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NBA Rookie Of The Year Watch: Wiggins On Top After Parker Injury

With Jabari Parker out, there’s a new No. 1 in the rookie rankings.

Jesse Blancarte

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Before this season started, many NBA analysts and fans believed this year’s class of rookies was one of the most talented in the last decade. Unfortunately, many of the most heralded rookies have been sidelined for extended periods of the season, while others have suffered season-ending injuries.The most recent rookie to suffer a significant injury is Jabari Parker, who tore his ACL on December 15 in a game against the Phoenix Suns.

Parker has been at the top of these rankings all season, and was showing gradual improvement in his game until the injury. Parker is the second top rookie to suffer a season-ending injury. Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a broken leg in his NBA debut against the Houston Rockets back in October.

With Parker out for the season, Andrew Wiggins takes over the top spot by default. There are no clear challengers to Wiggins at this point, but there are some new faces in this week’s ranking, including Wiggins’ teammate Zach LaVine.

Now let’s take a look at who else made the top 10 this week:

10.  Dante Exum, Utah Jazz:

Exum continues to receive limited playing time (17.5 minutes per game in December), which stifles his nightly impact. However, through 12 games played in December, Exum has shot 47.8 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from beyond-the-arc, which are significant improvements over his season averages.

Exum’s ability to knock down shots from deep is encouraging, especially considering the concerns surrounding his shooting mechanics entering this season. And though he doesn’t average many assists per game, Exum has proven to be a skilled and willing passer that is always looking to setup his teammates.

Exum also gets credit for staying within his role and not forcing the issue. He plays within the Jazz’ offense and rarely tries to do too much. However, we would like to see him be more aggressive as a scorer and play-maker at some point.

Unfortunately Exum’s limited playing time, among a few other things, keep him at the end of the top 10 for now.

9.  Kostas Papanikolaou, Houston Rockets:

Kostas Papanikolaou recently missed a few games with a knee injury, but is now healthy and has played in the Rockets’ last three games. However, Papanikolaou is playing less minutes per game than he did earlier in the season, which has caused him to slip in the rankings.

Papanikolaou’s shooting has been shaky all season, but his ability to impact games in other ways, including with his passing and rebounding, is what has kept him in the Rookie of the Year race. But over his last three games, Papanikolaou has failed to impress, scoring eight points, and grabbing just five rebounds collectively.

Papanikolaou will quickly fall out of the top 10 completely if he is unable to offset his poor shooting with his passing and rebounding like he did earlier in the season.

8.  Jusuf Nurkic, Denver Nuggets:

Jusuf Nurkic jumps into the top 10 for the first time this season after receiving an increase in playing time in December.

In his last eight games, Nurkic is still averaging 15 minutes of playing time. But in those 15 minutes, Nurkic is grabbing 5.4 rebounds. That is good for a 20.2 rebound percentage, which is ninth best in the league (among players that have played 15 games or more this season).

With a huge frame, surprising mobility and an ability to grab rebounds at a high rate, Nurkic has the potential to shoot up the rankings. However, that’s assuming his minutes continue to increase moving forward.

7.  Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves:

With Ricky Rubio sidelined with a severe ankle injury, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders has turned to Zach LaVine to fill in at point guard.

This month, LaVine is averaging 10.4 points, 4.5 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.2 steals, but is shooting just 38.2 percent from the field and 26.9 percent from beyond-the-arc. LaVine is only 19 years old and is more of a combo guard than a pure point guard, so we expected this sort of inefficiency and inconsistency. In his last four games, LaVine has failed to hit double-digits in scoring, but has tallied a decent number of assists.

LaVine’s shot selection is questionable at best, but he has the skill to catch fire every so often. His last breakout performance was against the San Antonio Spurs earlier this month, where he scored 22 points and logged 10 assists.

LaVine has the talent to be a really good NBA player, and his ability to run the point guard position at such a young age, and with just one year of college experience is encouraging.

6.  Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic:

Elfrid Payton’s offensive game is still a work in progress (to say the least), but he has put together some decent offensive performances recently. Over his last four games, Payton has shot over 50 percent from the field three times, but missed all seven of his field goal attempts against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.

