Why Kristaps Porzingis is key to the Dallas Mavericks’ second-half hopes

DALLAS – The first half of the season wasn’t much fun for Kristaps Porzingis.

He missed the first nine games for the Dallas Mavericks while recovering from surgery to repair the meniscus injury in his left knee that forced him to miss the final games of his first NBA playoff series. Porzingis’ struggles, particularly on defense, were ranked as perhaps the second most important factor (after a COVID-19 outbreak that affected half the rotation) in Dallas, being arguably the most disappointing team in league six. weeks after the season started.

And Porzingis heard his name appear in the trade rumor mill. Although Mavs owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle publicly stated that the team had not engaged in business discussions regarding Porzingis, the perception among league executives is that he is available.

The reality is that moving on from Porzingis would likely represent a huge step backward for the Mavs, who viewed him as Luka Doncic’s long-term co-star when they traded him two years ago. Dallas needs Porzingis, who is in the second season of a maximum five-year, $ 158 million contract, to harness his “unicorn” potential with his combination of skills to be a threat in the competitive Western Conference.

The good news: Porzingis has provided glimpses of that possibility again recently. His first performance after the All-Star break, a 28-point, 14-rebound outing in Wednesday’s 115-104 win over the San Antonio Spurs, was certainly encouraging.

“I feel like I’m coming,” Porzingis said. “I still have to keep working. After you have surgery, your leg doesn’t feel the same, so you have to keep working on that strength and make sure it’s strong and stable and you feel secure in the end. stop, but I feel better every day and every game, and I’m trying hard, which gives me confidence that I can go out and play freely.

“I’m looking forward to the second part of the season.”

Porzingis’ health will always be a top concern, and the Mavs must manage their workload carefully during the second half of the season. He has yet to finish a healthy season during his more than four-year NBA career, and there are complications that come along with a 7-foot-3 body that has already needed surgery on both knees.

Coach Rick Carlisle has repeatedly mentioned the physical challenges of returning from knee surgery, and a rehab process that led to him missing training camp, as the reason Porzingis frequently resembled the tallest traffic cone. the world on the defensive end this season.

“My feeling is that he’s improving all the time,” Carlisle said Wednesday, crediting Porzingis with doing the work necessary to make such progress. “There is more evidence of it tonight.”

There’s also compelling statistical evidence from Porzingis, who was a two-way force late last season. Two months into this season, Porzingis had the second-worst defensive rating among rotation players in the league, as the Mavs had allowed 119.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, an embarrassment for a player in which relied on to provide protection on the rim. Take this with a little taste of alert, but since Porzingis returned from a brief absence due to lower back stiffness, his defensive rating has been a paltry 103.1 in four games, all wins for the Mavs, who have matched his winning streak. longest of the season. to improve to 19-16.

Porzingis has been pretty good offensively this season, averaging 20.5 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of 54.6%. It has been extremely efficient as the Mavs have fought their way into a five-game hole under .500, hitting 50% of their shots from the ground and 40% from 3-point range, as Dallas has won. 10 in the past. 12 games Porzingis has played.

Carlisle noted that Porzingis is feeling all the different ways teams defend him, which has frequently been defending him with a much shorter player and essentially challenging Dallas to bog down his offense by feeding him into the post. Porzingis hit 11 of 17 shots from the field against the Spurs, scoring in a number of ways, including a pair of cuts in the second half when he was fed by Doncic, the kind of chemistry the Mavs need from their franchise mainstays.

“We are all progressing as a team,” said Doncic, who had a triple-double of 22 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists against the Spurs. “KP has been much better. He has been gaining confidence [coming back] from his injury, and I think he’s still going to build his confidence, and he’s going to be much better. “


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