Kristaps Porzingis is still working his way back from a knee injury, and he was limited to one-on-one work with coaches on Wednesday, Washington Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. told reporters. Porzingis hasn't played since Jan. 29, and, according to Unseld, must play 3-on-3 and then full-contact 5-on-5 before he makes his Wizards debut.
"After the break, we were concerned about just throwing him out there," Unseld said. "So, still kind of ramping things up for him. He looked good in what he did, the 1v1 type stuff, so I think we'll reevaluate where he is tomorrow and then go from there. But it was a good sign to see him do a little bit more today."
Unseld would not officially rule Porzingis out for Washington's upcoming back-to-back, in which it will host the San Antonio Spurs on Friday and then the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. He said Porzingis did two workouts on Wednesday, and, after seeing how his body responds on Thursday, the team will "hopefully have a little bit more information on where he stands and how he feels." The one-on-one work is "just another step," Unseld said. "It's more than he did before. And every day we're trying to get to another threshold."
The Wizards sent Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans to the Dallas Mavericks for Porzingis and a protected second-round pick before the Feb. 10 trade deadline. The Mavericks initially described Porzingis' injury as "knee soreness" and later called it a bone bruise. His ramp-up is process with his new team is nothing more than "the normal reintegration we've done with all of our guys when they've been out for this amount of time," Unseld said.
Unseld added: "I want to make sure that he's exactly where he needs to be when we reintegrate him into the 5-on-5."
When Porzingis returns, Unseld's coaching staff will need to figure out where he fits in. Washington had a logjam at center before trading Montrezl Harrell to the Charlotte Hornets, and, if Porzingis is primarily playing that position, it will have one again. Daniel Gafford, who had been removed from the rotation entirely to make room for Thomas Bryant, took back his starting spot (after a stint in health and safety protocols) in the Wizards' 117-103 win against the Brooklyn Nets last Thursday, their most recent game.
If Porzingis mostly plays center, then Gafford and/or Bryant will lose minutes. If he mostly plays power forward, then there will be trickle-down effects: Kyle Kuzma and Rui Hachimura will have to play more of their minutes on the wing. Implicit in the positional question are more important questions: How does Unseld want to use Porzingis on offense and on defense?
"We go back man forth on that," Unseld said. "I don't want to peg him one way or the other. I think he can play both positions. He's had success at both positions. I think from an offensive perspective, his ability to stretch the floor, play off the bounce a little bit (and) post up gives you the versatility to just put him out there. In a smallball game, it's easy to say he's the 5. You can cross-match a lot, I think, defensively, but I don't want to put him necessarily in a box and say he's going to be our 5, he's going to be our 4. Once we get him cleared [for] full contact and get him back in the fold, I think that'll shake itself out."
Unseld said that "downsizing with him at the 5 is good for us," but that playing him next to Gafford would give the team a "unique" dynamic.
With the Mavericks this season, Porzingis played 60 percent of his minutes at center (including the lineups featuring Maxi Kleber) and 40 percent of them at power forward. Dallas was 1.9 points per 100 possessions better on offense with him at center, but it was 3.3 points per 100 possessions better on defense with him at power forward. Broadly speaking, this is the trade-off that all of Porzingis' coaches have had to consider. Whatever the Wizards do, it will give us a hint as to what kind of team they want to be.