Kristaps Porzingis truely is a unique player. He can still show you flashes of the 7ft 3in Lithuanian freak with a jumper, poised to wreck the league as a more aggressive version of Dirk Nowitzki. But more than not, we’re stuck watching a disengaged role player who looks out of place and has the mentality of crushed snowflakes. Because when he’s not involved, then he’s not involved. So Dallas sent him to Washington for Spencer Dinwiddie and David Bertans but could this have been avoided? Did Luka Doncic’s self-centered system play a more significant role in that decision? But first, Tim Legler’s awesome comment.
Two Sides of a Unicorn
To first address Legler’s hilarious call - he's right. Kristaps played 76% of the games in ‘20, 59% in ‘51, and 61% in ‘22. But that doesn’t even begin to express Dallas’ biggest concerns surrounding the majestic but departed stretch five.
'Wow a 7ft 3in guy who can shoot and protect the paint is unstoppable'. Then right as you have that thought, Porzingis flips into a disinterested and inefficient traffic cone - parked at the edge of the three-point line. It takes one lousy play, and he goes from the best big in basketball to someone blatantly inhibiting the rhythm of the offense.
While both sides of the coin act out its stretches of the same game constantly (mostly favoring the latter), it can be best broken down from how he plays with Luka Doncic to how he plays without him.
Porzingis with Luka: 17.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.6 blocks in 23 games.
Porzingis without Luka: 22.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.1 blocks in 11 games.
When it’s time for Porzingis to carry games without the heavy hand of Luka, he simply plays better statistically. Offensively, he is much more trigger-happy - shooting more threes and earlier in the shot clock. But defensively, he's merely a different player, one that is much more engaged and dominant. But when Luka is on the court, those defensive glimpses diminish slightly but impactfully. So even though he gets better shots since defenses love to collapse on Doncic, he's more meticulous and reserved to just letting it fly or creating his own shot.
This might paint a picture of a Jayson Tatum-esk problem where one player has the ball so much that his teammates struggle to find a rhythm (Luka ranks 11th in isolation possessions and 8th in usage rate). But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The reason Dallas has a remarkable 14-8 record without Porzingis and an awful 6-9 one without Luka is that one player excels in an inconsistent and shoot-first role while the other, well, excels in a shoot-first role but is just all-around better. Even though Dallas moves the ball a lot more without Luka and even rack up 26.3 assists in games he's not playing - which would be sixth in the league behind the Suns and in front of the Heat - the Luka system is more effective than anything else they have in place since it leads to winning basketball.
That doesn’t even begin to describe the playoffs. How can someone go from 20.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.3 blocks at a 55% clip in the regular season to 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 0.7 blocks on 47% shooting with more minutes? It almost would have been better if his shooting dipped to a 30% like the Knicks’ Julius Randle that same first round. Instead, KP's entire production dipped due not exactly from a failure to produce on the same level. But from a failure to even compete on that the same level. His weak mentality was spotlighted.
On to better things
However way you spin it, Dallas is taking in a player whose leadership qualities were unwelcomed in Washington as Kevin O’Connor from the Ringer reported that the “Wizards want[ed] to move Dinwiddie because he looks like a shell of his former self and his teammates don’t want him there.”
It’s going to be fascinating watching how Dinwiddie’s drive to lead is matched with Doncic’s idiosyncratic but serious attitude for the remainder of the season. On top of how this works with talented guards like Brunson, Hardaway and Finney-Smith. As they currently sit 5th in a tough Western Conference, the Mavs won’t have much time to soothe over ego problems.