Us Knick fans got our Christmas gift exactly six months early, though very few of us knew it at the time. Yes, I was among those who despaired when Adam Silver said Kristaps Porzingis’ name on Draft Night.
But the Latvian has been better than even optimists could have expected. Imagine how pessimists feel.
Let’s look back on what the prognosticators said about young Porzingis—positive and negative—when he was still a prospect, and compare it to what he’s done so far.
Uncomfortable in the post
Scouts said Porzingis preferred facing up to playing in the post. This is sort of true. Porzingis doesn’t have the strength to dislodge post defenders, and he can and does rely on the ever-present option of shooting over his opponents.
That said, Porzingis is decently effective down in the paint, with an eFG% of .560 inside 6 feet, 43rd among players with at least 100 attempts, and even with centaur Andre Drummond.
This is true as well. Porzingis rarely has a strength advantage over defenders. Strongmen like Bull Bobby Porter meet little resistance when they really want to get good post position or, on the other end, deny Porzingis good post position.
Keep eating those pancakes, young blood.
Defense and rebounding need work
Nope! Despite Porzingis’ lack of strength, he’s still 7’3”, and he uses it to his advantage. On Saturday, he threw his Gumby limbs in the path of multiple Bull scoring attempts, with great success.
His long arms and quick feet have made him one of the best shot-blockers in the league. And Porzingis dispelled any doubts about his rebounding pretty resoundingly.
The stroke is there, but a .519 TS% is not “excellent” by any means. It’s not a huge cause of concern—yet. Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal has written that many European imports struggle as rookies. Porzingis’ shooting numbers were stronger in Europe, hitting 36% of his three-pointers in his last year in Spain.
A lot of scouts loved Porzingis before the draft, despite his lack of exposure. Now we know why. The possibilities for this 20-year-old are wide: He’s a giant pogo stick. He’s capable of making plays no one else can. Even simple defensive rebounds are awe-inspiring, Kristaps leaping over the bruisers below, extending his arms toward and snatching the ball like Spider-Man’s webbing.
I wrote when Porzingis was drafted about how excited I was to see how he’d turn out, but how nervous I was about the Knicks’ ability to develop him. So far I’m pleased with the results. The Triangle lets Porzingis wear a lot of hats on offense, and having veterans like Carmelo Anthony and Robin Lopez alongside him eases the pressure of having to be a franchise savior—though I’m sure many of us already see him that way. Let’s see if he lives up to our hopes.
Merry Kristaps, everyone.