Why Kristaps Porzingis Should Improve in the 2021-22 Season
When asked about Kristaps Porzingis, most NBA fans remember his ugly showing in the first round of the 2021 Playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers. For a man dubbed as the Dallas Mavericks’ second star, making more money than players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday, Julius Randle, Jamal Murray, and Jaylen Brown, it was certainly disappointing to see him average a meager 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game in those seven contests against the Clips.
Yes, that was tough to see, but if we are going to judge him, it’s important to use a lot more than those seven contests. There is some context behind his struggles in the 2021 Playoffs, and the fact he looked like a shell of himself and was ridiculed all over the Internet makes the chip on his shoulder even larger.
Kristaps Porzingis: Does he Still Have a Place in Dallas?
Kristaps Porzingis: What Went Wrong in 2021
The Clippers series was rough because he didn’t have coach Rick Carlisle’s trust, and he didn’t trust himself either. Whenever he tried to post up a smaller player, he came up empty-handed. It was clear his confidence was off. Physically, he didn’t look nearly as quick as he was in the 2020 Bubble when he averaged 28.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in nine games. As a result, it affected him on offense and, especially, on defense.
In the modern NBA, a team with two stars will obviously have them both on the floor whenever possible, but there are times they will need a few minutes of rest. We saw, for example, how Paul George kept the Clippers’ offense moving when Kawhi Leonard went to the bench, but Porzingis couldn’t do the same for the Mavericks whenever Luka Doncic left the court. Per SI.com, the Mavs had a -48.3 net rating in the series with KP playing and Luka resting, which is… not good.
Many of KP’s looks were post-ups that ended in forced, off-balance shots. He couldn’t even convert over shorter defenders such as Rajon Rondo or Reggie Jackson. KP’s struggles stem, in part, from some clever defense played by Los Angeles, as they would switch ball screens aggressively when they went small: Porzingis couldn’t capitalize consistently and most of the weight was on Luka Doncic’s shoulders.
Simply put, Porzingis looked slow, out of sync, and low on confidence in last year’s playoffs. The lack of quickness was evident on defense as well. He was roasted outside of the paint and didn’t provide the rim protection he once offered inside of it.
Why Kristaps Porzingis Should be Better Next Season
Perhaps he isn’t capable of carrying a team and being the face of a franchise. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be successful on the Mavericks. It’s clear that the Clippers aren’t a good fit for him on either end of the floor. However, that series shouldn’t erase a couple of facts. One, he was much better in the regular season, where he averaged 20.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game coming off surgery. Two, Carlisle is gone, and there did appear to be some friction between the two, mainly because KP was used as a decoy in the playoffs (in large part thanks to his poor play, as we explained). And three, he entered this offseason determined to improve.
On day ‘21-22 schedule is announced, @kporzee is getting ready — and @luka7doncic approves. pic.twitter.com/Ny2Esb1bqY
— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) August 20, 2021
Porzingis will be 26 during the upcoming season. He will be a further year removed from knee surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear, performed in October 2020. He has enjoyed a healthy, normal offseason focusing on improving his game, not rehabbing.
During his best years, Porzingis had the skills of a dead-eye shooter and the shot-blocking ability of a center. Perhaps his knee woes won’t let him fully return to those levels. However, he should be much better in the 2021-2022 season than what he showed in the postseason this year. Again, he is still young, and it seems new coach Jason Kidd has made ‘rescuing’ the man formerly known as The Unicorn a priority.
Can he achieve that?
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images