- The Knicks are winning and Kristaps Porzingis is arriving faster than expected. Will he continue to play at this pace and put New York on the right path?
In the latest Open Floor Podcast, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver take a look at Kristaps Porzingis, the New York Knicks and their surprising start to the NBA season.
Ben Golliver: I will not claim that I thought Kristaps Porzingis was going to be a top three or four scorer in the league, and we’ll see if he can hold that up, but I did tell you he was going to like getting buckets. I mean, I told you he was going to be the guy who wants to be the face of the Knicks franchise. He seems to be loving life just a little bit, don’t you think?
Andrew Sharp: You were so, so, so right about that, and I apologize to you. I basically...
Golliver: I believe you called that one of my worst takes ever. I don’t know where that came from. I was so stunned when you said that. I was like, ‘No, I’m pretty sure a guy like Porzingis with his skills… I mean he grew up idolizing all these scoring type guys, now he’s got the green light. Why wouldn’t he love that?
Sharp: Well, I just envisioned him getting like 25 points per game, going like 7-for-20 from the field and the Knicks losing by double digits every night, and there are a lot of reasons for that. Part of it is I’m not sure Jeff Hornacek is actually a good coach, and then you look at the guys that the Knicks were coming into the season with who were going to getting him the ball, like Jarrett Jack, Ramon Sessions, Ronnie Baker. It just looked kind of bleak.
But I think part of what has caught me of guard with Porzingis early on is that he’s able to create so much by himself. Basically, if you just throw him the ball, he can create off the dribble more than I expected and it just hasn’t really mattered. He’s been enough to keep them in games by himself. Against the Pacers, his plus/minus was in the 20s. He was plus 20, I think. And they were down 18 or 19 to Indiana late in the third, and he just kind of turned it on and nothing else mattered, which, again, that’s like a different level of player.
Golliver: The first time I saw Porzingis play live was at Summer League, and my very first takeaway and was that he moved like a basketball player and not somebody who was forced to play basketball. That’s always a key distinction, especially when you’re talking about bigs, especially when you’re talking about European bigs. He moves like a basketball player. It’s as simple as you can say it, and no he’s working on his handle, now he’s got the craft with the footwork, now he’s really sizing up people and going 1-on-1, and his length is an asset in so many different ways.
We tend to focus on length as a defensive skill, just because you can see the rim protection, you can see what a difference it makes just to have that extra wingspan, like for Porzingis compared to a guy like Karl-Anthon Towns, where to me Towns is kind of playing at rim level. Whereas players like Porzingis or Rudy Gobert, they’re just so much longer, so much more sweeping in their defensive movement just because of the wingspan. But it’s an asset offensively, too. I mean, his release points when he’s driving hard across the pain, how are you going to block that shot? You’re just not. And the same thing applies when he’s going to his turnarounds, or same thing when he’s going to up and unders. He’s just able to get the ball to places defensive guys in 1-on-1 situations are not expecting the ball to be able to get to. He looks very comfortable, he’s coming into his own, his confidence is through the roof. I love it.
To me, it’s a better version of what we saw early last year when he was starting to show some of those All-Star glimpses. And I just really hope he can sustain it. Some of the shoe could drop, that could still happen. There could still be some of those double-digit losses where it’s harder, his efficiency takes a hit and he’s not having as much fun as he is right now. But if you’re a Knicks fan or you’re Porzingis or the people close to him, you’ve got to be elated with how the start has gone because, given all the turnover this summer, it could have gotten really, really ugly coming out of the gate with all those new and inexperienced pieces.
The other thing I’d say about Porzingis is that it’s all happening here, because I don’t know if you saw hi brother giving the interview over in Latvia where he was essentially saying, ‘Look, we want the Knicks to pull this together.’ Essentially hinting he would either take the qualifying offer in his rookie contract in a couple years so that he could become an unrestricted free agent or somehow in a different manner kind of flex his ability to work his way out of New York if they didn’t really rebuild quickly around him. I have to say I love that because that’s kind of what we’re calling on Devin Booker to do, right?
Sharp: It’s not too early to start that, but I’m not going to let you start that this week. In part, because this is the most hope Knicks fans have had for like the last three years. And we can’t ruin that by wondering maybe Porzingis should force his way out of New York, so let’s just let them live. Because I do think the other question here is if Porzingis is good enough to make New York a free-agent destination. I think the answer to that is yes. If this continues and he can sustain it over the course of the next six months and maybe the next year or two, absolutely somebody like Kyrie—who had the Knicks on his list of destinations—is going to want to come play in New York.
Golliver: You know what’s interesting, though? Let me run this by you, because no one’s wanted to go play with Anthony Davis in New Orleans. That’s not be a thing, right?
Sharp: That’s a different thing, though. First of all, New Orleans isn’t New York. Second of all, the New Orleans organization is an absolute sh--show, and not that the Knicks aren’t that, but I do think people are willing to look past certain red flags to play in the Garden on a team that can actually content. And I think , Porzingis is definitely a centerpiece that puts them in that conversation of teams that are going to be in a position to go grab the next unhappy star.
Golliver: Nothing screams functional organization like James Dolan. But I guess my point was less about comparing the two franchises, because you’re right, there are extenuating circumstances about who wants to go to New Orleans, and clearly the history factor there is way in favor of the Knicks, and the glamour factor and the market factor and all of that. But do big guys attract people who want to play with them know that your primary job is just to feed the big?
If I was just a random NBA player, I would personally want to go play with Giannis instead of Porzingis, because of the playmaking factor. I’m going to be touching the ball more, the ball is going to move, I’m not just going to be feeding an alpha scorer, and that’s not a knock on Porzingis. I think he’s probably going to improve at some point as a playmaker, especially as he starts to see more and more double teams. But strictly from a style of play standpoint, do you get up and down with a point-center or whatever you want to call Giannis or do you want to play with a big like Porzingis, where it’s more a one-way relationship? Again, that’s not a knock on Porzingis. I think that’s just a fact of NBA basketball.
Sharp: That is a very fair point, although, again, I think that the prospect of playing in New York would mitigate that to some degree. Like would you want to go play with Giannis in a slightly better basketball situation or play in New York with Porzingis?
Golliver: Well, I care about titles despite New York’s amazing vegetarian food options. I want to play for titles. I think Giannis has a slightly better chance at getting titles at this point than Porzingis, but man that gap closed quick.
Sharp: And this is the problem with the Knicks. It’s like they do anything well and suddenly idiots like me start talking about the mystique of MSG and the New York market and how they’re going to draw superstars. So we should probably just chill out here.