Kristaps Porzingis has overcome health issues before, can he do it again?

Porzingis has overcome odds before, can he do it again? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — This summer, with a full NBA offseason to work with for the first time in years, Kristaps Porzingis went back to his roots. He traveled to where he first started playing basketball, his home country of Latvia, as well as where his professional basketball career began, in Spain.

In Latvia, he spent time with family, played some for his national team and hosted Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. During his stay, Porzingis was struck by the societal division over the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia. As he notes, over a quarter of the people in Latvia are Russian.

“It’s a tough, tough moment to be in right now because it separates a lot of people,” he told NBC Sports Washington. “You can’t be neutral… Hopefully this thing ends as soon as possible.”

Porzingis went to Spain first to wait out the cold weather in Latvia. While Porzingis has been an NBA player since 2015, he has played professionally since 2010. That means there is more context to his professional career than his days with the Knicks, Mavericks and now the Wizards.

His NBA reputation has been well-established; that he’s extremely talented, but has had some problems avoiding injuries. Porzingis has spoken openly about rewriting that narrative.

In February, at his introductory press conference after being traded to the Wizards, Porzingis said of staying healthy: “that’s the thing I have to prove.”

Around the same time, Wizards president Tommy Sheppard explained the chance they took on Porzingis in an interview with NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller by offering an optimistic parallel.

“You go around the league, Joel Embiid missed a couple years and I think people saw the talent was there,” Sheppard said. “It makes it worth waiting. So certainly, we look at things through a similar lens. Is the talent good enough to take the risk? In this case, there’s no question.”

Porzingis’ return to Spain this summer could have some symbolism, as it was there where he first overcame health issues to carve his path towards the NBA. As a teenager, he was diagnosed with anemia after months of struggling with fatigue to begin his pro career.

“I was super weak. I would run up and down the court once and my muscles would like almost cramp up. I had no energy, I was always weak. I was like, why can’t I keep up with the rest of the team? I don’t know what’s going on,” Porzingis said.

A nutritionist for his team in Sevilla ordered a blood test, which showed he had low levels of B-12 and iron. Porzingis has since been able to manage the condition with supplements and better nutrition.

“I just day-by-day I woke up feeling better and better and better. It was like this is how I’m supposed to feel. It completely changed me physically, one, and also as a person because I opened up so much more,” he said.

Porzingis’ bout with anemia was diagnosed and taken care of. Overcoming his tendency to get injured may not be as straightforward. Since returning from ACL surgery in 2019, he has missed a third of his team’s regular season games.

According to injury logs, he missed time last season due to various ailments affecting his knee, ankle, back and toe. Since his ACL injury, he has generally missed short periods of time for relatively minor injuries, but they have added up to perpetuate questions about his availability.

Porzingis believes some of that has simply been bad luck, the result of inadvertent contact with opposing players. He’s hopeful the tide will turn at some point, that he will be able to enjoy more durability over a long period of his career.

The talent is undeniable. Porzingis, still only 27 years old, is one of only 10 players in NBA history to average at least 18.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game for his career. The other nine are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Anthony Davis, Yao Ming and Embiid.

Porzingis just has to stay healthy, though that has been easier said than done. Though he avoided serious injury, he had another scare on Monday night in the Wizards’ preseason win over the Hornets. He was driving in the lane when he stepped on Terry Rozier’s shoe, twisting his left ankle.

Porzingis said he could have stayed in the game if it weren’t the preseason, but it was a reminder how one unlucky step can make a difference. Per usual, his exit to the locker room brought a firestorm of speculation on social media.

The only way Porzingis can change that for good is to stay on the court. He’s optimistic and so are the Wizards. If it happens, they will have a player they feel is worth taking a chance on.

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