The early part of the season was a struggle, but the Dallas Mavericks are finally witnessing the Kristaps Porzingis that’s been missing for over a year.
It was a logical belief that made sense given everything Porzingis had to go through to return to the court after tearing his ACL now more than two years ago. It was harder to continuously reiterate for the impatient ones who wanted him to start earning his max contract.
The counting numbers weren’t so bad, not with 16.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game through the end of January.
But when you account for the poor shooting line of .397/.341/.739 and some load management mixed in with a 10-game absence on a Mavericks team with an unexpected presence in the playoff picture, KP’s grace period was closing quickly.
With the postseason inching closer, it’s a good thing then that Porzingis seems to have rediscovered the form that made him an All-Star in his last season in New York.
Over his last 11 games, the Unicorn is averaging 27.3 points on a true shooting percentage of 65.8 to go with 10.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.0 blocks per game.
There has been a natural growth in comfort playing for a new organization, and its shown in the way in which Porzingis has established himself as a legitimate star with the Dallas Mavericks alongside Luka Doncic.
His role in Dallas’ offense has changed from that of primarily a spot-up seven-footer to more of an offensive focal point thanks to a new level of confidence from head coach Rick Carlisle.
Compared to his regular-season averages, Porzingis has seen more than two extra post-ups a game over his last 11 as well as extra touches around the elbow, both considered sweet spots for the man with the unblockable jumper. Combined he’s shooting 68.3 percent from those areas compared to 50.6 percent on the year.
To be clear, Porzingis is still functioning as a spot-up threat. Such is part of the role alongside a creator like Luka.
But whereas he’s shooting a modest 36.2 percent in such situations from beyond the arc on the season, Porzingis has bumped his efficiency up to a potent 40.7, further opening up the court for his Mav teammates.
There’s a mental component to recovering from such a devastating injury, the type that decreases aggressiveness and makes athletes hesitant to attempt their once routine moves.
It was affecting Porzingis, but it doesn’t seem to anymore with 2.9 extra free-throw attempts per game up to 7.5. More shots of his are coming in the paint — 2.9 a game compared to 2.4 — which are being converted at an 81.3 percent clip.
The struggles remain when it comes to pushing through stronger defenders — his field goal percentage on drives remains under 30.0 — but the willingness to do so is an encouraging sign of progress.
He took home Player of the Week honors for the first time since November of 2017. His elite production as a whole is the result of the opportunities that have been ramped up in recent weeks, although his durability is still far from flawless.
The Dallas Mavericks aren’t suddenly championship contenders but a potential second-round appearance now looks more realistic with two stars playing at extremely high levels.
More importantly, the player Dallas acquired to be the co-star alongside Doncic is finally playing the part, and the outlook for one of the league’s dynamic young duos now looks as bright as it was once thought to be.