As summer inches to a close the Dallas sports scene is in need of a boost. The agony created by constant team mediocrity can no longer be ignored. While the Cowboys await Zeke’s arrival to training camp the Mavericks begin a holding pattern of their own. Their anticipating the validation of the franchise’s wealthiest deal.
We all know Kristaps Porzingis missed all of the 2018-19 season with a significant knee injury. So banking on future health is foolish but this season is different. KP should enter the season healthy and motivated due to his extended time away from the game. Porzingis is a former NBA All-Star (2018) so returning to this form is more plausible and less daunting than initially perceived. Expectations are understandably high for the Latvian big-man. Who seems to have added considerable muscle this off-season per multiple Instagram post.
Combine this with a robust appearance (3) on the newly formulated DRAYMOND metric and its clear tempering expectations just isn’t happening right now. The urge to validate this record-setting deal should be insatiable for all involved parties. Kristaps, the front office, and the fan base share the same sense of urgency. The Mavs are determined to make this work and an All-Star appearance this early would serve as the perfect voucher.
Creating An All-Star
Step 1 – Dominate
To satisfy expectations Porzingis must dominate early. Double-digit averages in points and rebounds to begin the season would be fair speculation. However, to create All-Star buzz he’ll need 20 + points coupled with those double-digit boards. KP has never averaged a double-double in his entire three-year career. Nonetheless achieving these benchmarks early would squash the lingering chatter surrounding his knee injury and blockbuster re-signing. Through such production, Kristaps would position himself as a clear nominee for NBA Comeback Player of the Year in addition to All-Star consideration.
In the piece “Kristaps Porzingis: Projecting Success for Next Season’s Most Important Maverick” I outlined stellar point production and defensive improvement as paramount subjects. Although these are generally mundane the focus is simplistic and direct. Producing points won’t be an issue for KP or Luka. The tandem is arguably top 10 in the league. However, improving a porous team Net Rating (an estimate of point differential per 100 possessions) of -1.3 is essential and that starts defensively. The unicorn proved he can impact the game defensively. In 2017-18 he lead the league in Block Percentage (6.4).
KP’s versatility is a featured commodity tailored for today’s NBA. The way he seamlessly transitions between center and power forward while remaining productive isn’t common. Theoretically, Karl Anthony-Towns, Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nikola Jokic outline the All-Star level big-men impeding a second nod to the team. Forecasting a competitive race for these 2 maybe 3 spots is obvious. Nevertheless, the former All-Star’s career is in a unique position. His injury mandated obligatory time away from basketball providing much-needed rest to a kid who turned pro at 17. This unwarranted sabbatical could save the sharpshooters career setting him up to dominate the league.
Step 2 – Protect
Which brings us to step two. PROTECT KP!
Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber will begin the season in familiar territory. They both will have an opportunity to fill the defensive & rebounding gaps left by a player of Porzingis’s caliber. Essentially hiding his liabilities. The Mavericks need a “Junk Yard Dog”. A significant interior presence that is willing to work in obscurity. Both Powell and Kleber have shown a willingness to take on this task but a lack of consistent production leaves many skeptical.
Boban Marjanovic isn’t suited for this role. A six-year career average of just 11.7 minutes per game doesn’t scream “Junk Yard Dog”. Boban currently lacks durability. He’ll be used sparingly in specific game plans and game management schemes far from the requirements of this role. The Mavericks clearly prefer to fill this void in the house. The aforementioned signing proves as much. To begin the season expect a heightened focus on finding the right fit next to Porzingis.
To this point, most of the team’s additions have been centered around securing the perimeter and hiding the defensive deficiencies of Luka Doncic. There’s no doubt this same logic was applied to Kristaps. To begin the season the Mavs are banking on a strategy of big-man by committee. Echoing the confidence of their off-season transactions. If this strategy proves futile the club is stocked with assets and space to make necessary adjustments. For Porzingis the cardinal concern this season is sustained health. The residual impact of remaining healthy could be All-Star consideration but to get there the Mavs must PROTECT KP!
Step 3 – Maintain
To complete the comeback and ultimately reemerge as an All-Star Kristaps and the Mavericks must-win games. Odds Shark projected 41.5 wins for the club.
NBA Western Conference OVER/UNDER projected win totals (BetOnline):
Trail Blazers 44.5
Thunder NOT LISTED
— Odds Shark (@OddsShark) July 15, 2019
The team at FiveThirtyEight have projected 44 wins for the Mavericks. They’re suggesting a Western Conference playoff seed of seven. Welcomed news to a playoff hungry fan base.These metrics only confirm the obvious. The Mavericks are expected to have a better team when/if Kristaps Porzingis is healthy. Its rare to say but KP doesn’t need to expand his game. He needs to instead transfer it by continuing the progress and momentum accumulated in previous seasons. This confidence stems from his 2017-18 stats which consist of 39.5% from three and 2.4 blocks per game. These were stacked in just 48 games before his injury. The concerns about durability never really dissipate. They morph into whispers once individual production aids in winning games. It’s ambitious and feasible to expect top-notch output from KP.
To earn a second career All-Star nod sustaining the averages of 2018 would be ideal, 22.7 ppg, 7 rpg, and 2.4 bpg. Although lofty these goals aren’t unattainable. KP’s rehab has been longer, more intense and markedly more constructive than the average. The pressure to reach these expectations is unavoidable. The Mavericks have placed the clubs future in the hands of the young star so time would suggest he’s ready to take the next step.
Although difficult the grind is just getting started for Kristaps. It’s not fair to judge a season on individual accolades but KP is in a unique predicament. Reminding us all that to whom much is given much is required.
Stats: www.basketball-reference.com WWW.fivethirtyeight.com Twitter: @OddsShark Photo: www.Mavs.com