Potential to Production: Kristaps Porzingis has Arrived!

Kristaps Porzingis nickname is the “Unicorn.” They call him that because of his unique talent and size. Porzingis is 7 foot 3 inches with an 8-foot wingspan, and he is 240 pounds. A player of his size shouldn’t be able to shoot threes and put the ball on the floor as he can. That combination has always made him full of star potential.

That’s why former Knicks GM Phil Jackson drafted him with the 4th overall pick in the 2015 draft. Phil Jackson didn’t do a lot right, but drafting Porzingis was the one right move. At the time, the move was met with considerable skepticism. Fans booed him at the draft, and many wondered if the 19-year-old kid from Latvia could handle the NBA. More importantly, could he handle playing in New York and Madison Square Garden?

In his first two seasons in the NBA, Porzingis showed lots of potential, but he couldn’t do it consistently. He improved from his rookie season to his second season, increasing his scoring from 14 points to 18 points per game. Part of that was playing on bad teams, being involved in the New York circus, and being in the shadow of Carmelo Anthony. After the end of his second season, the Knicks considered trading Porzingis. Luckily, they didn’t, and they traded Anthony instead. New York made Porzingis the face of the franchise.

The New York Knicks is a franchise that has been inept and disorganized for the better part of the last 15 years. Lifting this franchise up is no small task. Most people figured the Knicks would be bad again this season. They still may be, but don’t blame Porzingis. So far this season, Porzingis has risen to the occasion, and because of him, the Knicks may be a little better than you think.

Its six games into the season and the Knicks are a respectable 3-3. They have three wins mainly because of Porzingis. In six games, Porzingis is averaging 29.3 points on 47 percent shooting and 8.3 rebounds per game. Many people always thought Porzingis would be a star, but no one saw it coming this fast. He has increased his points per game by 11 points per game this season. So, how has he done it?

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 29: Kristaps Porzingis shoots over Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on October 29, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

A lot of it is the opportunity. He is the clear number one option on offense and rightfully so. His usage percentage is an astounding 33 percent. The opportunity on offense has led to Porzingis being more aggressive with the ball. He is attempting a career-high 22 shots per game and 5.5 free throws per game. Porzingis isn’t just volume scoring, but he is also scoring efficiently with 47 percent from the field, 36 percent from three, and 81 percent from the line. That is a career-high true shooting percentage of 57 percent and a player efficiency of 25.90.

Six games is a small sample size, but these are incredible numbers. Porzingis now ranks among the leagues best. He is third in the league in scoring. Scoring is not the only area where Porzingis is contributing.

While his defense still needs work, Porzingis is giving the Knicks legit rim protection. Porzingis is averaging 1.67 blocks per game, which is 11th in the league.

Porzingis is doing it all for this team, and the question is, can his teammates help him? Young point guard Frank Nikkitina has been solid on defense but is still struggling with his offense. Tim Hardaway Jr, who signed a four year, 71 million dollar deal in the offseason, has struggled so far. Right now the Knicks are 20th in offense and 16th in defense. You add those up, and you get an average team.

Many experts picked the Knicks for 25 to 30 wins this season. Porzingis’s play has made the Knicks look better than expected, and they may end up winning around 35 games. That won’t be good enough for the playoffs, but it at least shows the team is heading in the right direction. Then, next year, they can add another star player in the first round and start to build a core that can contend in the future.

Porzingis alone makes the future of the Knicks much brighter than several other bad teams. To win in the NBA, you need a franchise player. An all-star, who makes an actual difference. Teams like Chicago, Sacramento, and Atlanta, are still looking for that player. This year, Porzingig will make the all-star team, and that should be the first of many. Now that New York has a franchise player, it’s their job to keep him happy and build around him.

It won’t be easy. New York has some bad contracts they need to get rid of in Enes Kanter and Joakim Noah. Plus they have veterans like Kyle O’Quinn and Courtney Lee who are still solid but don’t figure to be a part of the Knicks’ future. New York has to decide who will be a part of the next playoff team that revolves around Porzingis. To do this, New York must think long-term and be patient in developing their players. The good news though is they have Porzingis, and they have all their future first-round draft picks in upcoming drafts. Also, in the summer of 2019, some contracts come off the books, and the Knicks will have some financial flexibility. That’s not a bad situation.

The situation certainly looks better in New York now that Porzingis is a legit all-star and possibly a future MVP candidate. This year will be another non-playoff season most likely, but if the Knicks play their cards right, they can be in the postseason by next year. One player can change an entire franchise’s direction, and Porzingis has done that. The only concern going forward is his health. So far this year, he looks stronger and more able to take the pounding of an NBA season. He missed 26 games in his first two seasons due to injury. An injury is the only thing that can stop this guy because he’s that good.

Cheer up, Knicks Fans. You have a star, and like the North Star, this star has given you direction. Kristaps Porzingis is no longer a player full of immense potential. He is a player full of tremendous talent and production. The Porzingis show is just getting started in New York, and you don’t want to miss a minute of it.

[Featured Image by J Pat Carter/Getty Images]