Across the NBA, teams are preparing for the start of training camp. Right now, it’s about a month away. Training camp is a time of hope and a fresh start for many. It also comes with a great many questions. This is especially true for the Dallas Mavericks. Kristaps Porzingis will see his first game action with the team after Dallas acquired the former All-Star in a blockbuster trade in January. His return signals a new beginning for the franchise, but after so much time away from the game, he comes with a great many unknowns.
Dallas made a big bet on Porzingis, not just when they traded for him, but when they inked him to a five-year, $158 million contract earlier this making him a cornerstone of the organization. However, it wasn’t long ago that his future in the league was in doubt.
The 7-foot-3 Latvian came down hard, clutching his left knee on February 6, 2018 in a home game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Porzingis left the game and did not return. An MRI showed that the New York Knicks star tore his ACL. A week later, he underwent surgery, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season.
His status for the following season remained up in the air, as it got underway. New York hoped to get him back sometime between Christmas and the All-Star break. That wouldn’t happen. After being traded to Dallas, the Mavericks shut him down permanently for the remainder of the 2018-19 season. In March, however, he began participating in five-on-five scrimmages in practice. It was the first time he fully participated in basketball activities in over a year. When preseason gets underway on October 8, 20 months will have passed since Porzingis last appeared in an NBA.
Porzingis is doing what he can to dissuade any concerns about his return. His social media accounts contain the requisite pictures of him undergoing rehabilitation and hitting the gym throughout his recovery and this off-season. His biceps certainly look much bigger than they have during any other point of his career. His arms aren’t the issue, though. The concern is how his left knee will hold up to the rigors of the season and, perhaps more so, his biomechanics.
During his rebab with the Mavericks, the training staff, headed by Casey Smith, focused on restructuring Porzingis’ core and balance with the intent of changing the way he moves. Throughout his career, he’s dealt with a number of injuries to the left side of his body. That’s a cause for concern.
“It would be irresponsible to ignore the fact that he's had a left quad injury, a left hip injury, a left IT band injury, all these things in the left," Jeff Stotts, a certified athletic trainer and injury analyst, told Bleacher Report in 2016. "Maybe there is something going on with that left kinetic chain. What you really need to do is address the weakest link in that chain if there is something that's causing him to have a problem in that left side. You got to make sure that these seemingly minor things aren't all connected and result in something major.”
That something major happened when he tore his ACL. Therefore, it’s no wonder why the Mavericks trainers wanted to address the left side of his body.
How Porzingis handles his realignment is going to be one of his biggest tests. How he moves, plants and lands will illustrate how far he has come and how well he may perform going forward. If his old habits return, there may be reason for concern. But if all the training pays off, there’s a chance that Porzingis could return to some semblance of his former self. That’s exactly what the team—and fans—want to see.
Before injury felled him, Porzingis was enjoying the best season of his career. He was averaging 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 2.4 blocks in the 48 games he played. Overall, he was shooting 43.9% from the floor and a career-high 39.5% on three-pointers. His offensive growth earned him his first All-Star nod. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t get the opportunity to participate. Still, those numbers have many frothing at the mouth, thinking of his return to glory.
Porzingis won’t return to form overnight. It will take time. The Mavericks and Porzingis know that. They’re in it for the long run. With Porzingis and Luka Doncic on the roster, Dallas has potentially one of the most dynamic duos in the NBA—not to mention one of the youngest. They have a core to build around for the foreseeable future. For now though, predicting how Porzingis returns is purely speculative.
No one knows how successful his rehabilitation was and how well he’ll play. His first game is still more than a month away. Everyone will see how he responds then and make their own judgements. What matters now is that after so much time away, Porzingis is finally ready to play basketball again. His fresh start is more than enough to warrant at least some hope for the coming season.