It took him long enough, but former Knick Kristaps Porzingis finally won some breakup points against his former team. This time, the Knicks should be paying attention.
Now with the Boston Celtics, his third team in three years, Porzingis shined in Wednesday’s Opening Night game. He finished with 30 points and eight rebounds. Porzingis also blocked four shots and sunk five threes. It’s not often you see a 7-foot-3 big man be so active from long range.
But in KP’s case, the range proved to be the difference. His go-ahead three with 1:29 remaining proved the dagger, and the Garden Faithful rained down chants of that timeless classic “F*** Porzingis.”
And yet, in that moment, the Knicks probably wished they had never traded him away all those years ago.
We all know the story. Porzingis, then a rising star, tore his ACL in 2018 and decided he was done with the Knicks during his rehab. Given the Steve Mills era, who can blame him?
Even so, it led to the Knicks trading their heralded, vaunted, and sometimes polarizing former first-round pick to Dallas after less than three full seasons. Worse yet, he was just used to dump salaries for a failed run at Kevin Durant.
And just to be clear, New York very much won the divorce. Porzingis is 3-8 against the Knicks since being traded and his Celtics debut was his first truly great performance against them. He’s otherwise averaged a good-but-not-great 22.1 points and 8.9 rebounds on fairly pedestrian 42.5% shooting.
He has, however, made over 41% of his threes. And 92.2% of his free throws!
Meanwhile, the idea of the Knicks’ pure rim protectors attempting any sort of jumper is laughable. Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein play hard inside. That’s their game.
And yet Robinson, the Knicks’ toughest interior defender, barely functions outside of the paint. Porzingis basically had his way with him Wednesday and held him to two points and six boards.
How different things could have been if the Knicks had a center who was not only a strong presence under the basket, but could also stretch the floor?
There have been plenty throughout NBA history. Pau Gasol was Kobe Bryant’s second-in-command en route to two championships with the Lakers. He, in turn, paved the way for bigs with more range, like Chris Bosh. Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic is a two-time MVP on the defending champion Nuggets.
The last time Knicks center who also had that natural long range was…Andrea Bargnani. And we all know how that turned out. “Not well” would be an understatement.
But this is what’s keeping the Knicks from taking that next step forward. Their centers’ scoring is too one-dimensional. Team president Leon Rose might hold an actual press conference with multiple media outlets before Mitchell Robinson attempts a jumper.
And lucky for Rose, there is a growing trade market to fill this hole. The Knicks have reportedly put together a trade proposal for Sixers center and reigning MVP Joel Embiid. Stefan Bondy of the Post also reported earlier this month that Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns is on the radar and, better yet, has mended the fence with coach Tom Thibodeau.
The reigning MVP and a seven-footer who’s won a Three-Point Contest. No disrespect to Robinson, but the Knicks are past the age of slow-footed centers who do little more than park themselves in the paint. Scoring centers with range may soon be a necessity.
And, in fairness, Phil Jackson realized this when he drafted Kristapz Porzingis to New York back in 2015. He coached Gasol and saw the similarities between the two, tuning out the deafening boos on Draft Night. He knew that Porzingis had a bright NBA future, and he was right.
Unfortunately, it just hasn’t been with the Knicks.