After nearly a month of anticipation, newly acquired forward Kristaps Porzingis made his long awaited Washington Wizards debut in a win over the Indiana Pacers.

Porzingis finished the night with 25 points in the win and showed flashes of the “unicorn” potential that got him drafted 4th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. But moving forward a glaring question still remains: What exactly does acquiring Porzingis mean for Washington’s future?

We’re going to take a look at what he did in the game against Indiana, the remainder of his contract and some other key factors to try to determine what exactly Tommy Sheppard and the front office have gotten themselves into.

Starting with Sunday night’s game, Porzingis played about as clean and well-rounded as he could have for a guy who has not played in over a month. Alongside the 25 points he also had five rebounds and two blocks including an impressive chase down block on Pacers guard Oshae Brissett midway through the first quarter.

Although the box score stats indicate that he had a solid performance, it really does not tell the entire story. Porzingis was used in a multitude of ways including being on the low block against mismatches and he even did some screen-and-roll stuff where he was able to dive to the basket as an alley-oop threat.

Speaking of alley-oop, one of the biggest plays of the night even came on an alley-oop dunk from Deni Avdija to Porzingis in the final two minutes. This would soon be followed by yet another Porzingis dunk that would help the Wizards put the game out of reach. 

But his performance goes even deeper than that.

Despite Porzingis entering this game on a minutes restriction, he finished the night shooting 7-of-12 from the field, 3-of-4 from three and led the team with ten free throw attempts. All that in only 21 minutes of action. 

After the game, coach Wes Unseld Jr. shared that he was quite impressed with Porzingis’ conditioning considering all the missed time and Porzingis himself chimed in a bit as well.  

“We had to be mindful of the stretches that he was going to play, but he handled it well,” Unseld said.

“It felt good,” Porzingis said with a smile. “I was just happy to be done with the individual work and be back out there. It’s not fun to be out and be doing all the conditioning and all that. I’m happy to be out there.”

While on the subject of coach Unseld Jr., it is important to highlight the significance of his part to play in the development and future of Porzingis.

This is the same coach that was an assistant on the bench working with the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic. Unseld Jr. is familiar with the concept of playing through and utilizing the full skillset of a big man which plays nice with a guy like Porzingis.

We’re talking about a 7-foot-3 Latvian who can step out behind the three point line, has relatively above average athleticism for a big man and has all the traits of a guy who wants to be a superstar in this league.

Of all the coaches Porzingis has been paired with, Unseld Jr. may actually be the best coach-player partner from a synergy standpoint. That rapport showed early when coach Unseld Jr. ran the first few plays for him, and Porzingis went on to score six of the team’s first eight points. All this to say that Porzingis made a really strong first impression in front of DC faithful.

But what does all of this mean in terms moving forward? I mean there is only a month left of the season. Bradley Beal will not be rejoining the team at any point during this stretch after electing to get season-ending surgery on his wrist. Plus, the Wizards are two games back of qualifying for the Play-In tournament.

According to PowerRankingGuru.com, the Wizards have the 5th easiest remaining strength of schedule in the league. This does put Washington in a weird dilemma where they have to choose between pushing for the Play-In tournament or setting themselves up for a higher pick in the NBA Lottery.

The ideal situation would be to play for the pick, but it also would not hurt to see some of the team’s core guys in a high stakes situation like the Play-In. Because the truth is that even with Bradley Beal verbally committing to the idea of signing the super max this offseason, that does not necessarily mean he is here to stay.

We’ve seen the “get the money and dip” tactic used by a handful of superstars in the past and it probably wouldn’t surprise most if that were Bradley’s plan here. But if Beal does sign that contract he becomes virtually untradeable at least for next season considering he would be in the first year of what would be a five-year $245 million deal.

Pair that with the fact that Porzingis is signed for two more years on an ascending contract that will get up to $36 million during the 2023-24 season.

So, this team needs to prove in as many ways as possible that they have and can continue to build a winning roster around Beal otherwise things could get ugly. This gets even rougher considering that the Wizards don’t really have much cap space going into this summer. So in a way, Kristaps Porzingis was their big “free agent” signing just a couple months early.

Meaning Porzingis has to hit. We have to see some facsimile of his debut performance on a night to night basis. Which is doable for him. Before being moved to Washington, he was averaging 19.2 points and 7.7 rebounds for the Dallas Mavericks.

But the activity on the defensive end and the versatility he showed against Indiana is the missing link that takes him from being a quality big man to being a legitimate number two option. The only real things that have held him back are the lack of opportunity and injury struggles.

Porzingis has longed for the opportunity to be the man on his own team. Although I would not say the Wizards would be “his” team as long as Beal is there, he has the chance to assert himself in a way that we have not seen since his early days in New York. 

This stretch without Beal is the perfect chance for him to do just that while also showing Beal what’s waiting for him in the process. Just as the Wizards have a lot at stake in this trade, so does Porzingis.

Realistically this is probably his last real chance to prove that he can be the superstar caliber player we all thought he could be after his 2016-17 All-Star season. If not, it could be problematic for him heading into his next potential contract negotiation. Although he won’t even be 30 yet by the time his current contract is up, he would enter 2024 free agency known as the guy who couldn’t make it work with two of the top guards in the NBA.

To make a long story short: This is it for Washington.

Through a core made up of Beal, Porzingis, Kyle Kuzma, Deni Avdija and probably Daniel Gafford as the pillars of this team, they have two years to make the most of the squad as constructed.

Because the Wizards already elected to not trade Beal at his peak trade value during this trade deadline. Following that up with offering him the super max could be viewed as one of the biggest front office mistakes of the last decade. Hate to be melodramatic but it really does boil down to that.

With Beal on the roster, this is never going to be a team that’s going to be in position to get a top-5 potential difference maker in the draft. They also will not have much money to construct a more talented roster around him without creating cap space through trading guys. So, without the re-emergence of All-Star Porzingis and significant internal development, this team will top out as a Play-In squad with a hefty payroll.

With that, for the sake of Wizards fans hopefully what we saw from Porzingis the other night is real. Because to put it blatantly, his play moving forward is the difference between this team becoming a real threat in the East or being bankrupted by mediocrity. 

Jalon Dixon
Jalon Dixon

BSL Analyst

Hi there! My name is Jalon Dixon, but most people just call me Jay. As an aspiring, young sports writer and podcaster, I enjoy discussing sports (mainly basketball and football) and sharing my knowledge with others. Growing up right in the middle of Towson University, Morgan State, Goucher College and others, I have gotten the chance to learn so much about a handful of the different athletic teams that thrive here in Baltimore. I want to be the voice of local fans and teams that may not get the same spotlight as others, but still play a big part in our everyday lives. My motto is “Always Embrace Conversation,” so if you ever want to give me feedback on a piece or even just have a friendly sports debate, feel free to email me! Hope you enjoy my work and maybe even learn something along the way.

X