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The European Duo Appears Ready To Roll

Jordan Hicks takes a look at the Kristaps Porzingis-Luka Doncic pairing in Dallas, how they got to the Mavericks and what can be expected this upcoming season.

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Updated 10 months ago on
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The Dallas Mavericks definitely have the most enticing European duo in the history of the NBA. Sure there was Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, but Ginobli is from Argentina and we all know they were led by Tim Duncan. Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitski were short-lived, besides, Nash is Canadian so they technically wouldn’t qualify. Okay, the list of relevant European teammates isn’t huge, but Porzingis and Doncic definitely top the list.

It’s not just their basketball skills that vault them to the top, but the combination of their youth, size and overall IQ on the court. Doncic just had what could be considered the greatest rookie season in the history of the NBA. Kristaps Porzingis was named an All-Star by his third season, where he averaged 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks before it came to an abrupt end via an ACL tear. It’s not likely he returns to All-Star status this upcoming season, as it’ll be his first year back from injury and he’s now in a Western Conference that – if you haven’t checked the papers recently – has quite a bit more talent than the East. Either way, the Porzingis-Doncic duo is going to be incredibly fun.

The Porzingis to Dallas trade was likely the biggest blockbuster of last year’s deadline. There had been rumblings leading up to it, so it wasn’t exactly shocking, but considering the path he was headed down towards Knicks’ legend status, it still seems crazy that Kristaps will be wearing a different uniform this upcoming season.

Just how did he end up with Dallas?

Porzingis and the Knicks seemed more-or-less like a match made in heaven. He had a solid rookie campaign, improved the following season, then was named an All-Star reserve by year three. He was booed the day he was drafted by many New York fans but was beloved within six months. Had he avoided injury, there’s a very high chance he would have stayed with the Knicks through at least his first six to seven years — but the ACL tear was definitely the first domino to fall.

Because of the timing of his injury, Porzingis’ rehab would take almost a year-and-a-half to complete, which left him missing the rest of the 2017-18 season and the entirety of the 2018-19 season. He held a meeting with Knicks officials in January 2019 and was quickly traded thereafter. It’s hard to tell exactly why Porzingis wanted out, but two things can be pointed to.

First off, the Knicks are just a really bad basketball team and have been for quite some time. Unless they surrounded Porzingis with boatloads of talent, they likely weren’t even headed to the playoffs, let alone a championship.

Secondly, the Knicks clearly had a plan after trading Kristaps to open up enough room for two max spots in preparation for the ensuing free agency period. Had they relayed this to him? Did they make him feel like they wanted him out so they could go after different players? The truth may never come out. Unfortunately for the Knicks, they whiffed big time in free agency, and trading Porzingis ended up looking like a really bad move.

Despite all that happened in the offseason, Porzingis is now a Maverick and he’s being paired with the second most exciting up-and-coming player in today’s league (sorry, Luka, Zion Williamson already has you beaten out). The only rookie to ever exceed Doncic’s nightly averages of 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6 assists? Oscar Robertson back in 1960 when he was 22 years old. Doncic played his rookie season in the NBA at just 19. Crazy to think, but even LeBron James didn’t put up a similar stat line.

Luka does many things on the court incredibly well. He’s an apt shooter, elite playmaker, solid defender and strong rebounder. He knows how to run an offense to an extremely high level, but is very capable of playing off-ball as well. Keep in mind — he was the EuroLeague MVP at just 18 years old. That is likely the best league in the world outside the NBA, and he was dominating it while being the same age as a high-school senior in America.

With both Doncic and Porzingis in Dallas, their success boils down to how well their play will fit.

Doncic seems to be at his best when he’s running the offense at the point guard position, and Porzingis has excelled as a traditional four. What makes Kristaps so valuable in today’s NBA is the fact that he’s 7-foot-3 and comfortable playing the four, the five and, at times, even the three. He shot just below 40 percent from three before going down a year-and-a-half ago, and his length makes up for any speed he loses to guarding a smaller position. It’s not to say he isn’t athletic, but even if a player can get around him to the basket, Porzingis is incredibly skilled at getting back to the rim and deflecting any layup attempts off the backboard. That’s partially why he was averaging nearly 2.5 blocks per game before he went down.

Doncic should be able to get Kristaps the ball wherever he likes it on the court. Whether it be for a spot-up three-pointer or down near the rim via a lob, Porzingis’ presence on the court should be able to boost Doncic’s nightly assist average to near double-digits.

When Luka and Kristaps share the court together, it’s going to look like a defensive unit’s worst nightmare. Both of these players do things well at literally every area of the floor. They both can shoot the three. They both can get around defenders and finish at the rim. They are very talented with their backs turned to the basket, and they are both high-level passers. Doncic definitely has Kristaps beaten in that department, but Porzingis definitely isn’t a slouch.

Any way you look at it, Dallas has their franchise cornerstones locked-in for the foreseeable future. They inked Porzingis to a new max deal in the offseason and Luka will likely follow when he’s up for extension in two seasons. The roster still needs to mature and they need at least one more solid piece to get them to the playoffs in the loaded West, but Luka and Kristaps will definitely entice some free agents next summer.

Dallas likely won’t make the playoffs this season barring a big move at the trade deadline, but there’s zero doubt that they’ll at least be able to make some noise. The NBA world awaits the official commencement of the European duo, and if all goes to plan, there’s no telling what they can eventually accomplish.

Jordan Hicks is an NBA writer based out of Salt Lake City. He is a former college athlete and varsity sports official. Find him on Twitter @JordanHicksNBA.

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