New York Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis is comfortable playing in the post 1
Nov 9, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks power forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) controls the ball against Brooklyn Nets center Justin Hamilton (41) during the second quarter at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks‘ Kristaps Porzingis struggled in the post as a rookie. He worked hard in the offseason, and the results are showing.

Kristaps Porzingis became a star in his first season with the New York Knicks, but like any rookie he had his flaws. One was the difficulty he had converting in the post. Porzingis seemed nervous when he’d catch the ball with his back to the basket. He wasn’t strong enough to mix it up with opposing 4’s so he’d rush his shot.

Last season KP used 168 post up plays which accounted for 15% of his offense. He finished in the 44th percentile of efficiency and shot just 40.3% with his back to the basket (via NBA.com).

Check out this video at a pre-draft workout at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas. Even here KP doesn’t look comfortable.


https://youtu.be/J3535Y0LEgM

Not like he does in this clip, from the same workout.

https://youtu.be/hHYex_ilGHg

It’s not a surprise that he didn’t catch the ball in the post often. Porzingis averaged just 2.7 post touches per game and attempted 118 shots. He scored more points on post touches than Carmelo Anthony or Arron Afflalo, but both of them shot a higher percentage. The big man also took 40 more shots than Anthony and 50 more than Afflalo.

Most rookie big men struggle on offense. There was much more good than bad for Porzingis. He was also 33.3% on threes and 45.4% on two-point attempts greater than 16 ft. from the rim. As a rookie getting used to the three-point line that’s an outstanding number, and that percentage on long twos is phenomenal for any player (via Basketball-Reference).

Without even thinking about Porzingis launches up a deep three in this clip. One of the things that set him apart from other rookies was his supreme confidence in his jump shot.

One spot on the floor where KP struggled was in the restricted area. He converted on just 57.1% of his attempts. Porzingis has turned that around as a sophomore. He’s been a monster finishing at the rim. Per NBA.com, the 7-footer is 74.1% in 2016-17.

But that isn’t the only are where Porzingis has improved. It’s that pesky post up game everyone was talking about. KP told Ian Begley of ESPN New York how he worked to improve it in the offseason.

“I didn’t add 1,000 moves to my post game. It’s just I’m more calm when I’m in the post,” he said after scoring 31 points in Tuesday’s win over Portland. “When I get the ball and take my time, nobody can really get to my shot. I’m realizing how long I am and how difficult it is to bother my shot. I think it’s more that, obviously, I worked on my post game, but it’s more that experience, just knowing how to use my length.”

Per Begley, Porzingis worked with his brother Janis in their home country of Latvia over the summer. When KP returned to New York, his post up work continued. The results have been there through the first 13 games, and an effective post game could neutralize the positive effect of smaller defenders on Porzingis. Like the Celtics putting Marcus Smart on him. He’s given KP fits.

KP just looks calmer out there. He’s taking advantage of the smaller defenders, and the numbers are there to back it up.

This clip from his career-high scoring game against the Detroit Pistons shows him shoot over the smaller Tobias Harris before abusing Jon Leuer with an up and under move and a turnaround fade away.

Keep in mind he did all this against a Pistons team that is in the top five in defensive efficiency.

Per NBA.com, Porzingis already has 38 post up possessions which he averages 1.05 points per possession. He’s in the 81st percentile of efficiency, ahead of all but three players with at least 30 post up possessions.

His teammates have noticed KP’s newest skill too. He’s getting 3.9 touches in the post per game and averaging 4.2 points, good for 15th in the league.

Through 13 games Porzingis has 829 touches, and just 6.6% of those have come in the post. It’s understandable given that he’s been on fire from downtown — averaging 39.0% — so he’s taking 5.5 per game. He’s been even better on long two’s, knocking down an unreal 47.6% of them.

Playing in the post might never be KP’s go to option on offense, but right now it’s a hell of an alternative to his knockdown shooting. One that he didn’t have as a rookie.

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