New York City has and always will be a very tough place to play. And there is no team more truer to New York, then the New York Knicks, playing in the heart of Manhattan at Madison Square Garden — 34th street and 7th, the center of the universe. The newest member to take on the challenge of New York folklore? 19-year-old Latvian, Kristaps Porzingis.
Upon the calling of his name at the 2015 NBA draft, Porzingis was already hearing boo-birds. That was unfair for Porzingis, as many Knicks’ fans had never seen him play before. But with the frustrations of a 17-win season still fresh in their memories, uncertainty only drew more frustration from the fans.
At the time of the Knicks pick on draft night, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor were all off the board, so there really was no definitive answer for the Knicks. Some Knicks fans liked Emmanuel Mudiay, but as another overseas baller, that arguably had just as much risk as Porzingis.
With all of the uncertainty still in the air, Porzingis recently showcased his abilities to Knicks fans. From his stint with the summer league, Porzingis’ finished with good numbers, averaging 10.5 points per game in limited minutes. He showed defensive savvy as well, especially for someone who’s limited in strength.
Teammate Jerian Grant noticed Porzingis’ abilities to modify his defensive approach to strategies that are more favorable to him. “High basketball IQ,” Grant noted.
Knicks’ legend and current announcer Walt Clyde Frazier noticed Porzingis’ ability to utilize the backboard throughout his game. As a big man with a soft touch, he showed a precise amount of discipline. Every area of the court he showed a routine approach in getting the angles he liked for his shots. And Clyde was right: the backboard was a vital part to Porzingis’ scoring abilities.
But the most impressive aspect of Porzingis’ debut did not come from anything that occurred on the court. It came from his ability to speak promptly and confidently with a microphone in front of his face. In New York, where every aspect of media is exponentially greater, that is so crucial for success.
The tri-lingual teenager said everything Knicks’ fans wanted to hear. In response to the notion that he may not be very physical, Porzingis wasn’t shy of words.
“I’m just playing hard,” Porzingis told reporters. “Those guys who thought I was soft, I’m just trying to play hard and that’s what I am doing. I don’t try to avoid the contact. If I have to take elbows to the face, I will and get offensive fouls. I’m just trying to play hard and do whatever it takes to win.”
A kid who’s been prematurely doubted with a chip on his shoulder. New York fans certainly can get on board with rooting for this kid. Chants of “Por-Zing-Is” echoed throughout Las Vegas when he battled against Okafor, and every word he said to the media exemplified a lot of confidence for such a young inexperienced player.
With the Knicks’ regular season still a while away, this was a refreshing reminder that Porzingis is here to play hard and smart. And with many other free agent signings and the right players being rewarded from last season, the Knicks may in fact be something to watch this year. No matter how well or how poorly they do, New York fans will always root for the effort behind a kid trying to live his dream.
And Porzingis just may be the next big New York story.