Who in the world is Zemgus Girgensons?
If you know the answer to that question, you’re either Latvian, a Buffalo Sabres fan, or play fantasy hockey. As I am none of those things, I had no idea who Zemgus Girgensons was. That name meant absolutely nothing until I began to tease out the possibility that Kristaps Porzingis might have a shot at being a starting player in the 2016 All Star Game. Crazy, you say? I have a simple answer for you: Zemgus Girgensons.
Girgensons is a very league average sort of center for the Buffalo Sabres, but he was a starter in last season’s NHL All Star Game. It seems that his Latvian fan base got their act together to dominate the voting and sent their national hero to play with the big boys. In the NBA, we’ve seen this sort of thing before as Yao Ming dominated the center position out West thanks to votes from the world’s most populous nation. Japanese fans have had a similar impact on MLB All Star voting over the years, and we all might remember the way the Kansas City fan base gamed the system to load the starting AL All-Star team with Royals. It helps in retrospect that the Royals just won the World Series, but you wouldn’t necessarily count their roster among the best players in the sport. They certainly proved themselves to be the best team in the end.
The Knicks find themselves in a perfect storm of Porzingasm thanks to the fresh wounds left behind from a 65 loss season in 2014-15, the disappointment of dropping to 4th in the NBA Draft Lottery, and the general atmosphere of shock surrounding our selection of the skinny Euro from Latvia. The team is playing better than expected, in some ways, the rookie looks like a franchise player, and Kristaps Porzingis is destined to be a much better player in his respective league than Zemgus Girgensons. The fact that he’s in New York City, he’s got tremendous promise, even beyond his precocious neophyting, and that he’s the biggest Latvian export the world has ever seen creates a perfect storm.
There are plenty of quantitative reasons to like what Porzingis has done for the very competitive Knicks this season. His on/off numbers are outstanding. His defense has been better than average and his offense has become increasingly efficient as he’s adjusted to the league a bit. The qualitative aspect of Porzingis’ impact on the sport is what will drive him towards a starting position on the All-Star team. He’s got heart. He’s got intensity. He’s confident, but self-aware. He says all the right things when a microphone is put in front of him. He seems to learn something new every night and he hasn’t once had bad games back-to-back. In fact, none of his performances are what you’d actually call bad.
Porzingis has shown a remarkable versatility in impacting games positively. He’s made mistakes, to be sure, but think about all the things we’ve seen him do. He’s rebounded like a beast, and especially on the offensive end where he’s produced a list of highlight put backs over brand name NBA stars. He’s started to hit the three more consistently, which has always looked like the most likely outcome with that beautiful stroke. He can put the ball on the floor and shoot on the move. He’s shown a Dream Shake. He’s got a sky hook from the left and the right side. He understands how to use his length by going vertical and changing shots around the rim without reaching into the defender. He has quick hands on defense and forces turnovers. Every game brings a new dimension into view and we’re loving it.
There’s going to be plenty of room to analyze Porzingis’ performance via metrics. There will be positive and negative in the snapshot. If the Knicks keep winning games and look competitive, and if he’s continuing the visual fireworks on a regular basis, it just may be Kristaps Porzingis in the starting lineup of the NBA All Star Game, rather than Carmelo Anthony. As a Knicks fan, both would be nice. Certainly, Melo will be on the team. In a way, I sort of dread the possibility that this could happen because it’s just the sort of storyline that drives clickbait pieces about Melo’s jealousy and rifts in the team that are likely to be both false and poisonous to the conversation in the fan base.
Who knows? I may be wrong and it may never come to it, but the name Zemgus Girgensons is out there after all.