The Dallas Mavericks were one of the busiest teams in last week’s NBA Draft. It was long predicted that the team was interested in trading back from their spot at 10, and were also looking to shed a contract or two. If the draft was a checklist they ticked all the boxes.
It is quite the turnaround in momentum after the failure of last season, where the Mavericks tripped their way into a lottery pick amid the distaste of NBA Twitter’s competitive integrity committee. But in the middle of the excited commotion of the Mavericks now having two young defensive talents in Dereck Lively and Olivier-Maxence Prosper added into the fold, it’s worth reminding ourselves that rookie development often takes time (seasons) and is packed full of growing pains. The Mavericks desperately need depth and contributors up and down the roster next season. Before we get to free agency in the coming week and better understanding how they fit in, let’s take a look at what they can provide next season, and then further in their development. First up is Lively!
The 7’1 big man spent a season at Duke University, a starter in 27 of his 34 games. Lively arrived last fall in Durham as the number one prospect in the 247Sports’ 2022 composite. His development, and others in the class, was likely hampered by high school seasons in the pandemic, but his potential was obvious. His start with Duke was bumpy, sustaining a calf injury in October that hampered preseason practices and early season games.
I mention all of this to say Lively didn’t truly regain his momentum until the end of January. Up to that point, in 20 games (13 starts), Lively was averaging just 4.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, and two blocks in 17 minutes per game. The switch flipped on February 4 in a clash against rival North Carolina where he posted his season best 14 rebounds and eight blocks in 34 minutes. In the final 14 games (all starts) Lively averaged 6.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, and three blocks in 26 minutes per game. Obviously this second version of Lively is what the Mavericks will be looking to build on.
Unless something happens in free agency Lively will be the Mavericks’ best rim protector day one. He is an athletic shot blocker who understands being vertical and playing big and isn’t afraid of elevating to deter a shot. A lot of the clips you’ll find of Lively’s shot blocking is impressive (boasted a 12.7-percent block rate last season), but also feature him floating in the lane to gobble up any willing driver. The Mavericks would love him to roam like this, but the spacing in the NBA will make this a challenge. It will be important for Lively to be comfortable in space, meeting players at the level of a screen and switching on and off the ball.
Lively defending in space
Thanks to clips from Hoop Intellect you’ll see Lively navigate the pick-and-roll. There will be learning curve in this set. He flashes an ability to stay nimble on his feet, being enough of a presence near the free throw line to deter the drive and recovering back to the diver.
And this is where we need to talk about his fouling. Lively averaged eight fouls per 100 possessions. This is troubling, though not impossible to eventually overcome even if it will be the reason his minutes are limited his rookie season. Lively won’t be able to roam so freely, forced to make several reads at once — especially given the state of the Mavericks defense. And it’s often that being out of position leads to cheap fouls by young bigs.
Lively late in recovery
The difference between clip one and clip two will be the difference in Lively being on the floor consistently and fighting for playing time.
Offensively will be straight forward for Lively. Given the constraints of his current offensive skillset he’ll be tasked with screening and crashing. In addition to the rookie the team currently rosters JaVale McGee, Maxi Kleber and Richaun Holmes. The Mavericks would be smart to find a solution in moving McGee (or I suppose Holmes) and re-sign Dwight Powell if only to teach Lively how to properly set a strong screen. There’s also a certain dynamic chemistry Powell has with Luka Doncic in the lob game that Lively could pick up on — while this develops the rookie will probably be more impactful from the dunker’s spot. Powell around or not, this will take time. But Lively’s athleticism paired with Doncic’s touch should speed this part of the game along.
If Lively can navigate showing and recovering defensively, and be a lob threat for Doncic on the other, all while limiting his fouling, Lively could be a 20 minute per game player and an anchor to the defense his rookie year.
On the defensive end, outside of limiting his fouls, Lively could probably stand to strengthen his frame a bit. This will help his defense in the paint and improve his rebounding. It is unlikely that Lively will ever be able to defend at the level of the screen or switch out in space. But his floor defensively is strong enough that natural growth on that end of the floor should make him a high end defensive big in the next several seasons.
For him to unlock a level of play that will make him truly indispensable is improvement on the offensive end. At Duke Lively showed decent flashes of decision making out of the short roll, able to read the defensive rotation and found a slasher or shooter. Knowing that the Mavericks utilize this so heavily with Dwight Powell making similar reads, Lively will be smart to grow this part of his game. Making these reads is what boosted Powell’s playing time instead of a brigade of big men that have come through Dallas.
Lively passing in short roll
At Duke Lively wasn’t a great finisher near the rim in non-dunk situations. The Mavericks won’t be asking him to do much around the paint offensively that isn’t cleaning things up, but if he were to grow this even moderately his vision to the corners will be vital.
Lively to the corner
I hesitate to talk much about the shooting upside that gets thrown out around Lively. That isn’t to say he can’t grow that part of his game. But he’s yet to show it at a competitive level. There were flashes of it in high school, and then was 2-of-13 from three at Duke, and then has shown some shooting ability in workout videos. Again, what the Mavericks need from him in the short and long term does not involve spot shooting ability. So if this develops it comes as a bonus.
The Mavericks will hope that Lively develops into a 28 minute per game starting big man, able to gobble up anything in the lane and capable of playing in space. He is ultra athletic and from the moment he was drafted last week it is obvious he understands his role. That is extremely valuable in a rookie, and should allow for him to be a contributor his rookie season, and maybe even grow into the kind of starting center the Mavericks have been looking for since they won the title.