Kristaps Porzingis has been the most impactful addition to an NBA team this season, and it isn’t particularly close. Sure, more talented players like Damian Lillard, James Harden, and Bradley Beal have changed teams, but none of them have had nearly as seamless or logical a transition to their new squads as KP has.
This era of the Boston Celtics (the Tatum and Brown years) hadn’t had a dynamic big man like Kristaps Porzingis until this season. Last year, the Celtics were 23rd in post up attempts, and this year they’ve jumped to 3rd in the league. The post up, despite losing its value in recent years, is still an effective way to slow down the game and keep the defense thinking, but Boston didn’t have a reliable post up big until KP came to town.
A Porzingis post up has scored a whopping 1.61 points per possession (PPP) this season, good for number one in the entire league. Even though he looks weak and loose with the ball at times, the numbers suggest that a Kristaps’ post up is one of the most efficient plays – not just post ups – in the NBA.
This year, Boston has also drastically improved their pick-and-roll game. They went from 21st last season in pick and roll (roll man) volume to 8th this season; and, more importantly, they went from the 20th most effective team at this play to the 5th most effective. The threat of Kristaps rolling to the rim – as opposed to a less-athletic Al Horford or a smaller Rob Williams – is daunting. Not only does he have to be worried about in the short roll as a passer and shooter, but he spaces the floor vertically, too (don’t forget, KP is 7 ‘3).
The general spacing on the court, though, has been Porzingis’ largest contribution to the men in green. Yes, the Celtics have run five-out offense with Al Horford in the past, but not like this. Horford is a serviceable three-point shooter, but his slow release makes him easier to guard on the perimeter than his height would suggest he should be. Kristaps’ shooting gravity is simply much greater than Al’s, and that has paid dividends for Boston’s playmakers; he has the shot release of a guard with the size and length of a traditional center. Also, instead of going to Rob Williams in the second unit, the Celtics are going to Horford, which means five-out spacing – which is most effective for Jayson, Jaylen, and Jrue to operate within – is the dominant form of offense for 48 minutes.
The increase in spacing, post ups, and rolls to the hoop (as a result of the addition of Porzingis) have all gone a long way in making the Celtics less predictable and more malleable. They’re better able to punish opposing defenses in a more diverse set of ways, and that’ll go a long way when it comes to competing against four different teams on their way to an NBA championship. They finally have a counter to switch-heavy defenses that have a myriad of wing defenders; unlike Al Horford or Robert Williams, Kristaps Porzingis can actually punish smaller defenders by just shooting over them.
Kristaps Porzingis has brought a level of rim protection to the court that Boston hadn’t previously had. Yes, the Celtics had well-known shot blocker Rob Williams, but he was (and is) far from a rim protector – there is a difference. Last season, Williams defended 3.1 shots per game at the rim, good for eighth on the C’s; this year, Kristaps Porzingis leads Boston with 7.9 shots defended at the rim per game. Dissuading opposing players from taking shots at the rim is a significant part of being a rim protector, and that’s exactly what Porzingis does. Oh, and by the way, players are shooting 11% worse than they should at the rim against KP. Don’t let the thin, awkward frame fool you – KP is one of the best rim defenders in the NBA.
Furthermore, opposing teams are shooting 57% at the rim against the Celtics, down from 62% last year. The mere presence of Kristaps in the paint is a threat to penetrators in a way that Al Horford and Rob Williams – despite being very solid defenders – were not. Kristaps’ size and positioning, as opposed to his leaping ability, make him quite effective at guarding the hoop.
The Celtics finally have the offensive diversity and defensive rim protection they’ve been longing for, and that’s all thanks to Brad Stevens, the mastermind behind the most impactful addition of the 2024 NBA season.