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NBA Comeback Player of the Year Part 3: Kristaps Porzingis

NOTE: This is the last in a three-part series by Kyle Wright and Sam Shin regarding potential candidates for Comeback Player of the Year in the NBA for the 2019-2020 season. While we are aware there is no such distinction, we thought it would be interesting to consider who would receive the award if there was to be such a recognition.

Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

Kristaps Porzingis

51 G | 31.3 MPG | 19.2 PPG | 9.5 RPG | 2.1 BPG | 42% FG

Kyle: My choice for Comeback Player of the Year, Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis was of course drafted by the Knicks with the 4th pick in the 2015 draft. During his time in New York, Porzingis dealt with numerous injuries and had an extremely rocky relationship with the front office and ownership. In February of 2018, Porzingis tore his ACL, leading to him missing  the rest of the season. A year later, after the relationship became unbearable, Porzingis was traded to Dallas, where he continued to sit out and rehab for the rest of the season.

After a season and a half away from the game Porzingis made his return to the floor this season with the Mavericks. Taking a second banana role to the sensational Luka Doncic, Porzingis played in 51 of a possible 67 games, where he enjoyed a productive per-36 of 22.1 PPG, 10.9 RPG (a career-high), as well as 2.4 BPG. He shot .349% from deep, attempting them at an obliterating his previous high career rate of .447%.  Porzingis also posted a career-high REB% and AST%, in part thanks to his new role as the second option.

Porzingis showed clear signs of rust early on, enduring a slow start to the season. He averaged  17 PPG and shot below 40% from the field for the first three months of the season. However, during the last 15 games, (before the season was suspended) Porzingis averaged 25 PTS and 11 REB a game. He had begun to look like his former self again. He also showed  great chemistry with running mate Doncic, giving Dallas the hope that they had officially found their duo of the future.

After being away from the game for so long, and with the list of injuries he had already piled on his massive frame, there were plenty of doubts as to whether or not Porzingis would return to his previous All-Star caliber level. It took some time, but Porzingis clearly has shown he is  well on his way to being an All-Star player again. He might not be able to be the #1 guy on a championship team, but he will be a terrifying #2 next to Luka for years to come. Due to the high level of production, and length of time away from the game, Porzingis is for me hands down the choice for this season’s Comeback Player of the Year.

Sam: Needless to say, I think Kristaps Porzingis goes first on this list. After going down with a torn ACL on February 6, 2018 and missing the entirety of the 2018-2019 season, there were many questions as to how much of the “old Porzingis” we would see. Here’s a little snippet to show you how much of an impact he’s had on the Dallas Mavericks this season; the Mavs’ net rating plummets from 8.6 when he’s on the court to 3.9 when he’s off the court. Simply put: he’s been pretty freakin’ good.

Paired with Slovenian sensation Luka Doncic, Porzingis has flourished in Dallas so far, as  the Mavs currently sit just 2.5 games back of the 4th seed in the West. Averaging almost 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, Porzingis has shown the tantalizing potential to space the floor as well as attack off the dribble – a unique combination for a 7-footer. Though he’s lost a bit of the  explosiveness he displayed in New York, he has still maintained his creativity on the offensive end.

For a player that missed over a year of NBA action, Porzingis has been absolutely phenomenal and instrumental in the Mavs’ solid season. Not only has he been productive on the offensive end, but he’s also continued to be a menace on the defensive end. His Defensive Win Shares (2.6) and Defensive Box Plus/Minus (0.3) are as high as they’ve been since his rookie season, when he exploded onto the NBA stage. Just check out this clip and see how Porzingis sees the pick and roll action, rotates over from his man, and makes the clean block from behind on Jonas Valanciunas:

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