Sometimes you have to laugh at the irony life can throw at you, especially when it comes to the NBA Draft.
Prospects play their heart out during the season, and despite their best efforts they sometimes find themselves falling down in the esteem of NBA teams/executives after seeing more of their limitations that may be on display, or perhaps not seeing enough of a characteristic that a team might be looking for — or not to the level that was first hoped.
Ironically, you have some prospects who feature very little — for whatever reason — during the year and because there’s a lack of sample or footage the stock of these particular prospects is sometimes maintained, while those who play and play can sometimes see their stock fall.
Emmanuel Mudiay springs to mind when it comes to limited showing not resulting in a total loss of draft stock as he went 7th overall in 2015 playing just 12 games in China. A more recent example would be James Wiseman in 2020, playing just three games in college.
Dereck Lively II was one of the higher rated prospects coming out of high school and onto the college scene in part due to his athleticism, his 7-foot-2 height and 7-foot-3 wingspan. Fast-forward less than a year later, and many mock drafts place Lively either on the very fringes of the lottery or out of it entirely. Mocks aren’t gospel of course, but the more sourced mocks can shed light on the possible thought direction of some teams, and it certainly seems fair to say that Lively isn’t quite as highly rated as he was this time last year.
In his one season with Duke, Lively averaged 5.2 points per game on 66% shooting from the field on 3.4 field goal attempts, 15% from three on 0.4 attempts, 60% from the free throw line on 1 attempt, 5.4 rebounds, 2.1 offensive rebounds, 1 assist, 0.5 steals, 2.4 blocks and 2.7 personal fouls in an average of 20 minutes per game in 34 games played.
What immediately paints a picture are Lively’s lack of offensive numbers (more so reflected in his total attempts), his blocks and his fouls — Lively was a monster blocking shots (the most among freshman in the NCAA) and made such a huge defensive impact while on the floor...yet therein lies the problem — when he was on the floor. You can only be effective on the court when you’re actually on it, and Lively’s foul problems limited his action at times and denied him a chance to showcase his many talents.
But today let’s look at Dereck Lively’s talents and see what’s what (Lively wears the number 1).
Lively’s role offensively was pretty small, relatively speaking, and averaging 3.4 field goal attempts tells you a lot of what you need to know.
It was quite interesting watching Lively and, despite his impressive physicals, how little he was featured in predominant pick-and-roll for someone of his stature. I’m led to understand this is common practice with Duke, but even still you would think he would be thrown into almost every pick-and-roll imaginable, but he did not feature in as many as you would expect.
That said, when he was involved he did an excellent job finishing at a high percentage, ensuring the dump-offs or any other opportunities near the rim — including pick-and-rolls he received — were finished.
Lively found himself often in the dunker’s spot, and he was on hand to finish, as he was here. After the pass is made, it’s an easy finish for Lively:
On the drive from his teammate, Lively does well to recognize his man is going to have to stay put to deal with the drive, so Lively relocates to the other side of the rim, receives the ball and dunks at the rim:
Here, Lively showcases a bit more of his ability off the ball as he gives up the ball, gets in behind the defense and the ball is returned to him for the dunk at the rim:
In the pick-and-roll, Lively showcases his athleticism as he receives the ball inside and flushes at the rim, with the defender thinking better than to challenge:
After the screen, Lively again does well to detect that he needs to shift himself to put his teammate in a better position to find him with the defense needing to stay in front of the ball, and Lively receives the ball in a bit of space and that’s all that’s needed this close to the rim:
Lively has a good pair of hands about him, and catching comes well to him. He somehow manages to guide this alley-oop home, plus the foul:
Lively is able to get himself to the free throw line on occasion, with his takes to or near the rim usually helping him get there.
