The Mavericks loss to the Thunder on Saturday was a bummer. Rarely do teams go on 30-0 runs and it’s even rarer for a team to lose a game in which they put together a 30-0 run, but Dallas was scrappy despite multitudes of injuries against an elite Oklahoma City team.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of that game, as D Magazine’s Iztok Franko noted, was how rookie center Dereck Lively played off Luka Doncic double-teams. Lively scored three baskets after Doncic got trapped, facing 4-on-3 situations and getting to the basket for efficient scores.
That’s a huge development boon for Lively, mostly thought of someone that can tap out as a Tyson Chandler-esque rim runner. Typically players catching the ball in 4-on-3 scenarios are well rounded forwards that can pass well — think your Draymond Green types. For Lively to show this skill off and against a great defense bodes well for what his game could look like down the road.
Lively finished the game with 20 points on 9-for-9 for nine shooting, but it was these three buckets that really stood out.
The first score in this situation is impressive if only because of who Lively meets at the rim — rookie of the year front runner Chet Holmgren. Holmgren has been one of the better rim protectors in the NBA this season, and with the Thunder experimenting with Holmgren guarding a non-threatening wing (in this case AJ Lawson) so he can help roam, the fact that Lively meets him and scores with authority is very encouraging.
These next two scores are equally impressive as the first, but for the exact opposite reason — because Holmgren isn’t the one meeting Lively at the rim.
Why is that important? Well Lively, obviously, is a center. A fairly traditional one at that for the time being, which means opposing teams will almost always use their own center to guard Lively. If teams decide they want to trap Doncic when Lively is setting the screen, that means there will likely be little-to-no rim protection on the weakside, as most teams play one big these days. There are outliers of course, but Lively has a chance to catch and finish against much smaller defenders if he continues to make progress on this skill.
When teams adjust and put the center on a wing to help in the paint, that’s when Lively can make the next adjustment in passing to the corner for an open shooter (or just dunking on the big man’s head, like Holmgren). We’ve already seen Lively pick out corner shooters as the roll man in a pick and roll, so we know it’s possible, Lively just has to keep developing positively at this situation.
It’s also important to note that Doncic was credited with an assist on each of these scores, so while this isn’t the type of help many think of when wanting the Mavericks roster to better support Doncic, not all assists are created equal. Sure it’s an assist and good setup, but Lively does more than just catch and dunk. The Mavericks need exactly more from their role players in these scenarios so Doncic doesn’t feel overwhelmed on a night-to-night basis. It might not be as cool as an isolation fadeaway, but Lively acting as an off-ball offensive hub off traps and dribble handoffs could be the next evolution of the Mavericks already brilliant offense.