The 7-foot-3 Latvian, Kristaps Porzingis is still without a return date and New York Knicks fans should prepare to wait for next season.
We need to have a talk about Kristaps Porzingis. I’m talking to the fans out there who may have shrines to the New York Knicks’ star player in their closets. I also address those who don’t go that far and just own every piece of KP merch under the sun.
Those of you getting ready to make a sacrifice to Cthulhu in a desperate, last-ditch healing ceremony should listen as well.
It’s looking more and more like Porzingis is not going to play this season. Now, as I’m sure some fans are sharpening their pitchforks and checking their torch supply, I implore you to hear me out.
A recent report from Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News unveiled an unsurprising update on KP, who tore his left ACL last February. Per the story, Porzingis’ rehab has not shown grand improvement and he is still unable to run. The 23-year-old can still only take shots and jog.
That report was thrown out the window as the Knicks suffered through a mini-controversy, but it appears that David Fizdale and his star player are now on the same page. Fizdale took the blame for saying that KP wasn’t sprinting and he used the opportunity to talk about just how hard Porzingis is working during his rehab process. But despite Fizdale stepping up and clearing the air, there is no timetable for the Latvian’s return.
Coming back from a torn ACL is no picnic, as Porzingis is learning firsthand. Thus, with New York not expected to contend this year and the frontcourt looking competitive, let’s accept what may be the inevitable truth. Kristaps Porzingis isn’t playing this season, and that’s just fine.
Porzingis suffered his injury back on Feb. 6, when the Knicks lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 103-89. The worst part? He tore his ACL literal seconds after a dunk, having beaten Giannis Antetokounmpo on a cut through the paint.
The loss that night was New York’s fourth in a row and put them at 23-32 for the year. The rest is history as the team went into full tank mode. The Knicks won only five more games the rest of the season.
Ian Begley of ESPN reported Porzingis would miss 10 months after undergoing surgery. The operation was in February, so that would make December the absolute earliest for a return.
Well, folks, here we are on Nov. 10 and Porzingis is still not in playing shape. Moreover, it wouldn’t help the Knicks to just wait all season for something that may never come. Vladimir and Estragon would spend less time waiting for their good buddy, one Mr. Godot.
Not only that, but do the Knicks really need Porzingis this season?
Entering Saturday’s game against the Toronto Raptors, the Knicks are 4-8 and last in the Atlantic Division. But there’s a catch — the record is deceiving. Any fan who has watched every game this season can say the Knicks, on the whole, have looked competitive. Their average margin of defeat is only 10.5 points, and even that number is inflated. A 23-point loss to the Miami Heat and one by 28 to the Golden State Warriors can be thanked for that.
New York isn’t making the playoffs this season, so why rush Porzingis’ recovery? It serves the team better to let him take his time. He’s a restricted free agent this summer and the Knicks will match any and all offers he receives, so better to have him back next year at full strength. Bringing him back next year would be asking him to serve on a sinking ship and risk hurting himself worse.
The second unit steps up
Another reason to let Kristaps Porzingis sit out 2018-19 is his teammates are playing well in his absence. Knicks GM Scott Perry used the team’s second-round pick on center Mitchell Robinson and also signed former lottery pick Noah Vonleh to a one-year deal. Enes Kanter also opted in for the final year of his contract after setting a career-high in rebounds (11.0) and field goal percentage (.592). Based on these moves alone, it is clear management wasn’t expecting much from him this season.
And each of these players has answered the bell in Porzingis’ absence. Vonleh is averaging 8.3 boards per game and 13.6 per 36 minutes. Robinson is raw but is averaging 11.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. Kanter has picked up right where he left off and is averaging 15.4 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. Even head coach David Fizdale was quoted in Bondy’s report as not being overly worried about Porzingis’ slow recovery because of how others have stepped up:
“I’m looking at these guys right now. I’m not even planning on KP at all,” Fizdale said. “I can see instantly how he fits, but I’m just trying to keep my mind focused on them. Because that would just be a huge distraction for me mentally, hoping and wishing for KP, that 25, 28 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, whatever. I’ve got to lock in on these young bucks, keep them up to par.”
Fizdale also mentioned how Kristaps Porzingis’ return would simply be a “gift” given how well the Knicks have performed in his absence. It’s almost as if he and the team are saying “Take your time, KP. We got this!”
In a perfect world, Kristaps Porzingis would be back next month and pick up right where he left off on the court. He’d be averaging nearly 20 and 10 per game and the Knicks may just have a shot at a low playoff seed.
Sadly, the reality is Porzingis won’t be back next month. It is a cruel reality and one that cannot be avoided. Rick and Morty could travel every known dimension of the universe, and not a single reality would have Porzingis coming back before the All-Star Break.
And that’s OK. The Knicks should focus less on Porzingis’ rehab and more on how this stronger-than-expected group of players can attract free agents next summer. The Latvian sensation will be back next year regardless of how 2018-19 plays out.
Thus, Knicks fans, I implore you. Don’t worry about Kristaps Porzingis. Focus on what Vonleh, Robinson, and the rest of this young core are doing instead.