Quick rebuilds in the NBA are a rarity that come to fruition due to a confluence of factors. From getting players at the right place and at the right time to getting good matchups here and there, fortune favors the bold and at times the lucky.
When the Dallas Mavericks did a draft-day swap for Luka Doncic back in 2018, they did so knowing they found their franchise cornerstone to replace Dirk Nowitzki, who was already past his prime and retired at the conclusion of Doncic’s rookie year. The Slovenian ran away with Rookie of the Year honors as he was easily ready from Day One, but he needed a good running mate to take it to the next level.
It wasn’t long before they found Doncic another European 7-footer to partner with, as in January 2019, the Mavericks acquired Kristaps Porzingis, who at that time was recovering from a torn ACL but could still produce when healthy.
The potential of the two joining forces, however, still leaves a lot to be desired as despite having made the playoffs over the past two seasons together, lineups with both Doncic and Porzingis saw decreasing net ratings between 2019 and 2021. Through nine games this season, their net rating was at an all-new low of -10.5. Both do tend to be defensive liabilities and have a penchant for turning over the ball quite a lot. Their scoring, which can happen in bunches, also usually came at the cost of ill-advised shots.
Despite those numbers, both showed out in the 112-104 overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Doncic and Porzingis proved they could be the dynamic duo Dallas envisioned them to be in as both combined for 56 points against a team that made it to the Western Conference Finals last season.
Doncic himself nearly had a near triple-double as he had nine rebounds and nine assists to go with his 26 points. He helped keep the game close as he scored 15 points in the third quarter and showed little to no ill effects from his ankle and knee sprains. It was also during this time that the Mavericks fed off his energy, as they scored 38 points as a whole.
Paul George would later send the game into overtime with a 3-pointer, but it was all Porzingis in the extra period. The Latvian forward scored six of Dallas’ nine points, having his way around the smaller Clipper frontcourt.
The win was a confidence boost this early into the season, but the Mavericks have already had to deal with Doncic and Porzingis recuperating from a host of injuries.
Part of it stems from Doncic playing non-stop after having quite the run in the Tokyo Olympics. The value of offseason rest has never been higher than in the last two seasons, when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the league’s usual calendar and forced teams to quickly move on to the next season.
The workload Doncic continues to carry, as evidenced by his league-high 35.5 usage rate, could take its toll later this season and may have ramifications for later seasons as well. Fatigue could set in and inch by inch affect his health and any chances of advancing past the first round of the playoffs.
Porzingis himself has his own injury concerns and even at his age will likely face maintenance days. Any setbacks moving forward would really put a dent towards his solid play as of late. In the past two weeks, his averages of 26.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks came after recovering from a back injury, and didn’t have enough help in the three games Doncic missed.
At 10-7, Dallas will need Doncic and Porzingis at their best as they will have to fend off the Clippers, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Denver Nuggets, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Minnesota Timberwolves, all of whom are within two games of the Mavericks. They will face the Grizzlies twice in the next two weeks and apart from them and the Brooklyn Nets, the Mavericks find themselves with a manageable schedule barring any unfortunate events.
The improved chemistry between the Euro Duo is a boon for the Mavericks, too, considering that there have been times in the past where it seemed like Doncic was refusing to pass to Porzingis.
Rolling the dice on both Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis right now seems like the best decision for the Dallas Mavericks, but it is best that they proceed with caution. There remain a handful of teams that are above them in the championship pecking order and if they play the long game well, that won’t be the case anymore in a few years’ time.