Kristaps Porzingis and the Rookie Wall

In a war with their bodies, once the All-Star break is over, the physical consequences begin to sink in as rookies try to balance fatigue, exhaustion and performance. Pat Riley called “the peripheral opponent” everything not associated with the game; that too can effect concentration. The NBA season is too long, too physical, too tiring. Rookies feel its wrath.

They call it the rookie wall and as much as it is talked about and affects many players, it also avoids others in its random hopscotch him, not him, him, of course him matrix. If a first year player runs straight into it head on, the effects are pretty simple to measure even if the eyes aren’t bloody and battered. The likelihood of the rookie wall tapping a starter on the shoulder, one who plays 24 minutes for a much talked about franchise like the Knicks, is pretty high.

Here, at the rookie wall, is where you will find Kristaps Porzingis. He has played more games than Carmelo Anthony, Arron Afflalo, Jose Calderon, Lance Thomas and Jerian Grant.

A rookie wall isn’t an excuse. It is science: immovable object vs. unstoppable force. The NBA is a marathon even as the body puts up road blocks, or like Roberto Duran said in the day with hands up,  “No mas, no mas.”

It’s not to imply that Porzingis isn’t productive, he is. But he is not as efficient as he was.

After the All-Star break, his shooting has stayed constant, 42%. Not great for a seven footer; those are guard numbers. Most seven footers crack the 50% plateau just because of their height. But Porizingis spaces the floor and takes a lot of jumpers, so he isn’t a normal big man. Where he has taken a nose dive is in his three point shooting. It has plummeted, from 34% to 27%. Missed threes, long bounces off the rim, fast break opportunities for the other team translate into easy points since the Knicks lack explosion on the wing.

Kristaps Porzingis Points FG% 3-Point% Rebounds +/-
Before All-Star Break 13.9 42.6% 34.9% 7.6 1.2
After All-Star Break 14.5 42.6% 27.6% 5.0 -8.4

The rookie wall kills energy. Porzingis’ rebounding has been a mirage. He is averaging 1 offensive rebound and 5 defensive rebounds, a huge drop from 2 offensive rebounds and 7.6 rebounds a game. This too, has desperately hurt the Knicks. Porzingis minutes have been cut but his usage rate is higher as the Knicks depend on him more than they should.

His defensive rating has taken a nose dive from the stellar marks in the early part of the season that had Knicks fans in perpetual ecstasy dreaming of a playoff birth and a matchup with LeBron in the Garden mid-April.

October-December, Porzingis defensive rating was 101. January through early March it is 106. His 106 rating is leaps and bounds ahead of rookie number one pick Karl Anthony Towns, whose rating in the same month(s) is 112. The number 3 pick in the draft, Jahlil Okafor has a defensive rating of 113. So, defensively, Porzingis is in a better place than the other rookies he is being judged against. It’s more evidence on how special he was early on, posting a defensive rating of just over 100.

Big Men Lottery Picks Draft Pick Pre-All Star Break, Defensive Rating Post- All Star Break , Defensive Rating
Karl-Anthony Towns #1 106 114
Jahlil Okafor #3 109 125
Kristaps Porzingis #4 103 109

After the break, Porzingis’ blocked shots have decreased slightly from 1.9 to 1.7. His assists are the same, as is his turnover margin. Also the same, is the Knicks losing games.

They are 3-6. Half of their losses have been double digit beat downs. The Toronto game was a humiliating 27 point loss, and the 11 point loss to the worst team in the East, the Brooklyn Nets, set the tone for how grim the last few games on the schedule are going to be.

So, it makes sense to let Porizngis get through this six city road trip, play the Kings at home, the Bulls on the road, and then shut him down. He is the franchise. No need to put unnecessary wear and tear on his body. Tired, fatigued players tear things and twist things and enter the off-season having to do more than work on their jumper and footwork. The Knicks are 8 games out of the 8th seed. Sometime on the road trip, they will be eliminated. Start planning for next year with a new coach and an offense centered around Porzingis.

Free agency is going to require a sell job with Porzingis front and center. Wanting to lure players because of Carmelo is a ship that has already sailed. Porzingis is the player who can lure players in because of his versatility. Why not play it safe and begin planning for next year?


photo via llananba