The Porzingis Interview
I was watching a clip of Porzingis' appearance on the JJ Reddick podcast. In the interview, JJ Reddick asks Porzingis to reflect on his time with the Dallas Mavericks and why Porzingis' time with the franchise was not as successful as originally hoped.
Here are some of the highlights of Porzingis' very open and thoughtful response:
... Maturity for sure you know. Like again, I'm talking about what I could have done better. I wasn't that much into analytics and numbers. Like if somebody, I think at that stage of my career, presented it to me the right way and said you know this is what we need to do, this is what we need from you, you're going to be way more effective doing this ... kind of explain it to me better ... I think that would have made a difference a little bit.
... because there's a ... even now still with some players ... I don't like it, I don't want to see those numbers ... this is not a computer game.
... I could have done some things better and it didn't come out the way all of us envisioned ... but definitely learned a lot from that.
Porzingis continued his thoughtful self analysis with:
... I think it has to be clear what the roles are. It's important to have a good dynamic between you off the court and on the court. It's honestly not that hard when you're like past a certain age.
... I think it's when you're young, like "oh I'm going to prove this". Like the older you get, the more you're like "I just want to win", like "whatever we need", or "coach is not playing me, okay he probably thinks I can't help this team right now", you know?
It’s like it's not that complicated. We are just complicated ... some like ego involved ... but honestly ... just have to make it simple.
Reddick went on in the interview to describe a situation where his coach Doc Rivers told him that due to the way the opposing team was playing defense, this was not going to be Reddick's series offensively. Reddick was told that he should just stand in the corner and wait for open three point opportunities to present themselves.
This was really frustrating for Reddick and it made it difficult for him to be into the game entirely, since as an offensive player, they weren't running plays for him.
This story, of course, resonated with Porzingis, as his coach Rick Carlisle had demanded Porzingis to fulfill the same spot-up role in a Clippers play-off series in order for the Mavericks to be successful.
Porzingis' self analysis of this situation was also very insightful:
... Reflecting back on it I just should have said "okay this is what you want? I will do like that to the best of my ability" but at that point still I was a little bit young and and I was like ... I'll do it how you say but like out of spite ... like oh on purpose I will not move from this corner ... like that that little bit of mindset, you know?
... and it was not correct ... but of course I played hard and I like gave everything on defense and but a little bit of that was like creeping up on me, you know? That kind of feeling. And it's not a good feeling to play with.
... And so and you can of course find a thousand reasons or a thousand excuses and blame it on something else but, I could have done a better job that series.
You can watch the full interview here, if you're interested.
Self Reflection Applied to the Young Warriors
After watching the interview clip, I immediately thought about the young Warriors, in particular Kuminga. Why isn't this season going as well as originally hoped for Kuminga? Well, Porzingis' self analysis helps to answer those questions a bit:
I could have done better. I wasn't that into analytics
Kuminga can do better and some of his stats this year seem to indicate that he might not be into analytics. Kuminga is shooting less this season of his two most efficient shots from last season: shots at the rim and corner three attempts. This per NBA stats.
An analytically minded player would aspire towards improving their shot profile each season towards more efficiency, not less. It's one thing to be in a shooting slump, it's another to be seeking shots that you don't shoot efficiently.
I think it has to be clear what the roles are
Despite the worse shot selection and shooting efficiency this season compared to last season, Kuminga has increased his shot attempts from 16.6 attempts to 20.8 attempts per 100 possessions. This per NBA stats.
Based on his shot selection and volume, it seems like Kuminga does not understand his role on this team yet. He aspires to be Kevin Durant when really he should be aspiring to be Jaden McDaniels.
Playing out of spite ... it's not a good feeling to play with
The body language expert, Bill Simmons, would say that Kuminga often looks frustrated and uncomfortable on the court. Even in post-game press conferences, he seems a bit spiteful of his role. Only Kuminga can know for sure, but I wonder how much this "potential spite" could impact certain metrics like:
- decreased shooting percentage on corner threes (41.4% last season to 30.6% this season)
- less assists (4.2 per 100 possessions last season to 2.4 this season)
- more turnovers per assist (0.76 turnovers per assist last season to 1.29 this season)
When you're young, like "Oh, I'm going to prove this"
We've heard all off-season how much Kuminga has been working on his game. In particular, it seemed like a big emphasis for Kuminga was to improve his outside shooting. Well, this season it appears that Kuminga is trying to prove to himself and to others that his offensive game is more like Kevin Durant than like Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Kuminga has increased his mid-range shot attempts this season to represent 16% of his total shots. Last season mid-range shots only represented 6% of his total shots. His shots at the rim this season only represent 30.6% of his total shots compared to last year's 41.4%.
