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The post-Porzingis Mavericks are fun to watch in more ways than one

Dallas looks like a team with a renewed spirit.

Golden State Warriors v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

When the Mavericks traded Kristaps Porzingis three weeks ago, I wrote that while it might sting the Mavericks in the present, it was ultimately a good move for the organization. The Porzingis experiment had run its course and it was time for the Mavericks to move, with Porzingis’ knees acting as ticking time bombs.

I didn’t expect much in the return — the “win” of the trade was simply moving Porzingis before he became immovable. Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans were having horrible seasons in Washington, and while I was a staunch Dinwiddie supporter during the Mavericks most recent free agency period, it was hard for me to believe in anything other than those two being a bonus at most.

It turns out I was off on two levels:

  • Bertans and Dinwiddie have contributed more than expected — especially Dinwiddie, who has been a revelation.
  • I undersold how nice it would feel to no longer watch Kristaps Porzingis on the basketball team I cover.

The second point is especially harsh to Porzingis, who by all accounts was a good teammate, a nice guy, and a hard worker. It isn’t his fault his knees betrayed him. Yet it’s almost undeniable, in a pure entertainment sense, how much more enjoyable it is to watch these Dallas Mavericks, freed from the burden of Porzingis and all the baggage he brought with him.

Dallas is 6-2 since the trade and 9-3 since Porzingis played his last game in a Mavericks uniform. The Mavericks have racked up quality wins against contending teams like Philadelphia, Miami, and most recently twice against Golden State. From a results perspective, the Mavericks haven’t missed a beat.

On the court though, things just feel better. Where previously the Mavericks had to interrupt their Luka Doncic-led pick and roll attack to placate Porzingis with a handful of post-up possessions, the post-Porzingis Mavericks have a clear identity. Doncic carries the load, surrounded by role players that are perfectly comfortable in their assignments.

I’m not sure if that means the Mavericks are better, and certainly Porzingis’ rim protection is missed, but just from the perspective of having fun watching this basketball team on TV or in person, it’s almost impossible to argue the Mavericks aren’t a more pleasant watch. Gone are the meandering post-ups, awkward Porzingis drives, or infuriating three point misses. In their place are more Doncic pick and rolls, more rim running action for Dwight Powell, and more opportunities for Jalen Brunson and now Dinwiddie.

It’s Dinwiddie who deserves his own spotlight, averaging 18.8 points per game in his last four on 59.5 percent shooting, including 9-of-17 from three. Dallas desperately needed another lengthy ball handler to ease the pressure on Doncic and Dinwiddie has done everything past failed attempts never could. His steady scoring and playmaking have been remarkable and allowed the Mavericks to keep Brunson in the starting lineup with the offense never missing a beat. Now the Mavericks always have a high-quality point guard on the floor and sometimes they’ll have all three.

After years of watching Doncic get double-teamed into oblivion by brazen defenses with zero fear of repercussion from the Mavericks standstill spot-up role players, Dinwiddie has thrown a wrench into those defensive schemes and thriving in the space the Mavericks humming offense provides. Where with Porzingis the Mavericks offense would start and stop, alternating between the heliocentric Doncic attack and the plodding Porzingis post-ups, now the team seems to have the clearest identity it’s had in years. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Mavericks are almost a full point per 100 possessions better this season with Porzingis off the court than on it. Looking at data from Synergy Sports, before the Porzingis trade the Mavericks as a team averaged 4.5 post-ups per 36 minutes. That number since the trade? Down to 2.5 post-ups per 36 minutes. That all translates to a style that is just more aesthetically pleasing, regardless of the win-loss record — but the record is nice too.

Beyond wins and on-court production, the trade of Porzingis has also made being a Mavericks writer, podcaster, analyst, or fan just an easier thing to handle online. Gone is the existential dread of watching a Doncic-Porzingis pairing fail in the playoffs, wondering where the team would go or if Porzingis would get healthy and take the next leap. With a roster reset comes fresh expectations and perhaps no other team in the NBA more needed an expectation reset than these Mavericks.

No longer do fans and media have to read between the lines of Doncic and Porzingis’ post-game comments, questioning their chemistry, why they don’t run more pick and rolls together, and whether they actually like each other. There’s no more worry over whether criticisms of Porzingis’ game, no matter how truthful or accurate they were, result in a mob of crazy Porzingis-stan accounts flooding your mentions (which to be fair, there are similar stan accounts for Doncic and they can be just as annoying), regardless of if you’re media or a fan. Arguments over whether Porzingis could ever be the second best player on a title team that Doncic needed are done. The Dallas Morning News’ Brad Townsend no longer has to answer “is Porzingis playing?” 5,000 times a month, nor do fans have to wait with baited breath before the latest injury report. There’s just a relief to watching and following the team online now that wasn’t there before.

That doesn’t mean the Mavericks are completely better or have a higher ceiling. It doesn’t mean they’re a lock to advance past the first round for the first time in over 10 years, nor does it mean a title is awaiting Dallas in a few short months. The Mavericks could very well exit unceremoniously in the playoffs yet again. At least this time though, the roster has changed. The Mavericks are moving in a new direction and for the first time in years, watching the team feels different. At the very least, it’s fun.

Here’s our latest 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.