In April of 2015, Carmelo Anthony was open to the idea of a successor. This was before the draft-night boos for Kristaps Porzingis. Before the highlight-reel poster dunks, and before the sky-high jersey sales. Before the stardom.
“Oh yeah, I don’t have a problem with that,” Anthony told Steve Popper of NorthJersey.com. “If I had a chance to be the second option, I will definitely be the second option. That just takes the load off of me. For me, I don’t have to go out there and do it every night.”
Maybe Melo didn’t expect that thought to become a reality. The lottery players—D’Angelo Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor and the lanky kid from Latvia—all glowed with potential, but none appeared ready to dethrone a nine-time All-Star.
“I think everybody, All-Star players, we want that light, we want to be the focal point of our team, of our organization,” Anthony told Popper. “But if we get somebody to come in and help us out, that’s a load off of us. That’s helpful to me; that’s helpful to the other star that’s coming in, that’s helpful to the whole team.”
The Latvian kid is close to taking over.
Last season, Anthony was the top dog. He led New York in scoring (21.8), win shares (6.4) and VORP (2.9), but Porzingis wasn’t far behind in those categories. He put up 14.3 points (second) and 4.3 win shares (third to Robin Lopez) while totaling a 1.1 VORP (third, again to Lopez).
Did he take advantage of a league that slept on him early? Sure. And did he slow down toward the end of the season? You bet.
But Porzingis did that as a wafer-thin, 230ish-pound foreigner in a new country. By all accounts, he’s only gotten better this offseason, with an emphasis on grooming his three-point stroke:
Scrimmage video: Joakim Noah finds a trailing Kristaps Porzingis for an open 3-pointer: pic.twitter.com/3KKFp66ax3
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) September 30, 2016
Kristaps Porzingis, who is coming off of a groin injury, working on his corner three after practice: pic.twitter.com/AYiQQyfasv
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 17, 2016
Kristaps Porzingis and Lance Thomas working on corner threes after practice: pic.twitter.com/ZKGmkXtZtC
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 23, 2016
Reminder: He’s 7’3”.
On Oct. 17, Melo curiously went all fire-safety on the scorching second-year big man, per Marc Berman of the New York Post:
“There’s still a learning curve for him. Last year, nobody knew what to expect — all new to everybody. This year, he’s going to be a focal point of the scouting report, trying to figure out how to stop him. It’s a matter of being smarter and learning the game more.”
All truth. Nothing that raises your eyebrows there. Or here, from ESPN’s Ian Begley:
Carmelo on Porzingis: "He's still young. He's a 2nd-year player. I think you (the media) put too much pressure on him to be great so fast."
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 17, 2016
But Anthony wasn’t done…
“He still doesn’t know the game that much. He’s still a young, second-year player. We put too much pressure on him to kind of be great so fast. I just want him to get the opportunity to grow as a player. He doesn’t know everything right now. He’s just 21, second year in the league.”
That wasn’t a shot. No way. But it was definitely…weird.
He still doesn’t know the game that much. Huh?
If the Knicks are going to make any sort of postseason push, Anthony and Porzingis are going to be at the heart of it. Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah and Brandon Jennings will be needed, of course, but they’re passengers.
Melo and KP are co-pilots.
Game Day! Season starts in less than a week ???????????? pic.twitter.com/2ADQ1ICaVD
— Kristaps Porzingis (@kporzee) October 19, 2016
Let’s be upfront: It’s not easy to have spotlight taken, especially in the Big Apple.
Porzingis became a must-see international star in an instant, and at one point had the NBA’s fourth highest-selling jersey. It was Jeremy Lin-esque. To his credit, Anthony—who fought to get to the Knicks for that very N.Y. platform, and who reportedly grew jealous during Linsanity—handled his teammate’s rise with nothing but class.
The Knicks must hope he’s ready to handle more of that.
Anthony doesn’t have to cede touches or go out of his way to get KP the ball. Now 21 years old, Porzingis has shown a sense of aggressiveness this preseason that he lacked, at times, last year. If open, he’s shot. Zero hesitation. That should continue heading into the 2016-17 season.
This isn’t about passing a torch. Anthony is still the Knicks’ top option and leader. Instead, it’s about looking at Porzingis, who’s idolized Melo since his youth basketball days in Latvia (corn rows!), as an equal.