A QUICK REFRESHER IN ALL THINGS KRISTAPS LAST SEASON—DUNKS, BLOCKS, AND STEAL-YOUR-MAN GLANCES.
In music, when you think about some of your favorite artists’ debut albums, they came out of the gate with no holds barred. For them, that early body of work becomes the standard in which every project that followed was measured up against.
As an artist, the goal is to constantly evolve with each product. For many, they’ll never see that type of acclaimed success again. They’ll eventually fade into the crowded noise of those who are consistently churning out seminal pieces.
Basketball functions in a similar way, especially when you consider the volume and caliber of talent that’s existing at the same time right now.
Kristaps Porzingis had a lot to contend with in his second season as the “Prince of New York.” The growing pains that come with a player’s sophomore season were grueling on multiple fronts. However, KP improved in the areas of his game that continue to woo the Knicks’ fanbase belief in the heir apparent of a post-Melo squad.
To kick off the annual week of homage, let us first take a walk down memory lane at the classics we were blessed with from the Latvian leviathan.
Even with Jeff Hornacek’s preferred uptempo offense, we didn’t often see any Knick running the open floor. At times, it seemed as if they were allergic to outlet passing and had forgotten their youth coaches’ repetitive direction of “keep your head up.” However, Porzingis was often the lead or the trailer in efforts to get those easy fast-break buckets. I enjoyed the set-ups throughout the season from Kyle O’Quinn and a few of the Euro guards. (R.I.P #LosKnicks)
There was also a coast-to-coast bunny against a puzzling Detroit team that really showed how nimble and agile KP is at seven-foot-three. That bucket was just one of many on a career night for the second year star, where he finished with 35 points.
Also from that game was this play–one of my personal favorites from the entire Knicks season. It’s common for younger guys on the perimeter to not even attempt to move in for the rebound on a missed shot. It’s even more rare for a guy to rebound his own shot and finish the play. KP’s tenacity may be inconsistent, but when he’s playing actively aware, he’s an unstoppable big man.
If there were a Porzingis drinking game, you could probably get washed off his put-back dunks alone. This is becoming a signature part of his game as an interior player. And it never not sends the Garden in a frenzy whether the squad is up by one or down by 15.
Much to the chagrin of Knicks fans, KP didn’t make the All-Star game this season. But that didn’t stop him from making it apparent that he’ll be a fixture of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend festivities in the foreseeable future. It was quite a feat to see three big men in the ASW Skills Challenge. KP and DeMarcus Cousins faced off in the final round.
Despite KP missing 16 games with various injuries, he finished his sophomore season averaging 18 points per game and shooting 45 percent from the field with essentially the same usage rate as his rookie season. He’s trending upward even with the Knicks not utilizing him as a focal point–yet. That’s important to understand because since ‘Melo has left the building, we already have the player who can readily lead an offense.
Defensively, KP still leaves much to be desired. I’ve said a few times here and on Twitter that while he’s a good defender on his own, KP hasn’t hit the next gear yet. A talent like that can often be intrinsic, which is the case for his perfectly timed blocks, but it has to be nurtured by either a coach or in a system that places defense at the top of the list. So far, KP has neither the willing coach or system yet in New York. Although given how much muscle mass he has put on over the summer, it’s optimistic that his defensive presence will improve.
That being said, this is a block you can’t get out of your head. The level of disrespect, the fact that he palmed the ball, and the fact that it was versus the Nets? It may already be a top 5 block in what’s going to be an illustrious reel of FOH blocks.
Looking ahead, KP has certain identifiable parts of his game that will forever be a “thing.” But to boost his numbers and his usage as a long-distance shooter–and continue to be a defensive force in the middle–is enough to draw the conclusion that there was no slowing down in his sophomore season. He gave us what we wanted and more.
— James Woodruff, staff writer