The fit of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis has been discussed frequently because of how important it is to the Dallas Mavericks future. The Ringer’s Kevin O’connor and Chris Vernon recently discussed Porzingis and definitively stated “They don’t bring out the best in each other... I don’t think Luka has brought out the best in Porzingis.”
That is conventional wisdom and is generally accepted as true. The problem is, its not true. At least not in the way that they mean it. They go on to mention a Youtube video which has gone viral showing that Luka ignores Porzingis when he is open.
The video appears damning for any hope of the pairing. It likely is a source of extreme frustration for Porzingis that he was not fed the ball in many of these situations. However, understand that this is a season long compilation of clips. While this video is likely not exhaustive of all the times that Luka missed Porzingis, it was clearly made by a person trying to prove a point searching through a season worth of plays.
Over a full season, anyone who has the ball as much as Luka will miss someone quite a bit. In several of the clips above, Luka scores. Certainly, Luka could do a better job finding Porzingis but look at their numbers while playing with each other. Porzingis is much better offensively with the Luka on the court.
The player on the left is a significantly more effective basketball player than the one in the middle. He is quite a bit more efficient from both deep and at the rim, he gets to the line more frequently, he shoots from closer and he even scores and assists more despite using fewer possessions.
Using fewer possessions is likely the source of the idea that Luka does not bring out the best in Porzingis. Porzingis used 31.0 percent of possessions his final season in New York. That number fell to 26.5 percent during this regular season and plummeted to 16.4 percent during the playoff series with the Clippers.
Porzingis is a 1 of 1 talent in the history of the NBA. There has never been a player who matched his height, length, shooting touch and athleticism(provided it returns fully). With that talent comes the expectation that Porzingis should be more than just a play finisher. The problem is the role that makes Porzingis the happiest and the role that he is best in aren’t the same.
If you compare Porzingis’ numbers this season with his final season with Knicks you see a precipitous decline in usage rate and free throw attempts. You see an increase in 3 point attempts. The percentage as a whole declines, but when paired with Luka, there is a noticeable increase.
The major difference is Porzingis gets to create more for himself when he plays without Luka. This was obviously true in New York since Luka wasn’t on the team but it was also true this season. He isn’t good at creating for himself though and therein lies the rub. He has complained that he is told to stand in a corner to space the floor for Luka, but he actually takes more threes with Luka off the court.
The concern over Porzingis role reached a fever pitch in the playoffs. In addition to his usage rate plummeting, his points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage, 3 point percentage and free throw attempts all fell dramatically in the playoffs.
The Clippers are a nightmare matchup for Porzingis. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris and Nicholas Batum are all wings who have the size to bother Porzingis. Porzingis is at his best when he is matched up with lumbering bigs who cannot move quickly enough to match up with him. Ivica Zubac is the only lumbering big on the Clippers and by game 7 he played only 2 minutes and 36 seconds.
Porzingis was still better with Luka on the court than off in the playoffs. His true shooting percentage while Luka was on the court in the playoffs was 61.1 percent. With Luka off the court, it fell to 41.2 percent. His scoring did increase from 19.7 points per 100 possessions with Luka on the court to 25.5 with Luka off the court in the playoffs. But any scoring at a 41.2 percent true shooting percentage is not efficient enough to be counted on.
There is clearly friction between Porzingis and Luka but Porzingis’ problem isn’t Luka. Its how easily he can be taken out of the game by certain types of defenders. Instead of focusing on how Luka can play better with Porzingis, this off season should be spent focusing on how Porzingis can develop a means to attack long, athletic wings. If he can find a way to attack those players, it will go a long way to solving the perceived “fit” issues between Luka and Porzingis.