After the pick-and-roll, Lively attacks the rim with intent but is fouled to prevent the easy finish:
It’s understandable for defenses to want to foul Lively, a 60% free throw shooter, in these scenarios:
I would describe Lively’s offensive game as basic at this moment, but at the same time it was quite strange to see how there were times were Lively wasn’t even looked at/passed the ball offensively, it was like he wasn’t there at times. This is supported by a usage rate of just 11.6%, which is quite remarkable.
Right now offensively, it’s mostly pick-and-roll, dump-offs at the rim or perhaps the odd offensive rebound he goes back up with and scores.
I think Lively probably isn’t best suited for putting the ball on the deck a ton at the moment:
The jumpshot is coming along though, and this is what a lot of teams will be hoping that Lively can put together offensively. He showed flashes, despite the 15% shooting from three, and this will arguably be the key focus of Lively’ offense with the team that selects him:
I think it’s possible that because there’s hope here with the jumpshot it has saved Lively from falling a little further in the draft.
Some of Lively’s off-ball offense was a bit confusing at times, sometimes he just sets these completely ineffective screens where nothing is accomplished, plays like this:
At age 19, there’s plenty enough time for Lively to develop offensively but right now it is a bit basic and that’s OK, because he defense will certainly help make up some of his offensive shortcomings.
We won’t spend too long here because there’s a ton to say but I was encouraged by some of the things Lively showed, a couple of good reads he made in certain situations, more so on the roll after pick-and-roll such as this play where Lively receives the ball on the pick-and-roll and hits the corner shooter:
This is an encouraging play for Lively to make, that he can spot that pass and make it and be comfortable making it is encouraging — that’s all he needs to do in these scenarios. At the end of the day he’s a 7-foot, 2-inch center: he doesn’t need to be dropping dimes like Nikola Jokic.
Lively doesn’t need to be dropping dimes when this is his calling: defense. This is where it all changes. Simply put, Lively is a monster inside. He swats shots, contests, forces offensive players to think twice when they get inside the paint. And he does well too, staying with some guards on their drives.
Let’s start with the shot-blocking. Here, Lively showcases his length and his size as he skies above to get fingertips on this runner attempt:
As the help defender, Lively shuffles over to emphatically deny this attempt inside with the shotclock winding down:
On the pick-and-roll, Lively extends to block the efforts of the ball-handler:
On the out-of-bounds play, Lively is alert and on-hand to promptly block the shot at the rim:
Lively does a good job on this next possession of staying on his feet, showcasing his reach as he blocks this shot:
Lively doesn’t have to block shots to be credited with making a difference in the paint. Most shots that come his way are contested, and given his prowess it makes it very difficult for the offensive player to not be affected.
On the baseline, Lively dishes out the contact, the contest forces the adjustment and the shot is missed:
To begin this possession, Lively successfully contests a floater in the lane and when the offense resets. Lively’s presence forces the offensive player to pass out of any potential shot:
Lively’s presence forces offensive players to alter their shot, and you can see how high off the glass the offensive player tries to lift this attempt inside with Lively draped on him, and the shot is missed:
This next contest comes in a different manner, contesting and breaking up the alley-oop attempt:
Lively covers ground well here to get over to pick-and-roll ball-handler and does a good job contesting this jumpshot:
Covering ground is another link in the defensive chain for Lively, who finds himself able to stick with probing drives and can hold his own on some switches.
Here, Lively shows no sign of letting loose defensively as he switches onto the guard and sticks with the probing drive and the threat at the rim passes:
Next, Lively steps in quickly to plug the gap defensively and prevent the drive, and on the switch he gets out to the perimeter, and the offensive player elects not to attempt a drive-by and settles for a three that Lively contests:
On the switch, Lively is left one-on-one but prevents any possible look at the rim with a stern defense, forcing a careless pass and resulting in a turnover:
On a switch getting downhill, Lively sticks with the guard and contests the shot at the rim:
Out on the perimeter, Lively switches onto the guard. and the efforts to break through do not trouble Lively in the slightest. and the pass to the corner is made:
So, Lively blocks shots, contests shots very well, he rebounds well and he does well on switches and can cover good ground with both his movement and his length. What’s the catch?
