We finally know. Kristaps Porzingis’ return to basketball will be on October 8, 2019, this time as a Dallas Maverick.
With that question answered, there are several more that come up.
What will Kristaps be like when he comes back?
Can he be an All-Star again?
Is an ACL tear too much for a 7’3 player to overcome? After all, it’s never been done.
History can give us some sign of what to expect. Several NBA players have torn their ACL and returned.
We looked at data from 69 NBA players who tore their ACL to predict what Mavericks fans can expect from Porzingis in the 2019-2020 season.
In this Article
- Kristaps Porzingis’ Return to Basketball – What to Expect
- Kristaps Porzingis Injury History – Should the Mavericks Be Concerned?
- Rehabbing with the Mavericks
Kristaps Porzingis’ Return to Basketball – What to Expect
When Kristaps Porzingis returns to basketball in October, it will have been 20 months since his last NBA game.
That’s a long time.
But he’s not alone in history.
For the purposes of our research, we narrowed that list down to 69. We took out players who tore their ACL before making their NBA debut and those who never played again after their injury.
‘There were players who never played again after tearing their ACL?’
Yes, but don’t let that scare you. Most of those players were older when the injury happened or weren’t rotational players. An ACL tear was hardly the only thing that ended their career.
A torn ACL is not a career-ending injury.
Ok, back to the research.
We compared every player’s stats from before his injury to the season he returned from injury. These are the stats we looked at:
Average points per game
Average rebounds per game
Average assists per game
Average blocks per game
Average field goal percentage
If the player only appeared in a few games before his injury, we used his numbers from the previous season.
Put among those 69 players, Porzingis is one of the youngest. Only 16 of the 69 players were 22 or younger when they tore their ACL. (Kristaps was 22 at the time of his injury.)
We’ll talk more about how age impacts recovery later on.
How did those giants fare?
Stats Before and After Torn ACL – Tallest Players
Robert Swift averaged 6.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game before his injury. In his return season, he averaged 1.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, and .8 blocks per game.
Jerome James averaged 1.5 points, 1.1 rebounds, and .4 blocks per game before his injury. After his injury, he averaged 5.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game after his injury.
Then again, Jerome’s minutes went from 2.6 per game to 16.9 per game. (He also sat out an entire season and played a season overseas before returning to the NBA.)
The point is, these players are not like Porzingis at all, aside from their height. Neither players were at Porzingis’ level of usage and impact.
It’s not a good correlation point.
To get a broad picture, let’s look at the averages from all 69 players.
Stats Before and After Torn ACL – All Players
Here’s the breakdown:
Before and After Torn ACL – All Players
Points per game declined by 25.6%
Rebounds per game declined by 19%
Assists per game declined by 15.4%
Blocks per game declined by 25%
Field goal percentage declined by 7.1%
Long story short, there were declines in every category. I don’t think that will surprise anyone. After all, an ACL tear is a serious injury.
What happens when we apply these results to Kristaps Porzingis?
Before his ACL injury, Kristaps was averaging 32.4 minutes, 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 2.4 blocks per game. He shot 43.9% from the floor.
If we use our results to predict his output for the 2019-2020 season, here’s what his stat line might look like:
26.5 minutes per game
16.9 points per game
5.3 rebounds per game
1 assist per game
1.8 blocks per game
How would you feel if Porzingis averaged 17 points and 5 rebounds a game? Honestly, the shooting percentage is what has me concerned.
But remember, Kristaps is one of the youngest players to tear his ACL. Only 16 of the 69 players were 22 or younger. Our data includes players who were as old as 33.
There’s a big difference between 22 and 33, especially when healing from a major injury.
So how did production change for players who tore their ACL at age 22 or younger?
Let’s take a look.
Stats Before and After Torn ACL – Players Aged 22 or Younger
Here’s the breakdown:
Minutes per game declined by 5.4%
Points per game declined by 0%
Rebounds per game declined by 5.1%
Assists per game declined by 9.1%
Blocks per game declined by 0%
Field goal percentage declined by .9%
That paints a very different picture.
