The funny thing about Kristaps Porzingis’ season is that so far, statistically on the offensive end, it hasn’t been all that bad. In the 12 games played before Saturday’s win against the Warriors, Porzingis’ two-point shooting, effective field goal percentage and true-shooting percentage were all higher than the marks he posted in those stats last season.
When you take a losing stretch the Mavericks have played recently and combine it with the stinker games Porzingis has sprinkled in, it can be easy to snowball the reactions. Porzingis has struggled lately and that’s why it was nice to see this specific game against the Warriors. No, 18 points on 18 shots and missing all three 3-pointers isn’t great, but the process looked better than it has during the Mavericks long losing streak.
We know the things Porzingis is bad at: shot creation. He struggled with it last season and he’s struggled this season, failing to score well in post-ups or isolations when the Mavericks give him the ball and clear out. This season, entering Saturday, when Porzingis hasn’t dribbled the ball at all during a possession and takes a shot, he’s shooting 50.7 percent from the field. Naturally that’s high for most players, since those are usually assisted buckets. With one dribble, that percentage drops to 47.1. With two dribbles, 41.2. Extend it to 3-6 dribbles and Porzingis is shooting miserably poor 10 percent, per NBA.com’s tracking data. According to that same data, when he holds the ball for less than two seconds before shooting, he’s shooting 50.7 percent. When he holds the ball between 2-6 seconds, he’s shooting 37 percent.
These numbers are not outliers of a small sample size — they’re similar to what he did last season. While every NBA player sees their shooting percentage drop with more dribbles and longer possession, Porzingis’ drop-off is rather large, comparatively. I’ve written this before, but Porzingis is best used as a finisher, not a starter. We saw some of that against the Warriors.
Of Porzingis’ 18 shots on Saturday, a majority of them were in the paint and near the basket:
This happened because Porzingis finally mixed up his game in the pick and roll. Instead of setting a screen and flaring to the three point line, Porzignis legitimately mixed in some rolls to the rim. It made a huge difference, especially against the smaller Warriors lineup. Dallas got some much needed points out of possessions where Porzingis dove instead of popped after setting a screen.
A huge and underdiscussed issue for the Mavericks this season has been the lack of offense out of their pick and roll big men. Entering Saturday’s game, the Mavericks roll man scoring numbers were dreadful — Dwight Powell is a shell of himself scoring 1.05 points per possession, Willie Cauley-Stein is somehow below him at 1.04 points per possession and Maxi Kleber led the team with his hot shooting from deep, but he’s played less than half the games. Then there’s Porzingis at 1.16 points per possession and more plays like the ones from Saturday will only help.
Having that roll man threat is huge for the Mavericks offense and it’s been a staple for Rick Carlisle this past decade, whether it was Tyson Chandler, Brandan Wright, Nerlens Noel or Powell. Dallas’ offense works as well as it does at times because the threat of a credible roll man can attract defenders and spring open shooters.
The thing to be careful with Porzingis though is that since he’s not the explosive runner that Powell used to be, his rim runs are a bit more methodical, as you saw in the play where he past out of a post-up to hit Kleber for three. Since Porzingis can’t get to the rim as quickly as say Powell, he sometimes will use the pick and roll to get deep paint position, as opposed to those post touches outside the paint. This is much better for Porzingis, since he’s so tall with good touch that he can just turn and lay the ball in sometimes. The problem however is when the Mavericks don’t get the ball to Porzingis and the offense stalls.
A good number of Mavericks possessions in the last month have involved Porzingis getting paint position and the Mavericks offense dying as the ball handler holds things up to try and find Porzingis. It can lead to terrible late clock looks and in Saturday’s case, a three second violation.
What was nice in the Warriors win was that the Mavericks recognized this better, as did Porzingis. Watch in this play as Porzingis gets good paint position, the Mavericks can’t quickly find him, so instead of stalling the offense to get him the ball, he quickly darts back out to the three point line so the offense can keep moving:
The offense doesn’t die trying to force feed Porzingis, Doncic runs a pick and roll with Dorian Finney-Smith and Finney-Smith’s hard roll forced Draymond Green to take one step toward Finney-Smith, which gave Porzingis the room to blow by Green and get fouled at the rim. Really good stuff.
Of course, it wasn’t all good or Porzingis would have made more shots. Doncic also had seven turnovers, with multiple being bad passes to a posting Porzingis. It also helps that the Mavericks were playing a team that never played anyone taller than 6’7 — the Mavericks will have to adapt more when they go back to playing against traditional big men, which involves Porzingis popping for threes and needing to make them. Dallas doesn’t have it all figured out after this performance, but things are certainly moving in a better direction with Porzingis and the offense.