Self Reflection Applied to the Veteran Warriors
The self reflection from Porzingis, however, can be applied to the veterans on the team as well. Why isn't this season going as well as originally hoped for the Warriors as a team? Let's revisit the wisdom of Porzingis:
Like the older you get, the more you're like "I just want to win", like "whatever we need", or "coach is not playing me, okay he probably thinks I can't help this team right now", you know?
This is exactly the type of mentality that Andrew Wiggins, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney, Chris Paul and even Stephen Curry need to have this season. These young players on the roster can help the team win games. Steve Kerr needs to be able to use the young players without fearing that the veterans' egos are at risk.
The interesting dynamic of the Warriors is that the older players have already won. They are in a different situation than Porzingis, a veteran who has not yet won. However, it is crucial for the Warriors that the veterans keep their individual "ego demons" under control and have this "I just want to win" mentality.
When Klay gets subbed out for Moody or Kuminga, he can't be thinking about his next contract or the media scrutiny that comes with being one of the greatest two-way shooting guards to ever play in the NBA.
When Chris Paul gets subbed out for Podziemski, he can't be thinking about his next contract or the media scrutiny that comes with being the "Point God" being replaced by a rookie.
When Kevon Looney and Draymond Green are on the bench in favor of better shooting from Dario Saric and more rim running and rim protection from Trayce Jackson-Davis, the veterans need to be cheering them on full heartedly.
Self Reflection Applied to the coaches
The self reflection from Porzingis can be extended to the Warriors coaching staff as well. Here's the relevant quote:
Like if somebody, I think at that stage of my career, presented it to me the right way and said you know this is what we need to do, this is what we need from you, you're going to be way more effective doing this ... kind of explain it to me better ... I think that would have made a difference a little bit.
It's Kerr and the rest of his coaching staff's responsibility to communicate effectively to the players. They need to help the players understand their roles on the team. They need to help the players understand that their roles are being guided by the analytics.
For example, the coaches need to explain to Kuminga that while he might one day aspire to be a mid-range assassin like Kevin Durant, that is not his role on this team. The analytics can guide him into a better understanding of what his ideal role on this team should be (e.g. Jaden McDaniels).
As another example, the coaches need to explain to Klay Thompson that while he might aspire to be a volume shooting assassin like the Klay Thompson of old, that might not be his role on this team every game. The analytics can guide him into a better understanding of why his role on this team might sometimes be a veteran player on the bench cheering on his younger teammate Moses Moody, who is the same age now as Klay Thompson during Klay's rookie season.
Kuminga Saves the Day
All of the theory behind how the Warriors could apply Porzingis' insights was put into practice this past game against the Portland Trailblazers.
Kuminga was out of the rotation due to the analytics. He wasn't fulfilling the role the Warriors need from his this season.
However, Kerr and the coaches recognized that they needed to take a risk on Kuminga and get him into the game based on the way the game had unfolded in the 1st half and early into 3rd quarter. Kuminga entered the game and played his role perfectly. This is highlighed very well by Joe Viray in his most recent article and led Kuminga to get an A+ grade from Brady Klopfer.
It seems Kerr and the other coaches might have done a pretty good job communicating the analytics to Kuminga and letting that guide his understanding of the ideal role he can play for the team. Kuminga didn't attempt any mid-range shots. He didn't settle for any threes. All 6 of his shot attempts were within the paint and 4 of those were at the rim in the restricted area. He reduced his usage and had 0 turnovers. On defense, Kuminga was a monster. He played elite on ball defense, didn't have bad fouls, crashed the boards, had steals, one of which led to a fast break dunk.
Kuminga having played so much in the 2nd half led to others not playing. Kuminga's 2nd half playing time kept, at times, Klay, Wiggins and Looney on the bench when they might have played in other games. However, the Warriors as a whole seemed to be ecstatic with Kuminga's performance and well deserved time on the court.
Kerr addressed in the post game conference that he'll have to adjust accordingly and assign playing-time depending on game situations. This will not be easy to pull off and will continue to demand high-level communication skills to get buy-in from both the young and veteran players.
But for one half of a game, all the things Porzingis mentioned as important seemed to really click into place for the Warriors. It was a cool thing to watch and I hope this can continue moving forward. I want to enjoy watching the players play with joy and not suffer watching them play with spite.