When I first entered the discussions surrounding the Mavericks’ 10th overall draft pick for the 2023 NBA Draft, my main thesis was take a player or trade 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 selected — Duke center Dereck Lively and Marquette forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper — won’t be on the Mavericks roster in three years. Or they can be All-Stars! Or most likely something in between. But we certainly don’t know right this second that those two will pay off, surrounding Luka Doncic with the necessary defense and athleticism that a player of Doncic’s stature needs to win. What we do know, however, is that the plan to get them to Dallas is the plan Dallas should have followed for years, a plan that feels like a breath of fresh air 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 and taking Jalen Brunson in the second round of 2018 the obvious — but in terms of really using the draft, playing the board in front of you and maximizing your return, is 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 only the 10th pick. The 10th pick was turned into the following:
- Derek Lively
- Olivier-Maxence Prosper
- Richaun Holmes
- Dismissal of David Bertan’s salary
- Opening the mid-level expansion
Dallas effectively turned one pick into three players, four if you count the mid-level exception that was opened up for trading Bertans. It’s some of that, even before Lively and Prosper sit on an NBA court. When Dallas jumped back in the draft to trade up for the 24th pick, it was the first time Dallas had traded up for a first rounder since 2004, when the organization traded up for the fifth overall pick and took Devin Harris. Only one other time between then and now did Dallas acquire a first rounder, acquiring the 25th pick in 2010 for even money from the Memphis Grizzlies for Dominque Jones.
From 2004 to Thursday night, the Mavericks draft history was littered with wasted picks, blown trades and uneven fits. This was an organization that not too long ago drafted a player in the second round (Santam Singh) for 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 going into tonight. That’s part of the difference in approach.
For years, the Mavericks have mostly ignored the draft or thrown away picks to try to short-circuit a rebuild, like the ultimately failed Kristaps Porzingis trade. A humiliating 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 give 10 to a “win-now veteran,” it was hard to tell if Dallas had truly learned their lesson. It seems it has.
As for the tow itself, immediate inspection…looks promising. Lively is a bit of a mystery box after just under 20 minutes on average per episode. fight his only season at Duke, but when he emerged, really leaps — 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 a candidate for the All-Defense team, the only question is how long it will take him to get there. Lively was the second consensus center on most draft experts’ big boards, but all agreed he needed time. Lively only averaged 3.4 shot attempts per game. 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 the specific Duke team than Lively, but it will be fun to see a super athlete get up and down the floor next to Doncic. I have to admit, I felt a pang of disappointment that the Mavericks passed on Cam Whitmore, the dynamite forward from Villanova who theoretically checked a lot of boxes the Mavericks need from their wing rotation. Whitmore had a historic decline, going from a projected top-5 pick all the way down to Houston’s second first-round pick at pick 20. Media reports said Whitmore’s medical wasn’t great (he had some knee issues at Villanova), but that his training was poor, with teams questioning his motor skills and work ethic. Whitmore has all the talent in the world to emerge 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 who took a pick later at 13, might have been a “safe” pick. That was perhaps the only part of the Mavericks’ draft process I questioned, and again, it feels impossible to guess what these 19-year-olds will look like in three years.
However, Lively could be a sleeping giant 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 capitalize on that potential.
Speaking of super athlete, that’s what Prosper is. A big, long, bouncy 6’8 wing who played a sort of jack-of-all-trades role at Marquette. Prosper impressed teams at the NBA combine, scoring 21 points and collecting 11 rebounds in the five-on-five game. His workouts and interviews constantly 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 relied on him to be their defensive stopper. Despite being a bigger wing, Marquette put Propser on Connecticut star guard (and fellow Thursday night draft pick) Jordan Hawkins, and asked Prosper to chase Hawkins around on screens. The Mavericks, even when their defense was solid, have never had many guys who can do that, especially from the wing. Propser’s shooting isn’t great, but he’s gotten better each college season, finishing last season at around 34 percent, certainly a serviceable number to improve on. Prosper is just what this Mavericks roster needs after trading away Dorian Finney-Smith for Irving earlier this year and seeing the drop or Reggie Bullock. The Mavericks might have had the worst wing depth in the league, and Prosper should fill an immediate role along with the continued development of Josh Green.
If you’re wondering why a player with so much athleticism and size was available at age 24, here’s the bad news: Prosper had just 12 total blocks in his three-year college career. That’s 12 blocks in 1,925 college minutes, which is frankly an absurd number when you consider Prosper’s length, height and agility. Poor block rates from big athletic prospects is usually a big red flag for most NBA draft experts, so that’s why Prosper was there to go at 24 and not a lottery pick. Still, 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 make it to the NBA with better coaching and a better system.
Perhaps the best news from Thursday is what it hopefully means going forward — that regardless of the outcome, the Mavericks have finally opened their eyes to using the draft. Despite legitimate concerns about Doncic’s future when 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 like it would be more like pushing Doncic out of Dallas the more the Mavericks continued to double up on short-term drives. The only way out of this roster hole was for the Mavericks to start climbing instead of keep digging. The 2023 NBA Draft may be the point where the Mavericks started that climb.