The Unicorn has proved to be an effective scorer as a trailer, but not the type of trailer you would think.
Transition basketball is supposed to be fast. Secure the basketball, make the quick outlet pass, and attack the basket in breakneck speed. The advantage of pushing the ball down the court is to capitalize on mismatches, or odd men rushes, to borrow a hockey term. The attacking team forces the defense to make quick decisions, and in the process, creates favorable cross-matches–back-peddling defenders finding the closest player to guard instead of their ideal match up.
In transition, as athletic bodies sprint down the court, it is the trailer, the slow man, who sometimes gets the biggest reward. For Kristaps Porzingis, he has found a way to be effective as the slow man in a different way. Rather then trailing the fast break for easy buckets, Porzingis likes to trail in transition to a half-court set.
Let me explain.
Transition basketball is supposed to be fast, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a track meet. Fast basketball can manifest from half-court set-ups that create early shot clock looks. Surprisingly, Kristaps has not been very effective as a trailer in traditional transition play–last season, he shot 19-for-45 in these situations (ranked 41st percentile in points per possession). But when shooting the basketball early in the shot clock (between 18–22 seconds), he was deadly: 19-for-36 last season.
Kristaps has found a unique advantage by acting as a trailer in transition to the half-court offense. As the Knicks bring the ball up the court to start their normal offense, Porzingis lags behind, letting the opposing bigs react to the ball action, loosening space on KP, who then steps across the halfcourt line and drains a three. The genesis of this play sort of came from Phil Jackson (yes, Phil Jackson). Phil talked to Porzingis about taking more trailer threes in transition before Training Camp last season:
“Last year Phil Jackson, he told me that he likes that shot,” said Porzingis. “I wasn’t so sure about it at first. It was early in the offense. I didn’t know if it was the best shot. But once we saw the percentages he said it’s a pretty good look if I get that. The bigs a lot of times, they’re giving me that space, then just take that shot.” (via NY Daily News)
What makes Porzingis a “Unicorn” is his ability to score in unique offensive play types. This is a 7’3″ big man who might have just blocked a shot on the other end, slowly walking back on offense, all so he can catch a pass 25 feet from the hoop and nail a three. Unbelievable!
— Jeffrey Bellone, columnist