Over the Mavs 4 game homestand, they’ve figured a few things out with the roster that has the team firing on all cylinders.
“It’s a process,” and “It’s gonna take time,” are two refrains we’ve to hear from coach Rick Carlisle all season long as the young team jelled and found its footing towards a top 4 rank in the Western Conference. In the early season, Rick has shuffled his lineups like a fantasy GM, searching for the right matchups and fits to see if anything worked better than the last game by using 11 different starting lineups over the 16 game season. It seems as though the lineups had started to solidify into more distinct units the back half of November with Dorian and Seth joining Luka and KP in the starting lineup and the last variable being the center based on need.
This has seen the team win 6 of their last 8 before the Clipper game and shown that the team really needed some level of consistency in order to jell.
KP Settling In
All can agree that Porzingis has not had the IMMEDIATE success that Mavs fan had been hoping for after his long-awaited return to the court, even though his “struggling” still results in 18.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.2 blocks on 37% from 3. That’s a stat line that most players would LOVE to have. While some rust can be seen in different aspects of his game, his struggles seemed to mostly come from not fitting into the offense very well, which should have been expected.
In New York, Porzingis was the primary shot creator in an offense based on Phil Jackson’s triangle which saw lots of ISO’s and post-work. Porzingis got used to getting the ball and dribbling until he found a weak point and scoring. There weren’t other reliable scorers to kick to nor any point guards who were capable of doing much distributing. He mastered that game and made a killing as the ONLY option in NY.
Well here in Dallas, Porzingis stepped into a flow offense where cutting and moving the ball is the name of the game with a historically great passer in Luka Doncic all while adjusting to not being the sole scoring option on the team. Needless to say, we all should have seen this adjustment period coming. His role from NY was NOT how he was going to succeed here in Dallas.
After the tough return to Madison Square Garden where he was spurned with every touch of the ball by the fans, he played 3 yrs for, Porzingis took the time before the Toronto game to evaluate where he could improve by himself to better help the team. In that game, he posted 20 pts, a season-best 15 rebounds and his highest plus/minus of the season with +6 in a heated battle with the 4th best team in the East. He looked more involved. He looked comfortable within the offense for the first time all year. He didn’t shoot it particularly well, but he affected the game in every facet and gave a performance that looked like he had turned a corner. After the game, he talked to the media about what had changed for him.
Porzingis says he was more naturally in the flow of the offense, mulled the past couple of days and came up with ideas, including quicker screen sets. pic.twitter.com/Plf8AwLTvZ
— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) November 17, 2019
Porzingis making the mental changes necessary to augment his game into Dallas’ offense has had VERY positive results for him. His overall stats have remained relatively the same, but his efficiency has skyrocketed.
In this stretch of FIVE STRAIGHT WINS, he’s found consistency with his outside shot, shooting no worse than 40% from 3 in ANY GAME since then. And if that weren’t valuable proof that he understands how he fits into this offense, take a look at his plus/minus numbers. These 4 games are his best games as far this stat goes by a mile. And before you consider the lesser opponents, he also managed a +32 vs the Rockets on Sunday. That’s elite-level production. KP realizing the role this team needs of him is leading to personal progression and a statement win against a division foe with Finals aspirations.
The Rise THJ
Tim Hardaway Jr. presented MFFLs with a huge conundrum before he had played a single minute. He was the second-highest-paid player on the team, yet bordering on being an afterthought to most fans. His play in the preseason didn’t inspire much hope and the start of the season he displayed flashes of scoring brilliance and potential to change games, but it was anything but consistent. Then, due to an illness by Seth Curry which removed him from the starting lineup, THJ got the starting role for the last 3 games and has seemed like a completely different player. In those 3 games, Tim has shot over 75% from 3 and gave the Mavs their 3rd scoring threat the starting lineup has needed all season.
So has just made him a starter got him motivated or something? Well no. He was playing in the second unit with several players who have not known scoring threats and there was a rotating door of teammates as Carlisle tried to figure out rotations and lineups. With no other high-level scorers to draw defenders, THJ was trying to Cowboy his way to being THE scorer off the bench and taking many ill-advised shots.
However, with Tim moving to the starting lineup it unlocked the potential Tim has been harboring. The gravity of Luka and KP has given Tim more space than he’s been able to operate in and taken the ball out of his hands. In the second unit, Hardaway was working consistently off the dribble and trying to create, whereas in the starting unit he knows his best way to get his shot is to move, get open, and wait for Luka to find him. Before the season started, Hardaway talked about wanting to be the Michael Finley to Luka & KP’s Dirk/Nash combo and it seems like that film study has been paying off.
It seemed as though Seth would return to his starting role just as soon as he was healthy enough to do so until Sunday’s game against the Rockets. Prior to the game, Carlisle said he wouldn’t bump Seth from the starting lineup just for being sick, but after the game, Rick had to change his tune. Hardaway played his best overall game as a Maverick, scoring a season-high 31 points on 45.5% from 3 against a top-flight division foe. After a performance like that, it’s easy to understand for all parties why Rick had to tell Seth Curry he’d been Wally Pipp’d for now.
Tim’s hot hand may be just that: a hot hand. But he’s done so well in a starting role over this stretch that he’s at least earned the right to try to keep it up. If he can continue to score somewhere around the 20 points a game and be a threat from the outside, he will get to fulfill his offseason hope of being Luka & KP’s Finley. And that will only be good for Mavs fans.
It seems, outside of a hot hand popping up, that Rick has found a flow to his lineups that allows each unit to maximize its skillsets. There will always be effects on the changes in lineups, but to find these kinds of breakthroughs with THJ & KP in under a quarter of the season bodes well for the rest of the year.
Playoff hopes got a shot in the arm after the Houston victory showed that they are capable of playing with the best in the West. They’ve got a terribly strong portion of the schedule upcoming, but with the way this team is playing and trending to get even better has to make any MFFL confident they’ll make it through alright.
Featured Image: Associated Press Photo/Tony Gutierrez Twitter Video: Brad Townsend (@townbrad)