Midway through Luka DonÐÐiÐâ¡’s rookie season, the Dallas Mavericks seized on an opportunity that doesn’t come around all that often. Then-New York Knicks star Kristaps PorziÐâ ÐÐis, still recovering from an ACL tear at the time, informed Knicks management that he wanted out of New York. Mere hours after news of the fateful meeting between PorziÐâ ÐÐis and the front office broke, the Knicks and Mavericks reached a deal to send him to Dallas.
Based on both the package the Mavericks sent to New York and the post-trade comments of head coach Rick Carlisle, it was clear pretty immediately that the team was thinking big. “We obviously think PorziÐâ ÐÐis is a great young talent, similar in many ways to Dirk [Nowitzki],” Carlisle told ESPN Radio. “This is kind of a Dirk-and-[Steve] Nash type of situation, only these guys are taller.”
PorziÐâ ÐÐis sat out the remainder of that season as he finished rehabbing his injured knee, but the Mavericks nonetheless committed to him in full that summer. Dallas signed the sharpshooting center to a five-year, $158 million contract, locking him in as DonÐÐiÐâ¡’s running mate for the long haul.
The first season of the DonÐÐiÐâ¡-PorziÐâ ÐÐis partnership was a successful one. Dallas’s offense blitzed the NBA to the tune of a league-best 116.7 points per 100 possessions, breaking the all-time record for offensive efficiency.rebreak it this season.">1 DonÐÐiÐâ¡ put together arguably the greatest age-20 season in the history of the NBA, thrusting himself into the mix with the small handful of very best players in the league. The Mavs pushed the L.A. Clippers within an inch of their playoff lives but ultimately bowed out of the first round in six games. PorziÐâ ÐÐis, though, saw his own run cut three games short after tearing the meniscus in his right knee.
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That injury kept him out of the team’s first nine games of the 2020-21 season, and he was then eased into the lineup with a lighter minutes load. The team’s roster had been decimated by COVID-19-related absences, and PorziÐâ ÐÐis was still rounding his way back into game shape; he struggled to get his long-range shot on line, knocking down only 28.6 percent of his deep attempts through his first nine appearances.
Something clicked for PorziÐâ ÐÐis in his 10th game back, though, even as he scored just 19 points on 6-of-15 shooting and the Mavs lost a heartbreaker to the Suns. He scored 14 of those 19 points after halftime, and he was on the floor for the final 12 minutes and 32 seconds of the game. After playing in shorter, six-minute spurts earlier in the year, PorziÐâ ÐÐis found the extended run refreshing.
“I think [playing longer stretches] gave me more time to get into a better rhythm and get better looks and not rush things — which I tend to do a lot now that I’m playing shorter minutes,” he said after the game that night, per the Dallas Morning News. “That’s something maybe I can communicate [to the coaches].”
Two games later, Carlisle did something coaches are typically loath to do: He rearranged his rotation to flip the rest schedules of PorziÐâ ÐÐis and DonÐÐiÐâ¡. While DonÐÐiÐâ¡ had previously been the one playing nearly the entire first and third quarters, sitting at the beginning of the second and fourth and then returning for the end of each respective half, that’s now what PorziÐâ ÐÐis does. DonÐÐiÐâ¡, meanwhile, exits around the six-minute mark of the first quarter, returns a few minutes later, then takes another rest midway through the second quarter before returning to close the half. (The Mavs only sometimes give DonÐÐiÐâ¡ a second rest after halftime.)
Since Carlisle made the switch, both PorziÐâ ÐÐis and the Mavericks have been electric. Dallas is 20-11 overall and 16-7 in games PorziÐâ ÐÐis has played since Feb. 4, a stretch during which he’s averaging 21.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.7 blocks in 31.1 minutes per game while shooting 49.5 percent from the field and connecting on 40.7 percent of his 6.3 threes a night. Meanwhile, the Mavericks offense, which had averaged 110.9 points per 100 possessions prior to the rotation switch, has surged to 117.8 points per 100 across the 31 games since then.
It’s the longest sustained stretch of elite-level individual offense PorziÐâ ÐÐis has put together since the ACL injury. But there’s also been ample evidence throughout his Mavericks career that his mere presence on the floor is a net positive for the team’s offense.
Consider DonÐÐiÐâ¡’s pick-and-roll game. Only one player (Trae Young) has been screened for more often this season than DonÐÐiÐâ¡, per Second Spectrum. Among the 53 players who have run off at least 750 ball screens this year, trips that include a DonÐÐiÐâ¡ pick and roll have generated the ninth-most points per possession. Those pick and rolls have been more efficient when PorziÐâ ÐÐis is the one setting the screen (1.244 points per possession) than when they’re set by anyone else (1.193).
