At practice on Wednesday Kristaps Porzingis took the next step in recovering from his ACL tear exactly 13 months earlier; he participated in his first full practice without restrictions. Porzingis played five-on-five with the full squad and got to play real basketball with Luka Doncic for the first time.
According to Rick Carlisle, the team went five-on-five for 15-20 minutes after some additional work and what he saw in practice was highly encouraging. Carlisle also noted that he’s excited to see Porzingis in a game, when he’s ready.
Dallas scouted Porzingis for years before the trade and dreamed about how he might fit into their system. Now that he’s been with the team doing workouts and shooting drills, surely Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks would know exactly how Porzingis would play in their system.
That’s not the case. When Carlisle talked about what he saw from KP in practice he repeatedly mentioned how much more he learned from him being able to practice fully with the squad. So I asked him what more could he learn from five-on-five that couldn’t be seen elsewhere?
“His natural instincts for moving and navigating an NBA game,” Carlisle said.
“We’re playing a spacing-style transition game and he shoots it, he drives it, and he makes spot ups. All of his skills are a big factor in that. What I saw today confirmed that we’re on the right track with our approach.”
For Porzingis, that initial approach of not playing this season remains unchanged, at least for now.
After practice and treatment, he spoke to the media in bulk for the second time since his introductory press conference. In Houston Porzingis spoke to a reporters before the game for about 20 minutes, but other than that media have only spoken to him in short one-on-one bursts.
During his availability Porzingis appeared upbeat and almost never stopped smiling. Reporters were anxious to get answers to the two biggest questions of the day: how did you feel and will you play this season?
Here is a little snippet of his media availability after practice.
“It felt great to be back on the court, back with my guys,” @kporzee said after his first full practice with the team today.— Brice Paterik (@BricePaterik) March 13, 2019
He also said he isn’t thinking about playing this season.#MFFL pic.twitter.com/WZueJEtZWM
“It went well,” Porzingis said when asked about practice. “It’s been almost 13 months since I’ve played five-on-five so it was great today to be back on the court, to be back with my guys, to be doing what I truly love.”
Later on Porzingis mentioned repeatedly how he felt stronger than before he sustained his injury. In the rehab process he worked on adding strength in his knees as well as “biomechanics stuff” as he said, both of which could help keep him on the court more throughout his career.
Because of the work he’s put in during his rehab and the patience he’s shown to not rush back Porzingis feels confident when he returns he’ll be even better than he was before.
Boredom plagued him during the rehab because he missed the competition most of all. Porzingis said he turned to video games, specifically Counter-Strike GO, to feel the rush of competing while he couldn’t play basketball.
Kristaps can compete in practice now, but he said he was anxious to get back into real games, though he knows he needs to be patient. His desire to play comes across in several of his answers, but he always stops himself and says he needs to be patient, and how he’s proud of himself for being patient with this difficult recovery process.
The most interesting answer of the day came from Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning news, questioning if Kristaps believes the risks of playing this season outweigh the benefits.
“I don’t see any risk; to me it’s not a risk,” Porzingis said. “It’s just whether it’s, you know it’s...” he trailed off, looked up to think of an answer then continued in a tone that conveyed candor.
“I don’t know, I honestly don’t have an answer for you. The thing is I feel healthy. I feel great. I’m antsy to get back on the court as soon as possible. I know I’m ready so we’ll see, I don’t know.”
In his follow up answer about seeing benefits, Porzingis noted that to begin a season players don’t just jump right into games; they have training camp and pre-season, so even if he was going to play this year one full practice isn’t enough to get a player ready for a season. He also repeated “we’ll see,” with a smile.
Despite leaving the door of playing this year open a sliver with that ‘we’ll see’ Mavericks fans shouldn’t hold their breath in hopes of seeing Porzingis in a game this season. Only 15 games remain so Dallas fans should learn from Kristaps and be patient, then be proud of themselves next year for being so patient.
It won’t be long before Doncic is scoring and assisting Porzingis on threes and alley-oops in actual games. As Kristaps said at practice: “the real thing is coming.”