We’re more than a month from Halloween, but that didn’t stop Tim Hardaway Jr. from getting in the mood as the Mavericks opened training camp.
When the sharpshooter was asked about what he’s seen out of Kristaps Porzingis in the pick-up games before the first practice Tuesday, he sent out a chilling message to the rest of the NBA, but one Maverick fans should enjoy hearing.
“I think what we have is something scary,” Hardaway said, “but in a positive way.
“The guy is ready to go. I have not seen a more focused KP in all the time here. He wants to get back to that all-star season before the ACL injury. And he really wants to do what he can to not only make himself happy, but make the city happy and let them know that it wasn’t a wrong decision or whatever people think.
“All I can say is: people, be ready.”
This from a player who has partnered with Porzingis since 2017, the year Porzingis suffered that devastating knee injury. Hardaway saw Porzingis at his best. And the thinking is that a summer of healthy work on the 7-3 Porzingis’ body and game will reap major dividends as the 2021-22 season unfolds.
Porzingis was an easy target after last season. His numbers in the playoff series were underwhelming. But all he did was what he was instructed to do.
He averaged 20.1 points and 8.9 rebounds in the regular season. But only 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in the first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Because of that, the motivation in the offseason was easy to come by for the big man who now is heading into his sixth season (not counting the one he missed).
“It didn’t get to me because in that moment, you’re focused on the goal,” Porzingis said. “I have to focus on what the coaching staff is telling me to do. And if that’s the way we’re going to do it, I’m with that.
“But then, once the season was over, I was like: OK, of course I hear it – external criticism, external noise. I just used it as fuel to put in the work in the summer and I’m excited to show it on the court. It was a great summer. It was an easy summer for me. I did a lot of hard work but it came easy because of all the external noise from last season. It was a good summer and now coming into the season with a fresh mind and a fresh body and knowing I put in the work, that’s extremely important for me.”
And, while he didn’t mention it, a fresh voice in the locker room could be helpful, too.
Jason Kidd is taking over for Rick Carlisle as coach and Porzingis’ role in the offense will change with Kidd’s system. To what extent those alterations will be has not yet been finalized.
But in his early conversations with Kidd, Porzingis has loved what he’s heard.
“I think his goal is to put me in the situations where I can be the best player and take the most out of my skill set,” Porzingis said. “That gives me confidence that he wants me to be comfortable out there. And he tells me, if you have anything, communicate. How you want yourself to be used, let me know and we can talk about it and figure out ways. For me as a player, that’s huge and I think that’s a really good first step in terms of building and being a good team.
“I’m going to be able to post up more and be used in those situations. I was used a lot as just a spacer and shooting threes. And I feel that’s not my whole game. There’s more things to my game. But I learned a lot of things. I adjusted my game as I needed to. But I’m looking forward to being utilized the best way.”
That will include more time inside the 3-point arc, he said. Kidd wants to open up the entire toolbox for his big man.
That includes playing both center and power forward, although Kidd said the plan is to start the season with Porzingis as the Mavericks’ power forward, presumably alongside Dwight Powell or Maxi Kleber, who would be the center.
“The simple way to put it is I want KP to be a basketball player,” Kidd said. “There’s no limitations to shooting threes. To be able to roll, to shoot the midrange, put the ball on the floor. I want him to be who he is and that’s a basketball player and not be limited to shooting threes or crashing from the corner. He’s a weapon and shoots the ball too well not to be able to shoot midrange shots.”
How that shakes out is what the preseason – and probably the early portion of the regular season – will be for.
But while he’s thrilled to hear about the more diverse options he’ll have offensively, Porzingis doesn’t want that to be a limiting factor for anybody else.
“I want to do what’s best for the team, how we can be the best,” he said. “I don’t want to clog up the paint now because I have the green light to be more in the post. I want to open it up for Luka (Dončić) to drive, for Timmy to have his opportunities, but I also want to be utilized in a way where I can help the team.”
Porzingis said he has added a few pounds to his wiry frame this summer. He’s also worked as much or more on basketball skills than in the weight room.
But the biggest improvement might be between his ears. And he attributes that to Kidd.
“Every season starts with good energy and excitement,” Porzingis said. “The difference this year is the coaching staff bringing in fresh air in the building. That kind of has given everybody a new feel and more energy.
“And in the end, I want to win. That’s what I’m here for – to win games. And I know Luka wants to win, Timmy . . . everybody wants to win. So if we can all be on the same page – not only in terms of, yes, we all want to win – but what are the things we need to do individually, maybe somebody has to sacrifice a little or whatever it is. If we can all do that, then we can make something special happen.”