The Washington Wizards are creeping up the Eastern Conference rankings after winning five of their last six games behind a reinvigorated Kristaps Porzingis.
The 27-year-old forward is averaging 21 points on a career-best 49.3% field goal shooting, 2.4 threes, 8.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks for Washington this season. These are best numbers since his lone NBA All-Star campaign with the New York Knicks in ‘17-’18 and last February’s trade that sent him from the Dallas Mavericks to Washington has clearly rejuvenated him.
The 7’3 Latvian already has three 30-point performances in 14 contests this season after finishing with just five in his 51 appearances last year. Furthermore, he has grown far more consistent on offense, addressing the biggest knock on him from his Dallas tenure, as he has scored in double figures in each of their games.
If he can remain healthy and the Wizards, currently sixth in the East with a 9-7 win-loss record, can even just maintain this position in the standings, another trip to the league’s annual midseason showcase may be well on the way for Porzingis.
While his strong play only began to draw mainstream attention over the past week, his resurgence actually began to manifest during the back half of last season following the trade that sent him to Washington. The Wizards were no longer chasing a spot in the playoffs at that point and the pressure-free environment allowed Porzingis to regain his rhythm.
He averaged 22.1 points, 1.7 threes, 8.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.7 steals, and 1.5 blocks in 17 games and carried that momentum to his stint with the Latvian national team in the NBA offseason. In two FIBA World Cup Qualifying games, he put up 25.5 points and 14 rebounds per outing and, more importantly, rediscovered the overflowing confidence that helped him earn the “Unicorn” nickname over the course of his New York days.
The seven-year veteran has not missed a beat in the months since and is thriving as the main big man in Washington’s line-up. He has become a better two-way player and is finding ways to contribute beyond scoring. When Bradley Beal was sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols, they lost the first match that he sat out before winning the next four games against quality teams thanks in large part to the interior presence of Porzingis.
In their most recent victory, a 107-106 win over the Miami Heat in overtime, Porzingis shot only seven-of-20 from the field for 20 points, yet impacted the game with 17 rebounds–one shy of his career-high–together with five assists, one steal, and one block while he only committing one turnover.
Although the Wizards are still at least two legitimate pieces away from becoming serious title contenders, the early progress of their Porzingis-Beal duo, plus the continued development of Kyle Kuzma, is encouraging. They own all of their first round picks from 2024 onwards and could package them in a deal for a perimeter star in the near future should this team continue to show progress.
The career revival of Porzingis has brought back excitement to this Washington franchise and though they are still a long way from winning their first NBA title since 1978, this team has at least given their fanbase something to be hopeful about.