Payton may not be an offensive weapon at this point, but his defensive intensity continues to impress and his ability to set up teammates for shots is encouraging. In December, Payton is averaging 5.4 assists and just 2.1 turnovers per game. These aren’t Chris Paul numbers, but his turnover rate has declined each month.

5.  Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets:

Bojan Bogdanovic has seen a reduction in his minutes recently (just 12 minutes per game over his last four), which has limited his ability to impact games. The reduction in playing time is understandable, however, considering how streaky Bogdanovic’s shooting has been this season.

When he isn’t connecting on his three-point attempts, Bogdanovic adds little value to the Nets. He doesn’t grab many rebounds (2.6), dish out many assists (0.7) and isn’t a lockdown defender (though he is serviceable).

Bogdanovic’s last four outings are representative of his rookie season so far. Against the Miami HEAT and Toronto Raptors collectively, Bogdanovic scored three points and made just one of his four three-point attempts. Then on Sunday, against the Detroit Pistons, Bogdanovic hit three of his four three-point attempts and contributed 14 points in just 14 minutes. But then he followed up that performance with just five points against the Nuggets and shot just one of four from beyond-the-arc.

Bogdanovic is capable of having a big offensive performance every so often, but he often follows those nights up with duds.

4.  Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers:

In the month of December, Noel is averaging 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks per game.

In his last four games, Noel has scored in double-figures twice, though he scored just one point against the Miami HEAT on Tuesday. Noel’s best recent performance came against the Boston Celtics last Monday, where Noel scored 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds, tallied four assists, three steals and blocked two shots in 29 minutes of action. Unfortunately, these types of performances only occur sporadically for Noel, who has been streaky in his rookie season.

So far this season, Noel has been active on the defensive side of the ball, as was expected of him. He is first among all rookies in steals per game (1.6) and second in blocks (1.5). Also, Noel is holding opponents to a respectable 47.1 percent shooting at the rim (on 8.2 opponent shots at the rim per game), which matches up favorably to noted rim protectors like Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol. However, Noel’s offensive game lacks polish and he is struggling to finish at the rim (55.2 percent within five feet on the season).

Noel isn’t a two-way player yet, but has plenty of room to improve moving forward. For now, he holds onto fourth place with his mobility and impact the defensive side of the ball.

3.  Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls:

Nikola Mirotic has played in 28 games so far, but is only averaging 18.5 minutes per game this season. However, Mirotic is having an impact in his limited playing time, averaging 10.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists while hitting 41.7 percent from beyond-the-arc in December.

Mirotic has had some impressive performances recently, scoring in double-digits in three of his last four outings. His best performance came last Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies, where Mirotic scored 27 points, grabbed eight rebounds and hit all six of his three-point attempts.

Mirotic’s biggest contribution to the Bulls comes from his shooting, which has been on recently. Over his last four games, Mirotic has hit ten of his last 16 three-point attempts, and shot less than 50 percent from the field just once (40 percent against the Wizards on Tuesday). Mirotic may not put up highlight plays like Andrew Wiggins, but he is arguably having the most significant impact of any rookie on a playoff team this season.

2.  K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers:

K.J. McDaniels has had a standout rookie season so far, which is a result of his outstanding work ethic and determination to be a great player. However, he has struggled shooting the ball in the month of December (33.8 percent from the field, 17.9 percent from beyond-the-arc), and he recently admitted that he may have hit the rookie wall.

McDaniels has only scored in double figures once over his last five games, and has made just two of his last ten three-point attempts. McDaniels wasn’t a great shooter in college, so it’s not surprising that his percentages have dipped recently, but we give McDaniels credit for contributing in other ways. In December, McDaniels is averaging 4.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.2 steals, and 2.1 blocks per game. He is currently eleventh in the league in blocks per game (1.6) and is currently ahead of players like Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, Larry Sanders, and Al Horford, which is pretty remarkable considering he plays shooting guard and small forward.

Still, McDaniels needs to find his jump shot before he can challenge Andrew Wiggns for the top spot. But considering his work ethic, it would not be surprising to see his shooting stabilize soon.

1.  Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves:

With the season ending injury to Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins now stands alone at the top of the rookie rankings. Wiggins leads all rookies in scoring (12.6 points per game), and continues to impress with his three-point shooting (41.7 percent on the season).

