Kristaps Porzingis: The Future Has Arrived

When the New York Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick, it was with the expectation that he needed time to develop.  Instead, Porzingis hit the ground running in the league’s toughest media market.  So far, the Latvian has scored 14 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and blocked nearly 2 shots per contest.  Porzingis also has stretches when he looks like a star already: in three games from January 8-12, he scored a whopping 69 points including 8 three-pointers.  He has certainly been a dynamic presence at the world’s most famous arena.  Porzingis has set such a high bar overall with his play to this point that it’s hard not to wonder whether his production will dwindle.  The fact is, he has already hit a couple of speed bumps and proved that he can make adjustments in the process.  That’s good for the Knicks, because they need him to play at this level in order to have a chance at the postseason.

Kristaps Porzingis Points FG% 3-Point % Rebounds
vs. Spurs, Jan. 8th 28 52.4% 42.9% 11
vs. Celtics, Jan 12th 26 55.6% 33.3% 6

The Knicks needed double overtime to beat the Sixers on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but Porzingis had several eye-popping plays in the first quarter alone.  First off, he took a pass from Jose Calderon and drove to the hoop for an emphatic slam.  Three minutes later, Robin Lopez found him for another dunk to excite the home crowd.  In the final minute, he showed off his range by draining a shot behind the arc.  He injured his foot near the end of regulation jostling for a rebound with Nerlens Noel, and the Knicks missed him.  Only a Carmelo Anthony three in the final seconds saved New York from a loss.  There was relief throughout Manhattan when he was able to suit up for the next game against Utah.  He celebrated by blocking layups from Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward less than a minute apart and the Knicks won in overtime.

Porzingis works so hard even in practice that it’s natural to wonder whether he might start reaching his limit physically.  After all, he has already played more minutes this season than he did in Euroleague last year.  I still don’t expect his production to suffer greatly unless he is forced to miss time altogether.  If Porzingis didn’t have the talent to play against the best, he wouldn’t be having this level of sustained success in the first place.  I also wouldn’t expect him to panic if he does go through a slump.  After all, Portland held him scoreless for the only time this season back on December 12.  Less than two weeks later, he dropped 23 on the Cavaliers.

The bigger question about this season is whether quality play from Porzingis is enough to vault the Knicks into the postseason.  The Knicks currently sit at 22-24 which is 2.0 games behind Miami, the current eighth seed.  ABC analyst and former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy used a recent conference call to state: “I think they will make the playoffs.”

Carmelo Anthony is an All-Star starter and Arron Afflalo has been the team’s top guard.  However, Porzingis is the only other Knick to average double digit points.  That’s partially because bigs like Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams, and Kyle O’Quinn have been in a time share situation under coach Derek Fisher.  It also speaks to how vulnerable the Knicks would become if Porzingis were sidelined.

New York has played admirable defense, ranking 12th in points allowed after finishing 21st last season.  Porzingis has been a part of this improvement, forcing an opponent field goal percentage nearly 10% lower than average on shots near the hoop.  The Knicks are 20th on offense, which is still an improvement considering their dead last finish in 2014-15.

Porzingis is nothing if not confident, and it shows on a nightly basis.  Porzingis credits his older brothers Janis and Martins for preparing him to be a professional, and he contributed to the Spanish Cajasol Sevilla team at a very young age.  It’s also telling that Porzingis pulled out of the 2014 draft in order to obtain more seasoning.  Porzingis followed that decision with his strongest season in Europe by far, scoring over 10 points per game even though he was usually limited to 20 minutes.

There are still possible areas of improvement including post offense and a great passing role, but nobody in New York is quibbling with his talent right now.  The fans are too busy enjoying the ride whether it takes them into late April or not.

photo via llananba