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Kristaps Porzingis Leads Way for Knicks’ Homegrown Talent

Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports

Over the decades we’ve seen movements like Hulkamania, Tebowmania and Linsanity drive the discussion of the sports/entertainment world, and it looks like we have our new phenomenon.

OK, maybe I’m reaching here, but the 6 God, AKA Porzingawd, AKA Krispy, AKA KP6, AKA Kristaps Porzingis has the same people who booed him when he was drafted back in June chanting his name on a nightly basis at Madison Square Garden, to a point where it’s reaching pandemonium!

Averaging an impressive 12.8 points and 8.6 rebounds through the first 12 games of his career, Porzingis erupted for a career-high 29 points when the New York Knicks defeated the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night. This was the first time Porzingis broke the 20-point mark, but to get a better idea of how impactful he’s been, it was his fifth double-double of the early season, which is second among rookies to Karl-Anthony Towns (seven).

Per ESPN’s Ian Begley, the Latvian rookie became the youngest Knick to post a 25-point, 10-rebound game in franchise history, and forgive me for this next point, it was a bit more meaningful as it came on a night where the Knicks hosted one-time hopeful franchise savior Jeremy Lin:

If you’re a Knicks fan, even if you’re a big-time NBA follower, you know that the organization has struggled not only to find young talent, but to develop and hold onto it. Lin’s become one of the better backup guards in the league, so three years removed from parting ways with him, the fan base should be able to sleep better at night knowing they didn’t allow a once in a generation talent to walk. With that said, I’m not using this opportunity to talk about where the Knicks would be had they kept Lin, but rather to discuss how they’ve finally embraced developing their own young talent.

And it’s already paying huge dividends!

Considering the Knicks didn’t get their sixth win of the 2014-15 season until mid-January, the fact that they reached that plateau (everything is relative in Knicks land) this early into the season, and are even playing .500 basketball, is a major step in the right direction. Again, we’re not talking about how this is a team that everyone should be afraid of, but they’re farther ahead in their rebuilding phase than anyone could’ve expected:

Whether you want to credit Porzingis, or team president Phil Jackson, it’s the youth movement leading this change. According to Basketball-Reference, the Knicks’ five leaders in on-off, which calculates how the team performs when a certain player is in the game as opposed to on the bench per 100 possessions, are Porzingis (+11.2), Kevin Seraphin (+10.4) , Jerian Grant (+8.8), Arron Afflalo (+8.2) and Langston Galloway (+6.0). This is excluding second-year player Cleanthony Early, who’s posted a +54.2 in a small sample size (19 minutes of playing time).

That’s right, the Knicks are playing above average, even good basketball, and it’s because of their homegrown talent. Really I want to say it’s because of how NBA ready the two rookies – Porzingis and Grant – have proven to be, but Galloway’s arguably been the best guard on the roster through this stretch of the early season, as he’s posting the league’s best offensive rating, per Basketball-Reference, while often being tasked with guarding the opposing team’s point guard in crunch time.

Head coach Derek Fisher is still figuring out his rotation and which lineups are working best together, but to this point he seems to be doing a solid job. Of the 17 different five-man rotations he’s used, 12 have outscored their opponents per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference. Factor in that Afflalo, the team’s starting shooting guard who they signed to a two-year contract this past summer, has only played in a third of the team’s games, and hopefully those lineups only get better.

Another noteworthy stat when looking at Fisher’s lineups and how this team is playing together, and this is one that Knicks fans will be very pleased with, Porzingis and star Carmelo Anthony (how did I not mention Anthony for the first 650 words of a Knicks column?) are in the team’s top two three-man lineups on the season, with the duo ranking third in point differential among all possible two-man lineups. Back to the youth, one of Galloway, Grant or Porzingis are in 11 of the Knicks’ top 12 two-man lineups.

We know it’s still a small sample size, but the fact that this team has been able to break even in spite of a tough schedule, with Anthony, Jose Calderon and Afflalo working off rust from injuries and their two rookies learning the NBA game, leaves room for optimism. Whether that optimism is going to be focused on this season, or the future, that’s up to you.

For now, keep dreaming with the 6 God:

For more Porzingis-mania, check out staff writer Joseph Nardone’s piece on the Knicks rookie.

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