They booed him on Draft Day; now they serenade him on Game Day. They said he needed to eat more; now they’re eating their words. They said Phil Jackson’s vision was cloudy; now he can say, “I told you so.” By now you know whom I’m talking about: Kristaps Porzingis, taken fourth overall by the New York Knicks in this year’s draft. When Commissioner Adam Silver called his name as the Knicks’ choice, you might say I was surprised. In fact, so no one can call me out on it later, I’ll call myself out now. On June 25th, I posted the following on Facebook:
Knicks pick? They did it again. Nooooo. Grrrrrrrrrr. I still believe in Phil, I still believe in Phil. I still…
Now, just to clarify, I’m not trying to be a fair-weather Porzingis fan now, nor was I ever a true hater. While I did check out some of the basic scouting reports on KP, it was tough to tell if he was a ‘can’t miss’ player worthy of such a high pick. He’d shown a nice array of offensive moves, and he’d proven he could hang in Spain’s Liga ACB. Still, his 2014 averages of 11 points, 4.6 boards and 1 block a game didn’t jump off the page; but on this side of the pond, sound bytes and video chunks of draft-eligible players were in heavy rotation. Like most others, I wanted (and expected) the Knicks to draft a college player whose highlights I’d seen in a constant loop of greatness. Furthermore, the Knicks don’t exactly have a great history of drafting foreign players. Remember that French seven-footer they picked up in 1999? Yeah, neither do I, except that Vince Carter dunked over him.
Now, I tune in whenever possible to see what Porzingis has done next. How times have changed.
Porzingis often plays an outside-in style, which sets him up for mid-range rhythm-jumpers that his 7’3″ frame render practically unstoppable. This, combined with his hops and high basketball IQ, allows him to get sneaky putbacks (often in the form of thunderous dunks) against defenders who forget to box out. He rebounds a ton, and he’ll grab even more boards as he bulks up down the road. Porzingis can also hit the three, even in clutch situations, like he did in his 29-point performance against the Charlotte Hornets. He’s even got his own version of the “Dream Shake” in his arsenal…not bad for a man too young to buy a beer.
Kristaps Porzingis is second among all rookies in double-doubles, behind Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s averaging 13.1 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1.1 assist per game. He had 7 blocks in his first showdown against Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves. He dropped 28 points against the Dallas Mavericks and his idol, future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki. In December, he was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for the second month in a row. But while stats are a great indicator of what a player can do, they’re also just stats–they don’t show you how Porzingis has earned them. He has athleticism, grit, determination, and that look: an intense, warrior-like stare defies the subtle gleam in his eyes. It’s as though he realized what he was getting into on Draft Day, on which in a slightly over-sized, flat-billed cap that made him look more awkward than awesome, he had a positive response to the boobirds. With every flash of brilliance since then, Porzingis has declared, “I will show you you’re wrong” to his detractors. That’s inspiration. It’s also been the source of hope for millions of Knicks fans.