The 2015 NBA Draft had some jewels in it. Duke big man Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns highlighted a talented class of young players making their way into the NBA. The New York Knicks, who had a forgettable 2014-2015 season, were slated to draft 4th. Surely they would be able to get a talent that would make a difference for them. As expected, the Timberwolves selected Towns 1st overall. The Lakers took Ohio State guard D'Angelo Russell 2nd overall and the Philadelphia 76ers took Okafor 3rd overall. Many wondered who the Knicks would take with their pick. Would they go with guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who left high school to play one year of professional ball in China? Or would the Knicks go get a big man to bolster their defense in Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein? The Knicks and Phil Jackson would end up drafting neither and instead chose Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis. The big man was raw and considered a project by many who had scouted him. He came with shooting skills and the ability to handle the ball some at 7’3”. But with his lack of weight and the relatively little that was known about him, he was thought to be a piece of the rebuilding project along with point guard Jerian Grant. When his selection was announced, Porzingis was booed unmercifully by Knicks fans at the draft. There were also rumblings that Carmelo Anthony was dissatisfied with his selection. The prevailing thought was that Melo would be wasting his prime years in New York. But little did we know Porzingis was going to show up a little quicker than expected.
When we first saw video of Porzingis, we saw tapes of him doing drills on the perimeter. He was effortless with the basketball, but he was going against air at the time. Many wondered how he would adapt to the physical play that goes on in the NBA with him only carrying 240 pounds on his 7’3” frame. Well, Porzingis has been surprising. The first surprise is that he has been placed in the starting lineup alongside Carmelo Anthony. He is only averaging 26 minutes a game, but he is giving the Knicks 9 rebounds and 13 points a game. That is way more than what was expected of him. He has been a little more physical than many thought he would be and he is holding up well so far. The best thing about him is that he attacks the boards with reckless abandon. Over the first month of the season, we have grown accustomed to Porzingis flying in to follow up a miss with a dunk. That shows not only the athleticism but the courage he has to throw his body around in there. And the best thing about these finishes is that he has put them down over or around people. The amazing thing is it seems like no one gets a body on him to prevent him from doing this so far. Eventually that will come as the scoring report gets out there, but at this time, he is giving us highlight after highlight from his position. The best thing about him holding his own at the power forward for Knicks fans has to be not having to see Carmelo Anthony at the power forward position. Melo had a huge season under coach Mike Woodson there, but he also was beat up at that position a lot. Coming off a knee injury, that will take some of the wear and tear off the Knicks star player.
But along with holding his own on the boards, it is amazing to note that he is getting 13 points per game without having plays ran for him. The kid is just hustling and making plays to help this team try and win games. But just because he does not have plays ran for him does not mean he doesn’t have skills. Porzingis showed what skills he had recently in a game versus the Houston Rockets. He had 24 points in that game, but he did it in a variety of ways. Porzingis showed off his shooting touch that game when he stepped out and hit both three-point shots that he took. He also showed off a post game that no one expected to see. He actually gave a defender the Hakeem Olajuwon Dream Shake in the paint one time and finished with the jumper. It honestly was amazing to see the aptitude Porzingis had shown in such a short amount of time. The offensive skills that the international big man showed gave us all a glimpse into what could happen when he gets some touches and is able to make some things happen. Porzingis may not get those opportunities this year, but it will happen eventually.
Porzingis is now known across the league for his finishes at the rim that keep showing up game after game. But eventually he will get some of the offense ran through him so he can show his skills on a consistent level. The kid who Knicks fans did not want has turned into can’t miss television for Knicks fans. And he is also a guy that has Knicks fans excited about the future. Not bad for a kid that was virtually unknown for most of the time building up to the 2015 draft. Maybe Phil Jackson knows a little more as a front office guy than folks are giving him credit for.