The Dallas Mavericks selected Purdue center A.J. Hammons at No. 46 overall, waiting nearly four hours to take a 7-footer that Mavs general manager Donnie Nelson believes was skilled enough to be a first-round pick.
"He has the most important things you need for a big man — good hands and good footwork," Nelson said. "He has a good offensive game and he's known for his defense. It doesn't get much better than that in the middle of the second round."
It was a draft that saw a bevy of international players come off the board in the first round, something that Nelson discussed before the draft. He felt many teams were in "draft-and-stash" mode and that felt if that happened, that could force some first-round talent into the second round.
To Nelson, things happened just as he thought it would.
"There were a lot of deals in the late lottery that didn't happen because of what happened at picks three and four," Nelson said. "Because of that a lot of guys that were supposed to go early got pushed down. When it got down to the twenties, between the international guys — because there was a lot of draft-and-stash going on — that pushed guys down and I think (Hammons) was one of them."
Dallasbasketball.com profiled Hammons (7-foot, 250 pounds) as a potential pick at center about a week ago and, based on scouting reports he projects as a back-to-the-basket center in the NBA. He boasts a solid array of post moves and has shooting range within eight feet.
Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle referenced both of those factors in the Mavericks taking Hammons.
"He fills a void we have on our roster which is a big guy that can score on the block and shoot from mid-range," Carlisle said.
But Hammons' defense and shot-blocking ability could be just as important as he positions himself for playing time in his rookie season. The 2015-16 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year averaged 8.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game last season (along with 15 points) and led the Big Ten in blocks each of his four years in college.
Carlisle said he was enamored with the fact that Hammons averaged about one rebound for every three minutes of playing time. He said that, along with Hammons' size and skill set, should translate to the NBA.
"He's a big guy with soft hands that is a good athlete, a four-year guy and for those reasons there's a good chance he can help us some right away," Carlisle said.
Hammons, 24, was one of the oldest players in the NBA Draft. Carlisle didn't seem too concerned about that. He saw Hammons' age and experience as a plus, especially when you consider that he can address two of the Mavs' greatest needs from a year ago, even in a bench role. The Mavericks were in the bottom half of the NBA in both rebounding and shot-blocking last season and had identified those areas to address this offseason. In fact, the Mavs were tied for dead last in blocked shots per game (3.7 per game) with Detroit.
Scouting reports pegged Hammons as a player that needs to work on his passing out of the post and has a "questionable" motor. Carlisle said those reports might have been the reason Hammons fell into the second round. But he didn't seem to believe Hammons had a questionable motor.
"I just talked to him on the phone," Carlisle said. "He sounds really energetic to me. When you only have the 46th pick you have to get lucky and have some guys slip. There are perceptions about guys that facilitate them dropping lower than they should."
Nelson talked about how if Hammons had a little more "tiger in the tank" he might have been a lottery pick. He said that perception was more about Hammons' demeanor on the court rather than attitude.
Michael Finley, who is now an assistant vice president and whom Nelson said orchestrated much of the draft, did plenty of research on Hammons, since he had connections in the Big Ten from his playing days. Finley said that criticism of Hammons' game doesn't line up with what he saw on tape.
"He's a big man," Finley said. "For him to be the fastest man up and down the court, he's probably not going to be that. But he gets the most out of his body and what he's capable of doing. I've seen him play a couple of Big Ten games and when you have that type of size and presence in side you bring a lot of attention. If he can do that at the NBA level, especially for us, he can open up a lot of things for our perimeter guys and our guards to penetrate."
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