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The Mavericks have never had a center like Dereck Lively II

The rookie big man has already shown that he deserves to be talked about with any big man that’s put on a Dallas uniform

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

One of the strange truths about Dallas’ history is that they have had a talent deficiency at center for a large part of their existence. Tyson Chandler and Kristaps Porzingis were great, and both contributed to successful teams. But the Dwight Powells and Erick Dampiers of the world have sullied the few bright spots the Mavericks have had in the middle. The Mavericks once again have a rare spark in their latest first-round pick Dereck Lively. The energy and excitement he incites are similar to Chandler and Porzingis, but the feeling is different. He’s young, athletic, talented, willing to learn, and on a rookie contract; a combination of attributes that Dallas has never had at the center position.

None of his skills are things that Dallas has not had in the past. His main calling card is his rim-rolling, scoring 1.28 points per possession (74th percentile) as the roll man. The Mavericks have had fantastic rim-rolling in years past, as Dwight Powell has been above the 90th percentile in points per possession as the roll man for the last three seasons, per Lively has been a great rim protector, averaging 1.6 blocks per game. Dallas has had quite a few big men average 1.5 or more blocks in a season, most recently with Kristaps Porzingis. He is also averaging over one assist per game. Dallas has not had as many big men who averaged more than one assist, but they had guys like Zaza Pachulia and David Lee in 2016 who were good passers for their size.

The key with Lively is not each of his skills in a vacuum, but the fact that he possesses all of them at once. His stats (8.9 points, 7.7 rebounds per game) do not jump off the page, but when you watch him play, he stands out. Offensively, he makes plays like these regularly:

The lobs are well-documented, but attacking the rim off of a roll like he does in these clips is much more difficult. Lively has developed this in real-time, as he was not doing this to start the year. He has also developed his short-roll-and-dish ability before our eyes. His sense of where guys are and his skill to stay in control and feed them has been astonishing. These two plays are tremendous, first hitting Derrick Jones Jr. on an interior pass for a layup and then hitting him for a weak-side three:

Defensively, he is a big-time shot-blocker. The huge swats are pretty, but these two plays where he stays in front of Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams and then blocks their shot suggest a very high defensive ceiling:

Then, he puts it all together on this play where he defends Anthony Edwards on one end and runs the floor for a big slam on the other:

He has the shot-blocking of Kristaps Porzingis, the passing ability of David Lee, and a nose for the rim like Dwight Powell. Lively is the perfect fit next to Luka Doncic, which is a situation uncharted for Dallas. When you remember Dereck Lively is only 19 on a rookie deal, it’s clear that the Mavericks have something that they have never had.