Suffice it to say that Kristaps Porzingis is at the center of a debate.
Where is he best utilized in the Mavericks’ system?
As other centers/power forwards trickle back into the rotation after the COVID-19 protocols have run their course, seeing how all players fit into the rotation and who plays well with others is going to be an ongoing process.
It’s especially so for Porzingis, who is continuing to round into form after missing the first few weeks of the season as he returned from knee surgery.
The Mavericks are not shooting the 3-point shot well yet. In fact, their 33.2 percent accuracy from beyond the arc is dead-last in the NBA.
History suggests that number will climb. The Mavericks will get back to their normal level at some point. But will that happen with Porzingis playing mostly center? Or mostly power forward?
Coach Rick Carlisle’s priority is getting the Mavericks’ defense back in a competitive mode. When that happens, it should help generate easier 3-point looks for everybody, including Porzingis.
“He’s an elite spacer,” Carlisle said of the 7-3 Porzingis. “He’s a great cutter. He’s an effective roller if we create the correct angles. And so he’s got to be a threat in all those situations. And he’s a great pick-and-pop guy.
“All those things are in play. What happens generally is that teams put a smaller guy on him so they can switch a lot of his pick–and-rolls and sometimes off-ball screens as well. We’ve got to counter that with the right screening angles and the right cuts and rolls and the right respacing.”
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Carlisle wants the Mavericks’ offense to be “very precise.” That means when a screen is supposed to be set at the top of the key, it isn’t supposed to be set 2 feet to the left or right of the top of the key.
It doesn’t help that Porzingis has been struggling from beyond the arc. He was just 1-of-5 in the loss Friday at Utah and is shooting 28.6 percent from deep in the nine games he has played this season.
Getting acquainted: The Mavericks are in a difficult back-to-back situation. The late, national-TV start on Friday (9 p.m., Dallas time) will be followed by a 8 p.m. start on Saturday at American Airlines Center against a much-improved Phoenix team.
That 23-hour break between games is just 30 minutes more than the minimum allowed by NBA rules unless teams sign off on a shorter recovery time. The setup is part of the NBA’s attempt to minimize travel during the unique circumstances this season.
Count Carlisle among those who believes playing a team twice in a row has its advantages.
“It’s a good concept in terms of limiting travel,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense. I heard some different things about it. Some people like it, some people aren’t crazy about it. If you’re a fan, maybe you like to see a different team every night. But if you’re a glass-half-full person, it’s a pretty compelling concept.”
The ability to stay in one city and not have to travel . . . I just feel when you’re in a situation that’s somewhat different, you have to take the tack that there is a positive there and look for it and embrace it,” Carlisle said. “Practice time is so limited this year that you have to use whatever is at your disposal to look directly short time, but also look beyond the next game. It’s just a fact. It’s not a cop-out answer.
“We’re all learning different things about preparation with a high frequency of games, but limited practice time. It is challenging.”
Kleber nears return: Maxi Kleber is the last of the COVID-19 protocol players for the Mavericks to still be sidelined. That sounds like it’s about to change.
“He’s doing better,” Carlisle said. “He’ll be back soon.”
The coach had said on Thursday that he thought a Saturday return for Kleber was a possibility, but not a certainty.
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