It is no secret that Kristaps Porzingis struggled throughout the 2020-21 season, but with a fully healthy offseason, the expectation is that the seven-footer will return to his New York Knicks 2018 All-Star form.
This summer is the first since Porzingis’ arrival in Dallas that he was healthy. Instead of rehab, he’s enjoyed workouts. As opposed to surgeries, he’s grown his game. And with the Dallas Mavericks entering a critical third year with the polarizing Luka Dončić and Porzingis duo, it’s now or never for the two if the hope is reaching championship heights.
Throughout this offseason, Dallas doubled down on the belief in the former All-Star. Team owner Mark Cuban said Porzingis was “unfairly maligned.” Head coach Jason Kidd echoed those same beliefs in stating that Porzingis and Dončić make a “perfect pairing.” And team general manager Nico Harrison’s limited offseason moves indicate that the Mavericks’ front office is expecting a return of an All-Star version of Porzingis. So one question remains:
How good can Porzingis be this season?
There’s a possibility that he can be New York Knicks good.
Kidd already indicated that he wants to get Porzingis back to doing what he used to do in New York. What that looks like is an aggressive Porzingis who hunts for his own shots.
Throughout last season, Porzingis was left standing in the corner watching the offensive action happen. If what Kidd says is true, under his new system, Porzingis will have the freedom to create alongside Dončić, not just play off of him.
Before Porzingis tore his ACL in the 2017-18 season, he averaged 22.7 points per game, 6.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. As a focal point in the Knicks’ offense, there was little he couldn’t do. Per 100 possessions, Porzingis posted the best statistical season of his career. He averaged 34.7 points per 100 possessions, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Interestingly enough, what was understood as a down campaign last year for Porzingis was actually one of his best per 100 statistical seasons since he tore his ACL. He averaged 32 points, 14 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 100 possessions.
Under Kidd, it is easy to see a Porzingis with newfound confidence on offense; confidence built on getting Porzingis to do what he was good at when he was an All-Star in New York. And with the newfound offensive confidence, Porzingis may recommit himself to the defensive side of the ball – finally becoming the defensive rim protector Dallas thought it was getting when the organization traded for him in 2019.
What does a defensive-minded Porzingis mean for Dallas?
An efficient Porzingis on offense is one thing. However, for Dallas to reach its understood potential, Porzingis needs to be a competent defender around the basket.
Porzingis’ unique offensive skill set allows Dallas to play small. But his height in the paint means the Mavs don’t have to sacrifice rim protection when he wants to commit to the defensive end of the floor. On a roster that lacks superstar power outside of Dončić, versatility is the Mavericks’ best friend. That versatility hinges on Porzingis’ willingness and ability to defend at a high level.
Is it now or never for Porzingis and Dončić?
The expectations for Porzingis after a fully healthy offseason are high. And on his Instagram, he’s said it himself – he enjoys being doubted. Once the season starts, it will be time to see if that notion is really true.
Year three for him and Dončić is a pivotal one. There is an assumption that if the two don’t work this year, it may never happen. With Porzingis’ name floating in trade rumors monthly, everything comes down to the former All-Star living up to the expectations he’s placed on himself.
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Feature image via Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.