Before the end of the 2021 NBA season, Luka Doncic will likely be the first overall pick, and the Dallas Mavericks are in the middle of a rebuild. Luka Doncic is a poster child for what every NBA franchise wants in a franchise player: he’s polished, he’s young, he’s versatile, he’s a winner, and he has superstar potential.
Luka Doncic has been the talk of the NBA playoffs, and that has given Dallas Mavericks fans reason to believe they will have a bright future. The Mavs have a young superstar in Doncic, who is an obvious future MVP candidate. His emergence has also led to speculation that the Mavs will be a serious championship contender for the foreseeable future.This is not what Kristaps Porzingis expected when he came to Dallas. By becoming a central figure in the blockbuster, he should form one of the strongest duos in the NBA with Luka Doncic, the rising star. Porzingis expected it to be a 1A-1B situation. Doncic certainly kept his end of the bargain. The 22-year-old is soon to be a two-time All-NBA selection, and he contributed just 35.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 10.3 assists in the second playoff run of his career. But it’s after a loss: The Dallas Mavericks lost to the Los Angeles Clippers in a seven-game series with one of the most telling stories being how little confidence Dallas could place in Porzingis, who has battled injuries and adjusted to a supporting role over the past two seasons. Porzingis averaged 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds, often using himself as offensive bait while Doncic tore apart the Clippers’ defense designed to slow him down. The Mavericks are clearly Doncic’s franchise. But one of the biggest questions for the Mavs is how Porzingis will fit into the lineup. Good question, Porzingis said after Game 7, pausing for a moment to organize his thoughts. How do I feel? I mean, I’m fine. I tried to work, I tried to work hard. I do my part, I listen to what the coaches ask me to do, and that’s it. I try to keep it simple for myself, so I don’t overthink things and focus on what I can control. It’s about becoming a better basketball player by going into the offseason hungry. I want to get better physically [and] on the basketball court. I will work on myself to become a better person and the rest will take care of themselves. A superstar of Doncic’s caliber naturally puts pressure on the franchise to compete for a championship. As a result, every decision made by Dallas management is viewed through the prism of the fit between the franchise and the player. Is Kristaps Porzingis the right assistant for Luka Doncic in Dallas? Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images When the NEW YORK KNIX put Porzingis up for sale in 2019, a Mavs team that had just drafted Doncic jumped in. Dallas was convinced Porzingis would be an ideal acquisition and knew a commitment to extend the 2015 fourth-round pick to a max contract this summer would lead to a deal. Though Porzingis didn’t play a second for the Mavs – it took him a full season to recover from a torn ACL suffered in February 2019 – the deal was finalized in the early minutes of free agency. Porzingis’ health and longevity have been an issue for the Mavs, including a torn meniscus in his right knee that prematurely ended his 2020 postseason. He played in only 43 regular season games, missing the first nine as he recovered from meniscus surgery and then a few more because of a sore knee. After the new NBA play-in tournament provided new excitement in the postseason, the first round of the playoffs began. – Big questions from the second round answered – Nets-Bucks series preview by Zach Lowe – Chris Middleton is the Bucks’ backstop – A look at the friendship between Mitchell and D-Wade – How far can the 76ers go without Embiid? Those injuries – and the resulting reduced mobility – have made him a blocker on defense, and that’s one reason why Dallas will have trouble getting Porzingis’ value in a trade. He’s owed $101.5 million over the next three seasons, a contract that league executives and scouts consider an albatross. Unless Porzingis becomes a champion assist man – and it’s unlikely he will be on the trade market – it’s hard to see the Mavs getting a second star in the near future. The Mavs were planning on having an open salary cap this summer to compete for a player, but the class of free agents has weakened considerably as several stars have signed contract extensions with their current teams. Signing an expensive free agent could cost Tim Hardaway Jr. Hardaway, which was considered a throwaway in the aftermath of the Porzingis trade, has had an inspiring 2021 postseason (averaging 18 points with 45.8 percent shooting from deep) and has been a key player for the Mavs. There are also questions about the interaction between Doncic and Porzingis. The cornerstones of the Mavs franchise are not friends. Team owner Mark Cuban compared the far-reaching dynamic to the early partnership between Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, which resulted in two NBA Finals appearances and a championship. But Porzingis was frustrated and often felt less like a second star and more like a secondary character as Doncic dominated the game and the spotlight, sources told ESPN. Porzingis often made thinly veiled innuendos in his post-game encounters with the press, such as moving the ball after high-scoring performances today, or that the offense didn’t involve him in low-scoring plays. It’s just the games we made, Porzingis said after the April 7 loss against the division-leading Houston Rockets when asked why he didn’t make a single shot in the fourth quarter, even though he scored 23 points on 10-of-19 shots in that game. After a pause, he added: It’s happened before. How Dallas will build its superstar is the question that will dominate the Mavs’ offseason. Etienne Laurent/EPA The lack of interaction on the field between Doncic and Porzingis, who rarely greet or communicate directly with each other, was evident. When he was eight years old. Right after the Bucks’ win over Milwaukee, Porzingis didn’t try to downplay the humiliation. Yes, we try to play together and help each other, Porzingis said. We want to win. At the end of the day, we all want to win here – and we do. We have to keep playing, keep playing together, keep playing well and help each other. It’s a sensitive subject that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who himself has a strained relationship with Doncic, a star who has repeatedly paraded the coach on the field or bench when he disagrees with his decisions, doesn’t like to discuss publicly. Carlisle often talks about the dynamic between Doncic and Porzingis, noting how Porzingis’ shooting ability from the perimeter complements Doncic’s ability to create from the dribble. 1 Connected The Mavs have impressed this season when this duo has played together. When Doncic and Porzingis played, their offensive percentage was 24-16 with a 118.2 rating. That includes a 20-8 record with a 122.2 ERA after the 5th inning. February, when Dallas began its climb from 14th in the Western Conference and five games under .500 to fifth. (Conversely, with Doncic and Porzingis on the floor, Dallas scored 117.7 points per 100 possessions, which would put them last in defensive efficiency.) According to Second Spectrum, the Mavericks averaged 1.18 points per possession in the regular season when Porzingis and Doncic were side by side, the most efficient duo in the league with at least 300 rebounds. That success didn’t matter during the playoffs, when the Clippers routinely defended Porzingis (6-foot-4) with the wing to change every pick-and-roll. They challenged Dallas to force Porzingi’s post-ups, which Carlisle called a poor game and a low-scoring situation in response to criticism last season. Porzingis spent the series as an outside back in most offensive plays, standing in the corner or on the wing to create space on the floor, and got less than half the contact with the ball per game that he had in the regular season. At a premium, Porzingis became a role player with a max contract. We’re here to do whatever it takes to win, said Porzingis, who scored eight points on six field goal attempts in the Mavs’ fifth game. After Game 7, Porzingis talked about a mental struggle to find a role he wasn’t comfortable in. He said his first year he tried to focus on playing hard and doing little things to help his team. And no matter what I do, there always seems to be something, Porzingis said, acknowledging that he gets a lot of attention. I’m just trying to be as professional as possible.
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