four point play….
1. The NBA has given me much to be happy about over the last week. The Cavs have played passable ball on both ends of the floor winning the last two, Cedi Osman has finally connected his brain to his skill-set for an extended period of time, Matthew Dellavedova was mic’ed up (that’s all I have on that, that’s just fun), and the New York Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks making Luka and Kristaps teammates for the foreseeable future.
The prospect of watching Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis play together is beyond entertaining. The 7’3″ Latvian was already one of the most entertaining players in his own right. His stretch big offensive game combined with some crazy blocks and putbacks made Porzingis one of the most fascinating players in the NBA. Add my man Luka Doncic to the equation and Rick Carlisle is right in recalling the Dirk Nowitzki/Steve Nash pairing of years ago.
It is almost as though Mark Cuban got a do-over with the previous decision on whether or not to max-out Steve Nash. Had Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki played their whole primes together, we might have had a very different championship picture from the mid 2000s on.
Nash and Nowitzki were really good together. It is easy to forget that Nash made two All-Star games with the Mavericks before he went to the Suns. True, he wasn’t an MVP candidate before he returned to Phoenix, but it wasn’t as though Nash was an average player that only exploded after joining Mike D’antoni’s squad. Nash was already great. It was mostly a health question.
Had Dallas been satisfied with Nash’s long-term health prospects, they would have offered a larger contract. I am pretty confident that a healthy prime Nash combined with Dirk’s brilliance could have given Dallas a couple more titles.
Fast forward to 2019 and we have a somewhat similar situation. Kristaps Porzingis was probably a top-five untradable player before he hurt his ACL last season. Kristaps’s immense offensive potential as a shooter and Pick and Roll guy has never really been in doubt. What Kristaps added last season was a more consistent post game. When I first wrote about Porzingis almost five years ago, I said it was hard to get a gage on how good he can be until he goes through puberty.
Well, the boy became a man. Porzingis has gotten much stronger over the last few seasons and it is allowed him to use his incredible skill-set closer to the basket. Last season, guys couldn’t move Porzingis off his spot like they could before.
2. Of course, it remains to be seen how well he will respond to NBA basketball post-ACL reconstruction. Many people are rightfully concerned that a 7’3″ human could have a hard time regaining enough athleticism to play in the NBA after such a difficult injury.
The thing is, even if Porzingis were to only get back to 90% of his previous athletic agility, his height, skill-set, and increased strength should still allow him to be a dominant force. If the Unicorn goes from a 7’3″ man who runs like a fast wing to a 7’3″ man who is still quick enough to play a stretch Center, that will be just fine. He will still be 7’3″ with a great shot.
The only real hole that Porzingis displayed last season was his underwhelming play-making. Kristaps wasn’t particularly interested in creating for others, even though he has displayed a talent and ability to do so.
With Dallas, Porzingis will gain a completely different understanding of how to move the rock. Coach Carlisle is a genius at combining great Pick and Roll ball-dominance with off-ball action for assist creating possibilities.
It is why all of the J.J. Berea bench units have been so successful over the last few seasons. Carlisle allows a point guard to control the action completely if the point guard knows what he is doing. What is different from Carlisle’s system and a lot of other ball-dominant systems is nobody relaxes off-ball for the Dallas Mavericks.
There are constantly looking for back-door opportunities, off-ball screens, double-screens into a PnR that give a great ball-handler like Barea, and now Doncic a chance to serve whatever poison the defense wants to pick.
For Dirk, all those off-ball actions were still in play, with the main ball-dominance starting at the elbow.
Porzingis’s game is really a balance between Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki. There is a lot more Durant in Kristaps offensive production than many people might recognise. If post-ACL surgery, Porzingis needs to stick more toward the Nowitzki side of things, he still can be dominate from the nail.
There couldn’t be a better place for him to maximize his skills than in Dallas. Carlisle and Dirk can tell Porzingis every action and reaction from every spot on the floor in that offense. Off-ball movement will make it easier for him to create for others. And more than anything, Porzingis will have the ultimate PnR partner in Luka Doncic.
What a stroke of luck for NBA fans that Porzingis will be in a position to truly maximize his talents. Luka was going to be amazing regardless, but this trade might have changed Porzingis’s future from multiple All-Star to first class Hall-of-Famer.
3. I’m very happy to see that Cedi Osman will be participating in All-Star weekend. Before the last few games, Osman’s inclusion would have seemed a little bit on name alone. Enough people knew that Osman worked out with the best small forwards in the world over the summer. Being included in that picture allotted Cedi a little more face time than he might have otherwise received.
That being said, Osman certainly has the talent to participate in any All-Star festivity when his head is completely locked in. This season, Cedi has proven to be more of a confidence player than I initially understood him to be.
I don’t know enough about the inner workings of the Cavs’ locker room to know whether Osman needs to be more hyped thus leading to better play, or toned down for him to succeed.
From the outside looking in, it strikes me that Cedi needs people to tell them to shoot and play with confidence. That he is the man. Of course, that might be a very different message that people like Austin Carr are probably giving him in random hallways throughout the league.
I would much rather Cedi go to 4-20, than 4-8 in any particular game. He is probably the Cavaliers’ most talented player. That is both an indication of the lack of talent on the Cavs, but also a sign of his rather high ceiling. Osman needs to play with that mindset. Hopefully his trip to All-Star week will embolden him, and he can begin to produce on a regular basis like he has over the last week.
4. Anthony Davis will leave the Pelicans. Shocking. I don’t feel like talking about the Lakers, but I do think it is important to bring up a new reality. Superstars don’t stay for their third contract.
With that in mind, it seems the only sensible thing to do is draft well during their young years, never trade any first rounder in order to “get the young superstar playoff experience”, and patiently “waste” a couple years of their early prime in order to construct a roster so strong that he is competing for championships by the end of that second contract.
Basically, PUNT on the first four years of any superstar’s career in order to make sure that years four through eight are championship caliber good. Making the playoffs shouldn’t be the early goal. It’s hard to walk away from a championship level squad. It is really easy to leave a team with a roster like the Pels have.