By Frank McLean
NBA Draft night in 2015 at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn the arena was full of New York Knicks fans waiting to see who then President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson was going to choose with the team’s first round draft pick. When it came time to name their selection the Knicks picked a seven-foot-three forward from Latvia named Kristaps Porzingis.
As David Stern announced his name at the podium the boos raining down from the gallery was deafening. The fans wanted someone who played in the NCAA not some European stiff who no one on this side of the Atlantic Ocean ever heard of.
Jackson is gone now after running the Knicks into the ground and making them the most dysfunctional franchise in the NBA, but it’s starting to look like the drafting of Porzingis is going to be one of the few things he got right.
After 13 games the Knicks are sitting at 7-6 which is about as a good of a start the team has enjoyed in a long time. They have been as big a surprise as any team in the NBA and the reason they are off to that start has to do with Porzingis.
Recently he scored a career high 40-points in a 108-101 win over the Indiana Pacers where he had a big 17-point fourth quarter.
Two days before that he dropped 37 in a win against Phoenix. He has now scored 30-plus points in eight games already this season.
Teammate Enes Kanter has started beating the drums for Porzingis to be the league’s MVP which his coach Jeff Hornacek is also a believer.
Enes Kanter on LeBron James’ “King of New York” reference on Instagram: “We already have a king. It’s Kristaps Porzingis.”
— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) November 14, 2017
“Why not?” Hornacek said in an interview with the New York Post. “When you’re seven-three and have the skills that he has and doing it on both sides of the ball, you’re going to be put up as one of the best players in the league. KP has that drive. Not a lot of guys have that drive. If they do, they don’t want to put the effort in there to get there. He does. He’s worked hard in the summer. He’s so young, he’s going to get better and better.”
It’s hard to imagine he can get any better. He’s third in scoring in the NBA and his 29.5 points a game average is 11 points better than last season so the evidence is there that he is on his way to a career year.
Now Knicks fans, who have never been known to be completely sane, were ready for their team to tank this season so that they could get a shot at another top four lottery pick in the draft. And now winning games goes against that plan. Like I said sane and Knicks fan are not usually spoken in the same sentence.
Ask Porzingis if he thinks the Knicks can make the playoffs and if it would be better for the development of the team to play meaningful games in April?
“That’s not how I look at it,” Porzingis said when asked if it’s better to get a high lottery pick. “We want to win as many games as we can. That’s not how I think is right. I think we have a good enough team to make the playoffs. I didn’t make the playoffs my first two years. This year, if we can do it, it would be a step forward. We want to keep building. That step forward will draw more attention to the team and we can keep building also. I said before the season the goal for me would be to make the playoffs and get that playoff taste. That would be a good experience.”
It’s early, but Kristaps Porzingis has made watching Knicks basketball fun again.
The numbers he has put up so far this season are starting to prove Phil Jackson was right in drafting him.
Is he an early season candidate for league MVP? Yes, but there is a lot of basketball left.
Can Porzingis get the Knicks into the playoffs? Okay let’s not get crazy… let’s see how this all plays out. But, thanks to the improved play of Porzingis, the Knicks are not guaranteed win night for opponents anymore.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.