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Recent play of Kristaps Porzingis provides hope for Mavericks future

Nolan Fowler
Dallas Mavericks, Kristaps Porzingis
Dallas Mavericks, Kristaps Porzingis / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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When the Dallas Mavericks traded for Kristaps Porzingis back in 2019, there was a consensus of both excitement and reservation.

The excitement stemmed from the 7-foot-3 big man’s “unicorn” abilities, as first proclaimed by Kevin Durant during Porzingis’ rookie season. At his size, KP possessed the skills to serve as an offensive focal point while simultaneously using his length as a rim protector to contest shots at the other end. 

His diverse skillset coalesced beautifully during the 2018 season, when Porzingis was named an All-Star after averaging 22.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, which led the league at the time. On Feb. 6, however, Porzingis’ season ended abruptly after he tore his ACL in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Injury history is concerning for Mavericks star Kristaps Porzingis

The injury brought light to the fragility of Porzingis due to his size. Seven-footers have a history of susceptibility to lower-body injuries.

This chiefly contributed to the reservation of some Mavs fans after the organization acquired Porzingis for a package centered around two future first-round picks and a young asset in Dennis Smith Jr.

Those concerns were exacerbated when the Mavs signed Porzingis to a fully guaranteed five-year, $158 million maximum contract extension in 2019 before he ever played a game for the team. 

When he did finally suit up for Dallas, Porzingis provided flashes of what he could be as a co-star next to Luka Doncic. However, injuries continued to be an issue as KP played in just 57 out of 82 games during the 2020 season and missed the last three games of the Mavs’ first-round playoff series loss to the Clippers due to a lateral meniscus tear.

In the pandemic-shortened season of 2021, Porzingis played in 43 of a possible 72 games. More concerning, though, was potential friction between Doncic and Porzingis. After Porzingis succumbed to a floor spacing role in the Mavs’ first-round series to the Clippers, reports surfaced of a disconnect between the two stars. 

This reported tension compounded the issues that already existed around Porzingis’ injury concerns and made it fair to wonder whether Porzingis had worn out his welcome in Dallas.

Kristaps Porzingis recent play brings hope to Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs brought in Jason Kidd to replace Rick Carlisle as head coach, and Kidd immediately hyped up Porzingis’s prospects in his system, even predicting an All-Star season for the Latvian before the regular season.

So far, the returns on the Porzingis-Doncic and Porzingis-Kidd relationships have been positive. Since returning from a back injury that caused him to miss five games, Porzingis has played at an All-Star caliber level and has provided needed optimism for his future with the franchise.

Let’s take a look at a few of the areas where Porzingis has excelled this season, and why it could portend to a brighter future for the Mavs.

Mavericks star Kristaps Porzingis has increased his usage rate

Heading into Saturday’s game against the Washington Wizards, Porzingis has a 28.1 percent usage rate, according to NBA Stats, which would be his highest with the Mavs and the second-highest of his career.

This is an important stat to monitor for Porzingis throughout the 2021-2022 season. Kidd mentioned before the season how he needed to get Porzingis involved more offensively, and that’s especially proven successful over the last seven games as KP has averaged 26 points with 53/41/94 percent shooting splits during that stretch.

If he can keep up a similar pace for the rest of the season, Porzingis’ usage rate should stay closer to his current 28 percent.

Kristaps Porzingis showing defensive improvement for Mavericks

Just as Porzingis’ offensive numbers have improved, so have his defensive numbers, especially his rim protection, which was notoriously bad last season.

Porzingis’ defensive rating has gone from 115.3 last season to 107.8 this year. For context, the average NBA defensive rating from the last 82-game season, the 2019-2020 season, was 110.6, according to StatMuse.

Porzingis has been more engaged defensively, averaging 1.5 blocks and allowing an overall defensive field goal percentage of 50.3.

Whether it’s because of his heightened involvement on offense, or the fact that he had a healthy offseason, the early signs for Porzingis on the defensive end have been encouraging.

Mavericks star Kristaps Porzingis is taking and making more free throws

Porzingis has improved his free throws. He’s currently averaging 4.6 free throw attempts per game and connecting on 89 percent of them, which would easily eclipse his previous career-high of 86 percent, set last season.

During his All-Star season in 2018, Porzingis averaged 5.7 free throw attempts per game. If he can continue to get to the line with increased frequency, his overall offensive impact will continue to benefit the Dallas Mavericks.

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