There was much consternation among fans of the Dallas Mavericks when Jason Kidd and company opted to roll with Maxi Kleber over Dereck Lively II as the team’s starting center during their season-opener against the San Antonio Spurs. However, Lively quickly showed that he’s such an athletic presence in the paint, passing the eye test with flying colors while filling the team’s biggest roster need.
But as is the case with every rookie, there will be growing pains, and Lively didn’t exactly follow up his 16-point, 10-rebound debut performance with an encore on Friday night against the Brooklyn Nets. Lively, after playing 30 minutes against the Spurs, only saw the floor for 17 minutes despite being the team’s starter on the night.
This, however, should not raise any concerns for Mavs fans. After all, the Mavs won, 125-120, so it’s hard to rag on Jason Kidd too much. And then it’s important to note that Kidd had Dereck Lively II on a short leash because they tried to match up better with the Nets’ small-ball attack with Nicolas Claxton out due to injury.
“Yeah, small ball was big tonight. Looking at DP [Dwight Powell] in the past, he’s done a pretty good job of guarding [Ben] Simmons. And then Maxi [Kleber] has been one of our defensive guys,” Kidd said in his postgame presser, per Grant Afseth of Dallas Basketball. “Having those two guys and understanding Lively hasn’t seen that a lot here in this league, that’s why we went with DP and Maxi.”
It’s understandable that Jason Kidd didn’t want to throw Dereck Lively II into the fire. First off, it may have cost the Mavs, as Lively, as athletic as he may be, could have difficulties guarding in space. Ben Simmons, the Nets’ starting center on the night, is also much quicker, and his playmaking vision is innate, so Lively could be brought into defending plenty of dribble-handoff action, which may be too much for him to handle.
There will come a time where the Mavs will have to trust that Lively can hold his own regardless of the matchup. But at just 19 years of age, the young big man will have plenty of time to learn the ropes of big-man defense in the NBA.