With former star Carmelo Anthony gone, it is now on Kristaps Porzingis to be the face of the New York Knicks.
The Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis hoping he would lead the Knicks in the post-Carmelo era. At the time the team had no idea it would be this soon. Now, with Carmelo Anthony gone, the Latvian is expected to be the team’s leader his third season.
“I am excited about the opportunity to be the leader of the team,” Porzingis told the media on Monday.
The fans and management in New York are hoping for Porzingis to take a huge leap in his third NBA season. Last season the Latvian improved on his first-team all-rookie season, averaging 18 points per game, grabbing seven rebounds and making 112 three-pointers.
There were only six other players to pull this off last season, and all of them made the All-Star game. This certainly bodes well for Porzingis, who is eyeing his first trip to the All-Star Game this year.
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When asked if he thinks he could take that leap this summer for a chance to play with the league’s finest, Porzingis made it simple, saying he believes so. The departure of Anthony, as well as Derrick Rose, is going to help Porzingis make his All-Star aspirations a reality.
According to Basketball-Reference, Porzingis’ usage percentage was 24.3 percent, slightly down from his rookie season. Anthony and Rose both had higher usage percentages last season. With the team’s two highest usage percentages no longer playing in New York Porzingis is going to have plenty of more scoring opportunities this season.
There has been some concern about how Porzingis is going to adjust to being the go-to scorer for New York without Anthony. “He took a lot of pressure off everybody,” Porzingis said. “Now I am gonna be one of those guys that the other team is gonna focus on.”
The adjustment, however, does not look to be an issue for Porzingis. The 22-year-old has only improved this offseason. During this summer Porzingis remained in Latvia and worked on his game.
“I had a really good summer. As soon as the season was over, I rested maybe for like ten days and got back to work.” Porzingis spent his summer running, swimming, and doing various new exercises he had never done before. His primary focus was to come back to New York a better, stronger player, as evident by the added muscle he displayed at media day. “I put in a lot of work. I feel confident.”
While some around the NBA think Porzingis is not quite ready to take the next leap and lead New York, management disagrees. They felt comfortable moving on from Anthony because of their confidence in Porzingis to be the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future.
“We are looking forward to Kristaps continuing his development,” Knicks General Manager Scott Perry said. “We are going to support him. We are going to push him. We are going to hold him accountable.”
Adding to Porzingis’ All-Star aspirations is the phenomenal performances he had during this summer’s FIBA EuroBasket tournament.
Porzingis led Latvia to the quarterfinals of the event, where he saved his best game for last. While Latvia fell to Slovenia, Porzingis scored 34 points and grabbed six boards.
Overall in the tournament, Porzingis averaged 23.6 points, good for third best in the tournament, on 53 percent shooting and grabbed 5.9 rebounds per game. The seven-footer also averaged nearly two made threes a game.
“I think I had a good European championship,” said Porzingis. While he recognized Latvia did not go as far in the tournament as he would have wanted, Latvia did advance as far they ever have before. “It was a great experience for me being the leader of that team, and I think that is also going to help me this year with the Knicks.”
The Knicks hope all the work Porzingis has done this summer in the gym, on the court and as a leader for his country will translate to New York.