The Dallas Mavericks sit at 16-10 in a loaded Western Conference. The Mavs are four and a half games out of first place, but also just four games from 11th place, where they finished a season ago.
The improvement from last season to this season is stark. Although injured, Kyrie Irving has made a huge difference in Dallas. As have offseason acquisitions Grant Williams, Dante Exum, and Derrick Jones Jr.
However, despite it being his first year in the NBA, Dereck Lively II has been the biggest difference-maker. Although Lively II averages a modest 8.9 points per game, his contributions beyond the scoring column are immense.
Mavericks' success already hinges on rookie center Dereck Lively II
Without Lively II, the Mavericks are winless. After losing to the Denver Nuggets on Monday, Dallas is now 0-3 without their stud rookie. In games sans Lively II, the Mavs have allowed 127, 107, and 130 points. With Lively II absent from the lineup, Dallas allows four points per game more on average.
Perhaps more concerning, Dallas only averages 102.7 points per game with Lively II sidelined, nearly 17 points less than their average on the season. Does Lively II's "modest" scoring totals mean that much for Dallas?
The short answer is yes. But his all-around game means so much more to the Dallas offense than his points production. The 19-year-old center does the little things so well.
He leads the Mavs in screen assists and points scored from screens. The young big man is also the only quality offensive rebounder on Dallas. He ranks in the top 15 in all of the NBA in offensive rebound percentage.
And last, but not least, Lively II's partnership with Luka Doncic is unparalleled. In games without Lively II, Doncic only averages 6.7 assists per game. Almost three fewer assists than he averages on the year.
Of Lively II's 94 made field goals this season, Doncic has assisted on 49 of them or just over half of Lively II's total made baskets on the year. The Dallas superstar has assisted on Lively II's makes more so than any other Maverick.
Just watching a Doncic-Lively II pick and roll is breathtaking. The star guard uses his innate change-of-pace ability to get to the rim and draw defenders before dishing off a lob pass which typically leads to a Lively II slam.
Besides his connection with Doncic, Lively II seems to have a pretty good connection with every other Maverick. Over 80 percent of his field goals are assisted, yielding an extremely high field goal percentage.
The Dallas center ranks first in the association in field goal percentage. He's the only rookie in the top 25. Having the former Blue Devil on the court leads to bounds of easy buckets.
It's clear, Lively II is essential to the Mavericks' success. He ranks second among Maverick qualifiers in offensive and defensive rating. And Dallas is 4.6 points better with rookie big on the court.
It's only a matter of time before Lively II hits the court again. A sprained ankle is unfortunate, but it shouldn't keep him out for too long. Pending Lively II's return, the Mavs must do all they can to offset the enormous loss.