Kristaps Porzingis is trying to do some difficult things at the start of his Mavericks’ career.
He’s trying to be Paul George. And Derrick Rose. And Al Jefferson.
Those are three elite players who suffered serious leg injuries and, after needing in some cases more than a year to recover, came back and had (or are having) major impacts for their teams.
George, Rose and Jefferson are proof that coming back from serious injuries in the NBA is not an overnight process.
And that’s what makes Porzingis’ latest game a terrific step forward in his return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in February, 2018.
On Saturday against the Toronto Raptors, Porzingis had 20 points and 15 rebounds. It was a very good night at the office. And not just because of the numbers.
His coach said it was one of the best games for Porzingis because he was able to – as coaches like to say – get lost in the game.
“I thought he played his best offensive game in terms of movement and causing problems for the other team and doing it randomly,” Rick Carlisle said. “You can only script so much against a team like Toronto because they’re so dialed into sets and they scout so well.
“So we knew we were going to have to play out of pace and random as much as possible. We really made strides doing that, especially with our first unit.”
And Porzingis moved as well as he has at any point in the first month, which is great news as the Mavericks prepare to continue their four-game home stand against San Antonio on Monday night (7:30 p.m. tipoff).
The microscope has been affixed squarely on Porzingis early in the season. He’s had some very solid games and some that he’d rather forget.
But Saturday was a breakthrough in many ways. Porzingis had several strong moves to the basket. He passed the ball well out of the post. And, of course, the rebounding was very impressive.
“I felt much more comfortable,” Porzingis said. “I thought about some things, how I can be more effective in the offense and get to my spots better. And it felt more natural, not as forced. I missed a lot of good looks, which stresses me a little, but we got the win.”
The shooting is not the most critical thing for Porzingis. As Carlisle said, he can get 18 to 22 points in his sleep. The scoring will be there.
But getting comfortable in the flow of the offense, setting up teammates for better opportunities and being active on the boards and defensively will be paramount for him.
Remember, many players have come back from ACL tears and other major leg problems.
George, who suffered a broken leg, missed virtually an entire season and in his first 10 games back (six at the end of 2015 and four at the start of the following season) he averaged just 11 points.
He’s recovered to be one of the most prolific scorers in the league the last three seasons.
Rose missed an entire year and it took him several seasons before returning close to his form. Over the last twos seasons, he’s averaged better than 18 points per game.
Jefferson, who was close to Porzingis’ age when he tore his ACL, recovered and averaged 18.9 points and 9.7 rebounds in five seasons starting when he was 25.
These are success stories of players who were hurt badly at a relatively young age.
Porzingis wants to be everything right away. And fans want to see that, too. But both the player and the fans have to understand it is a process.
And the game against Toronto showed that progress is being made.
“It (the offense) has been a little stilted and off-rhythm at times,” Carlisle said. “Tonight (against the Raptors) things flowed much better. And he was a big part of it.”