The Dallas Mavericks have an uninspiring summer league history, having rarely prioritized the draft. This year there’s real spice to the proceedings. With a lottery-pick center in Derrick Lively and another first round wing in Olivier Maxence-Prosper (who the kids call O-MAX), there are two rookies to pay attention to. With Jaden Hardy, there’s a potential breakout sophomore. Summer League, though, is also defined by fringe NBA players trying to stick to rosters. The Mavericks have a few of interest in that regard as well, including local collegiate hero Mike Miles Jr.
Here’s some developments to their game that you should look for.
The obvious star of the Mavs’ summer league team, whom coach Jared Dudley said is “on a whole other level”, Hardy is set to go off. Shot creating guards who are willing to stay in a perpetual heat check always kill it in Vegas. Hardy needs to show other things though. Dudley harped on Hardy’s ability to read a defense as a playmaker to a degree that delighted me. Hardy isn’t quite a black hole, but he isn’t quite a point guard either, so his playmaking potential is a little mysterious right now (peep the wraparound pass below).
Summer League offenses often look haphazard, and it will be interesting to see if Hardy can keep one organized. It also appears Hardy has put on some muscle, and I want to see him own a house at the charity stripe. He’s wide-shouldered, all jutting knees and elbows as a driver, with a funky pace and unconventional movement patterns. There is a lot of potential for him as a foul magnet in the NBA, which is the kind of quality that can make the difference between an inefficient combo guard and a borderline star.
Jaden Hardy with an impressive wrap-around pass leading to a foul during today’s Summer Mavs practice. pic.twitter.com/8M6uyD89Py— Grant Afseth (@GrantAfseth) July 6, 2023
Physicality and foul-proneness. Lively is very long, but summer league is home to all kinds of sui generis post players that can challenge Lively’s frame even if they don’t translate to the NBA. Think of the wagon that is Kenny Lofton Jr., or an all-time college finisher like Adama Sanogo (not to mention real NBA brutalist who won’t play the full week, like Jalen Duren). I have a good deal of faith that Lively will be great off the bat as a read-and-react big who tracks plays and contest shots. But it will be very heartening to see if he can handle the pure force of strong drives. There’s also the question of his fouling; Lively was a high-foul player early in college, less so into conference play. Fouling can be consciously improved and coached out, but using his hands to stop stronger players could be a red flag.
Shooting, and the stuff we expect him to be good at. I’ll feel better about O-Max helping the Mavericks immediately if he nails shots; he’s not a bad shooter, nor a great one, but he will be guarded early in the NBA like a “fake” 3&D and you’d hope his shot hits quickly. Besides that, I want to see a shifty guard try and take O-Max off the dribble and promptly get swallowed. He has an uncanny knack for chasing around much smaller ball-handlers, and that’s a very translatable skill for a 6-8 wing. I have a feeling Prosper can provide quality NBA impact even sooner than Lively, so I’d like to see his game be lived in and composed in Vegas.
…I can’t say shooting for everyone, right? Lawson has always been an average-at-best shooter, and probably needs to be a good one to make up for his hustle-based skill set. He hasn’t gotten a ton of NBA reps to show if his activity level or off-ball cutting can translate to something of use without the shot being dependable. Lawson shot 33% in the G-League, which isn’t good enough for NBA viability without a marquee skill. He’s fairly athletic for a fringe roster guy, and last year in summer league he played good defense; it would be meaningful if he elevated it to great. A solid shooting week and strong work on tough assignments might keep him around, but the NBA rotation version of Lawson will always be a low wattage player.
Mike Miles Jr.
Prove his excellent driving translates–and shooting. One of my very favorite college basketball players, and one of the most underrated, Miles Jr. is a grown man. He’s an elite finisher, lives at the free throw line, and is never out-hustled. It’s really important that he shoots, as with any guard. He took a lot of really hard threes in college on a team without many other shot creators, and I think an easier diet could help (though he was a decent 36% after an injury-plagued sophomore year hovering under 30%). But most of all, I just want to see if a higher level of play does anything to impede his ability to get downhill. He’s got a good feel for the game, but isn’t a true point guard and is too small to be a 2. It’s why he went undrafted, but he easily could have gone in the second round (and is still only 20 years old). Even if he never makes a rotation, I bet he looks good in this setting.
McKinley Wright IV
Okay, I know it gets old, but Wright really, really needs to shoot. He’s not a wing, he’s a tiny guard; a tiny guard who doesn’t shoot isn’t an NBA player, and it’s indicative of how problematic the Dallas depth was that he played in 27 games. I like Wright; he’s a gamer who seems very likable, is smart and doesn’t over-extend himself. He has the style of a point guard from a different era, patiently keeping the chains moving. He has to shoot though, and it might be easy for the other guards in Vegas to overshadow him.
Jordan “Jelly” Walker
Just be dope. No, seriously. I don’t expect Walker to make it in the NBA at 5’11”, but he is the kind of jitterbug guard who can be exciting in summer league. He played in an up-tempo system at UAB, and I’ll take heat checks and kamikaze ball pressure from a guy named “Jelly” anytime.