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New York Knicks

The NBA’s new breed of big men | Kristaps Porzingis

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

For a while, it looked as though the NBA’s big man was a thing of the past, as the low-post scoring big man was phased out of modern basketball. But now a new breed of big men is taking over and it’s becoming cool to be a center again. This is the first in a series of articles highlighting the kids who are bringing back the 5, and how they’re adapting the position to the modern game. Next up is Kristaps Porzingis.

Porzingis’ nickname is the “Unicorn” because his collection of physical attributes and skills make him entirely unique. So he’s definitely worth talking about in our new breed of big men, but before going into that, I’d like to elaborate on the nickname, if you can humor me for a paragraph or two.

The unicorn’s horn was called an “alicorn.” This is from the Wikipedia article on the subject:

Many healing powers and antidote’s virtues were attributed to the horn of the unicorn. These properties assumed real since the 13th century, made it one of the most expensive and most reputable remedies during the Renaissance, and justified its use in royal courts. Beliefs related to the “unicorn horn” influenced alchemy through spagyric (herbal) medicine.

So, the alicorn held healing and purifying properties. So if we want to stretch this metaphor, can Porzingis save the Knicks? If anyone needs the healing properties of a mythological creature, it’s them. Per Basketball-Reference.com, since the 2001-02 season, only the Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Hornets have won fewer games. The Hornets have two fewer seasons. And Minnesota is in the state of Minnesota, where it’s, you know — Minnesota.

Also, both the Hornets and Wolves look like they’re’ going to be significantly better teams for at least the next year. And they’ve spent about a fraction of the money the Knicks have.

So, maybe Porzingis can heal them, after all, particularly with Phil Jackson out of the picture now.

There are essentially two things that are all the rave with the modern NBA center: rim protection and shooting.

A big man who can hit the 3-ball and stretch the court on the offensive end. One who can patrol the rim and protect it can shrink it on the other end. To evaluate both of those things, I looked at points saved within six feet of the rim, which I derived by the number attempts and field goal percentage differential at NBA.com (DIFF%*DFGA/100*2). The more points they “saved” within six feet of the rim, the more they “shrank” the court from the inside out on the defensive end.

To see who stretched the court the most, I looked at points made in the catch-and-shoot. While pull-up points can also stretch the court, it’s a different sort of skill set I was looking for. A catch-and-shoot player has to be accounted for whether they have the ball. That “gravity” is what stretches the court. Here’s a look at every player in the NBA who notched 20 games and 15 minutes per contest:

Porzingis was one of the stretchiest big men in the league, with only Dirk Nowitzki and Marc Gasol doing more damage as big men. And only Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid saved more points within six feet. (Draymond Green trailed by a fraction of a point, but he does a lot more, so this is no knock against him).

But this establishes that if you’re looking for a player who can do both, there’s no on in the league you’d rather have than Porzingis. He’s every bit the kind of modern power forward/center you can build a team around. The only question is if he can heal the Knicks, or if they’ll find a way to screw this up too.

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