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Rosen’s Rookie Reports: Kristaps Porzingis

Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

The Latvian-born Kristaps Porzingis is a 7’3”, 244-pound, center-forward, who was drafted by the New York Knicks as the fourth overall pick. He’s become the darling of the Knicks fans, as well as the local and national media, and his early-season performances have also garnered praise from opposing players and opposing coaches. KP’s enormous potential has even impelled many NBA insiders to claim he’s on track to become the next Dirk Nowitzki.

CLEVELAND – 90 NEW YORK – 84

A gallant effort by the much-improved Knicks. But the game came down to two familiar situations: LeBron James taking complete control, and Carmelo Anthony shooting blanks.

In any event, the back-stories of Porzingis’s numbers against the mighty Cavs hint at what kind of player he is now, and what kind of player he might become.

MINUTES PLAYED = 28

He played 32 minutes in NY’s last game at Charlotte, and his court time here is KP’s second-highest thus far. Derek Fisher has to make sure the rail-thin rookie doesn’t burn out, but if Porzingis can avoid foul trouble, look for his PT to routinely be recorded in the low 30s. Indeed, the team plays better with him in the lineup.

FGM-A = 5-11

Porzingis was 2-4 shooting mid-range jumpers, most of them catch-and-shoots. He showed no hesitation, a quick release and perfect form.  He didn’t really look for his own, yet only Arron Afflalo (6-13) and Carmelo (9-20) put up more shots.

KP was mugged while shooting a layup, but the refs continued to suck on their tooters and the event was recorded as a missed shot.  

It seems that, in every game he’s played, KP has a gotcha moment — high-rising put-back dunks, behind-the-back dribbles on the run, whatever…Against Kevin Love, Porzingis received the ball at a mid-post spot on the right side of the attack zone — he then executed one dribble going left into the lane, then quickly spun to the baseline and flipped in a right-handed bank shot. A dazzling move, rarely (if ever) executed by a 7’3” player  — and a rookie to boot!

3PM-A = 1-4

One miss came under shot-clock pressure. Another when he was too open and had too much time to think, set and shoot. The third errant three-ball was launched from about 28 feet and was also taken before the shot-clock detonated. However, even his misses were significant.

That’s because neither Porzingis nor any member of the Knick Nation will soon forget the three-pointer he made in Charlotte that was about .1 of a second too late to win the game. The problem then was that KP caught the pass, then wasted precious time in loading his shot by bringing the ball to his knees. Against the Cavs, though, he quickly brought the ball straight up to his release point after the catch.

Looks like he has a steep learning curve.

FTM-A = 0-0

In addition to being assaulted on the layup, Porzingis was also obviously clobbered as he battled for an offensive rebound. Oh well, refs seldom respect rookies.

REB = 7

Three on offense — the first being an unopposed put-back when Kevin Love neglected to box him out. Porzingis returned the favor on several occasions. Moreover, too often when he attempted to seal his man from the glass, the rookie was simply pushed too far under the basket by either Love or Tristan Thompson. But he did draw a non-shooting foul in one instance when Love’s aggression was simply too blatant to be ignored.

When KP had inside position as one of the Cavs was shooting free throws, he struggled mightily to maintain this advantage. He was mostly successful except for one sequence when he yielded an offensive rebound.

But KP’s long-armed penchant for grabbing his own offensive rebounds compelled the Cavs to squeeze him in a double-team when one of the Knicks was at the stripe.

In the fourth quarter, the rookie laid a textbook box-out on Timofey Mozgov that enabled him to gobble up a defensive rebound.

All told, two of his defensive rebounds were gimmes. 

AST = 1

This came on a neat kick-out to Melo, who bagged a trey.

Most of KP’s passes were ball-reversals, but he did make a sweet drop-pass to a dive-cutting Langston Galloway. But Galloway wasn’t expecting the pass and all he could do was catch it and make another (harmless) pass.

STL = 0

He latched on to a pass that was deflected by Jose Calderon, but the steal was correctly credited to the deflector.

Drives by Love, Mo Williams and LeBron were the only opportunities for KP to attack (and potentially steal) an opponent’s handle.

BLK = 0

He did successfully challenge a pair of three-ball attempts by Love, as well as a 20-foot jumper by Williams.

Porzingis’s defense was also beaten on several plays: A baseline drive by Love. An early-offense sequence when Mozgov scored after securing a solid position in the shadow of the hoop. And, on a pair of defensive switches, on drives by Williams and LBJ. In addition, KP went under a screen and allowed Love to shoot (and make) an unobstructed trey.

Overall, though, KP’s defense was seldom tested.

TO = 1

A bad pass from the side to the top that was intercepted by James.

PF = 1

After LeBron stole the pass, Porzingis chased him down and fouled him. A smart, hustling play that prevented a dunk and forced LeBron to make his free throws — which he did.

PTS = 11

Normally, it’s more than acceptable when a player’s point-total equals or exceeds the number of shots he takes.

NON-STATS: Porzingis always hustled, especially in transition defense. He made significant contact on the majority of screens he set. In defense of a high screen, he made an effective show to impede the progress of the ball-handler. He attacked entry passes into Love and managed to poke one free (but it was recovered by the Cavs). His movements were smooth and purposeful. 

THE VERDICT

This young man is remarkable. For sure, he needs to add bulk and strength. While it’s virtually impossible to gain weight during a season, look for Porzingis to add another 15 pounds during the offseason. This is a must.

The Knicks need to get him more touches in attack zones. Isos from the stripe and from low- or mid-post areas. Someday (later rather than sooner), he’s going to be the team’s go-to scorer. Why not give him a taste of what the future holds right now?

In sum, the unusual combination of his size, length, skill set, basketball IQ, quickness and work ethic are mind-blowing. No wonder several veteran NBA watchers say that the Kicks were lucky to drop to the fourth pick because Kristaps Porzingis will turn out to be the best player in the 2015 draft.

Don’t bet against it.

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