The Dallas Mavericks were the most active they have been on draft night in many years. They were able to make multiple trades, get rid of Davis Bertans contract, still draft the player they wanted after moving down two spots, and utilize the exception they created to buy back into the first round. With that second pick in the first round, they selected Olivier-Maxence Prosper.
Prosper is a big wing. He measured in at 6’6.75 without shoes at the NBA combine. That will make him a hair over 6’8 with shoes. He coupled that height with a 7’1 wingspan and 214 pounds of girth. The Mavericks have struggled to defend big wings over the last several seasons, which only got worse after trading Dorian Finney-Smith to the Brooklyn Nets. Prosper will go through growing pains in this area, but he can physically match up with the Kawhi Leonard’s of the world better than anyone the Mavericks have had in years.
Man-to-man defense is certainly Prosper’s calling card. Prosper defends as though he accidentally put on Icy Hot instead of deodorant because his hands are always up. This is a fundamental aspect of basketball that at times gets lost, but it is noticeable in watching any video of Prosper defending. Mark Jackson has popularized the saying “hand down, man down” referring to defenders giving up jumpers by keeping their hands down. He won’t be saying that about Prosper.
Prosper was an elite defender in college. Opponents shot 24 percent when Prosper was the nearest defender and 26 percent on jump shots he contested, illustrating the value of keeping his hands up. This was despite Prosper virtually always defending the best player on the opposition.
Prosper is not purely a one-sided player though. He shot 37.5 percent on corner threes. He shot 41.8 percent, though on extremely low volume, from NBA threes. He also offers the ability to create off the dribble if his catch-and-shoot three is taken away. He had multiple plays where he caught the ball at the three-point-line, drove past a closeout and dunked. That is an ability the Mavericks’ three-and-d players have lacked over the years.
Finally, Prosper is a truly elite all around athlete. He is explosive, nimble and possesses great body control. He had the second highest standing vertical and third highest running vertical at the combine. Anyone with a 40.5-inch maximum vertical jump is exciting. He was also fourth in the lane agility test and third, just .02 seconds behind the leader in the shuttle run. It is often true that athletes with peak explosion are a little slower on change of direction. It is a different sport, but think of DK Metcalf being one of the most explosive athletes in NFL history. He also ran a slower three cone time than Tom Brady. That is why Prosper excelling in both explosion and change of directions skills is so impressive.
Despite his defensive tenacity and impressive physical skills, Prosper blocked 12 shots in his entire college career. The Mavericks need his individual defensive prowess, but they also need secondary rim protection from wings. Prosper does not currently provide that, and it can be difficult to instill these instincts in a player who doesn’t naturally possess them.
The lack of off-ball rim protection also makes it incredibly unlikely that the Mavericks will be able to get by with playing Prosper as a small-ball center despite him having ideal physical traits. He can still be an important part of a small ball lineup with his athleticism and shooting, but he cannot be the center in those lineups without a ton of development.
He is also a bit of a black hole offensively. While he possesses shooting upside and the ability to attack closeouts, he had only 24 total assists in 36 games last season. He also had 50 turnovers which means he had less than half as many assists as turnovers.
Fit with the Mavericks
His fit with the Mavericks is almost perfect. If he had the shot blocking skills his size and athleticism indicate he should, it would be perfect. Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving will handle the Mavericks playmaking load. While it would be nice if he flashed the ability to create for others while attacking an off-balance defense, it is not needed with the Mavericks personnel. He can both shoot and attack the rim which will be plenty given the Mavericks other offensive options.
Also, he should prevent Maxi Kleber from having to double as both the Mavericks best big wing defender and best help defender. When they share the court, Kleber should be able to revert to primarily being a help defender while Prosper defends the most dangerous big wing. Kleber had some slippage defensively last season, but clarifying his role and relieving some of the enormous defensive load he takes should help limit or reverse the decline.
PJ Tucker is almost too obvious. Tucker is also a dogged defender who does not really provide rim protection, at least not through blocking shots. Tucker has averaged 0.2 blocks per game for his NBA career and everyone would be thrilled if Prosper matched Tucker’s defensive output.
Prosper is both about two inches taller and has about two inches more wingspan than Tucker. Couple those with his outlier athletic traits and he could or should be able to become something like an evolutionary Tucker. It is tempting to suggest he has more offensive upside as well, but it is important to remember that Tucker was an offensive star in college as well. Overall, Tucker has been a player teams have loved to have for the majority of his career. The Mavericks will love to have Prosper for many of the same reasons.