I can get excited about a season where Porzingis still averages over 21 points and 2 blocks per game. That’s his projection based on these results.
But let’s make the sample size a little larger. After all, 16 players isn’t that many. Let’s look at the 36 players who were 25 or younger when they tore their ACL.
That’s about half of the 69 players we looked at.
How different were those players in the season they returned?
Stats Before and After Torn ACL – Players Aged 25 or Younger
Here’s the breakdown:
Minutes per game declined by 12%
Points per game declined by 19.6%
Rebounds per game declined by 13%
Assists per game declined by 14.3%
Blocks per game declined by 20%
Field goal percentage declined by 5.1%
This is a more realistic projection for Kristaps’ production this season.
Here’s what we could see from him in the 2019-2020 season:
28.5 minutes per game
18.3 points per game
5.7 rebounds per game
1 assist per game
1.9 blocks per game
If I had to guess, this would be the segment I would base my hypothesis on.
But there’s a lot more to consider.
In reality, there are so many variables that make Kristaps unique in this situation.
- Only 16 players were Kristaps’ age or younger when they suffered their injury.
- Only 2 of them were over 7 feet.
- Only 7 players averaged 20 points per game or more before their injury.
(And one of those tore his ACL again the following season while another one, Derrick Rose, played less than 30 games, making that projection nearly obsolete.)
Not only that, but Kristaps will be in a new system with different players and better talent around him. Those factors in themselves can drastically impact production.
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At this point, you might be wondering if there’s a chance Kristaps reinjures his ACL. After all, I just mentioned Michael Redd and Derrick Rose – not a good sign.
Of the 97 players who have torn their ACL since 1970 – minus Kristaps and Klay Thompson – only 9 of them had the injury twice.
That’s less than 10%.
New Predictions for Kristaps Porzingis in 2019-2020
Let’s use this data to predict what Porzingis will do in the 2019-2020 NBA season.
First, here are Kristaps’ per-game averages for the Preseason:
16 points per game
9.5 rebounds per game
.5 blocks per game
The shooting percentages are the most troubling. But if you look at the projections above, that’s what took a big hit.
On the positive side, 9.5 rebounds would be a career-high by far. His current career high is 7.3 rebounds per game.
It was clear to those watching these games that Porzingis was shaking off a lot of rust. The shooting percentages reflect that, as do his 3.2 fouls per game, which would almost be a career-high.
The question is, then, How much of that will carry into the Regular Season? If the trend continues, how long will it take Kristaps to get back to himself?
Here are my predictions for Kristaps Porzingis in the 2020 NBA season:
19 points per game
9 rebounds per game
1.5 blocks per game
In Luka Doncic’s first season, Rick Carlisle kept him at 32 minutes per game. There was concern over Luka’s conditioning. They might take a similar approach with Kristaps, either because of conditioning or to be cautious.
I think Kristaps will get the opportunity to average more than 19 points a game. (I’m projecting he’ll get around 15 shots a game.) But I think his shooting percentages will hurt his scoring ability.
Nine rebounds per game would be a career-high for Kristaps, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He had some outstanding rebounding performances in the Preseason.
It’s possible he could break out of his shooting woes early in the season and never look back. But I’m relying on the historical data for this projection.
The data says he will struggle with his shooting. His Preseason numbers reflect that reality.
I wish I had enough confidence to say he’ll shoot better than 42% overall and make more than 35% of his 3-pointers. What are the odds he’ll buck the trend on that? I’m taking the under.
In reality, this is Kristaps’ comeback season and will probably not reflect his long-term production. If you look at other stars who tore their ACL, the first season back was difficult for some.
The same may be true for Porzingis.
Kristaps Porzingis Injury History – Should the Mavericks Be Concerned?
But there’s always the risk, right?
Should the Mavericks be concerned about Kristaps’ injury history?
Take a look at the injuries Kristaps has dealt with in his 3-year career.