Discipline can be an issue for Lively — he gets caught in foul trouble too often.
These come in every form really, between his contests at the rim:
Gambling on a steal as he does here on this possession and ends up behind, fouling from behind:
Or undoing his good initial defensive work here, as he sticks with the guard and forces the pass only to be beaten to the rebound and clumsily knock the player out of bounds and called for the foul:
Playing time for rookies can be tough enough and when you’re on the floor you’ve got to find a way to stay on it. It will be important for Lively’s rookie development that he doesn’t take himself off the floor when he gets the opportunity. Leashes can be tight enough from coaches as it is, they’re more than happy to yank rookies off. Lively can’t give them extra reason to do so.
Dereck Lively is an intriguing prospect.
He has a lot going for him before he even steps onto a basketball court: he just turned 19 in February, and has excellent physical tools which measure up better than many of his competitors.
On the court, he’s a project offensively. His athleticism primarily fuels his offense right now, and in the NBA that advantage can be equaled, so making a contribution offensively could be difficult. But the hope is that the jumper he showed flashes of continues to develop, and pair that with his defense and you have a tantalizing prospect.
Defensively, there’s a lot to like: good shot blocking instincts, an unmistakable impact defensively in the paint, capable of staying ahead of some switches, and he’s a good rebounder.
There’s a really good platform to build on in Lively.
In terms of improvements, the defensive discipline needs to improve and whichever team selects him will need to be a bit creative in how they use Lively off the ball, because he can clog up the lane at times. And I wouldn’t call him elite in pick-and-roll plus his screen-setting sometimes can be hit or miss at times. Offensively it could be a struggle, but again you work on the jumper and go from there.
Overall I think Lively will need a few years to begin to realize his potential on both ends, but there’s certainly more do.
Let’s look at what other outlets have to say about Dereck Lively II.
ESPN rank Lively 13th in their ‘Best Available list, with Jonathan Givony adding this:
Lively scored just four points in 65 minutes of NCAA tournament action, failing to attempt a single shot against Tennessee. That’s partially due to his limitations offensively as well as Duke’s own struggles with ball movement versus a stout Vols defense.
Sporting the lowest usage percentage (11.6%) of any collegiate player in our top 100, with what would be the lowest usage rate of a draft pick in the past 20-plus years, Lively doesn’t have much to offer outside of being spoon-fed dunks at just 5.2 PPG.
He does bring exceptional mobility covering ground on the perimeter and instincts as a rim-protector with his 7-3 1/2 wingspan and 9-4 standing reach. He’s the No. 1 shot-blocker among projected draft picks by a wide margin and has improved his ability to show or switch on ball-screens, giving him a ready-made role in the NBA with room to grow as his frame fills out. Lively is a project offensively and will need to improve his strength and physicality to hold his own on both ends of the floor. But he is only 19 years old, has improved all season and has the type of upside a patient team could certainly be interested in developing should he enter the draft.— Jonathan Givony
Givony made reference to Lively’s low usage, but I honestly hadn’t realized it was the lowest of any collegiate player in ESPN’s top-100 which is quite remarkable. He also made reference to Lively’s basic offense that will indeed be a project, his physical measurements, his ability to switch and the fact he has time on his side.
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor mocks Lively at 12th overall with this assessment:
Great finisher off rolls and cuts. He has soft hands for catching fastballs and the massive wingspan to catch passes above the rim. With bouncy athleticism, he’s a constant lob threat in the half court. Though Duke doesn’t run much pick-and-roll, that’ll be his primary way to contribute at the next level.
He has a knack for playmaking despite lacking a low-post skill set. He can fire lasers to spot-up shooters, and he does a good job of locating cutters. There could be a role for him as a low- to mid-post playmaking hub. If his shot develops, he could even be used in dribble handoffs.
