The most successful franchises in sports integrate input from all facets of management into one cohesive vision. The Mavericks current vision looks more like a kaleidoscope. Rick Carlisle “apparently” wants Kristaps Porzingis to imitate a statue in the corner spacing the court for Luka Doncic. Donnie Nelson thinks Kristaps Porzingis is still a unicorn and needs to be given free reign to frolic around the court in order to unleash his unique skill set.
“(Porzingis) is a very unique player,” Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle said during his exit interview. “I just think that there are so many things that he can do at 7-3 that very few guys in the history of the game that I’ve ever seen can do. We’ve got to keep studying our offense in ways to bring more of those positive things out.”
Carlisle’s exit interview comments were very high on Porzingis if taken at face value. However, actions speak louder than words and as coach his actions do not reflect that level of faith in Porzingis. The belief that Carlisle wants Porzingis to stand stone still in the corner is foolish but Carlisle still clearly believed that Porzingis was a limited player by season’s end. During the playoffs, Porzingis averaged 33.3 minutes per game, only 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and perhaps most importantly only 10.3 field goal attempts per game.
Compare to Dorian Finney-Smith, an extremely offensively limited “three-and-D” player who should vary rarely dribble, who took only 8 less total shots over a 7 game sample. Perhaps even more damning, Porzingis only had 3 turnovers over 7 games. Taking care of the basketball is a good thing; however, averaging less than half a turnover per game indicates that a player is not being asked to do much offensively.
“Here’s a guy [in Doncic] that thinks that he can win every possession of every game,” Donnie Nelson told reporters. “His numbers are unique. I think part of his maturity is again knowing how to balance all those kill shots with involving teammates at the right time.”
Donnie Nelson seems to believe that Porzingis’ lack of production can be attributed to Luka Doncic’s ball dominance. Luka was extremely ball dominant during the playoffs with a 40.7% usage rate. There is a bit of a chicken and the egg argument here as one could choose to believe that Doncic had such a high usage rate due to the lack of other options, or that Doncic having such a high usage rate made it much harder for others to find a rhythm.
The former holds more sway. Every time Luka loosened the reigns on the Mavericks offense, the offense struggled mightily. Porzingis inability to create shots was a big part of that.
In the exit interviews, there were a pair of competing statements issued. First, Rick Carlisle said, “We’ve got to do anything possible to upgrade the roster.” Then just a little while later Donnie Nelson said “We think as a young team we’ve kind of taken the next step.”
Those statements do not work together. Nelson’s “already taken the next step” comment should be extremely concerning to Mavericks fans. A team that has already taken the next step does may not need to explore all options about how to improve the team. The 2019-20 Mavericks with an injured Porzingis took the Clippers to 6 games. The 2020-21 Mavericks with an approximately healthy Porzingis took the Clippers to 7 games. Losing in 1 more game is not taking the next step.
Dallas Cowboys fans may remember Bill Parcells saying ““If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.” This was a justification to allow him to bring in “Parcells’ guys.” Carlisle does not appear to have been afforded the same luxury. The coach/general manager is almost a surefire recipe for failure as both are full time jobs which require more time than any one person can allocate to do both well. That being said, it is important for a general manager to be on the same page as a coach so that the coach is willing to play the players the general manager acquires. No player can contribute from the bench.
Josh Green still potentially has a future as a quality NBA player. However, he played a total of 445 minutes in a full season. He played a total of 4 garbage minutes in the playoffs. Saddiq Bey taken immediately after Green played 1909 minutes this season and made 175 threes on 38% shooting. He would have played more than 4 minutes in the playoffs.
Desmond Bane, taken with the last pick in the first round and a popular rumored Maverick target before the draft, played 1519 minutes this year, played solid defense and had exquisite shooting shooting percentages of 47% from the floor, 43.2% from 3, and 82% from the line. Bane played 99 minutes in the Grizzlies 5 game playoff series knocking down 50% of his threes.
These are both the kinds of players that Carlisle almost certainly would rather have had. It is ok that the Mavericks swung for the fences with what will hopefully be the highest pick the Mavericks have for a while. But it was imperative that Carlisle and Nelson were on the same page before taking that swing.
As is far too often the case, they clearly weren’t. In order to improve the Mavericks will have to achieve a synergy that is not currently present. If Nelson truly believes this team has enough talent as presently constructed, it is imperative that he come around to Carlisle’s belief that this team must do anything possible to improve the roster. Luka’s talent demands nothing less.