Kristaps Porzingis’ injury comes at pivotal time for Wizards

Porzingis' injury comes at pivotal time for Wizards originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

For a player with as detailed an injury history as Kristaps Porzingis, the Wizards should be pleased overall with what they have gotten from him so far this season. He has played in 41 of their 46 games, roughly 89% of them, while somewhat amazingly averaging the exact same number of points (22.1), rebounds (8.8) and blocks (1.5) that he did for them last year following his acquisition at the trade deadline. It doesn’t get more consistent than that.

They also may have avoided disaster with his latest injury, a sprained ankle, as it leaves him with a week-to-week prognosis, meaning he is not expected to be out long-term. But regardless of his timetable, the timing of the injury could make it very impactful, as the Wizards are now just nine games away from the Feb. 9 trade deadline and in a spot in the standings that would indicate a crossroads.

Porzingis being out one week would mean three games and two weeks would be seven games. Either way, he is going to miss the majority of their current five-game road trip and could miss the entire leadup to the trade deadline.

That all would be while the 20-26 Wizards decide which direction to go as they sit 12th in the Eastern Conference standings and two games out of the final spot for the play-in tournament. These next nine games should give the Wizards a good read on whether they can realistically make a playoff push or not.

If they feel they are within striking range, they could try to address some of their weaknesses. If it’s the latter, perhaps they decide to sell off more pieces following their trade of Rui Hachimura to the Lakers.

Porzingis going down does not spell doom, or at least it shouldn’t. The Wizards are actually 3-2 without him this season with wins over the Bulls, Suns and the Mavericks, whom they play on Tuesday night. Given Porzingis’ track record of injuries, the Wizards also had to plan for him to miss a host of games. Having Daniel Gafford and Taj Gibson behind him on the depth chart represents an insurance policy for this very moment.

Gafford is no longer a backup big man, he’s been a starter for his last 14 games and he’s done well in that role. The Wizards have gone 8-6 with him averaging 11.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks along the way, shooting a preposterous 77% from the field.

Gafford’s recent success can surely be attributed in part to him playing alongside Porzingis, but clearly there is also something to him being in the lineup with playmakers like Monte Morris and Kyle Kuzma. Those two regularly find him high-percentage baskets around the rim and Bradley Beal should factor into that cause now that he is back from injury.

With Porzingis out, it will be paramount for Gafford to stay out of foul trouble. His fouls per-36 minutes (4.6) are the highest he has averaged since he arrived in Washington. He fouled out of the team’s win over the Magic on Saturday. If Gafford picks up quick fouls early in the first quarter, it will put the Wizards at a major disadvantage.

The most important task for Gafford and Gibson will arguably be to hold down the fort defensively, as Beal and Kuzma can shoulder a heavier load on the offensive end. The Wizards allow the seventh-fewest field goals in the restricted area (16.6) this season. Per Second Spectrum, Porzingis holds opposing players to the lowest field goal percentage (42.9) among Wizards’ big men, which is 5.8% lower than those players shoot on average for the season.

With Porzingis as a mainstay in the middle, the Wizards have leveled out to be a fairly decent defensive team. They rank 15th in defensive rating, per Basketball Reference, which is 10 spots higher than they were last year, at 25th. This year it is the Wizards’ offense, which is 21st in efficiency, that lags behind.

The Wizards came into this season with expectations of making the playoffs and they will have to determine exactly how feasible that will be as they approach the trade deadline. They now have to make that evaluation without one of their best players in the mix.

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