On his 22nd birthday, Kristaps Porzingis aims to make New York City “his home” for the entirety of this career. In the end, that could be a very real and compelling possibility.With former vice president of operations Phil Jackson out and the New York Knicks’ front office of Steve Mills and Scott Perry, the first African-American duo at vice president and general manager in league history, now solidified, the prospects for the Knickerbockers radiate much brighter than they had a mere month ago.
Despite the standstill in the Carmelo Anthony trade talks and little movement on the Kyrie Irving front, Kristaps Porzingis, spending his offseason grinding it out in Latvia, appears comfortable citing New York as the place he desires to be for the foreseeable future.
Most recently, Porzingis left Latvia, where he is training for the European Championships, for a league wide promotional tour of Africa. Just today, his 22nd birthday, Porzingis reached out to the Knicks, who featured an interview with the star on the NBA’s website.
To quote Porzingis: “So far it’s been tough in New York, but my journey is only beginning and I hope to stay there my whole career.’’ KP added, “So as a city, we can have some fun and win some games and do something big. For me, it’s now home.’’
Only Porzingis, a reputed “unicorn,” a rare player with a formidable inside-outside game predicated on length, athleticism, and agility, did not stop there with tantalizing press fodder.
On whom Porzingis has channeled this offseason as inspiration for improving the mental aspect of his game, he pointed to Conor McGregor, a UFC lightning rod for controversy and publicity who is currently on tour with Floyd Mayweather in preparation for their August 26 showdown.
Get ready to see a new Porzingis. pic.twitter.com/JN8fVIJLnP
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) August 2, 2017
The third-year star for the Knicks has endeared himself to New York fans through electrifying put-backs, blocked shots, and the capacity to bury shots from behind the arc, to say nothing of a developing post game, and has not backed down in the face of adversity and situations that demand some trash talk. Perhaps emulating McGregor in the latter department (although, hopefully, not too much) will further win over a fanbase that was primed to descend upon Madison Square Garden amid a riot when Phil Jackson threatened to trade Porzingis away prior to July’s trade deadline.
Any prospect of rejoining Melo on the floor remains a substantially long shot, with the longest-tenured Knick yearning to join Chris Paul and James Harden in Houston. Kyrie Irving, who reportedly pines to leave LeBron James‘s shadow in Cleveland and join the Knicks, one of four teams on his “wish list,” would come at a high cost, which just might preclude a Porzingis exit at the Garden.
It would behoove the Knicks to avoid such as deal, more so given KP’s proclamation and desire to remain in New York.
Better yet, the Knicks would benefit from being the club to facilitate a Melo trade and a Kyrie deal that does not necessarily entail his coming to the Knicks; rather, Mills and Perry would do better to work out deals that would yield assets in the form of young players and picks to build around Porzingis, who headlines a wave of young international players galvanized by Nikola Jovic’s presence in Denver, Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s spot in Milwaukee, and Dario Saric‘s place in Philadelphia.
Moreover, gutting the roster as the Knicks did to land Carmelo Anthony at the 2011 trade deadline so that Kyrie could play with KP would prove disastrous and disadvantageous to what Porzingis could become in New York.
A core of Willy Hernangomez, Tim Hardaway, Jr., rookie Frank Ntilikina, and Porzingis might be thrilling to watch, especially if Melo and his “hero ball” style of play is Houston-bound and coach Jeff Hornacek is permitted to run the style of offense he administered in Phoenix in 2013-2014, when he finished second to Gregg Popovich in the Coach of the Year vote. Any offense that diverts from Jackson’s insistence on the archaic mode of the triangle will work wonders for the Knicks in the X-and-O department.
Let Porzingis roam free in an open offense and watch what the young Latvian could do.
Tommy Beer, NBA senior analyst with Basketball Insider and Roto World, cites some incredible statistics on behalf Porzingis, who is still developing into an NBA star and growing into his game. The numbers, quite frankly, are astonishing and demonstrative of what Porzingis has already accomplished in the league.
Beer states, “Porzingis has appeared in 138 games over his first two NBA seasons. He has knocked down a total of 193 three-pointers. To put that in perspective, that’s more three-pointers than Reggie Miller, James Harden, C.J. McCollum, and Peja Stojakovic over the first 138 games of their careers. KP has also blocked 263 shots. That’s more blocks than Rudy Gobert, Dwight Howard, Yao Ming, and Serge Ibaka had in the first 138 games of their careers.”
Although Porzingis’s free throw percentage dipped from 2015-2016 to 2016-2017 (.838 to .786, while only going to the line 0.5 more times per game), along with a slight downtick in his rebounds per game (7.3 to 7.2, in nearly five minutes more per game from season one to season two), Porzingis’s overall field goal percentage (.421 to .450) and shot percentage from deep (.333 to .357) went up, as he averaged 18.1 points and 2.0 blocks per game. Porzingis did see a decrease in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) between seasons, from 17.7 to 17.4, a long way off from the league leader (Russell Westbrook, at 30.6), let alone a more comfortable 20.0 mark indicative of a player of Porzingis’s ilk at this stage of his career.
From booed at the draft to face of the franchise. @KPorzee turned 22 today—and his future’s looking legendary. pic.twitter.com/DFXYHwvqFp
— Cycle (@bycycle) August 2, 2017
Clearly, miring through the Phil Jackson regime, with whom Porzingis notoriously failed to meet at season’s end, struggling in what he reputed to be a “confusing and random offense,” and faltering in a culture of losing, did a number on Porzingis’s growth. That said, the young star has proven himself in New York and could shine in an offense with the right pieces and a facilitator on offense like Ntilikina, although that might be asking too much of a first year player. That said, a rebuild, one that owner James Dolan allegedly will leave solely to Scott Perry and Steve Mills, could be just what this club needs as they endure growing pains en route to landing another lottery pick at season’s end. Presently, the Knicks are not in Golden State’s league, let alone Cleveland, Boston, or Toronto’s. A true rebuild starting now, helmed by Porzingis, a budding star years away from his prime, should be in order as the “haves” of the league (Curry, KD, and LeBron) grow into old age and find difficulty circumventing the salary cap, just as KP comes into his own three or four years from now, hopefully as an All-Star in New York.
Perry, who worked miracles in a mere 83 days as the Sacramento Kings’ vice president of basketball operations, could be just the man to permit this sort of rebuild for the Knicks, just as long as Porzingis serves as the face of the franchise and focal point of the New York Knicks’ offense.
Thankfully, Porzingis, freshly turned 22, seems eons away from the relative unknown who was jeered mercilessly on draft night over two years ago. He can and will be the man, one who is comfortably “at home,” should the New York Knicks be willing to embrace that prospect.