Luka Doncic is more than capable of winning NBA games without a second or third star as long as he has consistent role players around him throughout the roster — ‘The Dirk Way’, if you will. Can Porzingis fit into that plan? Mavs Donuts ...
DONUT 1: THE HOTNESS Just three weeks ago, the Dallas Mavericks’ season seemed to be crumbling, as the team fell to 9-14, which was good for second-to-last place in the Western Conference standings.
Since that point, though, Dallas has rallied to go 6-1 in its last seven games, thanks in large part to Luka Doncic raising his level of play even higher than it was during his All-NBA First Team sophomore season.
DONUT 2: QUOTABLE As Mavs coach Rick Carlisle says: “He’s on the highest possible trajectory that a young player can be on. He is one of the faces of the league and he’s deserving to be an All-Star starter.''
DONUT 3: BY THE NUMBERS During this seven-game stretch that has gotten the Mavs back to .500 and potentially saved their season, Doncic is averaging 34.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists while shooting 51.9% from the field and 48.3% from beyond the arc. Doncic, who started the season abysmally from three, has now raised his overall three-point percentage on the season to 34.9%, which would be a new career-high by more than two percentage points if it holds.
DONUT 4: SOME HELP, BUT ... Doncic’s otherworldly play has been the main catalyst to the Mavs’ recent success, but the team has also received encouraging contributions from its supporting cast as well.
DONUT 5: WHERE IS 'THE UNICORN'? Kristaps Porzingis, who is supposed to be Doncic’s co-star in Dallas, has had flashes of the ‘unicorn’ we witnessed in the NBA Bubble over the summer, at least offensively, but his play on the defensive end of the court has completely fallen off a cliff since returning from his meniscus injury.
To put how bad Porzingis has been on defense into perspective, he currently has an individual 119.5 defensive rating, which means that’s how many points he’s giving up per 100 possessions. That rating ranks 468th on a list that has a total of 488 players.
DONUT 6: HURDLING THE HURDLE There is hope that Porzingis’ struggles on defense can be fixed as time rolls on. It took a little more than half the season last year before Porzingis really started to get things rolling on both ends of the court. The hope is that it’s just rust or a mental hurdle to get over instead of it being actual physical limitations. We’ll see.
DONUT 7: THE DEFENSIVE 'EYE TEST' In the meantime, though, the Mavs simply look like a much, much better defensive team when Porzingis is not playing. We’ve seen that over the last two games, where the Mavs held the Grizzlies to 92 points on Monday and the Celtics to 107 points on the following night.
Overall, Dallas is giving up 113.6 points per game on the season. So Porzingis’ woeful defensive stats match "the eye test,'' both when he’s playing and when he’s not.
All of this isn’t being said to pile on Porzingis, because we truly believe he’s capable of turning things around and being the player we know he can be next to Doncic.
DONUT 8: LUKA NEED (CONSISTENT) HELP Doncic has shown us on multiple occasions this season that he doesn’t necessarily need a second or third star to win games.
As long as Doncic is surrounded by consistent role players who can hit shot, the Mavericks can beat any team they face. Consistency from role players, though, at least overall and going back to the NBA Bubble, has been the biggest issue.
DONUT 9: 'THE DIRK WAY' Dirk Nowitzki was unique in that he didn’t need extra star power to win an NBA championship. Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban were finally able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together by shaping the roster perfectly around Nowitzki.
Tyson Chandler wasn’t a star, but he was a high-energy, highly-physical, athletic center who was a perfect fit next to Nowitzki in the front court. Then you had Jason Kidd, who was closing in on the end of his career, a seasoned veteran in Shawn Marion, who wasn’t afraid to do some of the dirty work, and Jason Terry, a player who wasn’t a star, but could get the Mavs 20-plus points on any given night off the bench.
Those guys were highly-successful supporting-cast members - and they were consistent in the manner in which they aided "The Dirk Way.''
DONUT 10: KP TRADE SCOOP Team owner Mark Cuban has disputed the rumors about the Mavs having ‘sniffed around’ potentially trading Porzingis in an exclusive 1-on-1 with DallasBasketball.com’s Mike Fisher, saying, “There have been no discussions about KP with any team.”
On the other hand, though, when you have two separate reports from long-time credible reporters, you tend to think ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’. Regardless, the situation hasn’t been great and has created somewhat of a dark cloud over the franchise.
DONUT 11: LUKA MAGIC Doncic’s game-winning three-pointer with 0.1 seconds remaining against the Celtics last night was the ray of sunshine that burst though those dark clouds, though.
Porzingis doesn’t have to be the best defensive player in the league to help the Mavs win games during the second half of this NBA season. That would certainly be nice, but it’s not necessary.
Dallas, and Luka specifically, just needs KP to be better than 468th out of 488 going forward, even if that means sacrificing some on the offensive end to focus on a specific role on the defensive end. If Porzingis can turn things around on defensive, the offense will come naturally when you’re playing with a guy like Doncic.
DONUT 12: THE FINAL WORD Maybe Porzingis isn’t willing to buy into a ‘super-role player’ job, but that’s more of what the Mavs need right now to function better as a team.
Luka Doncic has shown us that he’s more than capable of winning ‘The Dirk Way’ - and the next five months could determine whether Porzingis will fit into that plan or not.