Dallas Mavericks assistant general manager Michael Finley was extolling the virtues of Dereck Lively II on Thursday night, then he paused and collected himself before delivering a message that gave Mavs fans a shot in the arm.
“I hate to put this comparison on him because it’s kind of unfair,” Finley said of Lively. “But he kind of reminded me of a younger Tyson Chandler.
“But again, that’s unfair. But if he continues to grow and improve in the areas that I think he needs to improve in, that would be a comparison that will be fair for him as his career goes on.”
Mavs general manager Nico Harrison also said he “absolutely” noticed a resemblance between Chandler and Lively.
“When he first walked in the gym that’s what everybody said,” Harrison said. “They were like, ‘Dang, a young Tyson.’ And then the next day Tyson came to the workout, and I’m like “You missed it by a day.”
Chandler was the defensive linchpin in the middle of Dallas’ defense when the Mavs shocked LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat in capturing the 2011 NBA title.
Lively, who the Mavs acquired Thursday in a draft day trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder, is a 7-1, 230-pounder that averaged 5.4 points, five rebounds and was second in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 2.4 blocks in his only year with the Duke Blue Devils this past season. Lively was selected to the ACC All-Freshman team and the ACC All-Defensive team, and his 82 blocks trail only Mike Gminski (90) for the most blocks ever by a Duke freshman.
The Mavs agreed in principle to acquire the draft rights to Lively from Oklahoma City in exchange for the draft rights to Cason Wallace in a trade that is not yet final. The Mavs chose Cason with the No. 10 pick, while the Thunder drafted Lively with the 12th pick.
The acquisition of Lively addresses a huge need for the Mavs.
Finley said what impressed the Mavs most about Lively is “just his energy. He’s young, he’s athletic, he’s something that we don’t have presently on our roster.
“We see a guy that size – 7-foot plus – that runs like a deer, (has) good hands, he has great defensively instincts. We think that he’s a guy that can definitely help us in our spots — a weakness — which is defense, in my opinion, defense and rebounding.”
Lively shot a blistering 65.8 percent from the field and only played 19.8 minute per game for the Blue Devils. And he’s hopeful of stepping in and contributing and being a rotation player for the Mavs as soon as next season.
Asked how he sees himself fitting in with the Mavs, Lively said: “Just being able to be an anchor on defense, someone that my teammates can rely on to have their back. I’m going to be able to protect the rim, be able to call out everything I see on the floor on the defensive end.
Finley believes Lively has what it takes to become a rotation player for the Mavs next season.
“I just think he needs to continue to improve on how he left at school — the defensive intensity,” Finley said. “The one thing from rookies, the game is so much different from college to the NBA. The quicker he picks up the defensive philosophies (and) the offensive philosophies, I think he has a better chance of getting on the floor quicker.
“It may take some time, but I think he’s the type of player that you might have to throw him in the mix a little bit to get his feet wet so to speak to get him comfortable with the NBA game. But again, once you see him on the court – we don’t have guys on our roster like that. So he’ll stick out because of his size, his athletic ability, his (solid) play on the defensive end, rebounding, shot-blocker. He’s a great talent for us.”
There’s a video that went viral of Lively draining one three-pointer after another. It’s similar to what Finley said he witnessed when he flew to Los Angeles to watch one of Lively’s workouts.
“He had an agent workout in LA where he actually shot the ball really well. . .and we weren’t going there to see that,” Finley said. “But he put on a show from three-point range. But we’re not going to bank on him being a three-point threat for us right away.
“Then he came to work out for us here where he had another tremendous workout. We put him through some defensive concepts that we use during the year, and he grasped them quickly. He was communicating with our coaches — very vocal.”
While Harrison was also impressed with Lively’s three-point shooting, that’s not exactly why he made sure he became a member of the Mavs.
“I think eventually he’ll be able to do that,” Harrison said. “But the reason why we really like him is if you watch him he talks on defense, he has amazing feet, he can switch off players, he runs the floor and he finishes above the rim.”
Lively lost his father in 2011 when he was just seven years old, and his mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. Lively, 19, has been described as a high character person who used part of his NIL funds to purchase a home for his mom close to her job at Penn State, and to purchase a headstone for his father.
“We brought the kid in for a workout and we had a post-workout interview and he shared his story,” Finley said. “It was a touching story, but it showed the human side of him being that he’s a strong individual dealing with a lot at a young age, but handling it in a professional manner.
“He never, within his interview, talked about blaming anyone because of his misfortunes growing up. But he embraced it to make him stronger. Taking care of his mom, that hit home with me. So I was really impressed with the young man not only as a basketball player, but after that interview, as a human being.”
The Mavs swapped picks with OKC to acquire Lively. However, they also saw Orlando use the No. 11 pick to draft Michigan’s Jett Howard.
“It was a lot going on, a lot of what-ifs,” Finley said. “But Nico was sold on selecting (Lively) and making a decision to move back and getting him. And once our GM made that decision we were all on board in trying to make it happen.
“We kept our fingers crossed that the team between 10 and 12 (which was Orlando) didn’t take him, and it all worked out. So we were happy and excited about the pick.”
So was Lively. But first he had to swap his OKC hat for the Mavs hat after NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the trade.
“I heard whenever Mr. Silver came out and said there’s been a trade, so I turned around and wondered who it is and the next thing you know he’s saying my name,” Lively said. “So you just got to be able to roll with the flow and that’s kind of how the NBA works.”
As far as getting drafted, Lively said: “As soon as I heard my name, it was a dream just getting started.
Finley described Lively as being “pretty high” on the Mavs’ draft board. Afterwards, it was mission accomplished as far as the Mavs are concerned.
“We were excited to see him, quote unquote, slip to a position to where we could acquire him,” Finley said. “We were real excited that he was available for us to get him where we got him.
“He has the work ethics to back up the type that we think he is, and he has a great heart and I think he’ll be a great teammate as well. So, we’re looking forward to having him on our roster.”