He displays touch near the rim and could eventually develop into a 3-point threat. He’s most comfortable from the corners. He could have untapped potential as a spot-up shooter.
He loves to run the floor in transition to get ahead of the defense.
Mobile rim protector capable of stepping out and hedging, blitzing or switching. Even if he gets beat, he’s able to recover and use his 7-foot-8 wingspan to alter or block the shot from behind. If he masters his fundamentals, he could become a versatile big capable of excelling in any scheme.
Impactful help defender who covers a lot of ground and takes off in a blink for blocks inside.
Plays like a gentle giant at times, not going back up for putbacks following offensive boards. Instead, he just kicks it out. This isn’t inherently a bad thing. Some coaches instruct bigs to do this. But the aggression would be nice to see in a player who came in with such great expectations.
He hasn’t shown the ability or desire to create his own looks, rarely even dribbling the ball. With a borderline-hackable free throw percentage, he could be a liability if he’s not finishing at the basket.
He’s not vacuuming up defensive rebounds like he did in high school, in part because he’s dealing with larger bodies than ever before. He needs to get better at boxing out since he can’t get by on just athleticism anymore. Getting stronger is a priority.
Defensive fundamentals need to improve. He finds himself out of position at times, especially when defending perimeter actions like handoffs. He’d probably be best utilized in a switching scheme early in his career as he continues to learn the intricacies of defending actions.
Brought inconsistent effort at the high school level, but so far at Duke he’s improved, something he’ll need to continue doing to go in the first round.
I haven’t much to add or comment on here from O’Connor, but it is certainly worth noting that the physical advantage Lively has enjoyed up to this point will be at its lowest in his rookie season in the NBA once he goes against world class athletes as he fills his own frame.
Sam Vecenie wrote a novel on the 2023 draft class for The Athletic and a lot about Dereck Lively’s strengths and weaknesses. I won’t include those out of respect for the sheer amount Vecenie has written and it’s frankly worth the click and subscriptions fee, but I’ll include his shorter, overall summary on Lively (who he ranks 10th on his big-board):
Lively has an immense number of tools that should make him an impactful NBA player. He’ll have elite size and length among centers. He moves well enough to be versatile defensively in different coverages. And his rim protection should be legitimate. He has strong anticipation around the basket, and he has strong timing for going up to swat shots. He’s just very limited on offense, and it’ll be incumbent upon him to work through that. Even more than the jumper, where Lively needs to improve is with his overall comfort making passing reads. If the jumper comes along, great.
There is some real potential for that to happen, and if it does, he’ll be exceptionally valuable. But more than that, Lively needs to become a more fluid player and quicker processor of the game on that end of the court. But he’s such a strong defensive prospect with such good defensive tape late in the season that I think he’s worth a top-20 pick, and I have a lottery grade on him due to his upside on that end. If the offense comes along at all, he has a chance to be a top-10 center in the league. Even if it doesn’t, I buy him as a starter just through the defense and rim running. To me, that’s worth a lottery pick.
Vecenie is clearly high on Lively’s defense, and even goes as far to say as a chance to be a top-10 center in the league if he can figure it out offensively. That’s a strong statement but it speaks to the underlying potential Lively possesses.
For the Atlanta Hawks picking at 15th overall, should Lively fall that far it would be I think an excellent selection and it fits the timeline. You can afford to wait for him to develop with Clint Capela and Onyeka Okongwu already on the roster, with Capela recently signing an extension and Okongwu — you’d have to imagine right now — returning after his restricted free agency. It means the Hawks could afford to be patient, and should Lively fall to them at 15, I think he’d likely be the best prospect available at that spot — unless they decide to move up of course.
Is he likely to be available at 15? I’m not sure sure. The consensus seems to be that he’ll go before then, but Dereck Lively II should certainly be a player the Hawks keeps tabs on come draft night.