Can you name the player the New York Knicks selected the last time they had a top-four draft pick? That’s right, none other than Mr. Knicks, Tri-Captain Patrick Ewing.
The Knicks have had several lottery picks since Ewing (though not as many as their terrible record over the last 15 years would lead you to believe they’d have). However, like every other NBA franchise, when this team DOES have a high pick, its fan base expects the world. Expectations are going to be sky high for Latvian import and No. 4 pick Kristaps Porzingis.
Why Was He Drafted?
Because he’s somewhere between 7-foot-1 and 7-foot-3 and shoots the ball like his name is Kevin Durant. Aside from Karl-Anthony Towns taking the reins over Jahlil Okafor as the consensus number one pick heading into the NBA draft, no player saw his stock rise faster or higher than Porzingis during the month of June, as he went from mid-lotto pick to someone considered for the second overall pick. Here’s a glimpse into what made scouts fall in love:
If you skipped the video, Porzingis has game-changing length to go with wing skills, with the difference between him and unsuccessful Euro-stretch bigs being that he moves extremely well on both ends of the court. Granted, we haven’t really seen him play against NBA talent yet, and like Mario Hezonja, he didn’t log a ton of minutes in his last season of pro hoops, but we saw signs of what could be from Porzingis this past summer.
Let’s see him stroke it:
Now let’s see the length, as he gives third pick Okafor fits:
But can he run the floor?
How will he fair guarding the pick and roll?
While there shouldn’t really be any expectations for Porzingis to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, he’s somewhere between having a steep learning curve and being able to contribute immediately. His height and ability to shoot should quickly pay dividends for the Knicks, but it’ll probably take some time before he’s able to morph into the Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Shawn Bradley (height/defense only!) hybrid he’s destined to become (this last sentence was written tongue-in-cheek, please don’t hit me up on Twitter about it).
How Does He Fit in with the Knicks?
If there was ever a team that needed EVERYTHING, it’s Phil Jackson’s Knicks. Coming off the worst season in franchise history, the Knicks went into the offseason with Carmelo Anthony and literally nothing else. Ok, fine, they had a beyond-his-prime Jose Calderon; Giannis Antetokounmpo’s older, less skilled brother; something called Langston Galloway; and Cleanthony Early of Wichita State fame. As I said, they needed everything.
The most important thing to remember about needing everything is there’s no such thing as immediate turnaround. Sure, there’s immediate improvement, which hopefully the Knicks will achieve with the additions of glue guys like Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo. However, drafting Porzingis is a commitment to the idea that “it’s going to take a few years to really turn this around,” which is more aligned with signing guys like Derrick Williams and Kyle O’Quinn, who haven’t proven much but are still young players with decent upside.
Drafting Porzingis and fellow first-round pick Jerian Grant, who was acquired in a three-team trade that saw the Knicks ship out Tim Hardaway Jr., sets the Knicks up nicely a few years down the road, which unfortunately just doesn’t line up with Anthony’s prime. Yes, Anthony is only entering year two of a five-year contract, so if Porzingis has reached some of his potential by his third season, he’ll still have at least two seasons to play at a high level with Melo. Keep in mind, however: Anthony is 31 years old and entering the 13th season of his career. Not even bringing up that he bowed out of the 2014-’15 season in February to have season-ending knee surgery, the clock on Melo being able to win big in New York is clearly winding down.
Therefore, it’s difficult to point out where Porzingis fits on a team that doesn’t exactly have a clear direction. Anthony, Lopez, Afflalo, and whatever’s left of Calderon are all guys ready to win now; if Porzingis (and Grant) show they’re NBA-ready rookies, this team could compete for a playoff spot.
What Should We Expect Out of Him?
As much as you want a fourth overall pick to be able to contribute immediately, the consensus on Porzingis was that he might have the highest ceiling of any prospect in his draft class. That doesn’t quite reflect on what he’ll be able to do out of the gate.
We saw Porzingis average 10.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks on 48-percent shooting (20-percent from three) in 20.5 minutes per game during Summer League, where he looked pretty comfortable. While he’s still shown signs of being able to contribute in the preseason, averaging 7.5 points, 6 rebounds, and a block on 37-percent shooting (38-percent from three) in 19.5 minutes per game, he’s looked a bit more lost at times.
I don’t mean that as a harsh criticism; he merely looked a little bit more comfortable playing minutes at the center against Summer League competition than he has as a power forward against real NBA players.
It’s being reported that the Knicks plan on putting Porzingis in the starting lineup to start the season. Again, I don’t know if he’s better as a center or power forward, but at least we can expect to see the rookie get legitimate playing time from the jump. If I had to predict a statline for Porzingawd (an official nickname still hasn’t been solidified), I’d guess he plays 24 minutes per game, averaging 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks, shooting 44-percent from the field and 34-percent from three.
Be patient Knicks fans, this kid could be special.
Click here to read my Summer League report on the Knicks, with more insight on Porzingis and Grant.