The 2017-18 season will be crucial for the progression of both Kristaps Porzingis as a player and the New York Knicks as an organization.
The New York Knicks found their franchise centerpiece when they drafted Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. Since that point, some fans and media have tried to run Carmelo Anthony out of town and anoint Porzingis the new “boss” of New York.
The problem is that so far, the 7-foot-3 Latvian has not shown the capability to carry a franchise. Being 21-years-old and in his second year, Porzingis is still young. That is why the 2017-18 season will be crucial in the progression of both Porzingis as a player and the Knicks as an organization.
Resume to build from
Porzingis has already started racking up career achievements.
He won the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month award the first three months of last season. Injuries and inconsistent play prevented him from winning it again. He ended up finishing second behind the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns in the Rookie of the Year voting. Inconsistency has been a common theme in his career.
The “Unicorn” as he is so lovingly referred to as has yet to be voted to his first All-Star Game. He did, however, participate in and win the Skills Challenge at this year’s mid-season festivities. He showed that he possesses the size of a big man while having the handles of a guard. Not too many, if any other players have this skillset.
The problem comes back to inconsistency. He is averaging 18.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.9 blocks in 32.8 minutes per game this season. He is also shooting 35.6 percent from behind the three-point line.
Bumps in the road
Kristaps Porzingis is committing 3.8 fouls per contest this season. That is a full foul over what he averaged last year. He is tied with the New Orleans Pelicans’ DeMarcus Cousins for the league lead. There are a few factors that have played into this result.
First and foremost, he is still young. He commits careless and unnecessary fouls that he will hopefully outgrow. It hasn’t helped that the team’s perimeter defense has been atrocious the past two seasons. When your guards cannot defend a single pick and roll, that leaves the big men in a vulnerable situation. The last factor is the position that he plays on the court.
Being a power forward position has been the biggest obstacle for Porzingis. As a stretch four, he can space the floor on offense, but he becomes a liability on the defensive end. He tries to cheat off of his man to help out in the paint, and he’s too slow to make up the distance on an uncontested three-pointer. If he does close out on the shooter, they can drive right around him.
New York experimented moving Porzingis to the center position but reported back with the emergence of Willy Hernangomez. Just another example of that word, inconsistency.
Not all of the inconsistencies that Porzingis has experienced are his fault. Jeff Hornacek is already the third head coach that the second year phenom has had since arriving in New York. The Knicks also went from using the triangle offense last year to shying away from it this season.
To succeed, he needs to be under one head coach, running one system so he can get comfortable and develop. Kristaps Porzingis will never reach the status that Knick fans dream about as long as he is playing the power forward position.
He is a center and needs to be used as a center. This will provide a defensive anchor possession after possession, night in and night out that the team has been missing. It would also allow Carmelo Anthony to play at the power forward position.
Anthony’s game is better suited offensively and defensively at the four. But after recent events, it seems that Anthony may already have one foot out the door. When he does decide to take his talents elsewhere, year three becomes even more important to Porzingis. The Knicks need to pair him with a true point guard in the upcoming draft. Otherwise, the gym-rattling put back dunks, smooth three-point shooting or momentum-changing blocks will not mean a thing.
Will Kristaps Porzingis be great? Yes. Will he end up being the franchise savior that the fans and media have labeled him as? That has yet to be determined, but year three will go a long way in answering that question.