New York Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis Is EuroBasket's Biggest Star
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 29: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks reacts after hitting a three pointer against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half at Madison Square Garden on October 29, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

New York Knicks‘ Kristaps Porzingis was already popular, but his performance in EuroBasket 2017 is making him the tournament’s biggest star.

The fourth game of Kristaps Porzingis‘ NBA career was a 10-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs, dropping the New York Knicks to a 2-2 record. But an early season loss to one of the NBA’s elite teams wasn’t about the result.

It was about the No. 4 overall pick showing off his incredible abilities.

With a little over nine minutes remaining in the third quarter, Porzingis went over the back of LaMarcus Aldrige to grab a Carmelo Anthony miss with one hand and throw down the putback dunk. This play has become a signature for Porzingis, but not so much for the typical 7-foot-3 big man.

As his rookie season progressed, Porzingis drew comparisons to legendary Mavericks big man Dirk Nowitzki. The future Hall of Famer made the stretch four cool when he came on the scene.

We later found out that Porzingis grew up watching Nowitzki and practiced those legendary tough shots that the German phenom has made look so easy. The two have grown close; they worked out together this summer while in Africa for an NBA promotional tour.

Dirk isn’t the only star to sing KP’s praises. The 22-year-old’s unique skill set caused Kevin Durant to give Porzingis a nickname that’s stuck till this day.

Via Royce Young of ESPN:

“He can shoot, he can make the right plays, he can defend, he’s a 7-footer that can shoot all the way out to the 3-point line,” Durant said. “That’s rare. And block shots — that’s like a unicorn in this league.”

Porzingis was 15th in jersey sales after a phenomenal rookie season and jumped to seventh as a super sophomore. His remarkable play during the EuroBasket 2017 tournament is making him an even bigger star. He looks like a man among boys out there.

KP was in the media this summer for all the wrong reasons. He blew off an exit meeting because he was upset with his employer; his boss wanted to trade him; his coach cursed him out; most importantly he was on icy terms with the entire franchise.

It’s good to see the youngster back on social media for all the right reasons.

His many highlight reel plays are reminiscent of his previous work, but the eye-popping statistics are something we’ve never seen from the Latvian. Despite the inferior competition and small sample size, his play can’t be ignored.

After five games he’s averaging 22.4 points per game on a remarkable slash line of .514/.409/.900. He’s fifth in the entire tournament in scoring behind established NBA point guards Goran Dragic (Slovenia) and Dennis Schroder (Germany), Chicago Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen (Finland), and former Knick Alexey Shved (Russia).

Via Twitter @TommyBeer of Basketball Insiders:

The unicorn helped Latvia win four of their five games in the group stage leading to a matchup with Montenegro on Sunday in the round of 16.

Update: Latvia crushed Montenegro 100-68 to advance to the quarterfinals vs. Slovenia on Tuesday. Porzingis had 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

He got off to a slow start in Latvia’s opener scoring 18 points on a modest 7-of-16 from the field in a 92-82 loss to Serbia. He looked overmatched down low, grabbing only three rebounds and finishing at a minus 12 in 28:30 of playing time.

Porzingis has been on a tear ever since. Three of the next four games saw him hang 27 points on Belgium and 28 points twice — once on Great Britain and once on Turkey. Fortunately, that fluky 11 point effort against Russia was quickly forgotten as Latvia managed to pick up the win anyway.

During that beatdown of Belgium, Porzingis had another one hand putback slam. This one looked a little different. The poor Belgium team could only stand around and watch the miss as the unicorn sprinted through the open court for the throw down.

Porzingis isn’t the only Knick to play in EuroBasket. Willy Hernangomez (Spain) and Mindaugas Kuzminskas (Lithuania) are making some noise too.

Hernangomez has been one of the most valuable players on the Spanish team, and that’s saying something. They’ve been far and away the best team, going a perfect 5-0 in group play, with an average margin of victory of 29 points. Willy’s been a beast on the boards, leading the entire tournament in rebounds per 40 minutes.

Kuzminskas’ team was just bounced Saturday in the round of 16, but it wasn’t his fault. He scored 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting in just under 29 minutes. It capped off an excellent tournament for Kuz.

New York Knicks

All that said, EuroBasket still belongs to Porzingis. The other big names may have put up more points, but none of them are doing what Porzingis is doing.

Schroder plays for the Hawks, and Dragic isn’t the star on his NBA team. Markkanen is yet to play a second in the NBA, so the jury’s still out on what he can do at the highest level of professional basketball in the world.

We already know Porzingis is destined for great things. Being the center of Latvia’s attack is preparing him for his inevitable role as the go-to guy in New York. The past two weeks were the best thing that could’ve happened to the unicorn. He needed to do a little winning after the disaster that was the 2016-17 season.

Porzingis was already a star in New York and one of the most popular players in the NBA. His performance in EuroBasket is only making everyone talk about him more. At least now it’s for the right reasons.

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