Wiggins hit a rough patch recently, failing to score in double-digits in three straight games. However, Wiggins exploded for 27 points, and connected on all three of his shots from beyond-the-arc against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night. Wiggins didn’t contribute much aside from scoring against the team that drafted him first overall and subsequently traded him for Kevin Love, but it was an impressive offensive performance nonetheless.

Wiggins is in control of the top spot for now with no other rookie currently challenging him for the top spot.

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Collin Sexton’s First All-Star Weekend A Success

Spencer Davies looks back at Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton’s first-time experience at NBA All-Star weekend in Chicago.

Spencer Davies

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It was early Friday afternoon at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago, the stage was set to kick off a laid-back weekend of celebration on NBA All-Star Weekend and commend the hard work of the brightest young talents, both national and international, the league had to offer.

The events of the 72-hour spectacle are meant to be enjoyed, connecting with others and soaking in the experience as a reward rather than being a full-on competition. Added to the U.S. Team roster as a replacement for injured Miami HEAT rookie Tyler Herro, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton did just that. Between a multitude of media appearances in the bright lights with cameras all around, the 21-year-old upstart took advantage of the opportunities to expose his personality to a national audience.

But amidst the fun, Sexton still went the extra mile as he always does. Phil Handy, a former Cavaliers assistant who worked famously with Kyrie Irving and the man that conducted Sexton’s pre-draft workout with Cleveland, was the head coach of the U.S. Team. So the one they call Young Bull decided to take full advantage with a post-practice workout when the floor cleared.

“[He’s worked with] great guards, yeah. He’s a great guy,” Sexton told Basketball Insiders. “He just told me to continue to get better, continue to work, continue to strive to be great. He talked to me a little bit about Kobe [Bryant] and his time with him, so I just got a good takeaway from him.”

Additional work at a practice to improve his game and prepare for an exhibition contest during a time that was meant for fun? It’s par for the course in his world. Just weeks prior following the Cavaliers’ loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road, a team source revealed to Basketball Insiders that Sexton went to Cleveland’s practice facility after landing in Northeast Ohio in the early morning hours to hone his craft.

“Dude’s motor doesn’t stop,” the source said.

“Oh naw, I work hard. When I feel like…if I’m on the court, I’mma do whatever I’ve gotta do. No days off, whatever,” Sexton told Basketball Insiders of his never-ending drive. “If it’s taking care of my body or just stretching or lifting, it’s not always about shooting and stuff like that. You’ve just gotta do the little things and that’s going to help you in the future.”

Though Sexton wasn’t used to the kind of attention he was receiving in the Windy City, he was determined to prove that he belongs. Usually taking a business-like approach to downplay things of this nature, he admitted how amazing it felt to achieve the milestone and be a part of the most popular three-day stretch the NBA has to offer.

“I feel like all my hard work, it paid off. So I’m glad to be here, especially with these group of guys, really good group. It’s an honor,” Sexton told Basketball Insiders that Friday morning.

Among star-studded sophomore names such as Luka Doncic and Trae Young, as well as human-highlight-reel rookies like Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, a motivated Sexton made his mark on the floor.

In 20 minutes of action, he poured in 21 points, nabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists. He shot 9-for-14 from the field, including three triples on six tries. And he even had a reverse jam on a bounce pass to himself, though he joked that it was “kinda weak.”

“At first, I was just chillin’ out there, wasn’t playing too hard. Then, you know, I can turn it on pretty quick,” Sexton said.

“Honestly, I just go out there and just play my game. Honestly, no matter who I’m put in the room with, I’mma do what I do,” Sexton told Basketball Insiders. “It’s exciting just because of like all the attention they bring, but me, being myself . . . I’m a dog too, so I’mma go out there and show everybody that I can represent as well.”

Sexton was the 20th Cavalier in franchise history to represent the team in the Rising Stars game since its inception in 1994. With a grin on his face naming those wine-and-golders who came before him, he was thinking ahead about the teammates that could now follow his lead.

