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The Mavs Already Have The Strongest Young Duo In The NBA — And The Scary Part Is They’re Only Now Learning How To Communicate Like A Successful Couple.

In an NBA where stars tend to pair off like they’re marching onto Noah’s Ark, the Dallas Mavericks tandem of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis represents one of the most exciting young pairs of players in the game – arguably the best.

And the scariest part? They’re only just starting to figure out how to play together.

That their relationship has taken — and will continue to take — time to fully develop is to be expected. Star NBA duos tend to work a lot like marriages — in some cases, arranged ones. Like any relationship, almost everything in an NBA marriage boils down to communication. On the court, most players have certain tendencies and specific places on the floor where they like the ball to get into a rhythm

In real-life marriages, communication is hard. Feelings are difficult to quantify or to put into words. Most of the time, we don’t have numbers to back up our arguments or issues. We also have stipulations, trepidations and fears.

In most regards, a basketball marriage is the same. Consider the relationship Doncic and Porzingis are engaged in: In their case, Doncic is like the partner who already had killer house, whereas Porzingis was living in a tired old apartment where the landlord included in his lease stipulations where he could practice his music with an amp cranked all the way up. (Also, the landlord would visit every couple of days to rearrange all of Porzingis’ furniture.)

When these two were paired up last season, Porzingis was definitely the one that was going to move in with his partner, and not the other way around. And when he did, the living arrangement was mostly positive from the jump. Still, it was very clearly Doncic’s house — with his rules.

That rightly gave Porzingis some trepidation when it came to his role in the house.

Looking at things objectively from the outside, Porzingis fits perfectly alongside Doncic in the Mavericks offense. Sometimes, he fits so seamlessly that, if you just looked at the box score, it’s tough to tell exactly what kind of impact Porzingis is actually making. But as the 2019-2020 NBA season has gone on, Porzingis has figured out how to fit in and stand out as an offensive threat.

Twenty-two games into this pair’s first season on the court together, Porzingis was only averaging about 16 points on 14 shots per game — which is fine. The Mavs were winning games, and had one of the best offenses in NBA history to boot. But, all that aside, it still wasn’t what Porzingis or casual observers of his expected of his play.

The Mavericks simply didn’t intimidate anyone with Porzingis playing at that level. In his last season with the New York Knicks, when Porzingis first became an all-star, he averaged over 22 points on 18 shots per game. For a while there with the Mavs, it looked like he wasn’t becoming a go-to scorer or even a real threat  in the offense at all; he was just fitting in, and that’s all.

Some of this can be traced back to Porzingis’ own decision to proceed with caution. In December, even when Doncic was about to miss a couple games due to injury and open up the scoring chances for Porzingis as the unquestioned main offensive weapon the the team, the 7-foot-3 Latvian told the press he was worried about playing too selfishly: “We want to keep this offensive system going,” he said. “I don’t want to — just because I want to get my own buckets — mess up the timing and the spacing and things like that. We’ll keep doing what we’re doing.”

Surely, that was the right thing to say to say in the moment. Which is good. Because, as noted earlier, communication is paramount in any marriage.

But some communications matter more than others.

For the Mavericks to reach their full potential, they need Porzingis to become the scoring threat that he proved himself as being when he became an all-star in New York — and then some. Doncic is an incredible scorer, but he can’t do all the team’s scoring on his own. Every NBA title team in recent memory that featured one main star also boasted a secondary scorer who could carry an offense for stretches at a time:

  • Kawhi Leonard’s 2019 Toronto Raptors had Pascal Siakam
  • Kevin Durant’s 2018 & 2017 Golden State Warriors had Steph Curry
  • LeBron James’ 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers had Kyrie Irving
  • Lebron’s 2013 & 2012 Miami Heat had Dwyane Wade
  • Dirk Nowitzki’s 2011 Dallas Mavericks had Jason Terry

If Porzingis is going to become an offensive threat for this current iteration of the Mavs — and not just another cog in the offense — then he and Doncic will have to communicate with one another on how to maximize the big man’s strengths.

When Doncic missed seven consecutive games in early February, Porzingis became more aggressive than he’d been during a similar stretch in December. In this run of games, he averaged almost 29 points per game, and played well against four almost-certain playoff teams. More important, his game communicated what his words previously hadn’t. Sitting the bench, Doncic was able to witness Porzingis playing like the go-to scorer he’s shown himself capable of being in the past. More important, Doncic seems to have learned what Porzingis was hesitant to acknowledge he’d been seeking in their relationship; in the pair’s first game back together in a win over the Sacramento Kings on February 12, Doncic and Porzingis played one of their best games ever together as a duo.

After that game, Porzingis spoke to the media about his growing connection with Doncic: “Luka’s done a great job of communicating to me where I want to get the ball,” he said. “He’s also kind of getting used to playing with me. And he’s really starting to find me in those spots where I’m comfortable, in that midrange area. And slowly these things are starting to click. I think as we keep working and playing together, we’re just going to get better and better and better.”

That’s why there’s reason to believe that this marriage will be a successful one: Doncic and Porzingis are just beginning to scratch the surface of their talent and chemistry, and they’re only now starting to communicate what each side needs on the court.

Better yet, it’s starting to manifest results.

