Longtime Teammate Gives Impassioned Defense of Kristaps Porziņģis: ‘Once You Get That Type of KP Back, I Think We Can Beat Anybody’

Only two players have spent more time on the court with former All-Star Kristaps Porziņģis than has Tim Hardaway Jr. The Dallas Mavericks acquired them in the same blockbuster trade in January 2019. With Hardaway re-signing with Dallas for four more years, there might not be anyone better to discuss what the Mavericks have when Porziņģis is right.

Porziņģis struggled in the playoffs as the Mavericks became the first team in NBA history to win three road games in a series and still lose. But Hardaway, a top-five finisher in the Sixth Man of the Year voting last season, believes a healthy KP6 will unlock a new level for Dallas in 2021–22.

Tim Hardaway Jr. has evolved as an elite reserve

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kristaps Porziņģis have been teammates since 2017 with both the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks
Tim Hardaway Jr. (L) and Kristaps Porziņģis have been teammates since 2017 with both the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks. | Nic Antaya/Getty Images

It took some time for Tim Hardaway Jr. to find his niche in the NBA. Drafted by the New York Knicks in 2013, Hardaway had a front-row seat to the franchise’s collapse on Phil Jackson’s watch. His career nearly derailed after a 2015 trade to the Atlanta Hawks, but he recovered with a strong 2016–17 season.

That earned him a return ticket to Manhattan on a four-year, $71 million free-agent deal. Hardaway became a top scorer for an awful team in New York, averaging 18.2 points per game in his second stint with the Knicks before the trade to Dallas.

He’s been a part-time starter for the Mavericks and took a tremendous step forward over the last two seasons as a spot-up shooter. After hitting 34.3% of his deep tries over his first six NBA seasons, Hardaway canned a solid 39.4% on 7.4 attempts per game in the last two years. He also can’t be blamed for Dallas’s two first-round losses to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2020 and 2021. He averaged 17.8 points in 33.9 minutes per game in a six-game defeat in the Orlando bubble. Last season, he put up 17.0 points and shot 40.4% from distance.

The same cannot be said, however, for Kristaps Porziņģis. Acquired as the centerpiece of the 2019 trade, the big Latvian has struggled to find his pre-injury form.

Tim Hardaway Jr. believes Kristaps Porziņģis is the answer for the Mavericks

Kristaps Porziņģis had just been named to his first All-Star Game in 2018 when disaster struck. During a February 2018 game against the Milwaukee Bucks, he went down with a torn ACL. The injury kept him out for the rest of that season and all of 2018–19. While he was recovering, the Knicks traded Porziņģis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke, and Courtney Lee to Dallas for DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr., a 2021 first-round pick (Keon Johnson), and a top-10 protected first-rounder in 2023.

Porziņģis was MIA for much of Dallas’ seven-game loss to the Clippers in last season’s playoffs, averaging just 13.1 points and 5.4 rebounds in 33.3 minutes per game. Going 8-of-27 from 3-point range didn’t help, nor did a reported trip to a strip club. But Hardaway thinks a turnaround is coming. He said so during a press conference announcing his new deal.

“Being his teammate probably longer than anybody on the roster, I know KP. I know he’s back in Latvia, busting his tail right now to get back to where he was before the injury when we were with the Knicks. I know how much he loves the game, how much he works, and he’s going to do whatever he can to get back to that level of mentality that he had.”

Tim Hardaway Jr.

Being completely healthy should be a good starting point.

Kristaps Porziņģis has a history of high-level play

Before his knee problems, Kristaps Porziņģis was emerging as a top-level scorer and rim protector with the Knicks. Even slowed by his recovery last season, he averaged 20.1 points and 8.9 rebounds a game. His shooting improved from 42.7% overall and 35.2% from deep in 2019–20 to 47.6% and 37.6%, respectively, last season.

The playoffs were a struggle. But while some believe Tim Hardaway Jr. turned out to be the most valuable addition from the trade, Porziņģis is still young and has room to improve. He hasn’t been entirely healthy for three seasons. Hardaway believes that’s a factor.

“Injuries do play a part of the game, and we have to look at that as well with him not really having his rhythm or him not probably being that confident out there. I know what type of player he is; I know what he’s capable of, probably more than anybody in here. Once you get that type of KP back, I think we can beat anybody.”

Tim Hardaway Jr.

If he’s right, the Dallas Mavericks get back an All-Star in Kristaps Porziņģis. That’s a player they have yet to see since he came to the Metroplex.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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