Basketball Insiders saw a side of Sexton that hasn’t been seen much in Cleveland. He started a long media tour Thursday with a Yahoo-sponsored pop-a-shot contest followed it up with an NBA TV sitdown interview alongside Dennis Scott. While the next day was entirely centered on Rising Stars, he continued Saturday with an appearance for Metro By T-Mobile during a media-player role reversal contest and finished off at a barbershop sit down with the legendary Scottie Pippen and other notorious players from the league.

Through all of the losing, through all of the tumultuous nature of his one-and-a-half seasons with the Cavaliers — who are hiring their fourth coach since the 2018 NBA Draft — Sexton is not going to change his approach. He’s not going to change who he is. He’s not going to veer into a different path because of another shift in direction.

“It’s a great experience for me just to take my bumps and bruises, to go out there and pretty much just play hard each and every night, and that’s what I’mma do,” Sexton told Basketball Insiders. “It’s tough losing because no one wants to lose. I feel like we’re moving in the right directions and we’ll get better and start winning.”

Whether people want to believe it or not, what he’s doing is working just fine.

All-Star Weekend proved it.

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NBA Daily: The Stretch Run – Central Division

In the next edition of our The Stretch Run series, Basketball Insiders takes a closer look at the Central Division bubble teams as things get back on track following the All-Star break.

Chad Smith

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The so-called second half of the season is kicking back into gear, but the forthcoming agendas for teams in the Central Division are all very different. Some organizations have their eye on the draft lottery, some on making the playoffs and one or two have set their sights on the NBA Finals. Each team has less than 28 games remaining, which means every one of them will be extremely important.

As part of Basketball Insiders’ latest running series called The Stretch Run, we’re taking a look at every division and analyzing their standing — both in the postseason position or rebuilding efforts.

The Central Division is a mixed bag of teams on various tier levels, naturally. The Milwaukee Bucks find themselves alone at the top, owning the best record in the league — as of publishing — with a 46-8 record. Clearly not a bubble team, Milwaukee’s focus has been on fine-tuning their roster and figuring out their playoff rotation. They recently added another piece in Marvin Williams after his buyout with the Charlotte Hornets.

Behind the Bucks sit the Indiana Pacers with a 32-23 record at the All-Star break. Indiana beat Milwaukee in their final game before the stoppage to end a five-game losing streak. One of the reasons for their recent struggles is likely due to incorporating Victor Oladipo back into the rotation. While the chemistry will take time to build, the talented backcourt Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon should be one of the best in the league eventually. Their twin towers of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner should keep the Pacers squarely in the playoff picture.

At the opposite end of the spectrum sit the Cleveland Cavaliers. They are 14-40 on the season and have had very few bright spots. Collin Sexton picked up where he left off last season, but he hasn’t been able to elevate his teammates. The Cavaliers decided not to move Kevin Love before the trade deadline, before then acquiring Andre Drummond from a division rival to create a log jam of big men. After taking Sexton and Darius Garland in the draft lottery the past two years, Cleveland will likely have another top pick to use this summer.

The odd five-year contract that Cleveland gave former Michigan head coach John Beilein this past summer has not worked out well. After reports earlier this season that the players had already tuned him out, it appears as though his days in the league have come to an end. Beilein and the organization finalized a contract settlement that’ll stop proceedings just a half-season into the deal.

Again, and swiftly, the franchise has fallen on hard times since LeBron James’ second departure.

The remaining two teams in the Central are right on the bubble and have some work to do. All hope is not lost, but they will need a few breaks to go their way over these final weeks.

With those three out of the way, it’s time to dive deep into the divisional troublemakers.

The Chicago Bulls have had a disappointing season, but they also have dealt with a myriad of injuries. Now that the All-Star festivities have concluded, the city will see if their team can get back into the postseason with a little bit of luck. The Bulls are 19-36 on the season with 27 games remaining. Looking ahead, the numbers are fairly even as 14 of those games will be against teams .500 or better. Additionally, Chicago will also have 14 of those 27 games on their home floor.

Chicago has lost six straight games and is currently tenth in the Eastern Conference standings. worse, they must find a way to leapfrog the Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards. Both teams have a similar strength of schedule over the course of their remaining games. If the Bulls want to get back into the playoffs, they will have to finish tight games. Chicago has a winning percentage of 41.7 in close games this season, which ranks 22nd in the league.

