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The Dallas Mavericks finally did the thing — they took the draft seriously

It’s impossible to know the results from a draft the night of, but the process from Dallas was very sound, for once.

2023 NBA Draft Photo by Alex Nahorniak-Svenski/NBAE via Getty Images

When I first waded into the discussions around the Mavericks 10th overall draft pick for the 2023 NBA Draft, my main thesis was taking a player or trading the pick, it didn’t matter — the Mavericks just had to be right.

No one will know if the Mavericks were right for some time, so goes the process of drafting and developing young players. There’s a chance the two players Dallas picked — Duke center Dereck Lively and Marquette forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper — won’t be on the Mavericks roster in three years. Or they might be All-Stars! Or, most likely, something in between. But we certainly don’t know right at this second that those two will pay off, surrounding Luka Doncic with the necessary defense and athleticism a player of Doncic’s stature needs to win. The thing we do know, however, is that the plan to get them to Dallas is the plan Dallas should have been following for years, a plan that feels like a breath of fresh air when compared to the previous decade of Mavericks roster building — the Mavericks finally took the draft seriously.

There have been some bright spots in the draft for the Mavericks here and there — trading up for Luka Doncic, taking Jalen Brunson in the second round of 2018 the obvious ones — but in terms of really using the draft, of playing the board in front of you and maximizing your return, it’s hard to think of a better played draft from the Mavericks than what they did on Thursday.

Entering the draft Thursday night Dallas was armed with just the 10th pick. That 10th pick was turned into the following:

  • Dereck Lively
  • Olivier-Maxence Prosper
  • Richaun Holmes
  • Shedding David Bertans salary
  • Opening up the mid-level extension

Dallas effectively turned one pick into three players, four if you count the mid-level exception opened up by trading Bertans. That’s quite the haul, even before Lively and Prosper set foot on an NBA court. When Dallas jumped back into the draft to trade for the 24th pick, it was the first time Dallas had traded for a first rounder since 2004, when the organization traded for the fifth overall pick and took Devin Harris. Only one other time between then and now did Dallas acquire a first rounder, buying the 25th pick in 2010 for straight cash from the Memphis Grizzlies, which turned into Dominque Jones.

From 2004 until Thursday night, the Mavericks draft history was littered with wasted picks, blown trades, and uneven fits. This was an organization that not that long ago drafted a player in the second round (Santam Singh) with the sole purpose of selling jerseys in India. On Thursday after the draft, Dallas signed TCU guard Mike Miles Jr. to a two-way contract, a player most considered top-45 entering the evening. That’s quite the difference in approach.

For years the Mavericks have mostly ignored the draft or thrown away picks to try and shortcut a rebuild, like the ultimately failed Kristaps Porzingis trade. A humbling season in which Dallas not only missed the playoffs, but finished 11th in the Western Conference, was the rightful wake-up call for an organization that desperately needed to change its roster-building philosophies. With rumors swirling before the draft that the Mavericks wanted to deal 10 for a “win-now veteran” it was tough to know whether Dallas had truly learned its lesson. It appears it has.

As for the actual haul, the immediate inspection looks... promising. Lively is a bit of a mystery box after barely averaging 20 minutes per game his lone season at Duke, but when he popped, he really popped — six blocks against Oral Roberts in the NCAA Tournament, 13 points and two blocks against Pittsburgh in the AAC Tournament, 11 points and five blocks against Miami, eight (yes, eight) blocks and 14 rebounds against North Carolina. Lively has all the tools — tall, long, athletic, quick feet, good instincts. If he reaches his potential, he could be an All-Defense team candidate, the only question is how long it will take him to get there. Lively was the consensus second center on most draft experts' big boards, but all agreed he needed time. Lively only averaged 3.4 shot attempts per game at Duke, and while the Mavericks certainly don’t need offense, it just goes to show how invisible Lively was at times during games. That might have more to do with that specific Duke team than Lively, but it’ll be fun to see a super athlete get up and down the floor next to Doncic. I must admit I felt a twinge of disappointment the Mavericks passed on Cam Whitmore, the dynamite forward from Villanova, that theoretically checked a lot of boxes the Mavericks need from their wing rotation. Whitmore had a historic fall, going from a projected top-5 pick all the way down to Houston’s second first rounder at pick 20. Media reports said Whitmore’s medicals weren’t great (he had some knee issues at Villanova) and that his workouts were bad, with teams questioning his motor and work ethic. Whitmore has all the talent in the world to pop as a bruising, athletic scoring wing, so we’ll have to see if he proves the Mavericks, and about 12-15 other teams, wrong. Even Gradey Dick, the shooting/scoring wing from Kansas that went one pick later at 13 might have been a “safer” pick. It was perhaps the only part of the draft process from the Mavericks I questioned, and again, it feels impossible to guess how these 19-year-olds will look in three years.

Lively could be a sleeping giant, however, with most of his per-minute and per-possession metrics (9.3 box plus/minus! 12.7 percent block rate! 22.6 PER!) off the charts. The Mavericks will have to make sure to tap into that potential.

Speaking of super athlete, that’s what Prosper is. A big, long, bouncy 6’8 wing that played a sort of jack-of-all trades role in Marquette. Prosper wowed teams at the NBA combine, where he scored 21 points and collected 11 rebounds in the five-on-five scrimmage. His workouts and interviews continually impressed teams and combine that with his eye-popping measurables — 6’6 without shoes, 7’1 wingspan — Prosper was a fast riser on most boards. Perhaps what impressed me the most while digging into Proper’s game was how much Marquette trusted him to be their defensive stopper. Despite being a bigger wing, Marquette put Propser on Connecticut’s star guard (and fellow first round draft pick Thursday night) Jordan Hawkins, asking Prosper to chase Hawkins around screens. The Mavericks, even when their defense was solid, have never had a lot of guys that can do that, especially from the wing. Propser’s shooting isn’t great, but he got better every college year, finishing last season at around 34 percent, definitely a workable number to improve upon. Prosper is just what this Mavericks roster needs after trading away Dorian Finney-Smith for Irving earlier this year and seeing the decline of Reggie Bullock. The Mavericks might have had the worst wing depth in the league and Prosper should fill an immediate role alongside the continued development of Josh Green.

If you’re wondering why a player with as much athleticism and size was available at 24, here’s the bad news: Prosper only had 12 total blocks in his three-year college career. That’s 12 blocks in 1925 college minutes, which is frankly a preposterous number when you consider Prosper’s length, height, and bounciness. Poor block rates from major athletic prospects are usually a big red flag for most NBA draft experts, so that’s why Prosper was there to take at 24 and not a lottery pick. Still though, the pros outweigh the cons, and most around the league were blown away by Prosper’s workouts and interviews. Hopefully this is a part of his game that will come along in the NBA with better coaching and a better system.

Perhaps the best news from Thursday is what it hopefully signifies going forward — that regardless of the result, the Mavericks have finally opened their eyes back up to using the draft. Despite rightful worry about Doncic’s future as the organization looked adrift last season, Doncic is still only 24 — still plenty of time to use the draft to find and develop talent to contribute. Personally, it felt more likely that Doncic pushed his way out of Dallas the more the Mavericks continued to double-down on win-now, short-sighted moves. The only way out of this roster hole was for the Mavericks to start climbing, rather than keep digging. The 2023 NBA Draft might be the point the Mavericks started that climb.