• Greg Alcala

What to Expect from Kristaps Porzingis’ Rookie Campaign

*Photo via NYPost

Latvian native Kristaps Porzingis was the New York Knicks 4th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Before he even laced up his sneakers for his first NBA experience in the Summer League, naysayers immediately spewed their displeasure with the Knicks choice.

“Boo’s” rained down on the then 19-year old on draft night, but in-time, those same boo’s became “ahhhhhhhhhh’s” once ‘The Zinger’ displayed his basketball abilities here, in America.

Porzi averaged 10.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 20.5 minutes, over four summer league games and could’ve produced more in extended play. Unlike his peers in Jahlil Okafor, Emmanuel Mudiay, Karl Anthony-Towns and even Bobby Portis, Porzi didn’t star in the summer league, but he managed to impress nonetheless. With his play, Porzingis validated why he earned consideration for the top pick in the draft.

At 7’3”, he showed competence on the defensive end, thrusting his arms straight up to ward off shots in the lane and disrupt penetration from opposing guards. Against Jahlil Okafor in the summer league, Porzingis was dominated in the first half of the game by Okafor’s size, strength and advanced post-moves. In the second half, Porzi recovered nicely and adjusted. On three separate occasions, the wiry foreigner blocked Okafor and made life tough for the former Blue Devil on the offensive end.

What Porzingis lacks in strength he supplements with a freakish wingspan and solid basketball I.Q. What excites me most about the 20 year old is his willingness to play within the trenches and get his hands dirty. Porzi strayed away from the “soft European” reputation that plagues many European big men, thanks to guys like Darko Milicic and former Knicks favorite, Andrea Bargnani.

Where Porzingis’ talent truly shines is on the offensive end. He moved well without the ball, and ran off screens to sink a couple mid-range jumpers. He exhibited his range, extending out to the three-point line on several occasions and even put the ball on the floor to show the versatility that a top-5 pick should possess. One of my favorite Porzingis moments came in that same matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers in Summer League.

The Knicks had possession, and Porzi was operating on the high post, calling for the ball. He was beat out of position by Okafor and when he received the orange, Porzingis was near the three-point line. He faced up on Okafor, and with no hesitation, rose up and drained a long ranged two.

When you look at Porzingis, you can obviously detail his weaknesses. He needs to get stronger, develop more of a post-game, etc., but it’s plays like that over Okafor that give you the impression that Porzi is for-real, even though it will take some time for him to develop into the player we all envision him to be.

Porzingis’ ceiling is something between Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki and a little bit of Pau Gasol. However, those dreams are somewhere in the future waiting for Porzi to grasp it so don’t expect the culmination to take place this upcoming 2015-16 campaign.

I think Porzi is in for a solid rookie season, even if the numbers won’t be sexy enough for Knicks fans. Something like 9.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 block per game and even a Second-Team-All-Rookie are possible. It’s evident that Porzingis is extremely talented on the offensive end, but the fact is that the guys he’ll be up against are better athletes, more intelligent and bigger/stronger than his Summer League opposition. Therefore, it’s unlikely that Porzingis will outperform his numbers from Summer League, but it could happen.

Depending on how he progresses during the season, he’ll probably average something around 20-24 minutes per game coming off the bench. My biggest concern is whether or not he can sustain the beating that NBA big men will dish out over the course of an 82 game season. His body isn’t NBA ready yet, so he could experience his fair share of injuries this year.

The important thing to look for with Porzingis is progress. He already flashed his potential in Summer League, but it’s likely that he’ll struggle at first in the NBA. If he adapts and improves throughout the season, that will bode well for Knicks fans.

The Knicks overall success will not depend on Porzingis, but he will definitely be an integral part of the Knicks future success and his playing time and production will all depend on his development and most importantly: dumbbells and that New York diet.

Stats and Info courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, SI.com , ESPN.com, NBC.com, CBS.com

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