When the New York Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis with their number 4 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Knicks fans booed. ESPN’s Steven A. Smith went on national television and said it was a horrible pick and a huge mistake. I couldn’t understand all the unwarranted criticism. How can you boo someone or say Phil Jackson “dropped the ball” when no one had ever seen Porzingis play?
As soon as he was drafted, I spent the next few days watching videos, reading scouting reports and trying to understand how this 7’3″ kid from Ventspils, Latvia would fit as an NBA player. From everything I saw and read, he was a younger, more athletic version of Dirk Nowitzki.
The Right Choice
After a few summer league games in Las Vegas, I wrote an article complimenting Jackson for drafting Kristaps Porzingis. As a former college and AAU basketball coach, there were certain things that I saw that were abundantly clear: He was athletic, aggressive, had great range, and was a very good offensive and defensive rebounder.
The only negative was his lack of muscle. But he was barely 19 and I knew he would get stronger every year. In the history of basketball, only one player had a shot that defenders couldn’t block, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That shot was known as the “Sky-Hook.” Kareem was 7’2″, and with his arms extended he was releasing the ball at about 9 feet. At 7’3″, Porzingis could never get his jump shot blocked because his release point is similar to one of the greatest players of all time.
Last year, in his first season in the NBA, the Latvian-born player took part in 72 games, averaging 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. He finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Karl-Anthony Towns. Porzingis became the first rookie in NBA history to record at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 100 blocks, and 75 3-point field goals. At least once a week, he would be on ESPN’s Top 10 Plays of the Night with an electrifying dunk.
What was even more impressive than the things he did on the court was how he handled himself off the hardwood. Most veterans struggle with the fans and New York Media, but not this kid; Kristaps Porzingis was a breath of fresh air. He never got too high or too low after a game. Instead, he gave insightful criticism of his performance. He always gave credit to his teammates and his Mantra was “I just want to get better every game and learn.” He has a confidence to him while remaining humble, a rare mix in today’s athlete yet the best recipe for long-term success.
Putting the Pieces Together
If the Knicks decide to keep Carmelo Anthony and newly acquired Derrick Rose; they most both let the younger player take more shots. Let Kristaps be the focal point of the offense. If they do this, the sky is the limit for Porzingis. There has never been a player of his size, shooting ability and overall athleticism. For the first time since Patrick Ewing, the Knicks have drafted an extraordinary talent who can carry the team for the next 10 years.
Hero (Top) Feature Image: © Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons
Additional Image Courtesy: New York Knicks (used with permission)