The New York Knicks and Kristaps Porzingis are trying to put the past in the rearview, but Friday’s game brings plenty of hype.
Here we go. Kristaps Porzingis will play against the New York Knicks for the first time in his career. At one point in time, the Latvian big man was the savior in New York and the franchise centerpiece who would turn the entire operation around.
Now, he’s a traitor and a snake and soft and never going to win anything and never going to stay healthy and wasn’t tough enough to handle New York and—well, that’s all according to the average Knicks fan you’ll meet in front of Madison Square Garden.
Porzingis understands how passionate Knicks fans are and he’s not taking any of it personally.
“I have nothing but love for the city of New York and the fans,” Porzingis told reporters on Thursday. “They showed me so much support at the time I was there. They’re so passionate about the team so it’s normal that they feel that way.”
There has to be some extra motivation for Porzingis deep down inside, but he’s trying to play it cool. He was asked about the aftermath of the trade and he admitted he made some mistakes. The late-night Instagram stories were one of the things Porzingis said he regrets.
If it’s successful and the franchise turns around based off of some of the assets recouped, the front office will have done a masterful job at making the most of a bad situation. But if Porzingis ends up being a perennial All-Star in Dallas on a championship contender, this will be yet another “quick fix” failure.
So far, so good for Porzingis in Dallas. He’s been far from perfect in his new home, but Dallas is cruising along in the Western Conference despite some inconsistent play from Porzingis. He’s the first one to admit that he hasn’t been playing well in his last few games.
Kristaps Porzingis on how he’s been playing and tomorrow’s game pic.twitter.com/QOGMiJNdyk
— Chris Iseman (@ChrisIseman) November 7, 2019
The box-score numbers are solid. He’s averaging 19.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.3 blocks per game. His problem has been one of the same problems he suffered in New York.
While he’s capable of completely dominating a game in ways that few others can, he’s also prone to the disappearing act. There are large stretches of games when Porzingis doesn’t have much impact on the game. He can get lost in the sauce at times.
The good times can be really good.
This might look familiar to Knicks fans. Porzingis just swatting everything at the rim and then finishing on the other end. Looking very Unicorn-y pic.twitter.com/uBkMdHp3sC
— Danny Small (@dwsmall8) October 18, 2019
But the bad times can be maddening.
He’s prone to second halves like his game against the Los Angeles Lakers when he shot 1-for-6 and was a complete non-factor in an overtime loss. Luka Doncic took a shot to the back of the head and was clearly shaken up. It was the perfect time for Porzingis to step forward and assert himself as more than just the Robin to Luka’s Batman.
Despite his Harry Houdini act, Knicks fans know Porzingis can erupt for 30-plus points on any given night. He’s one of the toughest guys to game plan against in the league due to his sheer size and uncanny skills. Much like he did in New York, he’s still playing mostly power forward with the Mavs. He plays a ton with Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber.
Should the Knicks decide to throw Julius Randle or Marcus Morris on Porzingis, the Latvian can shoot over the shorter forwards at almost any time or spot on the court. With no Mitchell Robinson due to a concussion, the only other realistic options to cover Porzingis are Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson.
Porzingis’ three-point stroke and ridiculous length make him one of the most dangerous pick-and-pop threats since…alright, fine, Dirk Nowitzki. That’s the one time I’ll make that comparison.
But seriously, Doncic and Porzingis in the pick-and-pop is the stuff that will keep NBA coaches up at night. According to Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic, Frank Ntilikina will guard Luka Doncic. The Frenchman is certainly capable of making Doncic’s life difficult, but it has to be a two-pronged attack with whoever covers Porzingis.
If Robinson was healthy and playing on Friday, that would be an intriguing matchup to watch. But with the prospect of Randle or Portis or anyone else on the 7-foot-3 Latvian, on paper, it’s easy to see how this game could end up as another embarrassing loss for the Knicks.
However, they don’t play the games on paper. The Mavericks will still have to go against a team with up-and-coming rookie RJ Barrett. The Knicks are relying heavily on Barrett and the rookie understands the importance of this game.
Prior to the season, Barrett said if he could dunk on one player in the league, it would be public enemy No. 1 for Knicks fans. Porzingis welcomed the challenge and said he thinks it’s a “good goal” for Barrett to want to dunk on him.
It may be too tall a task for Barrett to lead the Knicks to a win over a much better team, but a dunk over Porzingis would give Knicks fans something to cheer about.
No matter what happens in Dallas on Friday, Knicks fans have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Then again, this is just an appetizer before the main course, Porzingis’ official return to Madison Square Garden on Nov. 14.