A year ago at the trade deadline, the Dallas Mavericks rolled the dice on a trade with the New York Knicks to acquire a disgruntled Kristaps Porzingis as he was rehabbing from a torn ACL. Porzingis didn’t play for the Mavs last season, but the acquisition set them up to sign him to a max contract this summer without much difficulty due to having his rights as a restricted free agent.
The goal was to pair their young star point-forward Luka Doncic with a dynamic frontcourt player in Porzingis, a theoretical nightmare for opposing defenses. The risk in banking on that pairing was whether Porzingis would stay healthy and, when back on the court, whether he would return to the All-Star form he had prior to his knee injury. Early on, Porzingis went through the struggles we so often see from players acclimating to life back on the floor after a major knee injury. He was not as efficient as he had been at his best in New York and the Mavs were playing better with him off the floor, and then after he started to find a rhythm, a foot injury forced him off the floor and his January was spent once again finding a rhythm.
Lately, however, Porzingis is starting to look a lot like that All-Star from New York that earned “The Unicorn” moniker from Kevin Durant. Over his last 11 games (since the start of February), Porzingis is averaging 27.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game, with shooting splits of 49/39.6/84.7, with his latest outing being a 34-point, 12-rebound, 5-block effort in Dallas’ win over the Pelicans on Wednesday night.
— NBA (@NBA) March 5, 2020
One of the main questions for the Porzingis-Doncic pairing was how Kristaps would adjust to a new role, one that calls for him to live even more on the perimeter — his three-point rate is a career high .448, per Basketball Reference. Early on there were some adjustments to be made, but as his on-court relationship with Doncic has grown, so has his comfort in where to be and when. His three-point shooting — where he’s expanded his range well beyond the three-point line — allows Doncic to probe the paint while holding a frontcourt defender out of the paint to create the conundrum for defenses the Mavs envisioned when they dealt for Porzingis.
As important as his offensive contributions in spacing the floor for Doncic and attacking mismatches inside when defenses dare switch is what he’s doing on the defensive end, where he’s been one of the league’s best shot blockers this season. Porzingis is averaging 2.0 rejections per game with a 5.6 block percentage, good for fifth and seventh in the league, respectively, and when he’s on the court opponents shoot just 44 percent from the field against Dallas, compared to 46.3 percent when he’s off the floor, per NBA Stats.
— Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) March 5, 2020
Porzingis’ recent play earned him Western Conference Player of the Week honors, but more importantly the Mavs are 7-4 in the last 11 games he’s played and are just a half-game back of the six-seed. So much of their success is dependent on the health of Doncic and Porzingis, but come playoff time with Kristaps returning to form if they’re both on the floor they are going to make for a miserable series for one of the top seeds in the West — with a chance to shake things up with an upset.