Individually, Zach LaVine has been having an outstanding season. His 25.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game are career highs — and his late-game execution has been remarkable, considering the defenses knowing exactly where the ball is going. His ability to penetrate, finish, or just pull up has kept Chicago afloat this season. Injuries to virtually every other player on the roster have had this team trying to dig their way out of a hole since early in the year.

Oddly enough, the offense has been the biggest issue in Chicago this season. The Bulls are 26th in offensive rating and rank 25th in the league in scoring. Their defense has actually been much better than most people realize as they rank inside the top half of the league in opponent scoring and defensive rating. Both Thaddeus Young and Kris Dunn have been catalysts on that end of the floor for Jim Boylen’s squad. If they crumble over this final stretch, it could be the end for the outspoken coach.

The Detroit Pistons have a little more work to do and they only have 25 games in which to do it. Detroit currently sits 12th in the conference with a 19-38 record. The most difficult obstacle in this challenge for the Pistons will be jumping over four teams to get there. Of their 25 remaining games, only 11 of them will be played at home in Little Caesars Arena.

A playoff appearance last season increased expectations for the Pistons this year, even with Blake Griffin’s injury in that first-round series. The thought was that he would be ready to go at the start of this season, but that didn’t happen. Unfortunately, he only made it 18 games before he had to have another round of surgery. Quickly, the season outlook changed for Dwane Casey’s team.

Drummond had a fantastic start to the season without Griffin and was put up his typically-monstrous numbers. With their outlook changing, Detroit traded the big man to Cleveland for all of John Henson, Brandon Knight and a second-round draft pick. Stranger, Derrick Rose has been Detroit’s best player by a wide margin. The resurgent point guard leads the team in points and assists  — and, further, did not want to be traded. Reggie Jackson returned to the lineup just before the break but just accepted a buyout so that he could join the Los Angeles Clippers.

Christian Wood has played very well and rookie Sekou Doumbouya emerged as a pleasant surprise for the Pistons, thankfully, so it’s not all doom and gloom. Bruce Brown continues to be one of the best young guards that no one talks about. Should Luke Kennard return to health and continue his progression, a return to the playoffs might be possible with a strong finish. Change must come swiftly, however, as Detroit has lost 10 of its last 12 games.

The real question here is if the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is indeed worth pursuing. Should Chicago or Detroit earn the spot, a first-round exit is almost a certainty. The Bucks are arguably the best team in the league with the likely back-to-back MVP leading them. Obviously these division rivals know Milwaukee well and simply do not have an answer for them. Injuries can always play a factor in how these things turn out, but the owners would prefer to have the playoff revenue.

The other side of this would be getting into the lottery to improve their first-round draft pick. Normally this is weighed heavily by the organizations, but with the rules designed to prevent teams from tanking, that’ll be difficult to do so.

Making the playoffs is still something that most players would like to do, needless to say. Coaches definitely would prefer that route, of course, as their jobs are dependent on it. Looking at the two Central Division teams in the hunt though, both appear to be headed back to the lottery once again.

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Kristaps Porzingis Is Quietly Rounding Into Form

After disappointing early this season, Kristaps Porzingis is rounding into form with the Mavericks. How much does Luka Doncic’s absence factor into his improved recent play?

Jack Winter

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The Dallas Mavericks are far ahead of schedule.

Just a single season removed from their worst finish since 1998-99, the Mavericks are already back in playoff position, poised for another decade of success despite the departure of Dirk Nowitzki. The chief means behind their rapid rebuild requires no explanation. Luka Doncic will almost surely finish top-five in MVP voting this season and has a convincing case as the league’s best 20-year-old of all-time. At this rate, it’s even only a matter of time until Doncic supplants Dirk Nowitzki as Dallas’ greatest player in franchise history.

But Doncic’s ankle-breaking step-back triples, dazzling finishes and ingenious all-court playmaking won’t lift the Mavericks to legitimate contention alone. The front office has done typically well rounding out the roster with solid, versatile contributors who fit snugly next to Doncic, while Rick Carlisle’s consistent ability to get the most from his bench assures Dallas of competence on which most teams can’t rely without their superstar. The Mavericks couldn’t have planned to rise up the Western Conference hierarchy quite so rapidly, but already possess the rough outlines of a team ready to compete for a title.

