Kristaps. Porzingod. Unicorn. K Peezy.
Whatever you call him, the man is making a statement on his way back from the ACL injury that he suffered back in February of 2018.
With the global sensation that is Luka Doncic sidelined by his own nagging injury, Kristaps Porzingis has upped his game, putting up 73 points and 22 rebounds in a two-game span, keeping Dallas in top four contention in the conference while Doncic recovers.
As the clear No. 1 option in Friday’s game against Houston, Porzingis recorded 35 points, 12 rebounds, two steals and a block.
After a game off in between for workload management, Porzingis threw down 38 points and 12 rebounds on Indiana, hitting 6 threes and going 100% on his free throws in a Mavericks win against a Pacers team that had lost just six times at home previously on the season.
Porzingis is heating up just as the calendar turns on his one-year mark of joining the franchise, when injury and the dysfunction of the Knicks front office landed him in the Mavericks laps.
After requesting a trade from the team that drafted him fourth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, due to disbelief that the franchise was heading in the right direction, the New York Knicks sent Porzingis, along with Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke, to Dallas for Dennis Smith Jr., Deandre Jordan, Wes Matthews and two first-round picks ahead of the 2019 trade deadline.
In his last full season with the Knicks prior to his ACL tear, Porzingis averaged 22.7 points and was named an All-Star. He was given the nickname "Unicorn" for being a big man with a scorer’s touch and was considered the face and future of the franchise.
However, things didn’t end up being a fairytale in New York. In the front office’s mind, the talent wasn’t worth the trouble of something unhappy with the direction of the franchise. The prevailing thought in New York was that by alleviating themselves of this perceived headache, they could clear their books to shop for another Max Contract player or two.
New York, in its hubris, washed their hands of a generational talent they acquired through the draft for the opportunity to buy a star made elsewhere. Rumors were persistent that Kevin Durant wanted to play in the Garden. New York is New York, after all.
Regardless of the continuous front office turnover and abysmal results in the standings seen during James Dolan’s ownership, the Knicks thought that the city would sell itself.
Look at the Yankees and Gerrit Cole. The newest New York ace barely even let other teams court him this winter because he was so set on wearing pinstripes with a team that continuously signs whoever they want. The Knicks felt they had that same privilege and traded Porzingis for cents on the dollar.
Forgetting their lesson from the Carmelo Anthony experiment, the Knicks changed their strategy of building from within and pursued an avenue the Mavericks abandoned, and the pivots by both franchises were opportunely simultaneous.
Dallas, after years of chasing stars and being rebuffed, jumped at the chance to pair the 24-year-old Latvian with 20-year-old phenom Doncic, imagining a modern version of the Dirty and Nasty era of Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash.
The seven-player mega trade with the Mavericks sent out Dennis Smith Jr. to be the centerpiece for the Knicks, a first round pick in 2017 that showed flair and promise his rookie year, but no longer fit in the Mavericks long-term plans with the ascendance of Doncic.
Smith Jr. took his electric speed, athleticism and J.Cole’s fandom with him to the basketball capital.
Just one year later, the Knicks have relegated Smith Jr., once automatic for 15 points a game with sensational dunks and basket drives, to a fringe rotational player barely getting 16 minutes a game.
Deandre Jordan, whose Mavericks signing was always seen as a transaction that allowed both parties to save face for the free agency disaster of 2015, was shipped to New York. The Knicks thinking was that bringing in Jordan would help with the KD recruitment. It did, just to the wrong borough, with Durant signing in Brooklyn.
Tim Hardaway Jr., whose comments over the summer of being the new “Filthy” Michael Finley to complete the reimagined early-2000s big 3 were met with skepticism, is flourishing outside of the Knicks regime in his own right.
Considered a “tax” inclusion for receiving Porzingis at the time of the trade, Hardaway has bought in to Carlisle’s vision and is taking full advantage of the opportunities provided by Doncic and Porzingis presence.
The son of five-time NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway is averaging career highs at a three-point-percentage (.396%) and has seen his scoring become more efficient, remaining a borderline 15-point scorer per night while slashing his field goal attempts by a third: 15.3 in 18-19 to 11.6 in 19-20.
While Porzingis has struggled to consistently find his role when Doncic is on the floor, no drama has followed, and the duo are only getting better with the wins coming ahead of schedule.
Porzingis, freed from a traditional load to carry as a team’s main scoring threat, has become more of a volume three-point shooter as he works his way back to form, but the New York spin of being a “locker room problem” is nowhere to be found. If anything, Porzingis has been honest and upfront about moulding his game to fit whatever the team needs to win games.
Going all in on Porzingis last February and punting on free agency knowing that he could simply play out his contract and bolt town was a calculated risk, but free agent shopping seemed to end in disappointment every summer anyway.
Deron Williams said no to his hometown for New York in 2012. Year after year, pursuits of marquee additions like Dwight Howard and Chris Paul to fringe stars like Deandre Jordan had the same result. Those players never had the chance to be sold on the culture of the franchise.
One year ago, all Dallas cared about was getting Porzingis in the building, knowing he may leave as a rental. Now, Dallas has two franchise cornerstones under the age of 25 for the foreseeable future, and New York is in the midst of their next front office shakeup.
Do you think the Mavericks have proven to be the winners of the Porzingis trade with the Knicks? Share your thoughts on the Unicorn with Irvin on Twitter @Twittirv.