Dereck Lively

Dereck Lively II, talks to the media during the 2023 NBA basketball Draft Combine in Chicago, Wednesday, May 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) 

The New Orleans Pelicans hold the No. 14 pick in the upcoming draft. Over the next few weeks, we will take an in-depth look at New Orleans’ potential targets in our prospect profile series. Duke center Dereck Lively II is the second player in this series.

No matter which scouting service you perused, Dereck Lively II was considered one of the top recruits in the 2022 high school class.

ESPN rated him No. 1. 247Sports put him at No. 2. Rivals had him No. 3.

Lively, a mobile 7-foot-1 center, was a consensus five-star recruit. He came to Duke with sky-high expectations. While he underwhelmed, his impact as a rim-protecting center was still enough to make him a projected mid-first-round pick in the upcoming NBA draft. The Athletic had him coming off the board 10th to the Dallas Mavericks in its most recent mock draft, while ESPN pegged him to go 14th to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Lively averaged a measly 5.2 points per game in his only college season. If he wasn’t throwing down a dunk, it was difficult for him to score. Yet his shot-blocking instincts and physical measurables still allowed him to positively impact games at Duke.

Block party

Outside of Victor Wembanyama, the 7-foot-5 French teenager who will be the No. 1 pick, Lively is the best rim protector in this year’s draft class. He swatted 82 shots in 700 minutes in college. That came out to 2.4 blocks in 20.6 minutes every game.

In February, Lively notched a season-high eight blocks in a rivalry game against North Carolina. Lively’s ability to cover ground quickly, his length and his timing were on display during this dominant defensive performance.

Lively understands how to use his 7-foot-7 wingspan. He sticks his hands straight in the air and absorbs contact with his chest. When the time is right, he makes a play on the ball.

Lively can block shots with either hand. He is a righty who routinely swatted shots with his weak hand.

Lively has immense potential as a defensive player. He projects as a “drop” big man in pick-and-roll coverage, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see him switching screens as his career progresses.

Offensively, Lively is a low-usage player. At this stage, he has to be spoon-fed dunks to score. Of the 117 shots he attempted at Duke, 104 were 2s. It would benefit him greatly to play with a ball-handler who is a skilled pick-and-roll operator. Lively has good hands and can finish lobs over the top, but he almost never scored against his opponent in one-on-one possessions in the post. He needs to become a more confident offensive player. 

Fit in New Orleans

The Pelicans relied on a two-man rotation of Jonas Valanciunas and Larry Nance Jr. at center last season. Valanciunas and Nance each had his strengths, but neither was a strong rim protector. Pelicans opponents shot 71.6% inside of 4 feet, the highest mark in the league, according to Cleaning the Glass.

If Lively hits, he makes a lot of sense on this roster. The Pelicans love adding players with size and athleticism. Imagine Trey Murphy, Zion Williamson and Lively sharing the floor. 

The downside is that Lively is still a raw player. He doesn’t turn 20 until February. The Pelicans — who have never finished higher than ninth place in the four years Williamson and Brandon Ingram have played together — are ready to win now. Lively probably isn't ready to. Few centers his age are.

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