Smoothing those edges into surefire championship contention will be no easy task. Tim Hardaway Jr.’s evolution into a valuable role player could complicate Dallas’ plans to make a splash in free agency this summer. The team projects to have more cap space in 2021, but Mark Cuban understands the fickle unknown of free agency better than any owner in basketball after years of missing out on marquee, high-priced targets.

Luckily for the Mavericks, they aren’t necessarily looking to free agency or the trade market to find Doncic a worthy co-star. Swinging for the fences last year by bringing in Kristaps Porzingis afforded the luxury of building around a potentially elite tandem from the ground up.

It’s no secret that Porzingis’ acclimation to the Mavericks, not to mention the court after spending a year-and-a-half off it while recovering from a torn ACL, is ongoing. Dallas’ plus-5.9 net rating with that pair on the floor is solid, far better than the team’s season-low mark after trudging into the All-Star break by losing four of its last six games. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that the Mavericks have fared far better with just one of Porzingis or Doncic on the floor despite their seemingly symbiotic offensive fit.

Dallas outscores opponents by 10 points per 100 possessions when Doncic plays without Porzingis, a feather in his MVP cap. The Mavericks’ plus-8.9 net rating when Porzingis plays without Doncic is almost equally strong, but the former hasn’t received near the praise bestowed on the latter for propping up similar lineups.

Even a multi-faceted big like Porzingis just can’t affect the game the way a maestro alpha dog like Doncic does. His abject struggles to punish smaller defenders on switches early in the season was a popular early-season talking point among national media — plus Carlisle’s December acknowledgment that Porzingis can better help his team by spacing the floor fueled that narrative further. Dallas didn’t sign Porzingis to a five-year, max-level extension before he ever donned a Mavericks uniform for him to shoot 34.5 percent on post-ups and 23.1 percent in isolation, per NBA.com/stats.

The Mavericks will always be best served with the ball in Doncic’s hands, but that hardly means they don’t need Porzingis to be much, much better than he’s been for the majority of this season when possessions devolve into one-on-one play. The good news? Recent evidence suggests Porzingis still has the goods to exist as that trump card, at least on a part-time basis.

With Doncic sidelined by a sprained right ankle for seven straight games early this month, Porzingis forcefully reminded the basketball world why optimists once considered him a potential MVP candidate in his own right. He dropped 38 points and 12 rebounds on the Houston Rockets, 38 and 12 on the Indiana Pacers and then 32 and 12 on the Memphis Grizzlies in successive appearances. After being limited against the Washington Wizards by a broken nose, he returned three days later to score 28 points on 17 field goal attempts against the Utah Jazz.

A five-game sample size is small, obviously, but the scope of Porzingis’ labors and the perception of his play in 2019-20 overall make his dominance without Doncic noteworthy regardless. He averaged 27.2 points and 10.2 rebounds over that brief stretch, shooting 50 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from deep on nearly nine three-point attempts per game.

But even without Doncic setting him up, Porzingis did most of his damage with help. Whether he was popping off screens or attacking overzealous close-outs off the dribble, he was still far more of a play finisher than starter — an indication of his limits as a true offensive fulcrum.

Where Porzingis’ play diverged from this season’s norm was his sudden propensity for drawing fouls. He took at least 10 free throws in just two games prior to Doncic going down, but surpassed that total versus Indiana, Memphis and Washington before attempting nine freebies against Utah. Porzingis lived at the line when Doncic returned to the lineup against the Sacramento Kings, too, connecting on 10-for-12 free throws during a 27-point outing.

Porzingis’ free throw rate now stands at .293, a hair off his mark during his breakout final season with the New York Knicks. Is that uptick and his recent scoring binge proof that Porzingis is merely getting more comfortable on the court two years removed from surgery? Or, rather, that the Latvian and Doncic still have work to do before reaching their ceiling as a duo?

The answer, obviously, lies somewhere in between. Porzingis’ rising production is what matters most — and should have the rest of the league extra wary of Dallas going forward – in both short and long-term futures.

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