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Kristaps Porzingis had a career year yet didn’t live up to expectations

The future is uncertain for Porzingis and the Mavericks

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Season in review

Kristaps Porzingis had perhaps the most disappointing career year in recent memory. There is a general sense of frustration both from Porzingis himself and regarding Porzingis from the fan base. The frustration stems from the perception that Porzingis has regressed from his “Unicorn” days in New York. The frustration is warranted but the decline is on the defensive end.

2021 was the best offensive season of Porzingis’ career and it is not particularly close. Porzingis averaged career bests in field goal percentage, two point percentage, free throw percentage, turnovers, player efficiency rating, true shooting percentage, total rebound percentage, offensive win shares, win shares per 48 minutes played, offensive box plus minus, and box plus minus. Even with the uptick in shooting league wide this season, his league adjusted shooting numbers other than three point shooting were career highs as well. Porzingis also shockingly finished the highest percentage of his shots at the rim and made them at the best rate of his career.

Unfortunately Porzingis also had the worst defensive season of his career by a large margin. Porzingis continued the uptick in rebounding he showed last year. He had career worsts in steal percentage, block percentage, field goal percentage allowed at the rim, defensive win shares, and defensive box plus minus.

Porzingis also struggled with availability; he played in just 43 games, a career low in seasons where he has played at all. Perhaps most frustratingly, Porzingis wasn’t even always available when healthy as he missed many games out of an abundance of caution.

Best Game

The best game of the season for Porzingis wasn’t his highest scoring game. It was the game that showed a fleeting glimpse of the unicorn that was and may one day be again. On February 8th, Porzingis had 27 points 13 rebounds, five blocks, four assists and four made threes. It was the only game this season where Porzingis blocked more than three shots, and one of only five games where he blocked more than two shots. It was one of six games where Porzingis had at least four assists (all of which were wins, by an average margin of 18 points per game). It was also one of seven games where he made at least 4 threes.

One of the best things about this game is that it allowed the Mavericks to win a game that Luka Doncic was pedestrian in. Luka had 26 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal and 7 turnovers on 9 for 22 from the floor and 1 for 7 from behind the arc. Luka has a legitimate argument as the best offensive player in basketball right now but he is not perfect. It is important for his teammates to be able to pick up the slack on his rare off nights.

The minute from 4:14 to 3:11 remaining in the second quarter, summed up the hope of the Porzingis-Doncic pairing. Porzingis and Josh Richardson teamed up for a handoff into a secondary pick and roll which resulted in Richardson making an open 18 footer. Porzingis then got the rebound following a Ricky Rubio missed 3. On the ensuing possession, Porzingis screened for Luka, rolled to the rim and finished with a tip in after missing his initial layup attempt. Then Anthony Edwards beat Luka off the dribble but Porzingis was there at the rim to erase the shot.

Contract Status

Porzingis just completed the second year of his five year 158 million dollar contract. He is on the books for $31,650,600 next year, $33,833,400 in 22-23 and has a player option for $36,016,200 in 2023-24. If he exercises the player option, he is still owed $101,500,200 over 3 years. The contract is far from immovable, but it does complicate any potential Porzingis trade speculation which might occur.

Looking Ahead

Contrary to popular opinion, Luka and Porzingis do compliment each other offensively. Luka thrives in the space that Porzingis creates. Porzingis needs Luka to create the high value looks he has been unable to create for himself in Dallas.

In the playoffs, the Mavericks had an Offensive Rating of 123.54, a defensive rating of 120.98 with a net rating of 2.56 in 202 minutes with both players on the court. With Luka on and Porzingis off the Net rating dropped to -10.87 with the defensive rating holding steady at 120.81 and the offensive rating sliding to 109.93 in 79 minutes. With Porzingis on the court and Luka off, things got really ugly. The net rating slid to -42.74 with the defensive rating skyrocketing to 137.29 and the offensive rating falling to 94.55.

Luka was much better in his solo minutes as would be expected, but neither was able to remain competitive without the other. This did reverse a season long trend of the defensive rating being much better with Porzingis off the court. However, the reason for the regular season struggles were purely defensive as lineups that contained Luka and Porzingis had an offensive rating of 121.06 during the regular season.

Individually, Porzingis had sterling 42.6% from three and 63.5% true shooting percentages with Luka on the court and pedestrian 31.5% from three and 50.2% true shooting without. During the playoffs Porzingis true shooting percentage fell from 61.1% with Luka to 41.2% without. During the regular season, Luka shot 40.9% from three with a 64.9% true shooting with Porzingis on the court and 31.6% on threes with a 55.4% true shooting without. During the playoffs Luka had a 59.3% true shooting with Porzingis on the floor and 52.9% without.

Luka gets to the rim much more frequently with the spacing Porzingis provides. 26.1% of Luka’s shots during the regular season came at the rim with Porzingis on the floor. 18.1% of his shots came at the rim when Porzingis wasn’t on the floor. Luka also made those shots at a 72% clip with Porzingis on the court versus at 67% without Porzingis. During the playoffs, Luka took a similar percentage of shots at the rim with and without Porzingis but he finished them at 83% with Porzingis and just 60% without Porzingis.

They help each other quite a bit offensively, even if playing together does not lead to the type of volume offensive numbers Porzingis might like. Though it should be noted, Porzingis has never been able to put up those type of numbers. Porzingis simply has to get better defensively for the pairing to be sustainable. Luka showed an ability to defend better during the playoffs, but in order to maximize his team’s ceiling, the other 4 players need to defend at an elite level. Porzingis showed glimpses of moving his feet better in spurts during the playoffs but he was still a negative defender on balance. That has to change.

If the Mavericks cannot get value from a Porzingis trade, they would be better off banking on a hot start to next season and hoping to deal him at that point. Dealing him now would be selling at an absolute low. He will likely always battle physical issues due to his dimensions and body mechanics. That lessens his utility as a potential sidekick for Luka, but other teams have seen all of the things which frustrate Mavericks fans.

Porzingis finished a season healthy for the first time in his career this season. He has come back from prolonged absences that didn’t include rehabbing extremely strong in the past. In the first 10 games of the 2017-18 season Porzingis averaged 30 points 7.5 rebounds 2.3 blocks and shot 51.2% from the floor, 38.8% from three and 83.6% from the free throw line. During the regular season portion of the bubble, he averaged 30.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, only 1.3 turnovers per game and shot 47.6% from the field, 38.1% from three and 89,1% from the free throw line. During the playoffs he averaged 23.7 points, 8.7 rebounds only 1.0 turnovers on 52.5% from the floor, 52.9% from three and 87.0 from the free throw line.

While there is always the potential for another injury, it is much more likely that Porzingis plays well to begin next season raising his trade value. Then again it is also possible that a hot start could remind the Mavericks why they coveted Porzingis to begin with and cause them to fall in love with the unicorn all over again.