Feel the Zing
*Photo via Getty Images
Hailed by boos in his first appearance donning Knick gear on draft night, Kristaps Porzingis fixed to “turn those boos into cheers” come opening night. Porzingis has done just that, and with every release of the ball on his new home court there’s a sudden gasp of “ah” as if every shot has the potential to be a game winner.
Now, the young Latvian stud, whom uneducated Knicks fans were ready to boo away from Madison Square Garden before his first appearance, is winning over skeptics and turning the heads of NBA legends and leisure fans alike (heck, even the lowly Stephen A. Smith has decided to pronounce his name correctly). If only those same Knick fans watched the five minutes of tape available before the draft, Porzingis would’ve had a warmer reception.
Man, whom am I kidding? They would have booed him regardless.
The point is: this ‘kid’ can play and that’s obvious from watching just five minutes of his game play. While the jury had already drawn the conclusion it would take Porzingis 2-3 years to develop into an effective NBA player, he’s already logged four double-doubles and his numbers has hailed a comparison to Knick great, Patrick Ewing (let’s not get ahead of ourselves though).
Porzingis has shocked viewers with his smoothness on the court. For standing 7’3 and, not to forget, for a rookie, Porzingis rarely seems to be out of position and moves with relative ease with and without the ball in his hands. This is vital to his quick start: while Kristaps may not play with the physicality of opposing players at his position, he most certainly has a height advantage; this, coupled with his deceiving athleticism and high basketball IQ allows him to make an immediate contribution.
That is exactly what he has done. Kristaps Porzingis has averaged just over 11 points and 8 rebounds over 24 minutes in each of the Knicks’ 11 games. Porzingis’ versatility allows him to have this presence as a rookie: he’s a threat from everywhere on the court. KP has shown us his three-ball, midrange game, inside game, and, famously, his put-back game.
Yet, what hinders this rookie, as well as many others, is his ability to adjust on the defensive side of the ball. Porzingis often finds himself in early foul trouble and is frequently caught for silly, ticky-tack fouls. Nonetheless, his inability to pressure the ball and stay in front of defenders allows this trouble. While KP’s length enables him to make up ground easily, he will have to learn to be more vigilant on the defensive end of the floor. This is where his sharpest learning curve will be.
While some believe he is bound to hit a ‘rookie wall’, and history tells us that he will, I believe Porzingis’ play will gradually become more consistent and impactful. Due to his already stated freakish dimensions, athleticism, and versatility, KP can get make up poor play easier where other rookies are unable to. Granted, this rookie is bound to have off nights, which we have already seen from him, but he is most certainly not a 2-3 year project.
We’ve heard both Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson applaud the Latvian’s work ethic but will Kristaps be able to learn and apply particular skills and tendencies through court experience? Porzingis’ exposure to more skilled, strong, and versatile players (i.e. Anthony Davis) will greatly enhance his repertoire defensively and offensively. There’s no doubt Derek Fisher had this in mind when constructing the starting line up and Porzingis’ importantly role in the Knicks’ scheme.
Given Phil Jackson’s poor assessment of last year’s Knicks squad being a playoff team, their number four draft pick was a concession. While Knick fans felt cheated from the top two picks, it's fair to say the organization’s ‘risky’ pick belongs among the names that were called before his. In that, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest ceiling and perhaps, the biggest immediate impact among the rookies in his class.