Kristaps Porzingis debuts for the Celtics in a preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
To admirers, he’s known as The Unicorn for his amazing skills and mobility. To his haters, he’s known as Tingus Pingus. Standing at 7 foot 3, Kristaps Porzingis is one of the tallest players in the current NBA world, just falling slight of Boban Marjanović of the Rockets and rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama of the Spurs, who both stand at 7 foot 4. However, Porzingis displays incredible athleticism and overall skill sets for his remarkable height. Porzingis recently got traded from the Washington Wizards to the Boston Celtics in a three-way deal, with Marcus Smart going to the Memphis Grizzlies and Tyus Jones going to the Wizards. This is an incredible trade, as Porzingis is one of the best centers in the league currently. When asked about Porzingis, 13-time NBA All-Star Kevin Durant said, “He can shoot, he can make the right plays, he can defend, he’s a 7-footer that can shoot all the way out to the 3-point line.” And in his first few games in a Celtics jersey, Porzingis has proven just that.
Porzingis’ 3 Point Shooting
A key piece that Porzingis brings to the Boston Celtics team is his incredible three-point shooting for a man of his height. Porzingis hit nine three-pointers in his first four games for the Celtics with a 55% three-point shooting percentage, which is extremely impressive. What’s shocking is when you compare this to Stephen Curry, arguably the best three-point shooter in the league's history. In his first four games, Steph made 46.5% of all his threes. Even though it’s true that Steph takes a lot more three-point shots than Porzingis, Porzingis’ accuracy is still incredibly amazing. Another comparison is to the rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama, another ‘unicorn’ with amazing mobility and a complete skill set. In his first 5 games, Wembanyama made 50% of his shots, which is also incredibly high, but still trails behind Porzingis. What does this mean for the Celtics team? With other three-point shooters like Jayson Tatum, Derrick White, and Jaylen Brown, Porzingis will be another reliable option at the three-point line, making the three-ball a significant part of the Celtics' game this year. Moreover, since Porzingis is an outside shooting threat, defenders have no choice but to limit the space he gets. This opens up another window of Porzingis’ game: Driving.
Driving and Finishing
Most 7-foot-3 NBA players don’t tend to take shots outside of the paint or drive the ball. Porzingis is different. He’s not afraid to pull up outside the paint for a jumper or use his size to bang his way into the paint for a dunk. Last year, only 46% of Porzingis’ shots came from the paint, which is relatively low for a big man. For example, we can compare Porzingis to Lakers’ center Anthony Davis, who shot 71% of his shots in the paint. This will be incredibly helpful to the Celtics offense, as Porzingis can also be a driving threat alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and almost a guaranteed bucket. This brings great balance to the team and gives the opponents a lot to worry about.
A crucial aspect of most teams’ offense that the Celtics haven’t had for the past few years is a reliable man in the post. In the recent few years, the Celtics never had a true and reliable center to dominate the post and guarantee buckets. Celtic’s starting center for the past few years has been Al Horford, who stands at only 6 foot 9 and is already 37 years old, which is even older than the head coach Joe Mazulla. Even though Al Horford is a great player to have on the team, he isn’t a traditional center and lacks strength and skill in the post. The addition of Porzingis, who, with his height, is a reliable post option, will propel the Celtics to a new level. Opponents will not only have to worry about the driving and shooting threat, but they will also need a strong center to counter Porzingis. And even when Porzingis is resting on the bench, old Al will always step in and help keep the game going with his unique skill set.
Pick and Roll
Another must-have of every team’s offense, especially in these recent decades, is the ability to run pick-and-rolls that usually finish with lob passes to the basket. The Celtics have had pick-and-roll options in Robert Williams III and Al Horford, yet pick-and-rolls have never been a big part of their game, as Rob Williams doesn’t start, and Al Horford prefers to pop out to the perimeter for an open three instead. This is when Porzingis comes into the picture. Porzingis, again with his alien height, is able to tower over any defender and smash the ball into the basket. He’s a master at the pick-and-roll, and with him on the team, this can be another scoring option for the Celtics. And once again, if Porzingis is on the bench, the Celtics can revert to the old and different strategy of pick and pop for Al Horford to get open looks. It sounds increasingly impossible to stop this Celtics team, but hold on, there’s more.
As the famous saying goes, “Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” Celtics have always been one of the best defending teams, ranking as the second-best defensive team last season. However, in the Porzingis trade, the Celtics lost 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart to the Grizzlies. The question that many fans were wondering is can the Celtics replace Smart with Porzingis? Porzingis is a very different player. Smart is a guard, extremely versatile, willing to fight and dive for every ball. Porzingis is the traditional center, a big man who can defend the rim, post-ups, pick-and-rolls, and get some good blocks. Porzingis has a 7 foot 6 wingspan, which allows him to block many shots, including three-point shots. The Celtics’ primary defender in the paint in the last few years was Al Horford, and Porzingis is a massive upgrade there. However, Porzingis isn’t exactly able to replace Smart as an on-ball defender. But even for his size, Porzingis is extremely versatile, and with his incredible wingspan, he can poke away balls, and his blocks are extremely valuable. Porzingis averages 1.8 blocks per game, and in his first few games for the Celtics, he has shown his worth, especially in the 4th quarter. Moreover, the Celtics front office has also solved the Marcus Smart problem by trading for arguably one of the best on-ball defenders in the league, Jrue Holiday. Coupled with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, and Derrick White, who are all able to defend well and have put on some muscle during the off-season, the Celtics' defense will be one of the best in the league and could win them the NBA championship.
Does this make the Celtics unstoppable?
Not necessarily. Yes, the Celtics are currently the favorites to win the championship, and after starting off the season with a 5-0 record, no team looks like they can beat them. With a recent stunning 51-point win, and some late comebacks, the Celtics team is definitely on a run to the championship. However, it’s still too early to say if the Celtics are going to win. One major concern is injuries. Currently, most of the points the Celtics get in games are from the starters. If one person gets injured, especially Porzingis, suddenly, the entire team could fall apart. However, for now, the Celtics and Porzingis are definitely true contenders, and let’s sit back and see whether this season for the Celtics ends in an 18th Championship for the Boston Celtics or another playoff exit.