Before the Dallas Mavericks faced off against the Washington Wizards, the last professional basketball game Kristaps Porzingis played was on February 6th, 2018. For those of us who aren’t the best at math, it’s been an incredibly long time since Porzingis played basketball with any real stakes.
Porzingis had an uneven pre-season; while he grabbed 9.5 rebounds a game, he shot just 39% from the floor while chipping in 16 points per game. He showed plenty of flashes, but clearly had a long way to go.
So expectations against the Wizards were low at best, yet Porzingis managed to both awe and frustrate, depending on which part of the game one chooses to focus on.
Getting shots off for Porzingis will be easy, regardless of who he plays with. His mechanics are quick and high and he’s always ready to fire away. Connecting on three of seven from distance is excellent statistically and considering all but perhaps one were lightly contested, he has the potential for some outlandish scoring nights from behind the arc. He also drew a number of fouls, resulting in seven free throw attempts. If both his three point percentage and free throw rate come close to his final season in New York, the Mavericks will cause problems on offense.
Defensively, he and Maxi Kleber were fairly effective around the rim. He had a two handed block at the rim in the third quarter which ignited a Maverick fast break.
Porzingis shot just 4 of 9 inside the arc. Two baskets were at the rim, including the awesome alley-oop dunk to seal the victory, another was a fairly ridiculous looking step back from the left short-corner, and the fourth make came off a curling motion at the free throw line where he hit a floater of sorts from eight feet out.
Three of his misses were contested long twos (outside the paint in the 10-16 foot range) and two were in the lane, including a gross looking sweeping hook. This is nitpicking to a degree, but a lot of these looks were inefficient at best and down right bad shots in some cases.
Four rebounds in 29 minutes for a 7’3” human is pretty terrible. He’s not a great career rebounder (7.1 per game) considering how tall he is, so it’s worth asking how much of this he can correct. But it’s a good bet he gets called out for being both out of position and inactive on the boards.
Defensively, as expected, when he moved away from the basket, he had rough moments as his lateral quickness isn’t great. Teams will look for ways to pull him away from the basket.
At the 7:59 mark in the fourth quarter, Porzingis entered the game for Dorian Finney-Smith with the Mavericks up 19. He proceeded to hit a driving jumper, then gave up a shot from Mo Wagner and a dunk from Jordan McRae. Porzingis answered with a two point jumper of his own, but Wagner answered him by drilling a three in his face. Both teams traded misses and after a pair of McRae free throw makes, Porzingis dribbled up the ball on his own, try a Euro-step drive, and turned it over in ugly fashion. Carlisle removed him from the game and he seemed genuinely puzzled as to why.
The Wizards had only cut the lead to 14 during this two minute stretch, but the lackadaisical response, led by Porzingis and capped by that awful Eurostep turnover, helped provide the spark Washington needed to get back into the game.
Perhaps this is an unfair reading of the situation as nearly all the Mavericks played poorly down the stretch, but it was a maddening two minutes which played a part in the Wizard comeback.
It’s just one game. That’s the first and biggest takeaway. Yet Porzingis is so talented and the other main piece of the Maverick puzzle past Luka Doncic. As the rust comes off, he must play better. He also has to play harder. The Wizards are possibly a bottom five team in the NBA this season and seeing Porzingis lean into bad habits (mainly, his love for mid range jumpers and not trying very hard on defense) was a bit frustrating to see.
Yet he also scored 23 points and has an amazingly pure shot. This rim protection can be excellent. There’s a lot to love. The path is there for him to become a truly special player. He just needs more time.