Nearly every mock draft leading up to Thursday night’s festivities caveated their selection for Dallas at number 10 by saying “Dallas will probably trade this, BUT…” and more often than not, Dereck Lively II was the pick. It just made too much sense. The Mavericks have been bereft of high-end frontcourt talent in the front court for years, no offense to Maxi Kleber or Dwight Powell, and finished dead last in rebounding last year.
Lively, outside of the obvious number-one pick Victor Wembenyama, was the best center in the draft, and by a fairly wide margin apparently, as no other centers were drafted between Lively at 12 and the end of the first round. James Nnaji was picked at 31 by the Charlotte Hornets.
However, things started getting interesting on draft night. Denizens of NBA Draft Twitter were told to be on the lookout for a Cam Whitmore slide. Lo and behold, Whitmore was still available as the 10th pick approached. News of the trade-down that sent the 10th pick and Davis Bertans to Oklahoma City for the 12th pick had Mavericks fans pulling out their hair, but then, what do you know, Whitmore was still there at 12! A bad contract off the books and a huge talent falling into our laps! They could have their cake and eat it too! And then they took Lively.
Clearly, NBA front offices know something about Whitmore the general public does not, because the potential top-5 pick slid all the way to Houston at 20. So, with Whitmore off Dallas’ – and many other teams’ boards for reasons that will surely become illuminated – Lively was the clear, perhaps only, reasonable option. After Lively went to Dallas at 12, a run of five guards followed until Miami at 18. Unless the Mavericks were prepared to drop all the way into the 20s, the 12 pick was likely the latest they could have taken someone to help in the center spot without making an enormous reach.
Dallas with Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving all but assured to be the backcourt tandem and Josh Green and Jaden Hardy ready for rotation minutes, had no interest in adding another young player in the guard position. If Taylor Hendricks had slid past nine to Dallas, this would perhaps be a different conversation, but as it stands, Dallas looks to have pulled the ripcord at precisely the right time, nabbing them the guy they wanted all along and opening up roster flexibility at the same time. Flexibility that they would use later in the night to acquire Richaun Holmes and the 24th pick from the Sacramento Kings.