The three years that Kristaps Porzingis spent with the Dallas Mavericks were far from smooth, a far cry from what was expected of him when he was acquired in 2019.
Several injuries contributed to a pair of disappointing playoff appearances and it was clear that the Latvian forward needed a change of scenery. Porzingis actually played well with Dallas this season, yet his partnership with Luka Doncic came to a close last February.
He was traded to the Washington Wizards for what was dubbed an underwhelming haul of Spencer Dinwiddie–who has turned out to be a fantastic fit with the Mavericks – and Davis Bertans.
The relatively meager return that Dallas received in exchange for a player once pegged as a potential franchise cornerstone was, more than anything else, indicative of how sour sentiment had grown around the 7’3 forward.
His debut with Washington was delayed by a few weeks due to knee soreness, but when he finally made it back to the court, he wasted no time and showed that he is still a formidable player. The Wizards have leaned on Porzingis to win three of their last four games, with his finest moment coming in their 127-110 win over the Orlando Magic.
Porzingis dropped a season-high 35 points together with three three-pointers, eight rebounds, and two blocks in the win. He has maximized the added opportunities on offense in the absence of Bradley Beal and Kyle Kuzma as he builds momentum towards next season.
It was his second 30-point game in 13 appearances with the Wizards and just five off his 40-point career-high that he set in late 2017 when he was still playing for the New York Knicks. The 26-year-old is averaging improved numbers across the board with Washington, vis-a-vis his time as a Maverick earlier this season, scoring 21.8 points per game on 47.2% shooting from the field along with 8.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
What is even more noteworthy is that Porzingis has been active on defense. He has not hesitated in challenging shots and is showing an encouraging amount of effort, especially since his intensity has been rightfully criticized throughout his career.
With six contests left on their regular season schedule, the Wizards are currently six games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the last Eastern Conference play-in spot and are set to be officially eliminated from the race in these next few days.
While it is a disappointing finish for a season that started out so promisingly for this team, these past few games and the remaining ones on their schedule give them a chance to assess what they have onboard. Porzingis’ play has been promising in these relatively meaningless games and the true test of his abilities will come when the matches have actual stakes.
Theoretically, his recent success as their center bodes well for Washington moving forward. It allows them to play Porzingis alongside either the much-improved Kuzma or the promising Rui Hachimura who has played especially well with him in these past few games. This will allow them much more offensive flexibility since all five players on the court will have the ability to knock down perimeter shots at a decent clip and create their own offense to a certain extent.
More importantly, this will free driving lanes for the three-time NBA All-Star Beal if he decides to stay with the Wizards. He can become a free agent this offseason if he declines his $36.4 million player option and it seemed inevitable that he would before this campaign started. An injury-riddled year immensely changed the narrative around the 28-year-old guard though and it now seems more likely than not that he will remain in Washington.
One of the best pure scorers in the league, Beal has proven with this group that he is willing to give up the ball when surrounded by talented teammates. This year, he has fallen out of the top 10 in usage rate with 29.7% versus the prior season where he recorded a whopping 33.1% which was good for third in the league.
Beal and Porzingis can potentially become the duo for the Wizards that Dallas thought they had with Doncic and Porzingis. Health will play a crucial role here for Washington since both of these two players have had to miss time this year with injuries.
More than anything though, the key for Porzingis will be his ability to build better chemistry with Beal compared to what he had with Doncic. Their dynamics will ultimately spell the difference and will be a crucial situation to monitor over the early days of next season if they do end up sharing the floor with one another
Porzingis has made the most of his fresh start with the Wizards so far and it will be interesting to see whether this is merely a mirage or if the Unicorn has made his return to the NBA.