Kristaps Porzingis enters today’s matinee game against the Atlanta Hawks in the midst of a sensational second season.
Building off the success of his rookie campaign, Porzingis has managed to give Knicks fans hope in what has otherwise been a depressing start to the 2016-17 season. Despite bringing in a new head coach in Jeff Hornacek and adding veterans Courtney Lee, Brandon Jennings, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, the Knicks are currently in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with a 5-7 record.
Twelve games into a season is too early to make conclusions about an entire year, but it is a big enough sample size to recognize certain trends as a pattern rather than an anomaly. So far, the Knicks have had trouble assimilating their new players, looking uninspired on defense and often stagnant on offense. New York is still trying to define roles for rotation players, and at times their offense looks conflicted between Knicks president Phil Jackson’s triangle offense and the more free-flowing offense that Jeff Hornacek prefers.
Aside from on-court woes, the Knicks have also dealt with issues off the court that have added to an already melancholy atmosphere surrounding the team. Derrick Rose spent most of the preseason involved with a civil rape trial, and Phil Jackson has recently come under the criticism of Lebron James for making possibly racially charged comments about James’s friends and business associates.
Serving as a distraction to the on and off court turmoil plaguing the Knicks is a lone 7-foot-3 bright spot. While many New York fans questioned the selection of the unproven Latvian big-man with the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft, Porzingis is currently setting the league on fire, much to the delight of fans at Madison Square Garden.
Despite having a disjointed offense around him, Porzingis has increased his points per game from 15.1 last year to 20.3 so far this season while also drastically improving his field goal and three-point percentage according to NBA.com. What makes Porzingis’s statistical improvements even more impressive is the fact that his usage percentage has stayed almost the same from last season to this season. A player’s usage percentage is essentially the percentage of a teams possessions that an individual player uses while on the court. While Porzingis has clearly earned the right to have the ball in his hands more often, the addition of Rose, a point guard who needs the ball in his hands to succeed, has taken possessions away from the young Latvian. With a Knicks offense that has sputtered throughout the beginning of the season, it may be time to continue to develop Porzingis by feeding him the ball more often, even if that means taking shots away from veterans Rose and Carmelo Anthony.
Stats only tell half the story when describing the hope Porzingis provides for New York fans. Much of Porzingis’s popularity comes from the unique nature of his game. Porzingis stands 7-foot-3 with long limbs but moves more like a 6-foot-5 small forward. Blocked shots, rebounds, and tip-dunks are all a part of Porzingis’s game. What comes as a surprise while watching Porzingis though is his ability to handle the ball like a guard, run the floor past other big men and knock down three-pointers from 25 feet away. Porzingis put all the aspects of his game together in a recent game against the Detroit Pistons where he had 35 points and seven rebounds in an array of dunks, three-pointers, drives to the basket and mid-range jumpers.
Perhaps the most refreshing element of Porzingis’s game is the joy he displays on the court. Recently Porzingis ran down court after a big block while high-fiving fans court-side. What has become a staple of Porzingis’s game is a thunderous dunk or block followed by the traditional tough guy expression displayed by many NBA players after a big play. Porzingis’s take on this expression differs though as he cannot keep a serious face for long, his mean-mug only lasts milliseconds before being replaced by a childish grin.
[Featured Image by Mary Altaffer/AP Images]