With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined with a sore right knee, the Dallas Mavericks are going through their share of difficulties. Since being a late scratch prior to the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on New Year’s Eve, Dallas is 3-4 in the seven games he has sat out. While other players can make up for his missing offensive production in some instances, his lost defensive presence is really glaring.
“On offense, his ability to space, hit long range shots, drive the ball is something we miss from just an all-around offensive attack standpoint,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said recently. “Defensively, the obvious two things are the rim protection and the rebounding. There are games where he’s had three or four blocked shots and changes untold numbers of others. Those are tangible things.”
Without Porzingis patrolling the middle and protecting the rim, the Mavericks are hemorrhaging points in the paint. They have given up a total of 388 points in the paint, 55.4 per game, during his absence, tying them with the Charlotte Hornets as the twenty-seventh worst in opponent paint scoring over the last seven games. What’s even more damaging is that the majority of these shots are coming inside the restricted area.
Dallas has allowed 240 field goal attempts in the restricted area in its last seven games. Of these, 149 found the bottom of the nylon. That’s good for 62.1 percent. A number of these looks are likely the result of put backs after an offensive rebound, another area in which the Mavericks struggle. They have given up 98 offensive rebounds, an average of 14 per game. Both are the worst marks in the league during this stretch.
In an attempt to make up for the loss of Porzingis’ interior presence, Carlisle has been tinkering with the starting lineups. At one point, in an effort to boost the defense along the perimeter, he made Delon Wright a starter and found mixed results. In the last game against the Philadelphia 76ers, he went back to using both Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber in the starting rotation. Dallas actually outscored Philly in the paint with them as starters.
Still though, Porzingis’ absence places a burden on the entire defense, not just in terms of paint protection. The team doesn’t rely on him as a crutch, per se, but his presence makes everyone else’s job that much easier.
“There’s a lot more responsibility really on everybody,” Carlisle said. “Not that we necessarily funnel things to him on the inside, but he blocks a certain number of shots and he changes a lot that don’t show up on the stat sheet as being changed. It just puts a lot more stress on your perimeter defense, you know, to really be able to contain. Because if guys are getting by, you’re not having the same type of element there.”
As the Mavericks head out on the road, Porzingis may return from his injury. If he does, he’ll help solve a lot of the problems in the middle that the team is currently experiencing. If he misses more time, though, it’s fair to say that Dallas’ struggle keeping opponents out of the paint will continue.