At just 14 years old, Kristaps Porzingis knew he was destined
for a different path in life, when he realized he was taller than
his older brother, Martins, who had a 10-year age gap on him.
Little did Kristaps know, the life ahead of him would be a
topsy-turvy one as a professional basketball player in the NBA, one
so polarizing that he single-handedly turned the term “Unicorn”
into a buzzword.
Now, at 26 years old — and after plenty of ups and downs — the
7-foot-3 Porzingis is once again one of the most intriguing players
in the league. Porzingis spoke exclusively with BasketballNews.com
recently about his career, playing with Luka Doncic, his "ugly"
breakup with the New York Knicks and more.
And after speaking with Porzingis, it's clear that he's happier
and more confident than he's been in some time, which helps explain
why he's playing his best basketball in years.
Porzingis is averaging 19.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks
per game while carrying a career-best 23.7 PER. Although the
numbers are right on par with what we’ve seen from Porzingis since
his arrival in Dallas, mentally he’s beginning to find what made
him great before his catastrophic ACL injury four years ago.
Porzingis is finally looking like a true co-star counterpart to his
superstar teammate Luka Doncic, which has the Mavericks internally
buzzing about their long-term future.
Porzingis admitted that as the injuries piled up, it took a toll
on him mentally and that caused his career to take a turn. He
compared it to being dehydrated in a desert and searching for
water. Finally, he tapped into that water source this past
offseason, when he put in the hard work that’s allowed him to start
living up to the lucrative extension he signed with Dallas upon his
arrival nearly three years ago.
“It’s good. I put in a lot of work this summer. It’s not
something that I’m kinda surprised by. All of the work that I put
in, it’s coming back to me now,” Porzingis told BasketballNews.com.
“A lot of times, it’s like walking in the desert. Injury, working
back from injury, trying to get a rhythm. And I’m still working
trying to get my way back in a rhythm, still working on my body
too. I still don’t feel [100%]; I’m nowhere near 100%. So, still
have a lot of work to do and I’ll keep working, but it’s good to
see I’m back again at that high level, playing high-level
With a player like Porzingis — who showed rare, sky-high upside
when he was the biggest piece in the New York market prior to his
ACL tear — it's scary to think that he's putting up these numbers
despite the fact that he's still not back to his pre-injury level.
As he further strengthens his body and finds the right balance
mentally and physically to stay on the court, he should be able to
tap back into the All-Star upside that was on full display with the
Knicks. Still just 26 years old, there’s still plenty of time for
Porzingis to grow and emphatically put his stamp on the Association
Joe Abunassar, who has helped train Porzingis back from injury
in the past at Impact Basketball, stressed that if Porzingis stays
healthy and continues to find his rhythm, it could lead to a star
rebirth in Dallas.
“Right before he got injured in New York, he was a machine — he
was a double-double machine and putting up big numbers,” Abunassar
said recently on The Alex
Kennedy Podcast. “Then, he got hurt and that’s a tough
injury and it takes a long time to recover. I think with him, it’s
just about staying healthy. People ask me all the time, ‘What did
you do with Kevin Garnett after training him for 10 years?’ And I
say, ‘We just kept him healthy.’ I mean, we did other things, but
that was our primary focus. I think with Kris, keeping him healthy
[is the most important thing]. For Kris, it’s just about staying
healthy and finding his rhythm in games, and I think he’ll be
Porzingis admitted that the non-stop cycle of injury, rehab,
injury, rehab that he was in really tested his mental toughness.
But keeping his positive mindset and staying present helped him
push through it. Now, Porzingis hopes his body's maturation coupled
with his regimented plan will allow him to escape the darkest
depths of his career.
“I think I’m getting to a point physically where my body is
mature enough now and I think I’ll be able to stay healthy. That’s
the main thing for me,” Porzingis said. “Honestly, injuries suck.
It just sucks. You’re out, you can’t play, you have to rehab
everyday without seeing many results. It’s like I said — a walk in
the desert trying to find the water. That’s how it feels like many
days, but that’s where that discipline, that mental toughness comes
"You have to push through it. You have to try to have a positive
mindset and go day-by-day, practice-by-practice. Get better
day-by-day. Once you are finally able to get on the court, get some
shots up, everything starts to feel good. That’s when you’re
getting those positive emotions out of it and you feel like you’re
actually getting closer to getting back on the court.”
Porzingis' exit from the Knicks became a melodrama that played
out in the New York media. It’s something that Porzingis never
wanted to happen, but it unfortunately reached that point due to
what he described as miscommunication by both sides. Between his
injuries and the miscommunication, he admitted that the situation
got “ugly” behind the scenes. The two sides didn't agree on an
extension once his rookie-scale contract ended and Porzingis
ultimately asked for a trade.
“I learned a lot from the situation. Obviously, it’s not the
best situation,” Porzingis told BasketballNews.com about his stint
with the Knicks. “I loved my time in New York, but in terms of
getting hurt, being out for such a long time and then a lot of
stuff going on, [there were] a lot of mistakes on both parts. A lot
of miscommunication, I would say. And the situation just kinda got
"It is what it is, it’s in the past already. I’m grateful for
all the good memories I had in New York for all the people there.
