DALLAS - With the current makeup of the Dallas Mavericks roster, there isn't a player who will influence the ceiling of the team more than Kristaps Porzingis.
Between being needed as a rim protector and a secondary scorer, his role holds significant importance. He had a resectable regular season as he posted average of 20.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks while appearing in 43 of the Mavericks' 72 regular season appearance.
Where the issues lied for Porzingis were in the postseason. The Clippers exploited his struggling movement out in space defensively by consistently getting to the rim. On the other end, switching ball screens was bailed out by Porzingis' shortcomings in the post against mismatches.
Luka Doncic has already proven that he is a legitimate No. 1 option for a great team having earned consecutive All-NBA First-Team honors and elevating his game in the playoffs. Can Porzingis experience a breakthrough and take over as the clear No. 2?
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During the Mavericks' contract-signee introductory press conference on Friday, Tim Hardaway Jr. (actually a re-signee) was asked about how key it is for Kristaps Porzingis to get back to a high level of play.
Hardaway Jr. leaned on the four NBA seasons he has spent being teammates with Porzingis when providing his insight on the situation.
"Being his teammate probably longer anybody on the roster, I know KP," Hardaway Jr. said. "I know he's back at Latvia busting his tail right now to get back to where he was before the injury when we were with the Knicks. I know how much he loves the game, how much he works and he's going to do whatever he can to get back to that level of mentality that he had."
On Oct. 9, 2020, Porzingis underwent surgery to repair the later meniscus in his right knee after suffering an injury in Game 1 of the Mavericks' playoff-matchup against the LA Clippers in the NBA Bubble.
Porzingis was initially ruled out indefinitely after surgery but made his season debut on Jan. 13, 2021, when the Mavericks defeated the Charlotte Hornets. He was held out of back-to-backs
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Hardaway Jr. made it clear that injuries are 'part of the game' and that Porzingis is no exception. He expressed confidence that Dallas will be able to defeat any opponent once the "that type of KP" is back.
"Injuries do play a part of the game and we have to look at that as well with him not really having his rhythm or him not probably being that confident out there because of all those surgeries and everything he had to go through," Hardaway Jr. said. "I know what type of player he is, I know what he's capable of probably more than anybody in here. Once you get that type of KP back, I think we can beat anybody."
The surgeries that Porzingis has undergone have undoubtedly made a negative impact on his ability to move out in space. With so much pressure placed on the center position to anchor the defense for a team, that poses legitimate issues and was amplified in the playoffs.
The Mavericks' success on defense will largely depend on Porzingis recovering his previous levels of mobility. If he can handle defending high ball screens, make an impact rotating as a weak-side help defender, and hold his own against switches, it would significantly raise the unit's ceiling.
There were too many moments in the playoffs when Paul George and Kawhi Leonard were able to get to the rim and not face resistance from a rim protector. There even was a moment during the series when George stated that Dallas 'doesn't have a rim protector.'
It just remains to be seen how much of Kristaps Porzingis' movement has been diminished permanently as opposed to being part of ongoing recovery process. That is something that can be answered only after a full offseason to work back into form.
There is the other part of the Porzingis equation that needs to be solved, too. While rhythm could play a role, he still needs to improve his execution in the post against switching.
In the playoffs, there were situations even against guards like Rajon Rondo and Reggie Jackson when Porzingis came up empty in the post. Not coming up with results in situations like these, in particular, gives the greenest of green lights to a defense to switch-everything.
For now, Porzingis remains in Latvia working hard to get back to his previous form. The Mavericks have remained confident in public comments about his role with the team and the potential impact he will provide during the upcoming season.