Unicorn Resurrected: Kristaps Porziņģis' Journey from Latvia's Windiest City to the Boston Celtics


           Nestled along the Baltic Sea coast lies Liepaja, a charming city in Latvia, renowned not only for its breathtaking beauty but also as the windiest place in the country. This city, chosen as the European Capital of Culture in 2027, is the birthplace of a basketball phenomenon - Kristaps Porziņģis. But his story is more than just the tale of a young man from a picturesque town. It's a journey that began on the courts of Sevilla at the tender age of 16, and it's a story of resilience, transformation, and now, a fresh chapter with the Boston Celtics.

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On the Court

He began his professional career with Sevilla in 2012 at 16 years old. European basketball players can begin their professional debuts at 15-16 years old if they are good enough to play against adults. Porziņģis quickly displayed what he was made of through the team's younger ranks to become the senior team's leader by 2013. Standing tall, he was a force to be reckoned with, and his growth was nothing short of remarkable.

Porzingis at age 16 was averaging barely a point, an assist, and almost two rebounds. However, in the two subsequent Sevilla years, his averages ballooned up to 2.6 points then to 6.7 with 3 rebounds, and a block at 18 years old against fully grown men. In 2014-15, Porzingis truly found his stride, almost doubling his averages. He was averaging 11 points, 1 block, 1 steal, an assist, and 4 rebounds while shooting a decent 70% free throw. He went on to win the EuroCup Basketball Rising Star accolade in 2015 at age 19, becoming the youngest receiver.  

The following summer, he declared for the NBA draft, and the New York Knicks selected him fourth overall. He quickly became a fan favorite. His arrival in the NBA sparked debates, with some hailing him as a unicorn - tall, versatile, and dynamic, while others questioned the injury risks. In NBA terms, a unicorn usually refers to who is tall, versatile, and dynamic, aka, playing like a guard while towering over them. 

This term describes Porzingis pretty accurately. He is a player who can light it up on every end of the basketball court. In fact, this all came to be proved during his rookie year. Porziņģis silenced the skeptics with his remarkable rookie year, and his star continued to shine brighter. He finished averaging 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.9 blocks per game. Porziņģis finished second in the NBA ROY (Rookie of the Year), behind winner Karl-Anthony Towns, and earned NBA All-Rookie First Team honors. He continued this high-level play next year.

To begin the 2016-17 NBA season, on November 16, 2016, Porziņģis scored a career-high 35 points in a win over the Detroit Pistons. On December 11th, 2016, he recorded 26 points, 12 rebounds, and seven blocks (!!!) in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. He ended the year with averages of 18 points, 2 blocks, a steal, 1.5 assists, and 7 rebounds. A marked improvement over his rookie year. The sky seemed to be the limit for the Latvian star. 

Like the previous season, the 2017-18 season started off with a bang from Porzingis. Opening night and the game after had the 7-footer scoring 31 points, 12 rebounds, and 33 points with 5 rebounds. This season had the Kristaps score 30 or over 11 times!  He was averaging 22.7 points, 2.4 blocks, 1 assist, 1 steal, and almost 7 rebounds. Named an all-star, Kristaps was making his mark on the league. However, he tragically tore his ACL on February 6th, 2018. He was sidelined and forced to undergo surgery, missing the next season completely.

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ACL Recovery

Coming off his best season to date and ending it short, on one of the most brutal injuries a basketball player can get, an ACL tear. In an interview, 

Kristaps, in July 2018, described himself as someone with a short memory, and that he doesn’t “worry about things too long after they happen.”, that he tries to “move on and it was similar to the injury.” He spoke about how the scar was going to be there, but the most important thing was that the scar was not holding him back so that his subconscious would not stop him from playing at his full level when he was back on the court.

He spent a lot of his rehab time in Spain, at the Real Madrid soccer club, citing the excellent facilities and the ability for his family to be around him, supporting him. Kristaps even implemented yoga into his routine, allowing a different level of focus. To him, yoga disconnected him from all other distractions around him. Most importantly, to him, it was all about balance.

Porzingis described his rehabilitation, “We've done things differently because there is no protocol for a 7-3 guy. There is no timetable for my type of body, my size, and all that, We've done things differently, very conservative, and at the same time (I've been) killing myself working. We're just going to have to keep moving forward, keep progressing, and see when is the right time for me to be back.” 

That time kept being pushed further and further, and he was forced to miss the entire 2018-2019 season. He was traded from the New York Knicks to the Dallas Mavericks in February 2019. This trade was apparently sought by Porzingis, who met with team management and ‘left them with the impression that he would prefer to be traded before next Thursday’s NBA trade deadline’. Joining Luka was expected to be an interesting turn of events. 

Injury Comeback

The 2019-2020 NBA season saw Kristaps return from injury. He played only 57 games, missing many to account for his ACL injury rehabilitation. He averaged 20 points, 1 block, 1 assist, and 9 rebounds. The Mavericks made the playoffs but lost in 6 games. Out of those 6 games, Kristpas played 3 and had 34 points in one of them. The 2020-21 NBA season went relatively similar for Porzingis, averaging similar numbers. He played 43 games, and the Mavericks made the playoffs again. They lost in 7 to the Clippers, with Porzingis averaging disappointing numbers, 13.1 points per game. 

Kristaps played 34 games for the Mavericks before being once again traded to the Washington Wizards in February 2022. In total, he played 51 games for both teams. His averages again were in that 20 points per game baseline, with 8 rebounds and 2 assists wrapped with 1.6 blocks. His team did not make the playoffs this year. In 2021-22, Porzingis played a much better 65 games, and his averages improved as well. He increased his points per game to 23 from 20, while playing 14 more games. 

Present and Boston Celtics Trade

It seems as if Kristaps, after the 2022-23 season, was on his way to becoming a force again in the NBA. Various injuries, from his foot, toe, ankle, and back have plagued him throughout his career. In fact - he has missed 37% of his potential NBA games in his eight seasons. Yet, the Boston Cetlics saw potential in the borderline all-star 7 footer, and in an unforeseen turn of events, traded a fan-favorite DPOY point guard Marcus Smart in order to acquire him. A controversial move, but it’s clear that the Celtics see something in Porzingis that can greatly benefit the team. 

After all, Kristaps Porzingis was named an all-star before, and his career averages of 19.6 points, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 7.9 rebounds in 402 regular-season games are nothing to scoff at. The Celtics hope Porzingis plugs some deficits in the roster, more specifically, towards the frontcourt, where an aging veteran in Al Horford paired with a frequently absent and undersized Rob Williams III have caused issues towards the later stretch of the season and playoffs. 

The trade, while unpopular, in addition to the news of Porzingis attaining a new injury with plantar fasciitis over the summer, making him miss the FIBA World Cup, has caused concern in the minds of many fans. This move, while risky, can solve a lot of the Boston Celtic’s problems and make getting a ring that much more possible. As he looks to overcome a series of injuries and help shore up the Celtics' frontcourt, the question remains: Can this unicorn resurrect his career and help Boston clinch an NBA championship?

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