The Knicks are down but not out. Kristaps Porzingis’ ACL tear is a deafening blow to a rebuild on a steady trajectory, and it’s going to take the willpower of Porzingis, plus filling in the cracks by the Knicks, to overcome a catastrophic interruption to the coming of age of New York’s franchise star.
Kristaps Porzingis fell hard in Tuesday’s game versus Milwaukee, and the New York Knicks’ plans to rebuild a franchise around the young All-Star fell with him.
While Porzingis saw his usage and impact on the game dramatically increase during the 2017–18 season, the Knicks’ brass saw a bright path back to playoff contention, riding the Unicorn’s talents and surrounding Porzingis with complementary pieces. It may not have worked for this year’s postseason (the Knicks are hovering around nine games below .500), but New York had a clear advantage towards building a contender with the generational talent of Porzingis, the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
The ACL injury is a sharp blow to the organization’s hope that Porzingis could be the steady hand that guides the Knicks back into the playoffs—and even beyond fringe playoff team. In the past offseason, New York recognized the necessity to find Carmelo Anthony a home, with a contender as a preference, and when a deal was completed in September it catapulted Porzingis to the sole spotlight of attention—and everything that comes with the pressure of Broadway.
Sending prayers to a good friend and even greater competitor. Hoping for a speedy recovery KP! @kporzee
— Giannis Antetokounmpo (@Giannis_An34) February 7, 2018
Kristaps Porzingis, at 7’3″, was the NBA’s blocks leader. He carried the team with 23 points per contest and offered the distinct possibility of floor-warping space with seemingly infinite range. (On Tuesday night, KP hit 1-of-2 three-point attempts, a long-range, beautiful slingshot of a triple from several feet beyond the arc.)
But for now, the contention hopes of the Knicks are furloughed. The rehabilitation of an ACL tear is strenuous and lengthy; the Knickerbockers will have to imagine new possibilities to fill their roster with talent in the meantime while Porzingis rehabs (an ACL tear that takes up to an NBA season to repair and strengthen, KP could be away from action until 2019). The question of how New York continues a rebuild has a depressing answer: the rebuild is on hold—for now. Surely the Knicks can configure and test out pieces like 25-year-old Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter, 19-year-old Frank Ntilikina, and picks from the upcoming 2018 draft. However, without Porzingis, a rebuild of this magnitude is shapeless and without a defining presence to grow around. How do you fiddle with smaller pieces when your crown jewel is sitting on the shelf for an indefinite duration of time?
An ACL tear isn’t the end of the world. Although it’s a striking setback, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Porzingis can return to the hardwood. From what we know about Porzingis, he has all the confidence to attack rehab and come back as a productive player. KP shed criticisms and stereotypes of being a weak, scrawny, European player almost immediately during his rookie season. There’s no weakness in an ACL injury, and in the ensuing months, we’ll see an athlete determined to strengthen himself and return to a game he loves. In the past, Kristaps had fought anemia and labels, which could not prevent him from reaching the NBA, the highest level of basketball competition. At 22 years old, he made the All-Star game and accumulated a dozen more blocks than Anthony Davis 55 games into the season.
The Knicks were relying on Porzingis to carry them back to relevancy. It’s going to take much more work to get the rebuild back on track, but Kristaps Porzingis is a man on the mission, and who better to re-define expectations than a player booed on draft day?