When the New York Knicks tabbed Kristaps Porzingis as the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, the selection was met with a chorus of boos by most of the fans in attendance. Laughably compared to Andrea Bargnani by some who had exactly zero familiarity with his game, Porzingis was regularly called a project and viewed as a long-term investment for a franchise that needed production now.
But this was a Knicks team that, at the time, finally had a chance of landing a transcendent star after chasing one for so long. This was Phil Jackson’s big chance to swing for the fences, and he wasn’t about to play it safe only to potentially go down looking.
With Porzingis, there was intrigue about a player few knew anything about and fewer had ever even seen, and it was met with equal skepticism as a result. But as we’ve already observed during the very early stages of K.P.’s rookie season, the 7’3” 20-year-old is ready to shine under New York City’s bright lights immediately.
Instead of rejecting the attention he was about to receive, Porzingis was ready and eager to embrace it. There is no advanced metric to measure confidence, but Porzingis is packed from head-to-toe with it, and that stands pretty tall when you measure more than seven feet. The Knicks rebuilt this roster from scratch, and the frontline was its clear emphasis. After drafting Porzingis, New York signed Robin Lopez to a $50-plus million contract; the team imported Kyle O’Quinn in a sign-and-trade deal, added Derrick Williams for $10M over two seasons and finished its work by coming to terms with Kevin Seraphin on a one-year agreement. With some already clamoring for Carmelo Anthony to spend more minutes at power forward, this was a team that was insuring itself in case Porzingis wasn’t ready to play. Fast-forward to the present, and the Knicks are still gleefully holding onto their policy.
At the beginning of October, Coach Derek Fisher hinted that the Knicks would be cautious with Porzingis. But the rookie has scrapped those plans, run through the yellow tape and busted out his hammer en route to smashing expectations. Nobody projected Porzingis to make this impact by the end of the year, let alone its start.
Making his presence felt at both ends of the floor, Porzingis is a matchup nightmare for almost anyone he faces. Capable of playing both inside and out, there isn’t an area of the court that the lengthy Latvian can’t reach. Already a viral sensation thanks in part to having thrown down multiple vicious putback dunks, Porzingis promises to fulfill his potent potential sooner than anyone previously projected.
If I could create my own player in a video game to play in the modern NBA, the finished product would look a lot like the still-evolving Porzingis. Able to utilize his guard-like skills in order to take his opponent off the dribble and hit the lane for a sweet shot around the cup, Porzingis is equally capable of stepping back, firing away over the opposition’s outstretched fingers and swishing his jumper through the basket. It’s incredible to watch him play, and we’re only seven games into what should be an enjoyable ride ahead.
So much of our reality is based in perception. D’Angelo Russell was nowhere near the conversation for No. 1 pick prior to his 2014-15 collegiate season, but by its end he was being billed as a candidate to go first overall. In reality, Russell, still just 19 years old and with a ton to figure out about the NBA game, looks to have more to learn than Porzingis despite being selected two draft slots higher. Unlike the majority of his draft peers, Porzingis had professional experience prior to his NBA arrival having played abroad. I don’t understand how anyone can discount the impact an experience like that can have on someone going through the maturation process and learning how to become his own man, and K.P. began that process at an earlier age than most.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Porzingis was the steal of the draft, because we won’t know about that until several years from now. But for someone who had so many giddy about his future, Porzingis is providing plenty of punch, excitement and production in the present.