When the New York Knicks selected then 19-year-old Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA draft, they were met with instant criticism and, in most cases, outrage.
Knicks fans and basketball analysts berated the selection across various platforms, but most notably on social media. One of the biggest criticisms was that fans did not want to see the Knicks take such a big risk on a draft pick when such moves have failed in the past. The Knicks could have gone the safer route and selected Justise Winslow and groomed him to be Carmelo Anthony’s eventual replacement.
However, the Knicks went with the bold mystery pick. A forward listed at 7-foot-3, 240 pounds that has the ability to shoot the basketball from deep has now been chosen as the future of New York Knicks basketball.
Coming into the season most people had not even seen Porzingis play live in an actual basketball game. It was uncertain how his playing style would translate to the NBA or what role he would even be able to play on the Knicks this early into his career.
While there have been many skeptics, Porzingis has taken the right approach to this season. At just 20 years of age, playing in the NBA is a huge adjustment from playing professional basketball in Latvia. Especially, playing in New York, Porzingis has to earn the respect of his teammates and the fan base on the court.
Through his first seven games, the rookie has been doing just that. Although it has just been a small sample size, Porzingis has certainly shown the ability to play in this league. He is averaging 12.3 points per game to go along with 8.6 rebounds per game, solid numbers for a rookie big man.
These numbers are a good starting point for Porzingis to build on. As he continues to gain confidence and familiarity within the league, there is no reason to expect these numbers cannot improve. A big part of the NBA learning curve for Porzingis will be adjusting to how different teams decide to defend him.
Being a rookie means that you are often facing an opponent for the first time ever. You do not have the familiarity with every opponent’s tendencies that a seven-year veteran that has been around the league has. As the season goes on, Porzingis must be able to adjust to opponents when the Knicks play them for a second, third or fourth time.
Porzingis has certainly passed the eye test so far this season. He has shown a certain smoothness on the court that is unnatural for someone of his height. He has also thrown down some very athletic put-back dunks that highlight his instincts on the offensive glass.
For Porzingis to make the leap from just a serviceable NBA big man to the elite player that many hope him to be he will have to add some size to his frame. At just 20 years old, he is obviously not the same weight that he will be for the rest of his life. The Knicks will need him to get stronger if they want him to be an elite post presence in the NBA.
Now that we have seen Porzingis play he certainly is justifying why he was the fourth overall pick in the draft. The rookie certainly has the ability to one day be a star in this league. It will be up to him, however, to prove that every day on the court.