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But that’s not all that surprising. PorziÐâ ÐÐis is 7-foot-3 and has from-the-logo range on his jumper. He’s also considerably more skilled than the other players that screen for DonÐÐiÐâ¡. DonÐÐiÐâ¡ is actually screened for by a non-PorziÐâ ÐÐis teammate far more often than he is by PorziÐâ ÐÐis himself, but PorziÐâ ÐÐis’s presence on the floor has a dramatic effect on the efficiency of those plays. DonÐÐiÐâ¡ pick and rolls with non-PorziÐâ ÐÐis screeners have generated 1.280 points per possession this season with PorziÐâ ÐÐis on the floor, compared with just 1.161 with KP on the bench. The same is true on drives, where the average DonÐÐiÐâ¡ venture to the rim has resulted in 1.307 points with PorziÐâ ÐÐis in the game but just 1.244 points with him on the pine.
What’s more, it still feels like there’s meat left on the bone for PorziÐâ ÐÐis. His post-up numbers have crept upward in terms of both volume and efficiency this season, but he still has plenty of room to grow on that front. A player his size, with his touch, should be able to do better than the 59th percentile2 in points per possession generated when he’s thrown the ball on the block.
|Points per possession|
|Season||Team||Per 100 poss.||Average||Percentile|
|2017-18||New York Knicks||12.605||1.058||44th|
|2016-17||New York Knicks||6.065||0.992||22nd|
|2015-16||New York Knicks||7.408||1.095||58th|
At the moment, PorziÐâ ÐÐis also has a microscopic free-throw rate. It’s sitting at a career-low 0.194 free throws per field-goal attempt, according to Basketball-Reference.com, a figure so low that it actually ranks 744th out of the 813 player-seasons among 7-footers who played at least 1,000 minutes in a given year. Considering he’s an 80.6 percent free-throw shooter for his career, getting to the line more often would surely make him an even more efficient scorer. (It would also do more to justify his constant agitation for more touches.)
Still, it seems fairly clear at this point that when PorziÐâ ÐÐis is healthy, he and DonÐÐiÐâ¡ will combine to make the Mavericks a devastatingly efficient offensive team. We have nearly two seasons’ worth of evidence for that, and each player’s skill set lends itself to keeping that going for quite a while.
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The questions come on the other end of the floor, where PorziÐâ ÐÐis, due to both his size and the outsized burden DonÐÐiÐâ¡ carries on offense, has been and will continue to be tasked with the larger load. And it remains to be seen whether he’ll be up to the task.
PorziÐâ ÐÐis has always had good rim-protection numbers, going back to his early days as a Knick. But it’s not yet clear that his prowess in that area definitively dissuades opponents from venturing into the paint. According to Second Spectrum, Maverick opponents have taken a slightly greater share of their shots from inside the lane (and a smaller share from the midrange area) with PorziÐâ ÐÐis on the floor this season than when he’s been off it.
|In the Paint||From Midrange||From Three|
|On the court||44.2%||14.8%||41.2%|
|Off the court||43.2||15.3||41.5|
The league’s best paint-patrollers don’t just thwart opponent attempts at the basket but also prevent them from happening in the first place. If PorziÐâ ÐÐis’s help-defense instincts kicked in a bit sooner or if he were a bit quicker to rotate over from the weak side when he sees a driver blow past a teammate on the perimeter, he would be a more effective deterrent. Instead, his help defense is below-average, despite his penchant for blocking shots.
PorziÐâ ÐÐis also has occasional difficulties defending in space, though he has been somewhat better in that area in recent weeks. Smart teams still configure their offense to force him to change directions multiple times in quick succession (something that 7-foot-3 people unsurprisingly struggle to do) or else keep up with smaller, speedier guards as they turn the corner, particularly on pick and rolls. There are 70 players who have defended the screener on 500 or more ball-screens this season, per Second Spectrum, and the 1.129 points per possession teams have scored when PorziÐâ ÐÐis is that defender is 23rd-highest.
The Mavericks do their best to keep him at center (he’s played 99 percent of his regular-season minutes in Dallas at the five, compared with just 22 percent in New York) and thus close to the rim, where his height and monstrous limbs play up. They also try to pair him with mobile frontcourt partners like Maxi Kleber, so he doesn’t have to jump out on the perimeter all that often. But opponents can still force it, and when they do, it’s a problem. Rest assured, they will do this in the postseason, and they will do it relentlessly until PorziÐâ ÐÐis figures out how to stop it.
Pre-injury, PorziÐâ ÐÐis earned the nickname “Unicorn” specifically because he looked like the rare player capable of creating gobs of space on one end and just as easily erasing them on the other. Dirk on offense, and something like Draymond-Green-plus-9-inches on defense.
PorziÐâ ÐÐis can still do the former because of his size and range, and it’s hugely valuable both individually and on a team level. His ability to do the latter is more limited, though, as is the area of the floor he can effectively erase. That alters the ceiling for both him as a player and the Mavericks as a team, and makes building around him and DonÐÐiÐâ¡ a trickier proposition.
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