Kristaps Porzingis Injuries
- 3/30/2016 – Right Shoulder Strain (Games Missed: 7)
- 1/11/2017 – Sore Left Achilles (Games Missed: 4)
- 11/8/2017 – Sprained Left Ankle (Games Missed: 1)
- 11/25/2017 – Low Back Tightness (Games Missed: 1)
- 11/29/2017 – Sore Ankle (Games Missed: 2)
- 12/14/2017 – Sore Left Knee (Games Missed: 2)
- 1/23/2018 – Left Knee Irritation (Games Missed: 1)
- 2/6/2018 – Torn Acl (Games Missed: 116)
After playing 72 games his rookie season, Kristaps played just 66 games the following season. He played 48 games in the 2018 season before tearing his ACL.
And then the Mavs traded the ninth pick in the 2017 draft to get him.
And then they signed him to a 5-year, $158 million contract.
Yeah, you could call that a risk.
We already know he struggles with anemia. Kristaps said in 2016 that he has to take iron pills regularly. That could be because of his diet. Or maybe it’s just another issue that will plague him in his career.
The question is, Is there something wrong with his body? Is he “injury-prone”?
“I was so weak and sleepy because of the blood – I wasn’t eating enough. I have a few moments when my iron levels are low, I get sleepy, and as soon as that happens, I take my iron pills and I’m fine.”
Kristaps Porzingis, 2016
There’s also the theory that taller players are more injury-prone. According to research by fivethirtyeight.com, lottery picks drafted since 2000 who were 7’ or taller missed 23.5 percent of their potential NBA games because of injury over the course of their career.
Players who were 6’8 or shorter missed only 13.5 percent of their potential games.
However, Kristaps’ injury issues could have more to do with the way he moves and uses his body.
Jeff Stotts is a certified Athletic Trainer and runs InStreetClothes.com, a website that covers sports injuries on a player-by-player and team-by-team basis. He commented on Kristaps’ string of injuries.
Stotts made that comment to Bleacher Report in February 2016, 2 years before Kristaps tore his ACL in, you guessed it, his left knee.
Rehabbing with the Mavericks
Porzingis took a very deliberate approach to rehab. He stressed the need for patience and balance.
He decided to take yoga and focus on how he moves.
Doctors say most athletes can return within 10 months of their ACL injury. Porzingis opted to miss an entire season, putting his rehab time at 20 months.
“The scar’s gonna be there but it’s more important that the scar’s not up in here so when you get back out on the court, you don’t even think about your knee.”
Kristaps Porzingis to The Players’ Tribune
If Kristaps’ Instagram feed is any sign, he’s been putting in long hours of strength training. Kristaps reportedly gained over 15 pounds of muscle this summer.
That’s a two-edged sword though.
That much weight creates a lot more force with every move he makes.
If height is a concern to Porzingis or Mavericks fans, professionals say it shouldn’t be.
– Dr. Armin Tehrany to The New York Post
What might play a role is his playing style.
Jeff Stotts said Kristaps should find a “happy medium” between explosiveness and strength.
Kristaps earned the nickname “The Unicorn” because of his unique style. He attacks the rim and uses his mobility to dominate the perimeter, rare for a 7-footer. But using his strength to stay in the post and score over stout defense might be a safer play.
Beyond his playing style, it’s clear he needs to get his body right. The Mavericks’ training staff worked to strengthen his core and change the way he moves.
This might be a big adjustment for Porzingis. He’s changing habits and tendencies he’s had for possibly his whole life. The way he runs will be different. The way he jumps will be different.
Or at least it should be.
The bottom line is, there’s a lot going on here. Strength, biomechanics, style, diet – it’s not as simple as putting on some extra muscle, which he’s done.
And as our above projections showed, Mavs fans might not see a Unicorn sighting this season.
But there have been plenty of stars who tore their ACL and came back better than ever.
Until Kristaps’ return to basketball is complete, there will be some unanswered questions. The good news is, that return is just around the corner.