Much like the current political climate in our country, there are seemingly no middle of the road opinions when it comes to Kristaps Porzinigis’ time playing for the Mavericks. The strangest thing about every opinion on Porzingis is that all of them are wrong and right simultaneously. The back and forth about whether or not KP is worth what the Mavericks traded to obtain him feels exhausting at the best of times. Even the most reasonable fan has probably found themselves being contradictory when referring to Porzingis’ stats and skillset. It’s time to take a look at some of the more prominent KP arguments and see how badly we can contradict ourselves when trying to defend or defame your favorite player to love/hate.
Kristaps doesn’t have the same game as he used to. Injuries change players and he’s a very different player than the 7’3” Unicorn that flew down the court to throw down nasty jams inside Madison Square Garden for three (2, 2 ½ really) seasons. He spent the majority of his time with the Knicks being a surprising player, it was almost like people were expecting him to be less athletic and less exciting. This narrative of a guy coming out of nowhere and being wildly impressive on the court is something that NBA analysts love to push. Take that and mix it with the fact that Kristaps was performing above expectations in New York of all places and BAM, you’ve got a great recipe for hype. If KP was drafted in Sacramento and averages 18 in his sophomore season you might get a few highlights per season and a shoutout from a few coaches. Do it in New York? Every time you dunk the ball aggressively you get the front page of ESPN and Skippy Bays plans 30 minutes exaggerating about it on FS1. Now that the expectations for him are high, being a good NBA player is just disappointing. Living up to the staggering expectations of his contract and the way the New York Media presented him is insurmountable.
He’s worse at basketball now. When you break down KP’s game from a statistical standpoint he’s a very similar player to what he’s always been, injuries and all. The outlier for his career is actually his rookie season when he played all but 10 games. Porzingis had his healthiest season as a rookie but it was also by far his least productive, averaging only 14 points and 7 rebounds. If you compare his second and third year in New York to his first two in Dallas they are surprisingly similar in games played and most offensive metrics. In fact, on the offensive side he tends to be a little better since coming to Dallas. Kristaps has averaged a little over 20 points in both seasons with the Mavs and he’s doing so in less minutes played and with a higher shooting percentage in almost every category. In his 43 games played last year he had an effective field goal percentage of .547, that’s a career high. Obviously there are changes in his game from his time in New York but that happens with growth and maturity on the court, it’s not necessarily a consequence of injuries that have altered his playing style. For Mavs fans the best comparison of a change in playing style could be the change we watched Dirk go through in his 5th and 6th season in the league. Early on Dirk played fast, athletic, stretch basketball. Some Mavs fans only remember him as the player who controlled the speed of the game with his back to the basket until hitting the midrange fadeaway, early on in his career this part of his game wasn’t the dominant characteristic yet. Porzinigis has not shown close to the long term ironman-like reliability that Dirk had but his game has been growing and changing his entire NBA career. You could argue that he’s not as active on defense but until last season he still averaged 2 blocks per game, last season being the outlier at 1.3. Which brings us to our third argument about Kristaps.
He’s sucks on defense now. It’s true, his defensive stats don’t look as good, especially in this most recent season. It’s hard to place 100% of that blame for Kristaps lack of defensive production on his shoulders alone though. With only 43 games played, partially due to load management, KP never got into a groove on that side of the floor and that’s a major coaching flaw. It’s pretty obvious, especially last season, that Rick Carlisle just didn’t know what to do with him. Porzingis has been vocal in the past about not loving the Center position and preferring Power Forward but time after time Carlisle would put him on the floor at Center. Not only is it demoralizing to feel like your coach is not listening to you, he also get to be outmuscled against bigger, stronger, centers in the post. Porzingis is more efficient and effective against the PF position. That’s not to say injuries have not caused him to lose a step but having a full HEALTHY offseason with Mavs trainers and coaches should solve that or at least find a solution to it. It’s not as if Porzingis is year 20 Dirk slow right now, a good coach can teach angles and footwork that will solve a lot of Porzingis’ problems with on ball defense.
Luka Doesn’t like him. Who cares, Luka and Kristaps definitely don’t. How many championship winning teams had stars that were not best friends? The answer is a lot. Kobe and Shaq, Michael and Scottie, Rondo and Allen, Kawhi and anyone he plays with because he’s a robot. Does it help if the top stars have great off court chemistry? Of course it does. Does it really matter? No not really, and unfortunately there’s not a quantifiable way to measure how friendship affects scoring or defense. That’s an advanced metric that hasn’t been created yet. I am able to officially report that Luka has liked several of Kristaps’ Instagram posts during this offseason though so everyone get ready to raise that second championship banner.
It doesn’t matter if he’s good, he can’t stay on the floor. Correct. Injuries have really been the only indefensible problem with Porzingis to this point in his Mavericks career. This isn’t really a surprising new problem for him though. His time in New York was of course marred with injuries as well and that’s most likely the reason he ended up a Maverick in the first place. As stated previously, this will be his first fully healthy offseason with the Mavericks. If Kristaps regresses this year or God-forbid gets injured yet again, then and only then will there be adequate information to prove that KP can’t be the Mavericks second star.
Until then, you’re wrong…
Or you’re right, it doesn’t really matter.