In his first five games with the New York Knicks, 20-year-old rookie Kristaps Porzingis has achieved wondrous things.
He’s sent Madison Square Garden into a frenzy with a one-handed putback jam over the Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge:
He’s executed pretty much the exact same dunk over the Cavs’ Kevin Love:
He’s blocked and stolen the ball from LeBron James:
(Okay, LeBron bounced it off his own foot — but the intimidation factor!)
Porzingis also has become the youngest Knicks player ever to post a double-double, and the first Knicks rookie since Patrick Ewing with 40-plus points and 30-plus rebounds through his first four games.
Plus, the Latvian is likable as hell. He’s already unleashed a bevy of A-plus quotes, such as: “If you suck, [Knicks fans] will let you know. It’s a tough place, but I love that.” And: “My long, flexible neck is fine.” And, when told of a Latvian teammate saying Porzingis goes on WorldstarHipHop every day: “Not every day.”
The baby-faced assassin once had cornrows, for crying out loud.
All of which explains why Porzingis has so quickly become “PorzinGOD” to Knicks fans. Sure, he’s had growing pains — he’s averaging 6.8 fouls per 36 minutes, more than any other player in the league, per ESPN — but he seems to be self-aware, admitting after Wednesday’s defeat in Cleveland that he needs to play smarter.
Porzingis has also been more aggressive on the glass than anyone could have expected, averaging 7.3 rebounds (2.8 offensive) per game. He isn’t timid on the court — and, most importantly, he doesn’t seem intimidated by the weight of a wretched franchise and its desperate fans on his shoulders.
Which brings me to my real point: I feel bad for Knicks fans. I am a Knicks fan; I feel bad for myself. I feel bad because Zinger is giving us reason for hope. Any sane Knicks fan knows that, in the end, there is only pain. There is only injury and mismanagement and unmet expectations.
When New York took Porzingis with the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft, Knicks fans at the Barclays Center booed. They booed, not necessarily because they knew so much about Porzingis, but because they believe there is no such thing as a good Knicks draft pick.
Note the reaction, in particular, of one little boy. He has probably never even heard of Porzingis, but his father has clearly spent years preparing him for this moment:
That is good parenting. The boy is distraught because Porzingis, he knows, is going to be a bust. Or worse: He won’t be a bust at all, but incompetent team owner James Dolan will screw it up, just like he’s done with the Knicks time after time after time.
And yet we never fully learn. Knicks Nation is full of pessimists, but at the same time, we freak out at any sign of hope, any player who may be able to lead us to the promised land several years down the road. So here we are, aware of the franchise’s recent history, aware of its childish owner who treats first-round draft picks like they’re the plague, and yet we still have people thinking positive, suggesting Porzingis could attract free agents in a way that superstar Carmelo Anthony could not. We still have naive fans like Ja Rule, the rapper, who went on ESPN’s “First Take” on Wednesday to make the prediction that the Knicks will win 35 games, and to utter the phrase, “We go as Porzingis goes” (at which point Stephen A. Smith spontaneously combusted).
Porzingis, in the most objective sense, has the potential to become an excellent basketball player. His three-point shot will improve. He will bulk up and become an even better post presence. He’ll learn to play better defense. He has nowhere to go but up.
But it’s only been five games. This is the same guy who was booed just four months ago, and whose most recent team was Baloncesto Sevilla. And these are the same Knicks who have Jose Calderon starting at point guard; the same Knicks who finally seemed to be on the right track in 2012–13, and then proceeded to win 54 games across the following two seasons; the same Knicks who have done everything in their power to make you think twice before falling head over heels for a thrilling, rising young star like Porzingis.
I’ve watched this story unfold enough times before to assume it ends in disaster. For PorzinGOD’s sake, I hope I’m finally wrong.