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Kristaps Porzingis’ rim protection is back

The unicorn has returned to the shot blocking ways of his youth

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The early returns for Coach Jason Kidd’s tenure with the Dallas Mavericks have been mixed. It’s way too early to draw too much from statistics but a good start is better than a bad start. Even small sample statistics can also be used to show that what we believe we perceive through the “eye test” is indeed happening.

Kristaps Porzingis defense and specifically his rim protection was the subject of much off-season debate and conjecture. Part of what made Porzingis an intriguing partner for Luka Doncic was his ability to help protect Doncic defensively. In the early days of his career, Porzingis was a very good to great rim protector. Last season he was a disaster but there was hope that with a healthy off-season he could return to the rim protector of old. Through two games, Porzingis has been everything the team could have hoped for defensively.

Porzingis Blocks by season

Season Blocks Per Game Block% Blocks Per 36 Blocks Per 100 Poss.
Season Blocks Per Game Block% Blocks Per 36 Blocks Per 100 Poss.
2015-16 1.9 5.0 2.4 3.4
2016-17 2.0 4.9 2.1 3.0
2017-18 2.4 6.4 2.7 3.7
2019-20 2.0 5.4 2.3 3.1
2020-21 1.3 4.1 1.6 2.2
2021-22 3.0 9.3 3.7 5.1

In the 2020-21 season, Porzingis had career lows across the board in all block statistics. Through the first two games of this season, he is off to a career high start in all block statistics. He may not be able to maintain quite this pace, but it is apparent that he has vastly improved in this area. He recorded 4 or more blocks only once all of last season in 43 games. He has already done so once in two games this season. He recorded at least two blocks in 21 of those 43 games. He has done so in both games this season.

Porzingis Rim Protection Percentage

Season FG% Allowed At Rim FGA Contested At Rim
Season FG% Allowed At Rim FGA Contested At Rim
2015-16 50.8% 6.1
2016-17 51.7% 7.3
2017-18 48.7% 5.9
2019-20 50.5% 7.5
2020-21 58.6% 7.6
2021-22 22.2% 4.5

He is also allowing an absurdly low 22.2 percent shooting at the rim thus far. That number is absolutely unsustainable but it is much better to be off to a good start than a bad one. He is contesting a much lower number of shots at the rim this season. That number should also go up as the season moves along but a lower number of contested shots at the rim can also be a positive sign for a rim protector.

Porzingis contested a career high number of attempts at the rim last season. But that wasn’t because he was doing a great job of defending the rim. It was because he was doing such a bad job of defending the rim that opposing players felt comfortable trying(and more often than not succeeding) in scoring over him at the rim. If he continues to display the type of rim protection he has displayed thus far, he may not get back above seven rim contests a game if teams decide not to challenge him.

There was some hope by many that Porzingis’ struggles last season were caused by the poor perimeter defenders in front of him. The perimeter defenders have not markedly improved this season. Luka is trying much harder which is evident both in watching the games and in his contested shot numbers.(9.5 shots contested per game this season, 6.0 last season) But that effort has not always resulted in actually effective defense which is why he is allowing an opponents field goal percentage an absurd 15 percent higher than expected.

Prized new addition Reggie Bullock should help with this in the long term but he has simply not played enough with Porzingis for that to be the case yet. Bullock and Porzingis have shared the court for only a total of 24 minutes over two games. All other defenders remain essentially the same. This improvement, much like the struggles of last season falls squarely on Porzingis’ shoulders.

Overall, Porzingis’ mobility and rim protection have been the single most positive signs from the first two games. The offense has been hard to watch at times, but it is important to remember that not everything from the first two games has been bad. When he regains his shooting touch to go with this improved defense, we may finally see the unicorn return.

Here’s our lastest episode of Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you’re unable to see the embed below, click here to be taken to the podcast directly. Or go to your favorite podcast app and search Mavs Moneyball Podcast.