With the NBA’s restart fast approaching, it’s time to catch up on where Mavericks’ players stand after what will be more than four months between basketball games. With that in mind, Mavs.com will supply a series on each player on the roster, what they did before the break, and what they must do if the Mavericks are to make a deep run in the playoffs. Next up is Kristaps Porzingis.
The facts: Whatever doubts there may have been about Porzingis coming off his torn ACL, they have been answered resoundingly. The Mavericks were determined to bring the 7-3 Porzingis back slowly. They limited his minutes early and the number of back-to-back games he would play. Their sensible approach has been rewarded. Porzingis has averaged 19.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. Over the last 15 games he played, the numbers were off the chart: 25.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. And he shot 36.4 percent from 3-point range during those 15 games. This is exactly the sort of progression you want to see out of a player returning after a 20-plus-month rehabilitation.
Contract status: He signed a five-year maximum deal last summer worth a total of more than $158-million. The deal is earning him $27.2-million this season. The 20-23-24 season is at Porzingis’ option.
Pre-hiatus highlights: He had a lot of them. In late January/early February, he had three games in a row with at least 32 points and 12 rebounds. But his best night probably was March 1 at Minnesota when he dropped in 38 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, blocked five shots and hit 6-of-14 3-pointers. He also dished out four assists in the 20-point Mavericks’ win. The longer the season went, the better Porzingis paired with Luka Doncic.
How he can help the Mavericks make a deep playoff run: The scheduling in the NBA’s bubble should benefit Porzingis as much as anybody. Each team has only one back-to-back set of games and in the Mavericks’ instance, it’s an afternoon game followed by a night game. After that, there will always be at least a day off in the playoffs. So Porzingis should have no restrictions with his availability in that regard. What the Mavericks need most from him is exactly what he was providing in the six weeks before the NBA’s stoppage in March. He had become the perfect sidekick to Luka Doncic and the Mavericks were leaning hard on that dynamic duo. Porzingis’ size means he can pass and shoot over just about anybody and when he’s on the perimeter, defenders have no choice but to creep up on him. That means the cutting lanes are wide-open and, when the defense sags to close in on drivers, it means shooters like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Seth Curry can take dead aim – usually without a lot of interference. Porzingis says he’s not quite back to his pre-injury form. But he’s not far from it. If the Mavericks continue to get hot shooting and a rim-protecting presence on the defensive end, they should prove to be a very tough out in the playoffs.