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What to expect with the return of Kristaps Porzingis

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WANTED: 7’3” Unicorn

NBA: Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks
Dallas crowd cheering on their new three-point shooting European big man
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Kristaps Porzingis has been out for the Mavs’ last nine games, and after getting a late scratch against the Kings, Dallas fans are growing nervous.

To ease everyone’s nerves, if there’s anything we know about the Mavericks, they always make sure any player coming back from an injury is at full strength before even considering putting them back out on the court. With KP coming back from the type of injury he had, they’re going to keep a close eye on him and make sure he doesn’t come back prematurely.

Getting Porzingis back would be a huge relief for Rick Carlisle and this team. Dallas has had trouble consistently converting on the high pick and rolls with Luka and Dwight Powell when matched up against a tough defensive team. Powell has been playing great lately, but Dallas won’t be able to make it very far in the playoffs with him being Dallas’ best big man available.

Before Porzingis went down, the Mavs were running through their sets and scoring at an incredibly efficient rate. Dallas currently holds the highest offensive rating in the NBA (115.9). With KP returning to the lineup, he will go back to drawing the attention of the defense, allowing for Luka to attack the paint and set up good looks for his teammates.

The Unicorn effect

In the last nine games, the Porzingis-less Mavs have shot 35.3 percent on 39.6 threes per game. In the month of December before KP went down, the Mavericks were shooting 37.2 percent on 42.7 threes per game. In that stretch, the Mavericks went 9-5 with big wins over the Lakers, Bucks, and 76ers while averaging 117 points per game.

By contrast, the Mavericks have averaged 114 points per game in their time without Porzingis. So, while the numbers may not look that different with and without KP on the floor, the Mavs went 5-4 without Porzingis with frustrating losses to the Thunder and the Hornets. Both of those teams are both young and scrappy, but if you were to ask anyone around the league, they’d tell you that those were two games Dallas should’ve won.

Porzingis patrolling the paint

Porzingis, who is averaging 9.4 rebounds per game and 2 blocks per game, plays a massive role in Dallas’ defensive success. KP has the ability to fill out the paint with his 7-6 wingspan, an asset not many teams possess.

When facing teams that have a quick point guard like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, or Russell Westbrook, having Porzingis monitoring the lane is essential to getting big stops. The 7’3” Latvian has mind-blowing athleticism for someone his size, and with his level of defensive awareness and vision, the Mavs are a much better defensive team with him on the floor. When matching up against teams that are more focused on scoring inside and struggle with three-point shooting like the 76ers, we’ve seen Carlisle throw out a 2-3 zone to try and throw them off. Having Porzingis be the middle man in that zone with his arms stretched wide clogs the paint, forcing players like Avery Bradley or Mike Scott to step up and take big shots.

KP returning to the starting lineup is something we’ve all been waiting for and everyone will surely be anxious to see the team back at full strength. With playoffs around the corner, it’s important for Dallas to solidify a rotation and continue to become a more cohesive unit. The Western conference is wide open this year and with the Mavericks being captained by a 20-year-old MVP candidate, the future is certainly bright here in Dallas.