Kristaps Porzingis: A Talent Like No Other
Despite constant scrutiny from the New York media, the young Latvian star has given Knicks fans a reason to dream.
The 2014-15 season for the New York Knicks was without a doubt the worst season that anyone had seen. You could describe it as a horror story, and the fans were fed up with attending games or supporting their team - which is completely understandable. The Knicks finished with a 17-65 win loss record, the worst in franchise history. The typical New York criticism that would follow did not help, but the silver lining was their number 4 draft pick entering the off season.
Entering the 2015 NBA draft, many expected that the Knicks would go after the sizeable presence in Jahlil Okafor with the 4th pick, however with the drama that goes on during Draft night, no one could be really certain. Despite this, common sense would think that the Knicks were in no position to mess around based on their abysmal finish to the season.
With Phil Jackson being named the team's General Manager, the fan base saw a glimmer of hope, as this man brings quite a championship-filled resume’ in order to get the team on the right track. So we enter draft night, with the Wolves taking Karl Anthony-Towns, Lakers taking D’angelo Russell and the 76ers taking Jahill Okafor it would all come down to the Knicks - who are they going to take? NBA commissioner Adam Silver would walk down to the podium and read “With the 4th pick of the NBA draft, The New York Knicks select Kristaps Porzingis”
Time almost stopped for a minute, The boos would echo throughout Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and you could even hear it from the broadcaster's table when they were announcing the scouting report. Here we go again, the draft night woes would continue for the Knicks, much to the disappointed faces and reactions from the fans who have struggled for so long, thinking that the board would choose someone that wasn’t European as history has advised them in the past.
Personally, we felt bad for Porzingis. Being so excited to play for the Knicks but to hear the boos from the crowd would have been severely disheartening. Luckily Porzingis would channel the inner hate, remain calm and assure the fans that “I am different” and let us tell you - different he was.
With the NBA 2015-16 season underway, there was much anticipation to see Porzingis perform and discover how he would play amongst the sizable bodies. Extremely well would be the answer. Throughout his rookie season he was proving everybody wrong which is how he became such a cult figure to the Knicks, a 7’3 Center that can play the 4th and 3rd due to his amazing athleticism, ability to move quickly, ball handling skills and a shot that would make him so effective.
He would have consistent games every night and flashes that would see him compete up against the big men of the NBA. The whole league was in awe - who would expect a European since Dirk Nowitzki to become this effective for a team and that's exactly what Porzingis is - the reformed Dirk.
There would be many battles between KAT (Karl Anthony-Towns) and Porzingis with the two fighting to achieve the top rookie of the year spot, which became a fan’s delight. Some say KAT was the answer, others say Porzingis. KAT would put up the better stat line but Porzingis would deliver the better team improvement due to his presence and suddenly the New York Knicks would be born again. Fans would start to attend games to get a glimpse of this unique talent, and would eat their words doing so.
Porzingis would finish his rookie season with an impressive record and stat line such as;
- Only rookie in NBA history to finish with more than 1000 points, 500 + boards, make 75 + 3 pointers and block more than 100 shots
- Three time rookie of the month
- No. 1 amongst rookies in blocked shots (1.86)
- No. 2 amongst rookies in rebounds (7.3)
- No. 3 amongst rookies in points (14.3)
- 30 points in the rising star game at NBA All Star Weekend
With Karl-Anthony Towns being named the 2015-16 NBA rookie of the year, fans would have their say in disagreeing due to the overall team improvement that Porzingis brought to the Knicks which they felt was more greater and should be judged over a larger stat line.
Personally, KAT was the deserving winner for the rookie of the year due to his ability to dominate consistently for the Timberwolves. Nonetheless it was fantastic to see the resurgence of the center/power forward position in the NBA which had been missing for quite some time.
Enter the 2016-17 NBA season - this was Porzingis’ breakout season. On November 16, 2016, KP scored a career-high 35 points in a 105–102 win over the Pistons which would put the whole league on notice. The presence of Carmelo Anthony has been massive for Porzingis, as that all star veteran experience was passed on and instilled within the Latvian giant. This is evident in his style of play, body language and work ethic.
Although Porzingis would have his ups and downs throughout the season with a left achilles tendon issue sidelining him for quite a while, he would bounce back and take out the skills challenge at All Star Weekend, beating the likes of Stephen Curry, Gordon Hayward and Demarcus Cousins - NBA superstars in their own right. Better yet who would have thought a 7’3 youngster could take out a skills challenge?
No perfect NBA season would go without drama, especially when playing for the New York Knicks and especially with Phil Jackson in charge. It became difficult for the Knicks at times when the front office, players and coaching staff were not on the same page, which eventually lead to a significant amount of changes.
Porzingis would not attend the final players meeting of the season which made news headlines around the NBA - were we seeing Jacksons days numbered? That we did, as the Knicks announced he was no longer the GM.. and Knicks fans rejoiced in jubilation.
With Phil Jackson gone, it was said that it was time to move on from Carmelo Anthony to make Porzingis the new face of the Knicks, and that’s exactly what happened as he was traded to OKC late in the free agency period. With ‘Melo gone, the central focus surrounded Porzingis and he would come under scrutiny from the New York media, questioning his leadership and his ability to perform in the biggest market in the world.
So how does he respond? “I’m ready for that, I’m ready to be the leader of this team” which gave the fans something to aspire to and has seen him perform well so far during the 2017-18 season. Porzingis will no doubt miss the scoring presence Carmelo brought to the team, but he has continued to break active team records, including:
- First Knick in history to score 300+ points in the first team, surpassing Bernard King
- Career high 40 points vs the Pacers
- Eastern Conference player of the week
- 4th in points per game
- 1st in blocks per game
The hype surrounding Porzingis and the Knicks is rather high, and they don’t wish to play that Iso and triangle offense which was previously forced on them, opting for a natural form of basketball which currently serves the team well. KP has really embraced this style along with his leadership role.
This is both a vindication and statement for Porzingis. Something that he has been utilising since being drafted to the Knicks, and proving critics wrong is a big motive to his success. So the question remains what’s next for Kristaps Porzingis?
Only time will tell, if he keeps playing at this rate, the sky really is the limit which can lead to a possible MVP, defensive player of the year or the most improved player of the year.
One thing is for certain, Knick fans are super excited about Porzingis, but must also remember to take it one game at a time and be patient. If it works in his favour, he really could be one of the greats and see his number 6 hanging from the rafters in the famous Madison Square Garden.
UPDATE: Just weeks after publishing this article, Porzingis tore the ACL in his left knee during a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. This ended both his, and the Knicks' season. It's a cruel blow to Knicks fans and NBA fans in general, but we can't wait to see the Unicorn back in action next season!
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