- Kristaps Porzingis became the New York Knicks’ clear No. 1 player when they traded Carmelo Anthony.
- Porzingis has adjusted to the role better than imagined, averaging nearly 30 points per game for the 3-3 Knicks.
- Porzingis has been good enough to keep the Knicks competitive, which may change the way the team has to approach their rebuild.
When the New York Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder in September, it became clear that they were handing the keys to the team to Kristaps Porzingis.
It was a natural progression, turning the team over from the ageing star to the 22-year-old up-and-comer in the midst of a rebuild.
While it would be a long, sometimes painful season, Porzingis, the clear future of the franchise, could get his shot as the No. 1 option on the court, while the Knicks could evaluate their team and lose enough games to acquire a high draft pick to help build around him.
Except six games into the season, Porzingis is threatening to change the Knicks’ course as he’s taken to being the No. 1 option better than anyone expected.
Through six games, Porzingis is averaging 29 points per game on 47% shooting, 36% from three, with 8 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks per game for the 3-3 Knicks. It’s early, yes, but the Knicks have won three games in a row, beating the improved Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Denver Nuggets. Porzingis has tallied five 30-point games in six nights, the first player in Knicks history to do so to begin a season.
The coup de grace came on Monday when Porzingis poured in a career-high 38 points with 7 rebounds and 3 blocks to beat the Nuggets. Porzingis showed off a little bit of everything, from an improved mid-range game and fade-away that looked a lot like Anthony’s:
To Stephen-Curry-esque range:
To the ability to sky for an alley-oop, then protect the rim on the next possession:
Porzingis heard MVP chants as he shot free throws down the stretch. His teammates also sang his praises after the game.
“It’s crazy but I think he should be in the MVP talk,” said Knicks center Enes Kanter. “He should definitely be in the MVP talk. Because he’s bringing it every night.”
Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said: “I mean he’s 7-3. What can you do? 7-3, can handle the ball, run the lane like a wing. You can’t really — I’m lost for words — you can’t really do much. Like I said we’ll get the ball to the big man all the time as long as he’s producing like this.”
While it’s a small sample size, a few early statistics suggest the Knicks could be a decent team this year. Thus far, they’re the second-best rebounding team in the league, middle-of-the-road defensively, and they have a top-five scorer on the roster in Porzingis. They may shoot a high-percentage of midrange jumpers and turn the ball over frequently, but good rebounding teams with a passable defence and a go-to scorer can often compete almost nightly.
The Knicks will struggle badly when Porzingis has an off night, as they showed when they lost to the Boston Celtics, 110-89, as Porzingis scored just 12 points on 3-14 shooting. But when Porzingis is on, as he has been in the Knicks’ other five contests, the team has a chance — which wasn’t the plan when the Knicks set the course for an obvious rebuild.
Porzingis has thrown that plan for a loop. It remains to be seen if Porzingis can continue to carry such a heavy load (his usage percentage tops the league), but so far, he has adapted to being the No. 1 option better and quicker than expected.
It’s a good problem for the Knicks to have, but it may also change how they approach their rebuild.
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