Kristaps Porzingis underperformed last season, and to say he just heard the noise of the critics undersells the complete story. Porzingis used his doubters as motivation for what may become his best season since 2018.
“I hear the external criticism and external noise, but I just used it as fuel to put in work over the summer,” Porzingis said.
The healthy offseason was critical for him. It was his first summer in nearly three seasons where he wasn’t rehabbing. Instead, he worked on his game. And under new head coach Jason Kidd, the former All-Star is eager to show that he is more than a floor spacer when on the court with Luka Dončić.
“His [Kidd] goal is to put me in the situations where I can be the best player and get the most out of my skill set,” Porzingis said on Monday. “That, for me as a player, is huge. It’s going to be more of my game. I am going to post up more and be used in those situations. [Last season] I was used a lot as a spacer and shooting threes, I feel like that’s not my whole game.
“Now, I am looking forward to being utilized in the best way.”
A summer of work for Porzingis:
Porzingis getting to this point – expecting different looks within the offense – isn’t something that started on the first day of training camp on Tuesday. He put in the work over the summer building towards this goal.
From lifting weights to basketball movements to getting his mind right for the season, Porzingis did it all, he said. And out of the long hours in the gym, he’s learned something about himself: To play at his best, he needs to have fun playing basketball again.
“I wasn’t happy [last season], but I understood that it was part of the journey,” Porzingis said. “You have ups and downs, but I didn’t want to feel like a victim in any sense… I am doing everything I can do on my end to be the best player I can be.”
He added: “Just playing basketball, that’s what I needed to get back to. Just playing the game and having fun.”
Tim Hardaway Jr. believes in Porzingis:
Porzingis getting back to the basics has worked. His long-standing teammate and friend Tim Hardaway Jr. said that Porzingis appears to be in a zone he’s never seen before.
“That guy is ready to go,” Hardaway said. “I have not seen a more focused KP in my whole time here and as a teammate. He wants to get back to that all-star season before the ACL injury. And he wants to do everything he can to make the city happy, and let them know that this wasn’t a wrong decision.
“I know him, I know how he will go out there and compete. He’s going to bring it, and we’ve seen that all the way up to now.”
Versatility isn’t lost with Porzingis:
Though Porzingis is more focused than ever before, he’s still the dextrous teammate that is willing to do whatever it takes for the team to win, he said.
More post-up touches are a plus, but he understands that each game will call for something different out of him, he said. He may be the unicorn, but he isn’t a one-trick pony.
Whether it means clearing the lane for Dončić to drive and pass to open shooters, or it is anchoring the Mavericks’ historically woeful defense, Porzingis is eager to show his improvements on both sides of the floor. He knows that Dončić can’t do and be everything. The former All-Star is content filling in wherever he’s needed.
“The game is evolving, and I have to adjust my own game,” Porzingis said. “I want to take that step forward again. And I want to show my best basketball in all aspects.”
Motivated, captivated and fueled by his critics, Porzingis is entering a prove-it season with a clear mind and eager body. It is a nice change of pace from seasons prior. Now, it comes down to winning and staying healthy. With the change in the coaching staff and a newly ignited passion for the game, Porzingis feels like both can happen this season.
“This year, the difference is the coaching staff around us,” Porzingis said. “The people around us are bringing in fresh air in the building. That has given the players and everyone around the organization a new feel and more energy.
“For me individually, I want to play my best basketball, and in the end, I want to win. That’s what I am here for.”
Dončić and the team expect greatness from Porzingis:
He’s not the only one believing that his best is yet to come. His partner in crime, Dončić, believes it as well.
“He’s in way better shape this year, especially mentally,” Dončić said. “I think he’s going to have a great season this year.”
With the team and coaching staff behind Porzingis, everything comes down to him playing well and proving the belief is worth it.
It appears to be now or never.
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Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.