The unicorn: what Kristaps Porzingis brings to the Celtics

Alright. Deep breath, everyone.

Yes, Marcus Smart is a Grizzly.

No, not everyone is happy about it.

Sports can be your best friend one second and your worst enemy the next. He meant a lot to this fanbase and this franchise, and it’s objectively sad to see such a beloved player traded away.

But if there’s some good news buried within the sadness, it’s that the Celtics got a really, really good basketball player back who, on paper, makes them better.

I’ll preface this by saying that it’s hard to know the extent of the Kristaps Porzingis trade until the Celtics execute the rest of their plan. They still have plenty of assets to use, so I imagine another move is on the way.

For now, let’s focus on what the Celtics are getting with Kristaps and how that could lead to the Jays developing into even better players.

Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images

What is Kristaps himself?

For fans of 2K out there, it’s easy to start with broad archetypes of players and then get more specific as you go. Kristaps is one of the hardest guys to do it for – his skills are so diverse and unique, but I’d say he’s broadly a 3-level scoring rim protector. For Celtic fans who haven’t really seen Kristaps the past few seasons, he’s simplified his game compared to the flashy SportsCenter heyday of New York Knicks and become an absolute matchup nightmare for almost every player in the NBA on both ends of the floor.

Offensively, he is coming off a career-best season with Washington. Career highs in PPG (23.2), FG% (49.8%), VORP (3.4) and Win Shares (7.7), he’s starting to put up numbers you’d expect from someone at his talent level , entering his prime at 27 years old. He has an elite post game and is shooting 38% from behind the arc, 40% on catch-and-shoot 3s. Make no mistake: KP is one of the best players in the NBA right now.

The crazy thing is, he did it for one of the worst teams in the NBA. It could be copium or homerism, but I wonder how his game is going to look next to Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Both are easily the best players he’s ever played next to in the NBA; I wonder if there is even another level for KP to go to.

Defensively, he has become one of the best bigs in the world. He ranks top-5 in number of allowed points per game. Pick-And-Roll, has developed into an elite drop defender and consistently averages close to 2 blocks a game. At the very least, he’ll give you quality central defense against almost anyone in the league. How he fares in big spots against the likes of Bam Adebayo, Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid remains to be seen, but the regular season production and film is there.

How does he fit the Celtics?

Let’s start offensively, because looking around the NBA history books, there just aren’t any examples of the combination we’re about to see. Porzingis’ individual offensive play fills many holes in the Celtics offense. He doesn’t have many duplicative skills with other players on the roster. No one has the range of post-scoring options that he does. It will certainly be a good option for the team when the Jays are getting stuck. He can also shoot 3s off the dribble, a legitimately hilarious and scary thing to watch considering he’s 7’3″. Again, individually he’s a nightmare, but when it gets really special is when you look at it through the Jays’ lens.

Think what two-man play Jayson Tatum and Kristaps could be. These are two elite players over 6’9″ who can score from anywhere on the court and are both excellent in pick-and-roll offenses. The possibilities are truly endless. This duo should be able to score almost at will against most NBA defense.

Then consider it from a Jaylen Brown perspective. Sure, you can sit on his left hand, but that’s a little harder to do with a 7’3” Kristaps Porzingis flying down the court next to him. That should open everything up for the Jays in a way I’m not sure they’ve experienced yet in their careers. Rob Williams and Al Horford have always been effective PnR options, but KP is on a whole other level. If they can run the offense at a high level, both JB/KP and JT/KP should be in the top tier of PnR duos in the NBA.

Defensively, the Celtics finally have someone who can spell Robert Williams and Al Horford and not get completely roasted at the rim! They now have three elite defensive players who can wreak havoc no matter how they are on the floor. I don’t think we’ll see a ton of lineups with KP/Rob. They might cross 5-7 minutes a night, but I imagine we’ll see a lot of Horford/KP or Horford/Rob or KP or Rob alone. Tatum can always slide to the 4 to play next to both to make the lineups work.

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