For the organization, for Phil Jackson for drafting me, putting his
faith in me. At the end, there’s no bigger stage than playing for
the Knicks, you know? So, I enjoyed it, every single game at
Madison Square Garden. Those are going to be memories forever for
Before Porzingis encountered his first serious injury issues in
New York, he was once one of the most polarizing players in the
Association. Gracefully running down the court, splashing threes,
posterizing players, protecting the rim with All-Defensive-Team
upside and swatting shots with reckless abandon, it was a player
archetype that really hadn't been seen before. Becoming the
“Unicorn” of the NBA boosted Porzingis' star power, and many
believed he could eventually be on the path to MVP-type
Averaging a career-high 22.7 points and 2.4 blocks while
shooting 39.5% on three-pointers, Porzingis was well on his way to
an All-NBA season in 2017-18 before the worst-case scenario
Playing against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in
early 2018, Porzingis cut to the basket and was fed an easy
opportunity for a dunk. Porzingis slammed it down over Giannis as
Madison Square Garden exploded in jubilance. But one second later,
The impact on his knee was too much to handle. Porzingis fell
over, immediately grabbing at his left knee as he writhed in pain
in front of the Knicks’ bench. As he slammed his fist against the
court, he knew the injury was serious.
Soon after, the Knicks were hesitant to pay him a lucrative
contract, which contributed to the conflict behind the scenes. When
asked what went wrong and what was miscommunicated toward the end
of his tenure in New York, Porzingis says, "Many things, many
There may be a time and place down the road when Porzingis
divulges more about his “ugly” breakup with the Knicks, but he
doesn't feel that this is the right time.
“I don’t want to go into too much detail. I think it’s not the
right moment,” Porzingis told BasketballNews.com. “I think there
will be a moment where I maybe talk about it more, but, for now,
there’s many new people in the organization. I really wish them
well. They’re doing well, they’re doing better. I wish for the
Knicks to be great, because that just makes all of us look great.
New York City is always hyped for good-level basketball. I think
they’re on the way there.”
That chapter is now closed, and he's focused on looking forward.
Before the trade to the Mavericks, Porzingis knew about a fellow
European who was taking the basketball world by storm — Doncic, a
then-18-year-old multipositional superstar who can do just about
everything at an elite level when he steps on a basketball
When Porzingis was traded to Dallas during Doncic's rookie
season, he couldn’t hold back his excitement. He was still stunned
that Doncic hadn't been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA
"I knew he was the MVP of the EuroLeague. And I was looking at
the rest of the class, the rest of the rookies, and I’m thinking
‘There’s not one guy that would be able to go to Europe and get the
EuroLeague MVP at that moment,'" Porzingis said. "So, I knew he was
the best player out of that class. There are many great players,
but Luka is just a different type of talent."
Instead of being the face of the Knicks and trying to recruit
Doncic to New York someday, the roles were reversed. Instead, they
teamed up in Dallas and now the Mavericks’ future is bright as a
“I was hoping he would come to New York somehow, but we ended up
playing together [anyway]. I knew it..." Porzingis told
BasketballNews.com. "He’s one of the most talented players I’ve
ever seen. He’s just a natural-born talent. He was born for this.
To see the things that he’s capable of doing on a basketball court
is just insane, and it’s not something he thinks about. He just
plays instinctively and [it] comes natural to him, so it’s really
cool to play with a high-level basketball player like him.”
Even though they'd played together since 2019, Porzingis is
still amazed at Doncic's incredible passes and how he sets up all
of his teammates for easy scoring opportunities. Luka's magic is
real, and Porzingis can’t get enough of it.
“You always gotta be ready [when Luka has the ball],” Porzingis
said. “He can score the ball at the same time, then at the last
second, he could pass it to you and you didn’t expect it and you
could be wide-open. He’s that type of generational talent.”
With the next chapter of his career taking place in Dallas, that
also means Porzingis is the Mavericks' first star big man since
Dirk Nowitzki. Doncic received the title of the Mavericks' next
superstar from Nowitzki, but Porzingis is the next seven-footer in
line to potentially become an All-Star for Dallas. But taking the
proverbial baton from a legend like Nowitzki isn't easy.
“Yeah, I don’t like [it],” Porzingis chuckled when asked about
following Nowitzki. “Those shoes are way too big to fill. Not just
me, but also Luka. [Dirk is] a legend of the game. To come after
him, it’s not easy at all, but the city of Dallas has welcomed us
with open arms and showed us so much support since Day 1 since I
got here. I know they expect high achievements from us. That’s what
I’m here for, that’s what Luka’s here for. We want to win it all at
the end. That’s the main goal. We have a mission, until we get that
Looking ahead further into the 2021-22 season, the Mavericks are
right in the middle of the pack in the reloaded and extremely
competitive Western Conference. With Doncic running the show and
Porzingis slowly but surely finding his groove once again, Dallas
has the pieces to make a deep playoff run. The question is: will
the team be able to make it happen this season?
"Why not us?" Porzingis asks.
Why can’t the Mavericks make serious noise and compete for a
“I think we’re the dark-horse in the league,” Porzingis told
BasketballNews.com. “I think we have a lot of talent. I think we
have more talent than many teams. It’s just a question of us
growing as a team, getting experience. We got some experience the
last couple of years in the playoffs and taking that next step.
Hopefully, we can surprise many people. I feel like we have the
potential to do that.”
When the Mavericks acquired Porzingis, the hope was for him to
form a lethal one-two punch with Doncic to vault Dallas into the
NBA's top tier. Doncic is there already, emerging as one of the
best players in the NBA, but Porzingis is the true X-factor to it
all coalescing. If Porzingis becomes an elite No. 2 option
alongside Doncic and can also take over at some points and take
pressure off the Slovenian phenom (which is much-needed), the
Mavericks are set up beautifully for a fruitful future.
Porzingis knows the pressure is on, but after exiting a painful
cycle of injuries and rehab, he's extremely confident and has
regained hope for what’s next in his career.
We could soon see Porzingis return to form as the NBA’s
“Unicorn," which would change the entire calculus for the West's
hierarchy this season and long-term.