When Kristaps Porzingis was announced as the New York Knicks’ draft pick, many fans had the same traumatic flashback. What if he was another Andrea Bargnani? Unlike the Toronto Raptors, the Knicks did not have the pleasure of Bargnani’s 20-10 seasons before watching him flail aimlessly on the court for two of the longest NBA seasons in Knicks history. Air Bargnani failed to shoot well, could not rebound and consistently failed to make defensive rotations game after game. The Bargnani era mercifully came to end this season but just as it did, another lanky, skilled European entered the Knicks starting lineup. Porzingis has started the season well. His shooting touch has lacked the polished touch that many fans expected in early games but he has found success in pick and roll situations, defensively, and even had some put-back slams over All-Star bigs LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love.
The Latvian rookie has struggled to adjust to some situations. He clearly struggles when faced with hyper-athletic wings on switches and sometimes relies on his length a bit too much to compensate for positioning errors on defense. This tendency has led to his 4.4 fouls per game average, limiting the minutes Porzingis can play. While these issues are easy to understand, he will need to correct them if he does not want to become a turnstile defender in the NBA. Stat-wise, Porzingis has shown strong promise as a versatile defensive big man. Averaging 1.2 blocks per game is relatively simple for anyone who plays 20 minutes and is 7-foot-1. Averaging 1.8 steals per game is another matter entirely. Porzingis has shown a knack for harassing ball handlers that he defends on the perimeter and has been rewarded with quite a few steals, including one on LeBron James.
On offense, the issue revolves around his shot. Porzingis shot 37% from 3 playing in the Euroleague. That number has dipped to 20% this year, despite a solid three attempts per game. The 3-point shot is essential to unlocking the potential to his offensive game. Porzingis is surprisingly agile and a good ball handler for someone of his size. Forcing opposing power forwards to defend him on the perimeter allows him to use those skills on dribble penetration, draw fouls and even make crucial passes if his court vision improves. While he will never lead the league in assists, three assists per game is more than possible if the rookie begins to attract enough attention and can open the paint up for players like Carmelo Anthony. Additionally, Kevin Seraphin is a fantastic post scorer and Porzingis’ shot provides a great opportunity for the Knicks to clear the paint a bit for Seraphin to go to work.
Potential was never the issue for Porzingis. Most people were more worried about his potential to be a bust and whether or not he could perform in the NBA on day one. He is working hard to prove them wrong and has shown that his floor is much higher than many expected. If the foul trouble can be diminished and the jump shot begins to fall, Porzingis will become a fantastic offensive option and floor-spreader for the Knicks. Nothing is guaranteed but the pieces are all there. Derek Fisher and his coaching staff just have to make sure that Porzingis puts them all together.