Just how high is their ceiling, though? If we compare them to other star duos in their same age range right now, it’s not a stretch to say that they’re already the standard-bearer. Let’s take a look at the other noteworthy tandems in the league where both members are under the age of 25:

  • Luka Doncic (20) & Kristaps Porzingis (24), Dallas Mavericks
  • Jayson Tatum (21) & Jaylen Brown (23), Boston Celtics
  • Nikola Jokic (24) & Jamal Murray (22), Denver Nuggets
  • Ja Morant (20) & Jaren Jackson Jr. (20), Memphis Grizzlies
  • Zion Williamson (19) & Brandon Ingram (22), New Orleans Pelicans
  • Karl-Anthony Towns (24) & D’Angelo Russell (23), Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Trae Young (21) & John Collins (22), Atlanta Hawks
  • Devin Booker (23) & Deandre Ayton (21), Phoenix Suns
  • Domantas Sabonis (23) & Myles Turner (23), Indiana Pacers
  • De’Aaron Fox (22) & Marvin Bagley (20), Sacramento Kings
  • Bam Adebayo (22) & Kendrick Nunn (24), Miami Heat

Comparing and quantifying talent, chemistry and production between duos is a tall order. It can be hard to narrow down what matters — because, well, we can’t just play two-on-two games just to decide who’s better. But individual talent, minutes played, team success and net rating (the difference between how many points a team scores per 100 possessions and allows per 100 possessions) should be able to help separate a few groups from the pack.

Using those metrics, Doncic and Porzingis can be look at as both individually better and objectively more talented than Kendrick Nunn, Marvin Bagley, Myles Turner, Deandre Ayton, and John Collins. And since none of them have even been all-stars, we can cross them off of our list as contenders for the Best Young Duo In The NBA throne.

  • Luka Doncic (20) & Kristaps Porzingis (24), Dallas Mavericks
  • Jayson Tatum (21) & Jaylen Brown (23), Boston Celtics
  • Nikola Jokic (24) & Jamal Murray (22), Denver Nuggets
  • Ja Morant (20) & Jaren Jackson Jr. (20), Memphis Grizzlies
  • Zion Williamson (19) & Brandon Ingram (22), New Orleans Pelicans
  • Karl-Anthony Towns (24) & D’Angelo Russell (23), Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Trae Young (21) & John Collins (22), Atlanta Hawks
  • Devin Booker (23) & Deandre Ayton (21), Phoenix Suns
  • Domantas Sabonis (23) & Myles Turner (23), Indiana Pacers
  • De’Aaron Fox (22) & Marvin Bagley (20), Sacramento Kings
  • Bam Adebayo (22) & Kendrick Nunn (24), Miami Heat

Meanwhile, Towns and Russell have only played one game together so far, and Williamson and Ingram have only played together in 15 games. While both pairs are extremely talented, we can — for now, at least — cross them off as “incompletes” and revisit them after they’ve played more games alongside each other. (This is particularly true of Williamson and Ingram, whose Pelicans are outscoring teams by 9.9 points per 100 possessions when the two both play.)

  • Luka Doncic (20) & Kristaps Porzingis (24), Dallas Mavericks
  • Jayson Tatum (21) & Jaylen Brown (23), Boston Celtics
  • Nikola Jokic (24) & Jamal Murray (22), Denver Nuggets
  • Ja Morant (20) & Jaren Jackson Jr. (20), Memphis Grizzlies
  • Zion Williamson (19) & Brandon Ingram (22), New Orleans Pelicans
  • Karl-Anthony Towns (24) & D’Angelo Russell (23), Minnesota Timberwolves

Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. have been a great story this season, but neither of them have (yet) been all-stars like Porzingis and Doncic. Also: In the 933 minutes Morant  and Jackson have shared on the court this season, the Grizzlies are getting outscored by 0.5 points per 100 possessions. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but small figures like that one add up – especially when the remaining three duos all outscore their opponents by six points per 100 possessions or more.

  • Luka Doncic (20) & Kristaps Porzingis (24), Dallas Mavericks
  • Jayson Tatum (21) & Jaylen Brown (23), Boston Celtics
  • Nikola Jokic (24) & Jamal Murray (22), Denver Nuggets
  • Ja Morant (20) & Jaren Jackson Jr. (20), Memphis Grizzlies

Jokic and Murray are interesting. They’ve certainly played a lot together, and have a net rating of 7.4, which is actually better than Doncic and Porzingis’ net rating of 6.5. Kristaps Porzingis and Jamal Murray’s games are also interestingly similar; they both score about 18 points per game, they’re both solid secondary options and they both also have some glaring weaknesses. Production-wise, Murray and Porzingis are probably a wash, frankly, even if Porzingis has a much higher ceiling. Objectively, though, Doncic is just better than Jokic — as a go-to scorer and even as a playmaker.

Tatum and Brown, on the other hand, have an incredible net rating of 9.0. But they also play 80 percent of their on-court minutes together with all-star starter Kemba Walker, who is far better than anyone Doncic and Porzingis have playing next to them. While you could argue that both young Celtics players are better at this point than Porzingis, Doncic is likely the best talent among them all. Add in the simple fact that Doncic and Porzingis are leading a playoff contender in the Western Conference, and their efforts are more impressive than what Tatum and Brown are doing on an Eastern Conference playoff team that has Walker leading the way.

After all this deduction, Doncic and Porzingis stand alone at the top of the heap.

  • Luka Doncic (20) & Kristaps Porzingis (24), Dallas Mavericks
  • Jayson Tatum (21) & Jaylen Brown (23), Boston Celtics
  • Nikola Jokic (24) & Jamal Murray (22), Denver Nuggets

Through the end of this season and beyond, we’re going to learn a lot more about Doncic and Porzingis’ potential as a star duo in the NBA. Some big questions loom. Will their on-court marriage take more time to develop into a playoff-ready, successful pairing? Or will they crumble under the pressure?

If they can keep learning how to communicate well with one another — and everything indicates that they’re well on their way to doing so — then the sky is the limit.

The honeymoon phase for this twosome may be on its way toward ending, with real-world implications looming around the bend. But we’re optimistic that these two may have something real to hold onto in the long term.

Call us romantic, but we think these crazy kids just might make it.

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