The Dallas Mavericks haven’t played a regular season game yet, but it is already clear that Kristaps Porzingis is going to be a matchup nightmare. In fact, he may be the toughest player to guard in the league this season.
For anyone who has been watching the Dallas Mavericks preseason up to this point, you have probably noticed that Kristaps Porzingis has struggled a bit from the field. After sitting out the first game, against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Porzingis made his preseason debut against the Detroit Pistons where he scored 18 points on a low 39% field goal percentage.
In his second game, KP really struggled against perhaps the most versatile defender in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo. He scored only 11 points on about 31% shooting. Once again, Porzingis struggled from the field but was able to get plenty of shots up and get his feet underneath him.
In the most recent preseason game against the OKC Thunder again, KP scored 17 points, once again with a low shooting percentage, hitting only 7 of his 21 shot attempts. It felt like he was forcing some three-pointers at times and it is quickly becoming clear that, although he is more than capable of shooting the long ball, he is more comfortable working in the midrange and post.
With all of this poor shooting in the preseason, how can I make an argument that Porzingis will be the most difficult player to guard in the league this year? To start, let me clarify that when I talk about the matchup issues against KP, I refer mostly to his versatility.
I would be inclined to say that Giannis is a harder player to matchup against, but I think he lacks the offensive versatility that KP has. Guarding Giannis is a lot like trying to guard Shaquille O’Neal if he could handle the ball. Although the Greek Freak does shot the ball decently, he is much more inclined to just attack the rim whenever he can.
With Kristaps, the ball-handling and attacking ability are also there, albeit with significantly less physical strength to fight his way into the lane. Still, this skill set is an important one for his game and helps him have the ability to keep defenders on their heels. He is not going to be running any point guard, but his ball-handling is more than serviceable for his style of play.
The big difference between Porzingis and everyone else in the league is that he is both an elite shooter and able to shoot over pretty much anyone with ease. At 7’3″, there are very few that can get to Porzingis shot, period. Add that to the fact that they have to play off just a little bit because he presents the threat of attacking the rim and you have a serious matchup nightmare.
Now consider the fact that he has clearly worked on his ability to hit step-backs and fadeaways and there is no chance that anyone in the league can get to his shot if he doesn’t want them to. He has also added a lot of strength this summer so the bigs won’t be able to push him out of the key as easily as they could before. This adds one more element that we will see more of this year: post moves.
The point in all of this is that Porzingis virtually cannot be guarded, similar to the matchup issues that players run into with guys like Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo or LeBron James. Porzingis success this year will be almost wholly dependent on how he shoots the ball. There will be some resistance as with anyone, but he will get the looks that he wants. He just has to make them.
The Mavs 2019-20 NBA season is just around the corner with the first game taking place one week from today on October 23. The game will start at 7:30 central time and will be played in Dallas at the American Airlines Center. Be ready to cheer on the Mavericks and get our first real glimpse of what Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are made of.