Unless you have been living under a rock the size of Texas, you know by now that the New York Knicks shipped Kristaps Porzingis off to Dallas in one of the season’s craziest blockbuster trades so far. And if you don’t know by now, this type of drama-filled wheeling and dealing is one of the many reasons that there is no more entertaining professional sports league in the world.
Without getting into the details of winners and losers, it’s safe to say that Dallas is thrilled to have Porzingis join their already improving young core. At 7 feet 2 inches, the Latvian monster was on track for a mega breakout last season before an ACL tear derailed the second half of his 2017-18 campaign, and most likely his entire 2018-19 season. Prior to the injury, Zinger averaged 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, connecting on 43.9 percent of his field goals and 39.5 percent of the 4.8 3-pointers he attempted per game.
With more and more big men adding menacing long-range strokes to their inside games, the All-Star is no longer the elusive unicorn he once was. However, his three-tier scoring ability and capacity to destroy would-be paint scorers with his long arms and supreme positioning makes Porzingis as tantalizing as ever. His injury seems like the only thing that can keep him from bursting through his oozing potential, but modern medicine has enabled many a player to overcome these previously devastating knee injuries.
In New York, the 23-year-old was the centerpiece of several struggling rosters. During the three and a half seasons he spent in the Big Apple, Porzingis was rarely accompanied by palatable talent. Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose are both big names in the NBA landscape, but they were withered skeletons of what they were in their heydays by the time the big man was able to line up next to them. With the move to Dallas, Porzingis will finally be able to chaperone another young star in Luka Doncic, the 19-year-old Slovenian superstar who has the entire basketball world at his feet.
When Doncic was asked in a post-game scrum about the trade, he seemed thrilled to have another star in the Mavericks ranks.
“He is such an amazing player. This could be a really good thing … He’s big, he can shoot, he can rebound, he can do a lot of things and, like I’ve said, I think he can be one of the best players in this league.” he said.
Clearly, the Rookie of the Year leader is keen to have another alpha male in town, but how the two fit together remains to be seen. However, when you comb through the two players’ skill sets and consider how they will intertwine, it seems like an overwhelming possibility that they form a daunting duo.
Starting with their pick-and-roll play, both Porzingis and Doncic show constant stretches of pure dominance. The latter is an expert at finding seams to work into, and the rookie’s ability to find his bigs with pinpoint passes has already become a key to his game. Having already shared the floor with athletic bigs like DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Powell, Doncic has had ample practice at lobbing alley-oop dimes and squeezing nifty pocket passes to his bigs.
Just over halfway through his debut season, Doncic is already an elite passer for his size, and much of that comes from his off-screen creation. Of all players measuring in at 6 feet 7 inches or taller, only seven players average more assists than the rookie phenom’s 5.4 per outing, and only four have a higher assist percentage.
Now, let your imagination run wild as you picture a kid who can nail passes like this:
Tossing lobs to a bouncy giant with a 7-foot-6 wingspan and sticky mitts like this:
While they aren’t quite the same caliber of finisher, both Powell and Jordan can mirror Kristaps Porzingis’ rim runs and throw it down with force. What the pair can’t do is mutilate defenses with their 3-point shots as the new Maverick can.
With one of the quickest triggers in the league, perhaps the quickest of any big man, Porzingis is a deadly catch-and-shoot force. In 2017-18, he nailed a sizzling 41.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples, and that was with Jarrett Jack and Emmanuel Mudiay as his primary creators. It’s scary to picture how many better looks in pick-and-pop sets he will get with Doncic setting the table.
Even when picks aren’t involved, the floor-spacing and gravity that Porzingis provides will work wonders for Doncic’s already trademark isolation game. By dragging the opposition’s premium big defender out of the paint and out of the way, Doncic can get much higher-quality looks at the rim. He has already mastered the art of the stepback jumper and contested floater, but analytics suggest that getting closer to the coalface is always a plus, and Kristaps Porzingis will give him the perfect platform to do so.
Take the clip below as a perfect example. Doncic gets his defender to whiz by with his pretty pump fake but is forced to pull up for a 20-foot jump shot because Jordan and his man have turned the rim into a congested traffic jam. With DJ out of the way in New York and Zinger spacing the floor, Doncic will have fields more room to drive and get a higher percentage look:
According to NBA.com, there are 43 players who drive the ball more than 10 times a night. Of those 43, only eight convert their subsequent field goals at a worse percentage than Doncic’s 45.8 percent. With a clearer runway to takeoff, it seems likely that number will increase quickly.
With an all-around offensive game that has any hoop head salivating, it’s easy to see how pairing Doncic with the former Knicks big man is going to a ton of fun. Although, the most important aspect of their partnership might just come on the other end of the floor; where the rookie isn’t so dominant.
The pre-draft concerns about Doncic’s lateral quickness and overall athleticism have been swiftly dispelled on the offensive end of the court, but they still remain relevant defensively. When he gets beaten by quick, crafty ball-handlers, the Dallas big men are rarely able to clean up those mistakes.
Porzingis is basically a 7-foot-2 janitor who mops up defensive mishaps at the rim as second nature. From his rookie season in 2015-16 until his injury-riddled 2017-18 campaign, only Hassan Whiteside, Anthony Davis, Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan have racked up more blocked shots than Porzingis. And all four played in at least 12 more games, per Basketball Reference.
In the play below, you can see how Zinger erases Jaylen Brown’s layup attempt after Courtney Lee gets lost on defense. With Doncic prone to similar defensive mistakes, his new teammate will provide a comforting fall-back option, as opposed to a not-really-trying-anymore DeAndre Jordan, and sub-par defenders like Powell, Dirk Nowitzki and Maxi Kleber:
With skill sets that Yin and Yang off each other seamlessly, it looks like the Doncic-Porzingis pairing is destined to achieve great things. Unfortunately, it also looks like we might have to wait until next season to be able to watch it for ourselves.
Nonetheless, there is a deputy sheriff rolling into Texas, and the rest of the Western Conference should be shaking in their boots. With the Warriors dynasty bound to end at some point, these young studs might just be the next big thing.