This should be voting season. And we are not talking about presidential primaries or senate seats.
Normally, this would be the time when we determine those always-anticipated, often-argued-about NBA awards that are based on regular-season production, which was halted by COVID-19 with about 20 percent of the season left.
Of course, normal doesn’t exist these days. So we play the hand dealt to us.
Officials at the NBA office aren’t certain when ballots for regular-season awards will be sent out, although they said that they do expect that there will be awards at some point.
Which brings us to Mavericks’ center Kristaps Porzingis. The 7-3 shot-blocking whiz has been the major reason that the Mavericks have been an improved defensive team this season.
Their offense gets most of the attention, and rightfully so. They are on pace to have a record efficiency offensively. And it is why Luka Doncic will get some consideration for MVP, although that appears to be a two-man race between LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
But Porzingis is a different story. He makes their defense far better when he’s on the court. It’s been formidable at times and almost always respectable. How many times have we seen Porzingis chase down an opponent from behind or from the weak side and swat what looked to be a certain basket from point-blank range?
“What he’s doing defensively and on the boards, no one’s talking about it,” coach Rick Carlisle said after the next-to-last game the Mavericks played before the coronavirus suspension. “But he should be a defensive player of the year candidate based on his versatility defensively – he can switch onto smaller guys, he blocks a ton of shots, he changes a ton of shots, he’s a great defensive rebounder.”
Those are the core values of any good defensive big man. And the Mavericks helped Porzingis out in his defensive work (offensively, too) when they moved him back to center after Dwight Powell’s injury.
Porzingis has said that moving back to his more natural position has helped him on both ends of the floor. What we don’t know is whether voters have been paying attention to his work defensively while his scoring has risen.
Here are few numbers that make it clear just what impact Porzingis has at the defensive end:
** Since he returned from his knee injury on Jan. 21, Porzingis has played 25 games. The Mavericks are plus-151 when he’s on the court. They are minus-53 when he’s not playing. His plus-151 is the seventh highest for any player during that span.
** Also since returning from the injury, the Mavericks are allowing 12 fewer points per 100 possessions with Porzingis on the floor (1.10 per possession when he’s playing, 1.22 when he’s out).
** Porzingis’ opponents have shot 49 percent at the rim, which is second best in the NBA among players with at least 50 rim attacks defended. He trails only Portland’s Hassan Whiteside.
** For the season, Porzingis is fifth in the league in blocks per game (2.08).
** For the season, the Mavericks are No. 2 in the league in rim-protection defense, behind only Milwaukee. Opponents also shoot 5 percent fewer shots at the rim with Porzingis on the floor than off.
The bottom line is that they are harder to score against – particularly when it comes to penetration and easy baskets in the paint – when Porzingis is on the floor.
“KP is not just a good defender, he’s an impact player,” owner Mark Cuban said. “When the game is on the line, he makes his biggest defensive impact.”
While his numbers are competitive with most everybody else, the Mavericks’ success (40-27 when games were stopped) also is a major reason why he is a legitimate contender for honors like the all-defensive team and DPOY.
As usual, though, the competition is strong.
Milwaukee’s Antetokounmpo leads the league in overall defensive rating. That will make him the favorite since the Bucks are the leading defensive team in the NBA both in field-goal percentage (41.7 percent) and overall defensive rating.
But Antetokounmpo also is a frontrunner (with James) for MVP, which might take away from his chances to be defensive player of the year, too.
Other DPOY contenders: the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard, the Lakers’ Anthony Davis, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Toronto’s Pascal Siakim and Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul.
Remember, this is an award voted on by media members, who may rely on numbers as much as the eye test. So players who are strong in statistical categories may have an advantage, even though other players might be harder to game-plan against for coaches.
What the Mavericks hope is that their historic offense doesn’t overshadow Porzingis’ work on the defensive end. And it is a good sign that Porzingis was at his best when the stakes rose.
In his last 10 games this season, Porzingis averaged 3.0 blocks, which was second in the league during that stretch behind Portland’s Hassan Whiteside. He also averaged 23.4 points and 11.3 rebounds in that span. In three of those games, he had five blocked shots, controlling the defensive end.
When he had five blocks against Zion Williamson and New Orleans on March 4 in an overtime win, it was a major reason why the rookie of the year candidate didn’t obliterate the Mavericks. Those kind of performances were becoming more frequent as the season wore on.
With any luck, those efforts will get noticed when it’s time for ballots to be cast.