Year two of the NBA has been rough on Kristaps Porzingis. His rookie season was all about exceeding expectations. Initially thought to be project when drafted he proved that he was ready to roll from the jump. The boos from draft night slowly morphed into cheers as the Knicks rebuild looked to be ahead of schedule.
His rapid development could have been the catalyst in Phil Jackson making win-now moves last summer (other than not being able to trade Carmelo Anthony). A nucleus of Porzingis, Anthony, and Derrick Rose looked good on paper. Certainly good enough to nab a playoff spot, but nowhere near the “super team” level Rose pandered about in his debut presser. Maybe there was a point in time where it was okay to be optimistic about this season’s Knick squad. But do not count Porzingis among them.
The 21-year-old came into the league mature beyond his years. His instincts on the floor gave him a leg up on most of his draft class with the exception of Karl Anthony Towns.
Unlike Towns, Porzingis was not given the burden of becoming a leader on day one. Was he supposed to lead by example? Sure. But while Towns had to serve as the best player on the court as well as the locker room.
For example this interview from last season was after Towns’ best game as a pro up until that point. Rather than be happy about his performance he was upset about how he played because the Wolves still loss, deferring the praise to teammates while taking the blame.
(via The Ringer)
That’s leadership in a nutshell. Falling on the sword even when you’re not the source of the problem. Porzingis was lucky to have Carmelo handle this these past two years. That has allowed him to focus solely on basketball which has proved to be key in his accelerated development.
But Carmelo’s time appears to be coming to an end. Ian Begley of ESPN reported the Knicks plan to resume trade discussions for their best player. The necessary divorce is coming and Porzingis is well aware of that.
Porzingis has always been straightforward when asked questions. He is not a headline grabber like his soon-to-be ex-point guard Rose. He is not one for enigmatic social media posts like Carmelo. Well, other than this deleted tweet after another tough loss.
Kristaps Porzingis tweeted this image before quickly deleting it. pic.twitter.com/hdqopMw31h
— The Crossover (@TheCrossover) February 24, 2017
When he sat down with Frank Isola of the Daily News to discuss the season he was not cryptic, but rather blunt.
“I think it was pretty easy to tell from the inside that we’re not that good of a team,” Porzingis told the Daily News. “We can win games based off of our talent but that’s not going to last long and that’s exactly what happened.”
This was not the first time this season Porzingis has stated his dissatisfaction with the team. In January he had this to say to Newsday.
“We’ve been switching things up because at any point of this season, we never played like we wanted to. It was like, ‘Maybe this will work. Maybe this will work.’ So we’re kind of looking for stuff.
Coaches, they obviously try to do the best job they can and give us as much as they can so we have the information. But we never really got it all together and were able to execute the way we should have. It’s been a lot of confusion.”
This is what you would like to hear from your second best player. His instincts have proved him right again. He knows he’s the organization’s most prized possession and it’s smart to use that leverage to voice his concerns.
As the season has gone to shit Porzingis has tried to get back on track. Since the start of 2017 he is only averaging 15.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.6 assists per game according to Basketball-Reference.
He has been able to swat more shots, but his point and rebound totals are both down from the first half of the year (20.1 points and 7.8 rebounds). Most alarming has been his sharp decline in three-point shooting. He started the season an impressive 40.2-percent, but is down to 30.8-percent. That will have to improve in the remaining games.
But what you want to see from Porzingis the most is his continued growth as a leader. On Monday night against the Clippers he put up 18 points and 11 rebounds (he was unable to hit a three however, going 0-for-4) in a failed Knicks’ comeback bid. It was important for him to have a strong outing after saying the team has been bad from the jump. It’s easy to mouth off to the media then no-show a game.
Moving forward every quote he says has to be backed up with a strong outing on the floor. This is just the prologue of the Porzingis era in New York, but from everything we have seen it looks like Carmelo will leave the Knicks in capable hands.