Why Kristaps Porzingis' impressive preseason debut was everything Luka Doncic and the Mavericks could've hoped for
Porzingis put up 18 points in 19 minutes in his return to action after missing significant time due to an ACL tear
It may be a few years until official grades can be given for the Kristaps Porzingis trade, with the Dallas Mavericks still owing the Knicks two first-round picks in 2021 and 2023. Early returns saw it as a win-win for both sides. The Mavericks landed a talented running mate to pair with young sensation Luka Doncic, while the Knicks got off the contracts of Tim Hardaway Jr., and Courtney Lee to create cap space, which was meant to be used to chase both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in free agency. That, of, course .
Instead, the Knicks signed a litany of players to short-term deals, pushing their "big free agency summer" down the line further yet again, while the Mavericks signed Porzingis to a five-year, $158 million deal to keep him locked in with Doncic for the foreseeable future. Doncic and Porzingis have the potential to be one of the best duos in the league, and after their preseason debut Wednesday night, it appears that their on-court chemistry is off to a solid start.
In 19 minutes of action, Porzingis scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds, knocking down a turnaround jumper and a pair of 3s to open the game. His first points came early in the first quarter after he deflected an entry pass from Blake Griffin to Andre Drummond, and got down to the other end of the floor to hit a smooth jumper over Griffin.
After the game, Porzingis told the Dallas Morning News he "felt a little bit stronger" on the floor. Visibly, Porzingis looked like he added on a considerable amount of weight, which will come in handy when he's trying to guard physically bigger players like Griffin and Anthony Davis. The scoring from Porzingis was to be expected, considering he was averaging 20-plus points before his ACL tear, but his willingness to get down in the post to fight for rebounds should be inspiring for Dallas. Those seven rebounds are on par for what he averaged in his first two years in the league. However, as the biggest guy on the floor for Dallas, there's no reason he shouldn't be averaging a double-double. With the extra weight to throw around, he should be better equipped to grab some more boards for the Mavericks.
It wasn't just Porzingis' individual play. Paired with Doncic, the two showed glimpses of what they can become over time. The two were surgical in the pick-and-roll game. On one play in the third quarter, Porzingis was posting up Blake Griffin on the left block, when Bruce Brown tried to play some help defense, only to leave Doncic wide open for a 3-pointer as time expired. The play went something like this:
There were a handful of other plays similar to that against the Pistons, with it either resulting in an open look like that for Doncic, or an easy layup. Last season, Doncic was a one-man wrecking ball on offense for the Mavs, and oftentimes committed ill-advised turnovers because the defense would commit to guarding him knowing that he was the team's main source of offense. With Porzingis, defenses will now have to decide on every trip down the floor which of the two will receive the most attention. Committing fully to one will result in plays like the one above.
For Dallas fans, it was a small appetizer for what's to come for Porzingis and Doncic, but for any Knicks fans watching, it was likely their worst nightmare. It's just one preseason game, but watching Porzingis be highly productive and 100 percent healthy for a team that has the potential to break into the playoffs, while New York isn't any closer to the postseason than it was with Porzingis, has to hurt.
What's worse, if the Mavericks do become a playoff team, those picks they owe New York won't be as coveted as when they made the initial trade. Having first-round picks are always a positive, but there's a big difference between a lottery pick and picking somewhere toward the end of the first round. There's still a long journey in determining who won this trade, but right now the Mavericks have to be pretty happy with how it turned out.
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