J. Hammons is a work in progress for the Mavericks

Dallas’ rookie big man has the skills to earn a role on this team, but can he take the leap to make that happen?

NBA: Preseason-Dallas Mavericks at New Orleans Pelicans Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Looking back

There aren’t many Defensive Players of the Year in college basketball who are still available at pick No. 46 of the NBA Draft.

But that’s what the Dallas Mavericks got with Purdue big man A.J. Hammons, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a guy with the sort of skill set scouts salivate over.

There were questions about his motor and work ethic, which could explain his plummeting draft stock. Dallas was the right situation for him if that were the case. The Mavericks needed a big man to develop, and while it would’ve helped for him to play more this season, Hammons found himself at the end of a crowded center rotation after Dallas acquired Andrew Bogut.

Hammons’ skill set is impressive. He rebounds well, can block shots and even has a great shooting touch. But he’s a really big dude at 7-foot and nearly 280 pounds who too often camped behind the three-point line instead of using that giant frame to punish opponents.

It’s a small sample size, but Hammons can make the three-pointer, swishing five-of-10 on the year. Combine that ability to stretch the floor with that size, and Hammons should be able to develop into an all-around player. He showed glimpses of that April 4 at Sacramento in a career-high 26 minutes with nine points, six rebounds and three blocks. He even made a three.

In 22 games, Hammons averaged 2.2 points and 1.6 rebounds with pretty good per-36 numbers. He spent a great deal of time in the D-League, having games like these.

So, there are flashes. Then again, we said this same thing about Justin Anderson. Hammons will have his hands full vying for a roster spot next season with Salah Mejri possibly in the fold (should his $1.5 million for next season become guaranteed) and the high likelihood of the Mavericks matching any RFA offers for Nerlens Noel.

Contract status

The Mavericks gave Hammons a guaranteed three-year deal upon drafting him, and he’s set to make around $1.3 million next season and $1.5 million in 2018-19.

Looking forward

It’s all about growth this offseason for Hammons. Mejri is a fan favorite and someone the Mavericks really like as their backup big. I’d be shocked if Mejri’s deal is not fully guaranteed by next season. Noel is, of course, one of the future cogs in Dallas’ rebuilding efforts and he’ll be treated as such.

Hammons is the odd man out, but that doesn’t mean he’s not on Dallas’ roster next year. Mejri is 30 years old and will be a free agent in 2018. It wouldn’t make sense for the Mavericks to push the wheelbarrow to Noel’s house this summer and follow that with an extension for Mejri in 2018, which could be in the realm of $7 million - $10 million a year the way the salary cap is growing.

This marks the perfect opportunity for Hammons to prove he’s worthy of being a serviceable big for the Mavericks. He’ll be a cheaper option in two years, and is the polar opposite of Noel on the offensive end (the jury is still out on that because I would not be shocked if Noel takes a major step in improving his offensive repertoire this summer).

Mejri might have his best season next year, even if off the bench, because he’ll be playing for that new contract. Hammons’ opportunities will likely be slim, but he’ll be asked to show much more if he wants to be a part of this youth movement in Dallas.