As many NBA players have in the past, Kristaps Porzingis has made great strides in his second season. The Knicks find themselves at 15-13 and in the thick of the Eastern Conference Playoff race in large part because of Porzingis’s improvements. Perhaps Kristap’s greatest improvement has been his ability to stay on the floor longer than his rookie season. Prior to coming into the NBA, Porzingis was playing professionally in Europe. In Europe his team played just 34 games a season compared to the rigorous 82 game NBA schedule. At many points of his rookie campaign, Porzingis seemed extremely winded and unable to play long stretches without a rest. So far this year, Porzingis has managed to play and start in all 28 games and has increased his minutes per game from 28.4 as a rookie to 34.6 this season. He also seems to be making a lot less careless fouls that plagued him in his first season.
Porzingis has not only increased his endurance, but also his strength. During NBA draft workouts, Porzingis weighed in at 230lb. Today Porzingis has increased his weight to 240lb. Porzingis looks stronger than he did last season, which will only help him deal with opposing brutes on both ends of the court. Porzingis just turned 21 years old this August, so it seems safe to assume that he will be able to add more muscle mass as he matures into his body. His increased endurance and strength have first year coach Jeff Hornacek more comfortable leaving Porzingis on the floor as a center in smaller lineups. Despite the presence of three capable centers in Joakim Noah, Kyle O’Quinn, and Willy Hernangomez, many of New York’s most effective units have been with Porzingis at the five. These lineups offer the Knicks more speed and spacing. As Porzingis continues to add weight and NBA experience, the Knicks may come to realize that their best long-term solution is playing Porzingis almost exclusively as a center.
Kristaps has also made great improvements as a scorer. His field goal percentage has increased from 42.1% to 45.2%, his three point percentage went from 33.3% to 39.2%, while his total scoring has gone up from 14.3 PPG to 20.2 PPG. Porzingis looks more confident in his shot and seems to always make tough baskets when it counts. Even in games where his shot is off he stays confident and gets important points down the stretch.
Proclaiming Porzingis a perennial All-Star is still premature, but the potential is certainly there. Porzingis is already a very good player and his unique combination of skill, size, two-way play and youth give him the tools to become a great one. Given his strides from his first to second NBA season, it appears that he is on the right path.