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Kristaps Porzingis’ season is reason for optimism

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The new addition looked better and better as the season went on

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Clippers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Season in review

There was perhaps no player on the Dallas roster entering this season with a wider range of potential outcomes than Kristaps Porziņģis. After a blockbuster trade landed the big Latvian in Dallas last season, fans were left in suspense as KP continued to work back from an ACL injury to his left knee. There was certainly a great deal of hope about the player they’d be seeing once he was back on the court, but after missing over 20 months of competitive basketball, there was no guarantee his return would be seamless.

Well, there were highs and lows, but to be feeling anything less than positive about what we saw from Porziņģis would be indicative of either impossibly high standards or a home address located within the city limits of New York City.

There were some injuries and rest days that kept him out of some games (notably, soreness in his right knee that forced him to miss 10 games in January and cut short his first-ever playoffs), but KP was playing some of his best basketball in February before the league went on hiatus. With any luck, as his game continues to gel with Luka Doncic, we’ll be seeing more of those February highs in the future.

Best Game

There were games in which he scored more points or had a better plus/minus, but no performance that felt as sweet in victory than Porziņģis’ 26 point, 12 rebound double double in a Luka-less upset win in Milwaukee against the Bucks.

Not only was Dallas missing Luka, it’s first non-Nowitzki All-Star in a decade, they caught the Bucks at home in the midst of an 18-game winning streak — the franchise’s longest win streak since 1970. No streak lasts forever, but it always feels great to be the team that ends it. (Something the 2011 title team did often.)

Seth Curry matched KP’s scoring output, and the duo led the Mavs with 26 each. Porziņģis hit back-to-back DEEP threes late in the fourth quarter to cushion a Dallas lead that ended up too close for comfort in the closing minutes. Both shots were positively cold blooded and right in the face of League MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. It was the kind of shots a player who’s unafraid makes. With Doncic out and the Bucks able to key on Kristaps all the more for it, he delivered big in what was one of the team’s signature wins this year.

Contract Status

After much post-trade hand-wringing about KP potentially just signing the qualifying offer and re-entering free agency, the Mavericks, predictably, maxed out the Unicorn to a 5 year/$158M contract.

His talent notwithstanding, it’s a signing that should be viewed as fairly generous on the Mavs part. It includes a player option in the final year, and none of the injury clauses designed to protect the team in the event of serious injury like what the 76ers built in to the max they offered to Joel Embiid — a player with a similarly troubling injury history.

Whether you should view that as a sign of good faith on the Mavs’ part, or being needlessly naive about the potential of future injuries, let’s all just agree to just knock on wood and hope that KP stays healthy and there’s no reason to even second guess the decision. As he continues to work with the team, rehab, and strengthen his body, there’s no reason to think Porziņģis won’t be able to put injury concerns behind him - similar to what Dallas did for Tyson Chandler.

Looking Ahead

It’s so incredibly rare to be able to add a talent like Porziņģis. That the Mavs were able to grab him and Luka in such short order is nigh miraculous. Solidifying a roster around the two stars has this team exiting a rebuild and back in contention in near record time. That is the idea behind adding Porziņģis, after all - that he is a cornerstone-level piece around which you can build a championship team. The goal of this season was primarily to just make the playoffs. Everything that came after that was playing with house money. With the kind of talent he and Luka possess, simply making the playoffs won’t cut it for much longer.

It will be interesting to see how this team shifts around Porziņģis and how the front office thinks he’s best utilized. As mentioned, his best month of the season came in February. That is, after he moved to center full time because of Dwight Powell’s achilles injury. KP has spent most of his time in the league as a power forward, but, what, with “positionless basketball,” not to mention big, bruising centers becoming a dying breed, a move to the center full time might be in the cards for Porziņģis. It seemed to be working okay for him thus far. He remains a complete mismatch on the offensive end while still being able to guard the paint and rack up blocked shots on defense.

That Kristaps played as well as he did this year should come as some relief to any who held on to concerns regarding his ACL injury, and makes the range of potential outcomes entering next season a little easier defined, if not with the additional burden of higher expectations for both his play individually, and the team as a whole.