The Dallas Mavericks have now suffered three straight losses and sit at seventh place in the Western Conference. A lack of quality defense and injuries have plagued the Mavericks over the past week.
Although losing to the upstart Houston Rockets isn't rock-bottom, the Mavericks still have much to worry about going forward. While the return of Kyrie Irving, Dereck Lively II, and Josh Green will help right the ship, Dallas still has much to figure out on the defensive end.
Relying on one player to anchor the defense isn't and has never been a good plan. The Mavericks have relied too heavily upon Lively II's contributions as an interior presence and switchable big.
Mavericks rookie's breakout game comes at the absolute perfect time
Rather than relying on an individual player for defense, Dallas must look elsewhere on the roster. Other options do exist, but after a breakout game against the Rockets, Olivier-Maxence Prosper may be the most logical choice to end Dallas' everlasting hunt for skilled two-way wings.
In the offseason, Dallas added Grant Williams and Derrick Jones Jr. to revitalize the perimeter defense. However, both players are more one-dimensional on defense than expected.
Williams is better at defending burlier forwards and even some centers. But, he's appeared too slow to defend athletic forwards. Opponents are shooting better when defended by Williams. Additionally, the former Celtic wing is allowing opponents to shoot nearly 83 percent at the rim.
Jones Jr. has performed better on the defensive end this year than Williams. And although he's added another dimension to his offensive game, we know what type of player he is. He ranks third on the roster in defensive rating, but last in offensive rating.
The uber-athletic wing is limited to spot-up 3-pointers and transition buckets. On defense, he has the length and range to defend guards and forwards but isn't the best matchup for bigger forwards due to his thin frame. Statistically speaking, Jones Jr.'s opponents shoot three percent worth within six feet when defended by the Dallas wing.
However, when further analyzing Jones Jr.'s defensive contributions across different player archetypes, he's much better against smaller wings and guards than bigger forwards. For instance, he's defended three players for more than 10 minutes this season: Anfernee Simons, Kawhi Leonard, and Desmond Bane.
Against Simons, he's allowed a meager 25 percent field goal percentage. But against Leonard and Bane, Jones Jr. has allowed each wing to shoot above 63 percent from the floor. Jones Jr. is a matchup nightmare against smaller wings and guards but a potential liability against bigger wings.
To alleviate the discrepancy between Williams and Jones Jr., enter Prosper. The rookie wing shined last night against the Rockets, racking up 20 points and six rebounds on 6-of-13 shooting. He also got to the line five times, knocking down 7-of-9 freebies.
The Marquette product's defensive impact has been felt since the preseason, but his offense looked too far behind to earn minutes. His offense is still very unrefined, but he's shown flashes of an all-around offensive game.
O-Max looked comfortable putting the ball on the floor, especially after corralling a rebound or driving downhill. He doesn't have much wiggle, but his downhill speed is fast. He got to the line so frequently because of his burst, forcing a help defender to rotate in the process.
Prosper has some solid shooting mechanics but looks hesitant to let it rip. Reminiscent of his teammate Green, increasing his confidence is what he needs most. Perhaps more time playing alongside Doncic would help O-Max's outside stroke.
Moreover, Prosper's defense would be an immediate boon for the Mavericks. His combination of length, energy, and hustle is unparalleled. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward looks like an ideal matchup for quicker guards and burlier forwards. Essentially, he's a mix of Jones Jr. and Williams.
Honing in the rookie on both ends of the court is key to unlocking his potential. As evidenced in his performance against Houston, the tools are there, but time will tell when he's ready for a consistent spot in the rotation.
The time could easily be now, as Dallas allows the third most points per game in the Western Conference. And of the bottom three, the Mavs are the only team with a win percentage above .500.
If it starts with slotting Prosper in for short spells, so be it. His rookie teammate Lively II has made a considerable impact. And Prosper looks to be the next youngster in line for more time.