The Knicks’ future weighs heavily on KP, but the front office and coaching staff can ease that burden by constructing the right team around him.
When Kristaps Porzingis came into the league as a scrawny, almost unknown figure, his impact on the New York Knicks was perceived with incredulous looks and waning confidence in the direction of the team.
Surprisingly, the fourth overall pick from the Baltic nation of Latvia dazzled before the NBA season first half ended. While critics posed he’d have an awfully troubled time banging with the strong bodies of big men in the Association, Porzingis seemed up to the task, fighting for loose balls and nimbly slipping through traffic for offensive rebounds and those cherished put-back dunks. The hardest part of the game for the lightest-weighing seven-footer, defense, actually came pretty naturally. He was born to be a back-peddling rim protector, with Russell Westbrook and more fearing the Unicorn’s wrath.
On offense, Kristaps presented a difficult dilemma for opposing defenses. Most (if not all) teams don’t have a player that matched Kristaps’ sheer size and range. One does not simply possess both the skill sets of close range rim protector with perimeter defender. It’s quite the paradox for any defender. The best way to contain Porzingis is a) to have Draymond Green or Kawhi Leonard guard him, or b) have a huge brute ready to throw him to the ground. The problem with the second method, though, is KP has quickly learned to use his speed and off-the-dribble moves to blow by defenders. An astounding ability for a seven-footer.
The faster the Knicks learn that they need to build the roster around KP, the easier the transition to relevance will be. The argument is pretty derivative: Porzingis offers the most unique skill set for a big man in the game. His game on both sides of the ball fosters how the NBA will be played in the future. (Well, really the present considering how the Warriors and Cavs have played in the last three years, and how the rest of the league is trying to adapt or die.)
KP can be ball dominant on offense, sure, but his greatest asset lies in his unlimited range plus shooting touch. Give him a good look and he’ll knock it down. This part of the game seems easy, but it really requires the participation of the entire team on the court to set screens on and off the ball. As a result, excellent spacing will develop and spread the defense thin, making it easier to find the best shot available.
On defense, Porzingis still has strides to make in lateral agility, but the seeds are there. One of the biggest liabilities the Knicks have is the lack of point guard defense. When guards cannot cape their men, it draws the frontcourt defense out of the position, making shots more available for opposing big men and drives in the lane created for their guards. As an emerging, elite rim protector, Kristaps thrives in or near the paint, so one can make the case that if the Knicks are buying into Frank Ntilikina’s harassing perimeter defense, then the ‘Bockers are on the right track to resurrect any semblence of solid defense (maybe some reminiscent of 90’s Knicks, perhaps?).
There are certainly a lot of moving parts, but as the face of the franchise, Porzingis’ original talent bursts out of the stat sheet and requires harmonious chemistry between his teammates and him. New York needs to construct a roster that fits with KP’s style of play, a style that is at the forefront of the modern NBA.
That’s why it’s hard to believe a real rebuild would ever occur in New York. Sometimes, they seem to be on the right track, and other times they trade for Derrick Rose, sign Joakim Noah, and reset a proper rebuild. This summer the new front office has practically said all the right things; they want to focus on building an identity on the team, defense, commitment to the younger players, but we’re still waiting to see how Mills, Perry, and the rest construct a roster that complements Porzingis’ style of play and borderline elite rim protection.
The biggest worry for Knicks fans is the creeping long-term contractual obligation of keeping KP. Or, if Porzingis really wants to be here for the long haul. Sometimes financial bargaining chips are not enough if a team continues to stumble in abject failure. But, personally, I believe the best way to convince KP to stay (we’re still years away) is to build a contender from the ground up. That is to say the Knicks’ scouting department proves valuable.
If the Knicks are going to be a bona fide contending club, then they need to best utilize Porzingis’ talents with a roster of complementary players. They need players who don’t let guards easily maneuver into the lane, or can knock down a decent percentage of open looks from deep, or create open looks for KP with off-ball screens. All of these traits of a developing team are crucial because they’re attractive for KP to stay in New York and truly achieve the greatness that follows successful Big Apple teams.
— Reid Goldsmith, managing editor