No Sophomore Slump In the Porzingis World

Regardless of how the Phil Jackson era will be interpreted once Jackson has left the Knicks franchise, he will forever have an enduring footprint. He was the one responsible for Kristaps Porzingis. Amidst the hollow days of the Knicks future with veterans barely hanging on to their prime, Porzingis represents hope for a team that is trying to retain normalcy. They have won four out of the last five games and have wins the last five home games after being manhandled by Utah. The Knicks issues are on the road where they are 1-5.  They have given up 117 points, 115 points, 118 and 119 points away from MSG. Not suprisingly, on the year the Knicks defensive rating is 110.1, good for 27th in the league, and they are ranked 27th in defensive effiiciency.

Other numbers. The Knicks are 21st in scoring and 21st in points allowed which is a combination that will get you somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 wins and that may be enough for an 8th seed in the east.  The Knicks are 18th in field goal percentage defense. Teams shoot 45.1% against them. They are 22nd in 3-point defense, unable to protect the perimeter in a league dominated by guards scoring on the perimeter. That is a recipe for disaster.

The Knicks aren’t a disaster, despite the low numbers on defense. It’s not as dismal as it was a few years ago because the Knicks have something they haven’t had in a while now: a future.

Kristaps Porzingis, the pick everyone booed on draft night, is having a solid second year to build on his NBA resume. He is a 21 point scorer. Three lottery picks from the 2015 draft class can say the same. Karl-Anthony Towns. Devin Booker. And Porzingis. His 21.0 points are a result of 50.2% shot making. He has improved his 3-point shooting and is at 39.0%. His 7.3 rebounds are nearly the same number as his rookie season. However, he should be in the 7.5-8.4 rebounds territory. He is blocking over a shot a game when last year he blocked nearly two shots per game. His PER of 21.9 is the highest on the team and yet his defense needs work.

Can we all admit that with Porzingis in the top 5 of the lottery, Phil Jackson knew what he was doing?

Porzingis is frequently compared to Dirk Nowitzki and here are the numbers in Nowitzki’s second year.

Year 2 Minutes Points 3-Point % Rebounds Offensive Rating
Dirk Nowitzki 35.8 17.5 37.9% 6.5 112
Kristaps Porzingis 32.9 21.0 39.0% 7.3 121

In Hornacek’s offense, Porzingis is playing four more minutes than he played his rookie year. He is taking 2.6 more shots. What is his skill level?

He’s okay with his catch and shoot jumper, 40.9%. But everything else, he is elite level. 44.7% on pull ups. 64.6% when he is within ten feet of the rim. The most impressive thing about Porzingis and what puts him on the track of All-Star is he makes contested shots. It doesn’t matter how tightly or how loosely he is guarded. He scores regardless. His seven foot frame works for him ala Dirk. He is a tough cover.

Are the Knicks depending on him in the offense though? Have they transitioned away from featuring Carmelo to featuring Porzingis?

This is what the numbers say. Carmelo Anthony touches the ball on average 58 times a game and dribbles 1.72 times he touches it. Kristaps Prozingist touches the ball 58 times a game and dribbles .40 times he touches it. (Derrick Rose’s touches are 77 times a game with 3.42 dribbles).

It is great news for the Knicks going forward that they are easing back on the Carmelo dominance and making Porzingis an equal partner. It hasn’t resulted in wins because the three players who touch the ball the most, Rose, Anthony and Porzingis aren’t good defenders.

Derrick Rose has a defensive rating of 113; while he is on the floor, his team will give up 113 points. Carmelo Anthony’s defensive ratings is 111. Kristaps Porzingis defensive rating is 110. That is the reason the Knicks can’t compete on a night to night basis, particularly on the road. The players with the ball in their hands the most are not grinding it out on the defensive end.

That has to improve. As for Porzingis, he is just getting better. It will be of note how he manages his fatigue. Last year after the All-Star break, he looked gassed. But as of right now he is looking sensational. He had 35 and 7 in a game against the Pistons. He played 40 minutes and shot 59% and drilled 42% of his threes. The game before that, against a horrible Mavericks team, and with Nowitzki in street clothes, he had a double-double, 24 and 11. He had 27 points on 66% shooting in Chicago and 57% from three. Two nights later, his 28 points was a result of 42.9% from three against a tough defensive minded Utah team. Against the Hawks, in 30 minutes, he had a double-double. He played 39 minutes against the Blazers and recorded 31 points and 9 rebounds.

It’s one thing to call someone the steal of the draft their rookie year. It’s altogether different to call them better a year later.

How does Porzingis stack up to Karl-Anthony Towns in year two?

Who is Going to Be An All-Star First? Points FG% Rebounds Blocks Win %
Karl-Anthony Towns 21.3 50.6% 9.4 1.4 28.6%
Kristaps Porzingis 21.0 50.2% 7.3 1.1 50.0%

If and when Jackson leaves the Knicks, he will leave his legacy behind. That legacy won’t be the title he hoped for. And it won’t be a Warriors-like offensively dominant club. Phil Jackson will leave behind, perhaps, the greatest draft pick of his NBA career. Kristaps Porzingis.

photo via llananba