When A. J. Hammons slipped right into their lap in the second round of Thursday’s NBA Draft, the most surprised people in America were the Dallas Mavericks’ front office personnel.
Hammons is a 7-feet, 250-pound center from Purdue, who the Mavericks figured would be long gone by the time they selected their lone draft pick. But much to their delight, the reining Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year was still available, and the Mavericks didn’t waste time drafting him.
"We really like him, we like his talent,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. "We feel he’s definitely a first-round talent.
"There were a lot of weird things happening in this draft, some guys moving into the first round unexpectedly and some guys really slid. We were fortunate that he slid.’’
Hammons played four years at Purdue and averaged 15 points, 8.2 rebounds and led the Big Ten in blocks with 2.5 per game. With the Mavericks desperately needing help in the middle, they believe Hammons can step in and offer some support as a rookie.
"He’s a skilled big man who can score in the post, who is a one rebound about every three minutes, which is a very good number,’’ Carlisle said. "And he is an effective mid-range shooter, so he’s a big guy with soft hands that’s a good athlete, a four-year guy.
"And for those reasons I think there’s a good chance he can help us some right away.’’
Hammons finished his career at Purdue ranked second on the school’s all-time list in blocks, third in rebound and 17th in scoring.
"At 24, he’s got a body that can come right in and have an immediate impact,’’ said Donnie Nelson, the Mavericks’ president of basketball operations. "He’s a shot blocker, 2.5 or so a game, he’s one rebound every three minutes, which is excellent for a big guy -- soft hands.
"He’s got a nice little low-box game, good patience, makes his free throw, hits the mid-range jump shot.’’
The knock on Hammons is that his work ethic isn’t very high. That could explain why he slipped all the way to No. 46.
"I think if the guy, like I said, the guy had a little bit more of the tiger in the tank, he’d probably be a lottery pick,’’ Nelson said. "I think what you’re looking at is a pretty valuable pick in the middle of the second round that certainly is not perfect.
"Otherwise, we wouldn’t be looking at him in the second round. But he’s got the right stuff, and he’s at the right age, and it’s at a need position for us."
Carlisle and company are hopeful that they’ll be able to pull the best out of Hammons, starting with the pre-summer league practice sessions next week.
"I just talked to him on the phone,’’ Carlisle said. "He sounds like he’s really energetic to me.
"I think we can get him fired up by playing with us.’’
The Mavericks are eager to see if Hammons can provide the same competitive spirit and metal toughness they got from Tyson Chandler, who was their starting center when they captured the 20111 NBA title.
"You know, it’s funny because a lot of times guys with his demeanor have great success on this level,’’ Nelson said. "And I think a lot of times guys that have a little bit more patience, you don’t have to be Tyson Chandler, wake up and eat your Wheaties at 7 o’clock in the morning to have an impact in this league.
"He’s got the right stuff, he’s got the most important things, which are hands and footwork for big guys. He’s got an offensive game and he’s known for his defense. It doesn’t get much better than that in the middle of the second round.’’
Hammons averaged two blocks per game as a freshman, 3.1 blocks during his sophomore season and 2.8 blocks as a junior, to go with the 2.5 blocks he averaged last season.
"He’s a big body, a back-to-the-basket center that we haven’t had around here in a while,’’ said Michael Finley, the Mavericks’ vie-president of basketball operations. "So it will be a great addition for us and we look forward to having him here and working with him.’’
The Mavericks mainly employed Zaza Pachulia and rookie Salah Mejri as their centers last season. But Pachulia is a free agent, and the Mavericks also are heavily pursuing Miami Heat free agent center Hassan Whiteside to go with the acquisition of Hammons.
"Quality big guys are always at a premium, so I think it’s a really good situation for him and for us,’’ Carlisle said. "When you only have the 46th pick in the draft you’ve got to get lucky and you’ve got to have some guys slip.
"There are perceptions about guys that facilitate guys dropping lower than they should, and I think those perceptions probably facilitated him going 46. Now it’s our job to make sure that he has a long and productive NBA career, and we take that seriously. I take those challenges very personal personally, and I’m looking forward to getting with him.’’