Kristaps Porzingis still lives outside the paint

NBA.com Global on Nov 15, 2019 07:38 AM
Kristaps Porzingis still lives outside the paint
Dallas Mavericks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) gestures after fouling out in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez)

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

Kristaps Porzingis is set to make his return to Madison Square Garden with the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night (Friday, PHL time). For one game, Knicks fans will get an in-person reminder of the unique talent their team traded away to sign players that signed somewhere else.

Porzingis is 7-foot-3 and 24 years old, but he has the shot profile of a small guard like Kemba Walker or a 38-year-old wing like Kyle Korver -- guys that don't get into the paint very much. This trend has increased for Porzingis during his first nine games with the Mavericks as he works back from a 20-month absence.

Porzingis is coming off one of the worst shooting nights of his career, a 1-for-11 performance in Boston on Monday. In the loss, all 11 of Porzingis' shots came from outside the restricted area and nine of the 11 came from outside the paint. (Give credit to the Boston defense, which has allowed its opponents to take only 47% of their shots in the paint. That's the league's sixth lowest opponent rate.)

This game is not an outlier for Porzingis. This season, he has taken only 35% of his shots from in the paint, the 19th-lowest rate among 105 players with at least 100 field goal attempts through Wednesday (Thursday, PHL time) -- lower than those of Chris Paul (38%) and Trae Young (42%).

Porzingis has never been much of an interior presence. During his first four seasons, he has never taken more than 41% of his shots from the paint. He's a "unicorn" because, at his size, he can comfortably shoot from 30 feet.

According to Second Spectrum tracking, Porzingis leads the Mavs with 31 post-ups. But he has shot just 6-for-19, with one assist and not a single foul drawn on those post-ups. He's been much more efficient as a "roll man," according to Synergy tracking, but roll man possessions include pick-and-pops, and Porzingis rolled into the paint on only a few of his 31 roll-man possessions. In some cases, he has attacked a close-out after popping to the perimeter, but those attacks haven't been very successful. He's 5-for-22 on drives this season.

But over Porzingis' career, his shots in the paint (1.01 points per attempt) have been worth more than his shots from outside the paint (0.95). That latter number will climb, because he's traded some of the mid-range shots he took in New York for more valuable shots from beyond the 3-point arc. But the most valuable shots on the floor (worth about 1.25 points per attempt league-wide) are those in the restricted area, where Porzingis has seen a big reduction in shots since he was a rookie.

In his rookie year, 24% of Porzingis' shots came from the restricted area. That was well below the league average (32%), and since then, the percentage of his shots that have come from the restricted area has dropped every season. This season, it's down to just 12%.

It's early in the season, Porzingis is working his way back from a devastating injury and the Mavs still have the league's second-ranked offense (112.9 points scored per 100 possessions). On the other end of the floor, Porzingis puts his size to good use. As he did before he tore his ACL two seasons ago, he ranks as one of the league's best rim protectors, with opponents having just shot 46% at the basket when he's been there.

But imagine if he was nearly the interior presence on offense as he is on defense. Imagine if Porzingis could combine his pick-and-pop game with some stronger post-ups, a few rolls to the rim and some time spent in the dunker spot (below the block) as Luka Doncic attacks the paint.

Then we might see the true potential of this unicorn.

John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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