With Kristaps Porzingis revitalization, the Dallas Mavericks had it all wrong

(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

Since the Dallas Mavericks first traded for Kristaps Porzingis back in 2019, they’ve been focused on one thing: Getting KP back to his old unicorn self.

After resting, rehabbing, and re-signing the 7-foot Latvian, things have been an up-hill battle. Not only has their “second star” struggled to stay healthy, but he’s struggled to approach the level of play he once showed back in that 2017-18 season.

In his last All-Star season in New York, Kristaps Porzingis posted (per 36 minutes) 25.2 points, 2.7 blocks, 0.8 steals, and 7.3 rebounds. He was a complete weapon, offering value on both ends of the court in multiple ways.

During his time with the Dallas Mavericks he’s fallen short. Struggling to integrate and often looking out of place and even distanced. This awkwardness his peak levels in the 2021 postseason when KP was asked to essentially just stand in the corner. Hence Rick Carlisle’s dispatch and Jason Kidd’s install.

Defense may be the key to unlocking Kristaps Porzingis’ potential with the Dallas Mavericks

While swapping Carlisle for Kidd was more an upgrade in personality (and likability) than is was for coaching IQ, it seems to have accidently sparked something the Dallas Mavericks have been neglecting – defense.

Kristaps Porzingis was never a lock-down defender or intimidator in the paint, but he was a good rim protector. A really good rim protector. His presence was felt and with four other guys playing tight defense around him, KP was quite the difference-maker on the defensive side of the court.

That part of his game fell by the wayside with Rick Carlisle in charge. Carlisle was an offensive minded coach who focused on points per possession and maximizing scoring. He built the most efficient offense in NBA history, after all, and saw offense as the best way to get the most out of the special talents of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

So when KP struggled to integrate into the offense, he found himself lost. He wasn’t focused on defense at all, displaying little effort on his own and his numbers suffered accordingly. In 2020 his blocked shots dropped from 2.7 in his All-Star season to 1.6. And without a coach focused on defense, he didn’t seem to show any urgency in changing that downward slide.

Fast-forward to this 2021-22 season and things have changed considerably. Jason Kidd is extremely focused on team defense and it’s changing the DNA of the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs are now a top-5 defensive team and Kristaps Porzingis is finding a way to fit.

The focus has brought on renewed energy for KP who finished +13. The most telling number last night was Porzingis offering up six blocks in the Mavs 104-91 winning effort. This season as whole KP is more resembling his New York self than his 2020 Mavs self. That’s enormous news.

This season KP is averaging (per 36) 23.7 points (most since NY), 2.2 blocks, 0.9 steals (career high), 2.6 assists (career high), and 9.5 rebounds. His offense and defensive plus/minus scores are both career highs, and his block and steal percentages are both his best since his All-Star season.

In the past, players who struggled offensively lost their identity on the team. If the shot wasn’t dropping, there wasn’t much to offer. But now it’s all about the defense so players always have effort and defensive execution to fall back on when the shots aren’t falling. We’ve seen it revitalize Luka, who’s having a down shooting season, and we’re seeing it from KP.

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Whether this all continues or not remains to be seen but it’s clear the Dallas Mavericks have stumbled on to something and KP is responding well to it.

  • Published on 01/24/2022 at 17:01 PM
  • Last updated at 01/24/2022 at 15:40 PM