I’ve been a harsh Kristaps Porzingis critic. Last season, I called numerous times for the Dallas Mavericks to trade him for literally anything. I didn’t see his value increasing, and I didn’t see him as a guy that could help take this team over the hump. I want to be careful when I say this next part because what I’m about to say is based primarily on training camp discussions and three preseason games, but... I may have been wrong. Porzingis looks nothing short of awesome right now.
Maybe it’s him feeling empowered with Jason Kidd at the helm instead of Rick Carlisle. Maybe it’s that he’s finally healthy. Maybe it’s a combination. Maybe it’s something entirely different. Whatever it is, it’s helping Porzingis look like the All-Star caliber guy the Mavericks traded for.
The jumper has been looking pretty nice in the three Mavs preseason games, but I honestly couldn’t care less whether Porzingis is scorching hot from the outside or ice-cold (obviously, I’d prefer the former, but it’s not my focus). What I’ve always wanted to see from Kristaps Porzingis is activity on the defense end of the floor, a willingness to crash the offensive glass, and the lateral movement of an NBA player, not an old man. All three of those things have been staring us in the face this preseason. Check this play out from Dallas’ second preseason game:
Porzingis’s guy is hanging out in the corner, attempting to stretch the floor. He’s aware of that, but keeps his eye on Reggie Jackson, who is setting up a backdoor cut. As soon as Jackson beats his guy backdoor, KP recognizes it and shifts his momentum back toward the rim, blocking Jackson’s reverse layup attempt.
That’s a play that’s normally going to result in a bucket at the NBA level, but Porzingis uses his athleticism, intuition, and length to cleanly block the shot, sparking the fastbreak. That right there is exactly what Dallas needs from him this season.
After the Mavs’ third preseason game, I asked Coach Kidd what he’s been seeing from Kristaps on the defensive end of the floor. Kidd said, “When we talk about him being an All-Star, these are the things that you saw, not just spotting up for three. He played defense. He blocked shots or changed shots.” Kidd went on to say, “I’m happy that KP’s playing at this level, and we all believe that he can maintain this. It’s fun to watch.”
Another Porzingis defensive play that really impressed me is this one from the most recent preseason game in Charlotte:
In this play, you’ll notice Porzingis getting back in transition and making it clear that he’s got the guy in the paint. James Bouknight (the ball-handler) tries to take Josh Green off the dribble, but Porzingis helps beautifully and cuts off Bouknight’s driving lane. Bouknight thinks he has an open guy behind him for a drop-off pass since cut off his drive, but KP anticipated that, recovered, and stole the pass, leading to a fastbreak opportunity for Dallas.
That’s next-level defending! Once again, it’s an example of Porzingis using his defensive intelligence, as well as his seemingly-improved lateral movement to make a nice play.
One thing that’s been clear while watching the Mavs play this preseason, is how good the communication is on defense (for Kristaps Porzingis and everyone else as well). You can always see guys pointing out rotations and yelling at each other.
Communication is one of the basic defensive principles that you learn as a little kid playing YMCA basketball, but it doesn’t lose its importance in the NBA. It just requires all players to be engaged. Communication takes effort. The thing last year was that Porzingis often looked disengaged. His effort was questionable. He didn’t look like he wanted to be in Dallas.
After the game against Charlotte, I asked Dwight Powell if he’s been noticing the communication on the court. Dwight responded, “Yeah, that’s huge for us. Being able to tell each other where we are, where we need each other to be.” Shortly after, he said, “We tried some different things on the fly tonight that required us to talk at a high level and communicate for full possessions, and I think we did a good job, but that’s something that we’re going to continue to work on and develop, because like I said, defense is a huge focus for us going forward and the places we want to go, and communication is key in being successful there.”
I also asked Kristaps Porzingis who’s been the driving force for communication on the defensive end. He gave some nice insights into what’s happening on that end of the court.
“Dwight and myself,” Porzingis told me. “We’ve been trying to be loud and yell out to the guards what’s coming. Everybody’s on the same page in coverages and how we’re guarding things, and we’re out there executing, being loud. Dwight, Maxi, DoDo, Tim, everybody’s being loud and they’re being the leaders of our defense, and they’re doing a great job.”
Porzingis’ jumper will likely come and go throughout the season. That’s how jumpers usually work. But if KP can move laterally, protect the rim, crash the glass, and communicate effectively on defense, his jumper won’t be life or death for the Mavericks. He’ll already be giving Luka Doncic everything he needs to take this team to the next level.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m extremely excited for what Kristaps Porzingis is going to bring to the court this season.