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Celtics vs. Mavericks: Dereck Lively II says he’s been surprised how much he’s been used as a rookie

The Dallas Mavericks have made it to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2011, thanks to superstar performances from Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, but also because of their rookie center Dereck Lively II. The No. 12 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft instantly made an impact on the Mavericks, and he has only improved as his rookie campaign has carried on. And while many thought the Mavericks nailed picking Lively last June, no one could’ve predicted he’d be such an important piece on a team playing for a title in his first season.

Lively himself is even surprised at how important he’s become to this team right away.

“None of us expected this, I didn’t expect this, my mom didn’t expect this, Tyson [Chandler] didn’t expect this, Jason Kidd didn’t expect this — they expected me to come to the Dallas Mavericks and learn,” Lively said. “And I feel like that’s what I did. I don’t think they expected me to learn this much this quick, and I think I’ve been able to be very fortunate for them to put me in a position to learn. There’s been a lot of times where I was unsure of play calls, positions, of different things, but I’ve been able to lean on my team. They back me up, they understand that I’m a rookie, they understand that I haven’t been in this situation before, but I’m gonna fake it ’til I make it.”

There’s certainly been nothing fake about Lively’s production and value, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. Against the Timberwolves, he was a massive reason why the Mavericks were able to make things so difficult for Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, simply because he was patrolling the paint. His presence helped deter Edwards and Towns from attacking the rim, and even when they tried while Lively was on the floor, he would make them alter their shot or get a block. 

On offense, he’s the perfect rim-running big to pair with Doncic and Irving, as we saw him catch lobs countless times in the Western Conference finals, even with Towns and Rudy Gobert on the floor. He’s also an incredibly aggressive offensive rebounder, which came throughin the second round against the Thunder, where he corralled Dallas misses to give the team second-chance opportunities. 

With him on the floor, the Mavericks have outscored opponents by six points this season, which ranks in the 91st percentile amongst centers in the league, and the fact that he’s been that impactful as a rookie is just truly impressive. He’s not putting up monster counting stats, but he does rank fifth in the playoffs in total blocks, fourth in total offensive rebounds and his 19-consecutive field goals made in the postseason set a league record, showing how efficient he has been with the Mavericks.

He’s been battled tested through this postseason run, having to defend the likes of Ivica Zubac, Chet Holmgren, Gobert and Towns and he’ll have another test in the NBA Finals against Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis. But if this run has shown anything in Lively, it’s that he’s certainly ready to take on any challenge, and the Mavericks will need him to keep being aggressive if they want a chance at toppling the Celtics and winning the franchise’s second championship. 

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