It’s impossible to discuss the New York Knicks’ future without discussing Kristaps Porzingis.
The 21-year-old, 7-foot-3 Lavtian big man, taken with the fourth pick in the 2015 draft, has changed the outlook of the Knicks with his unique blend of size, athleticism, perimeter capabilities, and rim protection.
Yet, now in his second year in the NBA, Porzingis remains one of the lone bright spots on a Knicks team that constantly seems to be in a state of turmoil.
Last year, his first NBA head coach, Derek Fisher, was fired midway through the season as the team missed the playoffs. This year has only gotten more hectic. The team has lost 19 of its last 25 games. Derrick Rose briefly went AWOL in January. Team president Phil Jackson is carrying out a public feud with the team’s star player, Carmelo Anthony. Trade rumours swirl around the team. On Wednesday, somehow all of this was topped by former Knicks fan-favourite Charles Oakley getting ejected and arrested during a game for trying to allegedly trying to go after Knicks owner James Dolan.
Amid this chaos, Porzingis has learned to block out the noise.
“You never really pay too much attention to it,” Porzingis told Business Insider last Friday while representing Adidas, his shoe sponsor, to promote the opening of Foot Locker’s new store in Times Square, New York. “You don’t wanna get caught up in thinking, ‘Oh what might happen?’ You know, you just keep doing what you’re doing and you can affect what you can affect, basically.
“So, I try to keep my mind off of those things and just focus on what I need to do on the court.”
In his second season, Porzingis is wiser, more savvy about the ways of the NBA. For one, he understands the schedule now, which he admits to struggling with during his rookie year.
“You’re thinking, ’82 games is tough,’ but once you actually feel it on your own body, like, you have to travel, practice the next morning, game the next day, then just back-to-backs and all that. It’s tough, it’s really tough.”
Now, Porzingis knows to rest when he has the chance. He said he rarely explores New York City, opting instead to relax with his family at the spa in his apartment building.
He enjoys the sneaker culture. Of joining Adidas this season, Porzingis said, “The brand itself has a lot of swag, so that kind of attracted me right away, with the Yeezys, with the Ultra Boost.” He was on board once he felt how “comfortable” the basketball shoes were.
Despite not getting out in the city much, he understands the way it works.
“I know how the traffic works now. Now it’s a little easier, but the first year, I was getting caught up in traffic all the time.”
He credits veterans like Anthony, Sasha Vujacic, and Jose Calderon for helping him his rookie season, though he said the cultural adjustment wasn’t too hard. Fluent in English, Porzingis said that while playing in Spain professionally, prior to joining the Knicks, he became familiar enough with American culture that he “kinda already knew how it goes.”
Despite having less than two full years of experience under his belt, he’s already helping other players, like the Knicks’ Spanish rookie (and Porzingis’ former teammate) Willie Hernangomez and Lithuanian rookie Mindaugas Kuzminskas. Porzingis has given them pointers on off-court life.
“I think one day [Hernangomez] went to a restaurant and it was full, and he had to wait outside,” said Porzingis. “And I was like, ‘No you can’t do that. You have to call before, you know, you get a table, and then you go to the restaurant.’ Little things like that.”
But Porzingis knows he still has work to do. With a natural shooting touch and somewhat unnatural ability to get to the basket, he would like to hone those skills alongside perhaps the great seven-foot European player play in the NBA this coming summer.
“I really wanna work out with Dirk [Nowitzki] next summer. I didn’t get a chance to work out with him this summer, but hopefully, next one I can go to Dallas or wherever he is, Germany, and work out with him, learn from him, and just pick his brain, ask as many questions as I can, just find out his routine and stuff that he does and learn from him.”
Mentioned alongside other young, multi-dimensional big men like Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Joel Embiid, Porzingis sounds unsatisfied with his own progress. He said his game is more perimeter-oriented than them, but he wants to become more well-rounded and adept in the post. Then, he said, he can join them in changing the game and the mould of an NBA big man.
He knows realising all these skills will make him the future of a, hopefully, more successful Knicks team. Porzingis embraces that challenge and that destiny.
“I think that’s something you have to embrace,” Porzingis said. “Obviously, playing in New York is a lot of pressure, no matter what. But I kinda like the pressure situations and I like to be under pressure. That’s what I think can get the best out of you.”
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