Preseason is underway, and with it, teams with shiny, new toys are seeing an initial preview of their upcoming season. Eastern Conference powerhouse Boston Celtics are in that group following their off-season acquisitions, one of which is stretch center/power forward Kristaps Porzingis.
Boston had to unload nine-year veteran and home-grown Celtic Marcus Smart in the deal, who’s also the 2022 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, in exchange for the talented-but-oft-injured Porzingis, so there’s some pressure to make it work. Additionally, the acquisition had to fill the shoes of Robert Williams III, a defensive center that reliably roamed the paint for rebounds and blocks.
Nevertheless, on Monday, Manila time, ‘The Unicorn’ showed out in the team’s preseason debut vs. the Philadelphia 76ers. He had back-to-back dunks in the first quarter that pumped the crowd up before proceeding to put up 17 points, five rebounds, and one block. It wasn’t an eye-popping performance by any means, and the stats were fine at best, but it was key that Porzingis played comfortably and appeared to be very loose with new teammates in his first game with them.
The Celtics won, 114-106, in what was a good primer to their exhibition games.
It’s an encouraging start that should generate more excitement in the team and fanbase. Porzingis will be joining a stacked roster where he’ll be alongside high-scoring All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, as well as another newbie Celtic, Jrue Holiday, perhaps the top two-way guard in the league. The deemed new Big 4 will look to bring the franchise its first championship in 15 years.
The good and the bad in Porzingis
KP is a capable 20-plus per game scorer (career-high 23.2 PPG in ‘22-23) that has a nice touch from the outside and an ability to reject shots at the rim. He also moves well for a towering 7’3 giant, both in the perimeter and in the paint, a rare shift from what we see among guys in that size.
However, there’s concern because of his history of injuries, including an ACL tear in February 2018 that caused him to miss the next 20 months. He was basically on constant load management mode after that, sitting out and dealing with one injury after another. In fact, the 65 games he played for the Washington Wizards this past season was his most since the 2016-17 campaign.
Then, there’s the chemistry issues he had while with the playoff-contending Dallas Mavericks. He mostly did well when he was the focal point, but for whatever reason, he couldn’t put things together whenever team superstar Luka Doncic is there. He was underwhelming in his almost four-year stint (2018-2022) and would simply disappear for stretches.
He produced nicely in his time with the Wizards, but he was with a limited Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma, and they weren’t even good enough to make the playoffs. It was a middling version of a Big 3, and they were jokingly called the ‘Mid 3.’
The point is, it highlights the hanging question that wonders if Porzingis can really be a main piece on a contender, especially on title contender like the Celtics? What if is he’s only good for the individual stats and not the wins?
It’s a concern that should be interesting watch unfold, but at the same time, we can also easily say that Boston has the roster and coaching staff that can definitely fix such issues.